Leadership Series (5): Understanding The Concept of Politics. By Victor A. Imhangbe

It is practically impossible to discuss leadership without making reference to politics. The term “politics” has been used by many people in different perspective depending on their background and how active they feel in the affair of states they lived. Many known scholars have devoted their time towards giving a suitable definition and meaning of politics. For a clearer understanding, we are going to expand our horizon to study diver’s definition of the word “politics” in order to give the readers a better perspective. Politics to me is the actions related to the governance of a state including formal and informal sector of the society, especially the discussion or disagreement among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power. Unfortunately, some naïve and ignorant people tend to classify politics as evil, forgetting the fact the effect of politics and politicians controls their career, their living standard, the quality of schools they send their kids to; and everyday cost of living. The following quote will suffix:

“The worst illiterate is the political illiterate, he doesn’t hear, doesn’t speak, nor participates in the political events. He doesn’t know the cost of life, the price of the bean, of the fish, of the flour, of the rent, of the shoes and of the medicine, all depends on political decisions. The political illiterate is so stupid that he is proud and swells his chest saying that he hates politics. The imbecile doesn’t know that, from his political ignorance is born the prostitute, the abandoned child, and the worst thieves of all, the bad politician, corrupted and flunky of the national and multinational companies.”  Bertolt Brecht.

In the secular world we live in, aspiring to any leadership position requires some kind of training and innate and learned qualities that will enhance the individual to function well and add values to the lives of the people. In all sphere of human endeavour, whether public and private sectors, corporate organisation, religion organisation, Universities institutions, Government ministries, agencies and parastatas to the heads of a sovereign government; are all headed by individual through appointment or election. One thing is unique, the individual that is nominated, appointed or voted into that position will determine the wellbeing of the people under them. In order not to be carried away, we shall delve into the conceptual definition and understanding of the word “politics”.

DEFINITION: A study of who gets what, when, and how”. Harold Lasswell. While David Easton defines politics as “a study of authoritative allocation of public values or resources for a society”. Robert Dahl sees politics as “any persistent patterns of human relationship that involve to a significant control, power, influence and authority. Politics originated (from Greek; politikos and defined “of, for, or relating to citizens”) is the practice and theory of influencing other people. Wikipedia (2014).  In a narrow sense, it refers to achieving and exercising positions of governance; organised control over a human community, particularly a state. There are varieties of method employed by political actors to influence political views which include promoting or forcing one’s own political views among people, negotiation with other political subjects, making laws, and exercising force, including warfare against adversaries. Politics is exercised on a wide range of social levels, from clans and tribes of traditional societies, through modern local governments, companies and institutions up to sovereign states, to the international level.

Politics in its broadest sense is the activity through which people make, preserve and amend the general rules under which they live. For our purpose, we will try to restrict our discourse to just having a simple understanding of politics to avoid deviation. This is because any attempt to clarify the meaning of ‘politics’ must nevertheless address two major problems. The first is the mass of associations that the word has when used in everyday language; in other words, politics is a ‘loaded’ term. Whereas most people think of, say, economics, geography, history and biology simply as academic subjects, few people come to politics without preconceptions. Many, for instance, automatically assume that students and teachers of politics must in some way be biased, finding it difficult to believe that the subject can be approached in an impartial and dispassionate manner.

To make matters worse, politics is usually thought of as a ‘dirty’ word: it conjures up images of trouble, disruption and even violence on the one hand, and deceit, manipulation and lies on the other. There is nothing new about such associations. As long ago as some decades ago, let say since 1775, Samuel Johnson dismissed politics as ‘nothing more than a means of rising in the world’, while in the nineteenth century the US historian Henry Adams summed up politics as ‘the systematic organisation of hatreds’.

The second and more intractable difficulty is that even respected authorities cannot agree what the subject is all about. Politics is defined in such different ways: as the exercise of power, the science of government, the making of collective decisions, the allocation of scarce resources, the practice of deception and manipulation, and so on. The virtue of the definition advanced in this text – ‘the making, preserving and amending of general social rules’  is that it is sufficiently broad to encompass most, if not all, of the competing definitions. However, problems arises when the definition is unpacked, or when the meaning is refined. For instance, does ‘politics’ refer to a particular way in which rules are made, preserved or amended (that is, peacefully, by debate), or to all such processes? Similarly, is politics practiced in all social contexts and institutions, or only in certain ones (that is, government and public life?


Prof Lourds Veneracion-Rallonza expatiate four core concepts of politics as thus:

Power: “The ability of person A to make person B do something minus the probability that person B would do it on his/her own accord”. There is threat of sanction for non-compliance; as Niccolo Machiavelli said, “it is better to be feared than loved”.

Influence: An informal form of power without the threat of sanction. There are no severe deprivations for non-conformity. This is opposite of Machiavellian thought “it is better to be loved than feared”

Authority: Right to exercise power and influence because of a particular position that is placed in the position through a widely accepted procedure, e.g. Election.

Legitimacy: Being considered to be correctly placed in a particular position. Carrying out the functions of that role correctly. Has moral acceptability.

Having acquaint ourselves with the subject matter of what politics is all about in our discussion above, it is therefore pertinent for us to ask ourselves the salient questions, why politics matters because there is this controversy in some quarter that insinuating that certain set of people are not supposed to take part in the political activities of its nation due to erroneous impression that politics is a “dirty game” that should be avoided by good people, hence common masses like; the taxi driver’s, artisans and market women take politics as pure fraud, the exploitation of the masses by the few rich people in the society.


  1. Politics entails the conciliation of divers interest, its natural object is the common good as Aristotle opines “Politics is the Master of Science.”
  2. Education of citizenship: This is through curriculum to equip students to discharge the obligations of democratic citizenship
  3. Essential parts of liberal education: Intelligent, responsible citizenship can save democracy; while ignorance and negligence can lose it.
  4. Knowledge and understanding of government. The “good” citizen knows how his government operates, what his rights and obligations are, who his elected representatives are and what they stand for.

We can rightly said politics is the art or science of government or governing, especially the governing of a political entity, such as a nation, and the administration and control of its internal and external affairs.In our next series, we shall be looking into the perception of religious leader’s in politics. Your opinion and feedback is expected on the comment column. Do you like the piece? Kindly share.


Victor Imhangbe

Hey, there! I am Victor Imhangbe and I am the brain behind this great lifestyle blog where you get to read everything from life to education to fashion and pretty much about everything else. I invite you to keep keeping tab on our latest news and updates!

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