The Scope for Political Evolution

It is said that Aristotle believed politics to be the primary activity through which human beings could improve their lives and create a better society. For, in many respect, politics is a key social activity that requires dialogue rather than monologue to succeed. However, we will start by trying to define 'politics' simply as a 'process' by which some form of 'governance' is agreed, although such a general definition might be seen to apply to almost any aspect of human society. However, in an evolutionary context, we might understand the need for some sort of political process even within small family groups, which then extended into wider tribal structures. Of course, whether such beginnings can really be described as a 'political process' might be questioned, when the resulting governance was imposed rather than reached by mutual agreement, such that it was invariably both autocratic and authoritarian, as embodied in the power of a family patriarch or tribal chief. However, over time, tribes became kingdoms and kingdoms became nation states within which 'political machinations' started to surround the centre of power.

So what is the scope of politics under discussion?

The meaning of word 'politics' has its roots in the Greek word 'polis' meaning 'city-state' which are said to have adopted some of the earliest ideas of democratic government. Of course, it has to be pointed out that early Greek democracy was a somewhat selective process in that only city residences who were adult, male and landowners were allowed to vote. As such, all women and slaves were automatically excluded, as were the poor in general. So while the idea of a political process can be extended to almost any aspect of human society, this discussion will be orientated towards 'political evolution' as it may apply to nation states and how its scope may need to expand, if it is to govern human society on a global scale. As such, there is an implication that all current forms of national government, which embody the political process of governance, are potentially inadequate when it comes to addressing global problems.

So what is the scope of change envisaged?

Before we can really start to address this question, it is probably necessary to provide some sort of initial framework that may help outline the functions underpinning the governance of a nation state. In this context, the word 'governance' is possibly more appropriate than 'government', as some nation states are still dominated by autocratic and authoritarian regimes in which the political process is severely constrained. This said, we might still discuss the basic processes involved in terms of three fundamental functions, which may or may not be independent of each other in some nation states:

  • Executive: Drafts both policy and laws and generally administers the legislative and judiciary processes.
  • Legislative: Examines, debates and approves both policy and laws as prioritised by the executive.
  • Judiciary: Implements the details of the laws and passes judgment.

In the case of a government that is both autocratic and authoritarian, the three functions above can effectively be controlled by a single person with no recourse to wider debate within the population. Even today, there are cases where an absolute monarch or dictator can rule without any written laws, constitution or effective opposition. In contrast, a democratic republic may fully support the three independent branches of government, as outlined above, where representatives of each are elected by a majority vote of the population without bias to gender or social status.

On this basis, should the direction of 'evolutionary' change not be obvious?

In many respect, politics simply reflects the complexity of the human condition and, as such, few things are obvious. For while the concept of 'political correctness' may be critical of governments that still operate on autocratic and authoritarian principles, such governments can sometimes be effective. Likewise, a democracy based on an ill-informed majority and subject to manipulation by a free-press, possibly with its own agenda, may turn out to be ineffective. For example, one may consider the evolution of the political system in China as possibly understandable in light of its turbulent 20th century history; while in the same timeframe, politics in the US has seen many democrat/republican presidents, heading up an executive, which is then repeatedly undermined by an opposing republican/democrat legislative body. However, what these examples possibly best illustrate is that politics is invariably a process of compromise, which may not necessarily lead to the solution required.

But do we really expect politicians to provide solution to problems?

In reality, politicians are more like managers within a society, who are attempting to balance the books between human needs and wants, while hopefully protecting the weaker members of society from those who would prey on them. In this context, politicians are required to facilitate and mediate the terms and conditions through which a possibly compromised solution between various factions of opinion might be found. Of course, this in itself may be an idealistic description, because politicians are also individuals with their own self-interests, human weaknesses and limitations, which is why the public at large may invariably believe that 'political machinations' surround the centre of power within any political system.

OK, but what problems require 'wider' solutions?

For start, the world now faces problems that are global in scope and have the potential to threaten the future of humanity. At this point, we might simply introduce the nature of these problems in terms of sustainability, i.e. the Earth's ecosystem, human population, economic growth, energy production, food production, water supplies etc. To-date, all political systems have failed to facilitate sustainable solutions and, as such, we need to try to understand why, hence the discussion of governments, ideology and scope of problems. If we accept the current limitation of nation state politics to resolve global problems, then we possibly need to consider what alternative paths may lie ahead and the obstacle to progress needed to be overcome, which may require a more realistic appraisal of the human condition. Of course, in a world of endless possibilities and probabilities, the only thing we can guarantee is that our starting point must be anchored in the state of global politics today, which appears to be underpinned by a precariously unstable system of free-market capitalism. If money does indeed make the world go round, then it possibly makes sense to try to better understand some of the wider economic considerations along with the energy requirements needed to power the 21st century. It is recognised that this may seem a ludicrously broad scope of discussions, but in a sense it simply reflects the scope of problems that will have to be addressed this century, for time may not be on our side. As such, this discussion is not really about the evolution of politics, but rather the evolution of humanity.