The field of Political Science is divided into four parts. First, and fundamental, is “Theory,” the study of thoughts, ideas, theses, and analyses of politics as it has evolved from ancient times to today. Theory (“Philosophy”) is fundamental since it provides the origins (and results) of all political movements that have graced the earth since man first descended into groups. The word “govern” is critical, since all politics is about the multiple methods of how humanity has resolved to control itself, either against or for itself, both from within and from without.
John Lennon once said, “before Elvis there was nothing.” True enough! And, likewise, before Theory, there was also nothing. One cannot, by definition, begin to study the vast variety of political movements unless one first appreciates the equally vast multitude and divisions of ideas that gave these movements life in the first place.
Thus, we know that all (repeat “all”) politics first springs from ancient Greece, where society originally gave credence to the types of political organizations and divisions that man envisioned, either before “in fact” or for the future, as “utopian.”
In this regard, there is a line of succession from Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle to the American presidency, Josef Stalin, Adolph Hitler, and Vladimir Putin. Just as in economic theory there, is a line of succession from Adam Smith (The Wealth of Nations, 1776) to John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and modern Capitalism.
Nobody escapes history. Just as Thomas Jefferson used British philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) to write the Declaration of Independence (some say Jefferson “copied” Locke) so, too, do all political events somewhere, somehow repeat the past.
My field is “International Politics.” In graduate school, we were asked once to name the one book that would best describe the Cold War, then reaching its peak of intensity. The correct answer: Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, being the account of the long contest between the Greek city-states, Athens and Sparta, which ended in 404 BC.
After Theory, the remainder of Political Science is composed of several “tactical” applications of the theoretical foundations: Domestic, Comparative, and International. In Domestic, one studies the Home state and its methods of behavior, elections, parties, revolutions, movements, rights and privileges, ideas of moral vs. immoral, and the daily personalities and endless op-eds that dominate all opinion pages and media coverage. Comparative covers foreign politics, normally divided between Democratic, Dictatorship, and Totalitarian. There are subtle distinctions between these categories, as there is between Italian democracy and British and between Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, Putin, Trump, Juan Peron, and Mussolini.
The last is International, which contains a unique feature that sets it apart from all else and places it in a category unique to any comparable “system” on earth. A “system,” political or not, is always singular, i.e., controlled from top to bottom and tied together by a coherent unity. Thus, we speak of transportation, solar, economic, social, behavioral, racial, mechanical systems, etc. in colloquial terms that require single identifications. They may last forever or collapse instantly, but they are always (repeat “always”) defined by their singular property, as “one.”
International (“World”) Politics is exactly the opposite: it has no “form,” no unity nor authority to “govern,” much less function. If there is one essential that ties together all domestic or foreign political systems on earth, it is “unity.” All of them, democratic or dictatorial, have at least this in common: they have a top, a middle, and a bottom. If the top goes, by any method, it is automatically (eventually) replaced. If the middle or bottom goes, the system, in effect, disappears, like ancient Rome.
The defining term for “International” Politics is “anarchy,” officially “absence of government, lawlessness, disorder.” This has been true since time began. No country, no empire, no nation, no movement, no revolution, no anything has ever, ever, been able to control more than a small portion of the globe for more than a fraction of time. The closest, ironically, is the oldest democracy, Britain, whose empire governed about one-fifth of the world for a few centuries.
The closest conceptual tool for international control has been termed the “Balance of Power,” a historic reality that defined Europe until the Twentieth Century. Essentially, the “Balance” was a crude substitute for government whereby nations existed as sovereign units in constant alignment with each other, back and forth, settling issues by war or conversation, but permanently on something called a “war footing.”
As a representative of the old Balance, consider that one country, France, invaded its neighbor, Germany, on thirty separate occasions before 1870. Then it became Germany’s turn, we now call this the Franco-Prussian War and the two world wars that defined our last century.
Did the Balance of Power work? Of course, if one accepts its premise and methods.
What “works” today? Anarchy remains the defining conceptual reality of world politics, with no end in sight. Nor does there seem to exist anything on the horizon to challenge that reality. The U.S. has long since given up and is now consumed with domestic and moralizing politics that appear to determine not only American history but its future as well.
Can China fill the void (as many think)?
If one knows only the history described above and nothing else, nothing about China, its past, or its future intentions, what are the odds?