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Politics: A Very Short Introduction (1995)

by Kenneth Minogue

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327569,284 (3.42)5
In this provocative but balanced essay, Kenneth Minogue discusses the development of politics from the ancient world to the twentieth century. He prompts us to consider why political systems evolve, how politics offers both power and order in our society, whether democracy is always a goodthing, and what future politics may have in the twenty-first century.… (more)
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The set of "Very short introductions" is amazingly comprehensive and I thought this book would be an easy "Cheat-sheet" for me to become an instant expert on Politics. Alas. It was not to be. I actually found it really hard going.....and I blame the author's writing style rather than my ignorance and dull wittedness. Possibly the latter contributed....but at about the same time, I read the "Very short introduction" to Music and found it a delight....erudite and easy to read. So maybe Minogue simply IS difficult to digest.
I guess he runs through the gamut of political systems: despot, dictatorship, totalitarianism, democracy (as practiced by the greeks......though he rather weakly explains how limited the democracy was.....women and slaves (who made up the majority of the population in Athens) were excluded. He moves on to the Romans for whom patriotism was the big motivator (apparently)...though he does point out that they experimented with a variety of models of government...the role of the senate in moderating the power of the emperor appears to have been significant.
Then, in western politics (and the author seems to confine himself to western politics) ......the role of the Christian church becomes of increasing importance....so there is a shared role in ruling between the civil powers and the church. This split of powers ...exemplified by the Magna Carta also meant that local nobles managed to carve out a role for themselves...further modifying the power of the king/ruler.
The idea of the State emerged from the late middle ages with a commensurate growth in the economy ...which gave power to a merchant class and a separation of powers between the crown, the church and the military. Hobbes esposed the doctrine of the leviathan (where power was collective but entrusted to a head of state.....and the power of the sovereign lay in the consent of the people). Karl Marx revolted against the modern body politic being comprised of; state, society, economy and culture and Marx set economics as the determiner of the course of politics.
International relations is riven by a conflict between realists: who take the national interest as their guide, and idealists who focus on the emergence of an international order.
Minogue has three chapters on the experience of politics: about being an activist; about parties and doctrines and about justice, freedom and democracy. Justice as a passion for equality, Freedom as not having to live under a ruler...and democracy...has come to mean that everyone lives the same sort of life and disposes of the same degree of resources. (Not sure that I agree with this...especially in our current era where about 50 individuals possess some amazing proportion of world wealth).
He has an interesting section on politics as a science and concludes that "political science often escapes the limitations of science by ignoring the discipline of science. Much of its material is historical and descriptive".....which to my mind kind of disqualifies it as a science. It seems to have adopted the "Science" in the moniker to give it credibility...yet fails to follow the discipline of science.
Overall, not a bad introduction but I found it extremely difficult to read. Admittedly, it was better when I've been re-reading it to write this review...so I've moved my rating up from two stars to three. ( )
  booktsunami | Apr 3, 2022 |
Unexpectedly interesting consideration of the nature, history, practice and future of politics.

After a brief explanation of what he means by politics, in particular contrasting it with despotism, the author takes us through a quick history of politics in the West from the Greeks to the twentieth century, followed by chapters on how politics is practised and speculation on whether what the author defines as politics can survive in a time when the personal is considered political. ( )
  Robertgreaves | Mar 14, 2014 |
Kenneth Minogue discusses the development of politics from the ancient world to the twentieth century. He prompts us to consider why political systems evolve, how politics offers both power and order in our society, whether democracy is always a good thing, and what future politics may have in the twenty-first century.
1 vote | antimuzak | May 29, 2007 |
This book makes me want to go out and study politics, even enter politics, though preferably not in the politically dreary country that Norway is.

One thing: "History of Politics" seems to me a more appropriate title; I sorely missed a definition of what politics is. ( )
1 vote zangasta | Mar 21, 2007 |
All of the authors in Oxford's Very Short Introduction series face the challenge of compressing a very large topic into a very small space. By neccesity, much is left out. In my view, the success or failure of these books depends on the ability of the author to bring a novel point of view to the standard overview.

In writing on politics, Minogue faced a particular challenge in that, unlike say Buddhism or literary theory, politics in some form is part of the standard curriculum of secondary and higher education. So I found it unfortunate that Mignone took a very conservative and narrow view of politics as the basis of his discussion. He states clearly in the introduction that he prefers the old definition of politics as the work of "monarchs, parliaments and ministers" as opposed to more expanisive revisionist views.
I am rather uninterested with this focus on high politics and I would contest Minogue's apparent view it is this politics which is most central to historical outcomes. Even more, the story of high politics has been done to death. Perhaps Minogue believed he was recapuring some essential wisdom which has been obscured by the raucus debates of post-modernism. But I found this book to be simply superfluous. ( )
1 vote eromsted | Sep 21, 2006 |
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The story is told of how Harun Al Raschid, the caliph of Baghdad, would disguise himself as a beggar in order to discover what his subjects were thinking.
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In this provocative but balanced essay, Kenneth Minogue discusses the development of politics from the ancient world to the twentieth century. He prompts us to consider why political systems evolve, how politics offers both power and order in our society, whether democracy is always a goodthing, and what future politics may have in the twenty-first century.

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