The Four Types Of Politics

Stephen Turner writes about models for balancing the power of expertise:

* “High politics” is the politics of leaders. It involves agonistic decision making, and, more generally, decision making in the face of inadequacies of comprehension, typically, it is decision making in the face of opponents whose actions create uncertainty as the product of lack of reliable information or sources. This can be distinguished from politics in the sense of the politics of representation, and especially democratic representation, the politics of formal or informal roles of speaking and acting for some particular group. or. as is ordinarily the case, a faction or subgroup of a group. Complaints about the intrusion of politics into policymaking often refer to the intrusion of this kind of politics of factional representation. A third kind of politics is bureaucratic: this is the use of bureaucratic discretion by state officials, which may be for idealistic goals, to enhance their own power, protect turf, serve the interests of some constituency, encourage cooperation or agreement among stakeholders, or to protect themselves from popular protest or political interference by elected officials. A fourth kind involves protest and disruption, typically by formal or informal NGOs focused on a single issue or decision.

High politics is the place where the familiar language of “the political” is least prone to obliteration. Yet it is also a setting that places particular, and extraordinary, demands on knowledge. Leaders typically act in situations of uncertainty and incomplete information, typically of conflict, when the intentions of their enemies and the reality of the situation are unknown, and in which, and this is perhaps the most important feature, there is relevant information, for example, secret information, which is open to question with respect to its reliability. In these cases, the leaders must necessarily rely on their assessments of the knowledge claims of others and of their veracity, competence, and the adequacy of their understanding of the situation. High politics, in short, is about situations of conflict or of seriously consequential decision-making in which the participants have neither the leisure nor the capacity to wait before acting, necessarily involving epistemic judgments of the knowledge at hand. High politics in this sense is not restricted to the classical situations of warfare and diplomatic strategy.

* Experts, in particular, have usually played a small role in the kinds of political and biographical narratives that traditionally serve as a basis for our understanding of the nature of politics. Discussions of the decision making of leaders themselves have typically focused on the agonistic aspects of politics, the calculations that leaders make in relation to adversaries and rivals. This is understandable. The choices and tactical and strategic decisions of adversaries and rivals are the largest of the uncertainty with which decision makers in politics are compelled to cope. Experts have not played a starring role in these narratives, or been treated as adversaries simply because, though there are interesting exceptions, they usually are not themselves rivals to power nor do they possess means of altering the contingencies faced by the leader. To paraphrase Napoleon’s famous remark on the Pope, they have no battalions. Experts traditionally have played an opposite and less dramatic role. The reliance on experts by politicians is designed to reduce uncertainties or answer questions about what possibilities are open to the adversaries and to the political figure, leaving the decision making to the leaders themselves.

* The committee calculated correctly about the problem of a congressional inquiry: the success of the bomb in ending the war precluded the questions that failure would have produced. This was the dog that didn’t bark – but it was very much part of the story. Byrnes anticipated the kind of. Congressional inquiry that might have followed a decision to hold the bomb in reserve and chance an invasion. A large and highly motivated group of families of the troops who would have perished in the invasion would have asked whether the decision makers had the blood of these soldiers and marines on their hands. The risk of very high casualties was impossible to rule out. If the families of the dead were told that the decision had been made because a group of scientists involved in the development of the bomb were squeamish about its use, or that they were willing to use it against Hitler, but not Japan, the political consequences would have been enormous. The question “who lost China?” poisoned the political debate for a generation, and that was a large part of Lyndon Johnson’s motivation in the Viet Nam war to avoid a similar question. The political consequences were, moreover, “democratic.” The leadership knew that the representatives had the power to hold them responsible: the fallout that they wished to avoid was from their own citizens, and from the elected representatives who would be sure to exploit the inevitable questions to advance their own careers. Thus the decision was a paradigm case of democratic accountability.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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