Pater Edmund, a Cistercian monk and Catholic priest, recently shared this excerpt from Max Weber’s “Politics as a Vocation” on the modern idea of politics:
…what “politics” means for us is to strive for a share of power or to influence the distribution of power, whether between states or between the groups of people contained within a state.
This corresponds in all essentials to common parlance. When we say that a question is “political,” that a minister or official is “political,” or that a decision has been made on “political” grounds, we always mean the same thing. This is that the interests involved in the distribution or preservation of power, or a shift in power, play a decisive role in resolving that question, or in influencing that decision or defining the sphere of activity of the official concerned. Whoever is active in politics strives for power…
Versus Henri Grenier’s “Thomistic Philosophy, Vol. 4 Moral Philosophy” on the classical view of politics:
Politics is wisdom in the order of the practical sciences. A science is wisdom when it considers things according to their first principles. But the ends of the practical sciences are their principles. Therefore the science which considers human acts in relation to their ultimate end is wisdom in the order of the practical sciences. But Politics deals with human acts as related to their ultimate end, i.e., to happiness.
Since it is only in civil or political society that man can attain natural happiness, happiness is the end with which Politics is properly concerned. Hence, just as Metaphysics is wisdom in the order of the speculative sciences, so Politics is wisdom in the order of the practical sciences.
So thoroughly have we absorbed the view that politics is the story of power alone that never once did my professors in political science at Penn State address the older view of politics as a means of ordering society toward their ultimate ends. Now, you can say that politics understood as “striving for power” might be a means of obtaining ultimate ends like happiness, but that doesn’t sound like a tolerant or pluralistic sort of politics so much as a tribal sort of politics.
In other words, the distinction here is between understanding politics as a means of obtaining individual or group power over rival claimants, versus understanding politics as a means of ensuring human flourishing on an individual or societal basis.
The former view also forgets that power exists outside of politics, too.