‘Politics’ is a noun that points to a field or sphere of human activity and interaction. ‘Political’ is an adjective that usually associates with other names to qualify and specify them. Political behaviour, political institutions, political participation and political groups denote special kinds of behaviour, institutions, participation and groups whose specialty resides in their being 'political'. What does this specification refer to? This is the question that this book aims to answer.
The book unpacks the 'politics' understood as the production and distribution of 'behavioural compliance,’ as opposed to the view of politics as a distribution of values, an aggregation of preferences or a solution to social dilemmas. Starting from a motivational definition of elementary political action, the endeavour proceeds to a differentiation of compliance instigations in different social fields of interaction, characterised by various levels of confinement of the actors and of monopolisation of command.
Foreword / 1. Trajectories of the Political / 2. Nuclear Political Action / 3. Conditions of Political Action: Confinement and Monopolisation / 4. Fields of Political Action / 5. What is 'Politics'? / Afterword
Bartolini (European Univ. Institute) tackles the thorny question “what is politics?” He defines politics as “a search for the behavioral compliance of other human beings” or “the desire to get somebody to do something that he or she would not otherwise have done.” It is a sphere of activity to be distinguished from the pursuit of ethics, interests, or honor. He introduces two dimensions—level of confinement (open or closed) and degree of monopolization, resulting in a 2 by 2 matrix: anarchy, state of nature, associations, and government. Bartolini avoids the methodological individualism of rational choice and the overly structural explanations of Weberian sociology. He writes in the tradition of Harold Lasswell, Politics: Who Gets What, When and How (McGraw-Hill, 1936), or Steven Lukes, Power: A Radical View (Macmillan, 1974). He draws upon a broad range of thinkers. . . The implicit frame of reference is the European state. The book is a clear analytical essay, with few empirical examples to flesh out the argument but without the abstraction that makes political theory hard for scholars of comparative politics to digest. An important book that deserves a wide audience among political scientists.
Summing Up: Recommended. Graduate students through faculty.
This is an ambitious book that engages fundamental issues in the study of politics. Bartolini’s conception of political action as a search for compliance lays the basis for an analytical framework that is original, comprehensive, ingenious, and profound.
This book marks a return to the basics, a recovery of the general vision. It is a provocative reflection on the core of the political. When the horizontality of politics is celebrated everywhere, Bartolini re-emphasizes the centrality of its vertical dimension; in a time in which everything is political it may be that nothing is really political. A work of such precision is urgent and necessary.
Bartolini’s provocative work challenges contemporary political theory by proposing the search for compliance as the motivational micro-foundation of politics and the production of generalized and stabilized compliance as its non-substitutable societal function. Combining the distinctions of confined/open and monopolistic/plural fields of political interactions, the book also provides a powerful conceptual framework for analyzing the effectiveness and vulnerability of political rule in historical and contemporary empirical contexts.
Stefano Bartolini explains the 'political' in its true essential sense -- he does not measure it, count it, or make it a sub-category of the 'economic'. And in the current circumstance of Europe, the United States and what we once called the West, this approach is doubly rewarding, even urgent. This relatively slim book has the feel and gravitas of an instant classic.
Bartolini’s investigation is a fundamental inquiry into the concept of politics. It is an ontological investigation in the sense that it ventures to identify and characterize objects and facts in the world scholars may want to qualify as political, but not yet with the intent to derive testable hypotheses about empirically observable political processes. As such, it provides constitutive prolegomena for the substantive study of politics. Anyone who ventures to devise new fundamental theorems about politics, or aspires to propose new and counter-intuitive empirical propositions about politics, will read this analytically incisive study with great benefit. It will stimulate your creativity and conceptual attentiveness.
The Political is a tour de force. It develops an entirely original and succinct new definition of the political as ‘nuclear’ political action. Bartolini’s masterful book is a profound disquisition on the very nature of politics and the foundations of political order. It rethinks the political from the ground-up while challenging much of the received wisdom in political science with clarity and elegance. A must-read for political scientists.