The word “politics” in ordinary conversations may refer to struggles for power or justice among antagonistic individuals or groups; the types of regimes by which people are governed; the ties that bind subjects to rulers or citizens to states; the election of representatives, passage of laws, and voicing of public opinion in democratic societies; and international relations among different polities, whether they be empires, multinational federations, or nation-states. The phrase “international politics” encompasses the waging of war and conducting of peace, the pursuit of national interests in competition with other states, norms of interaction among sovereign states, projects of humanitarian intervention, and collective efforts to enhance state security, global order, and human rights.
The study of such a complex subject has traditionally been divided into four overlapping fields:
- Political theory tackles the contested meanings of freedom, equality, power, justice, community, and individuality, as well as the clashing ideological perspectives by which different people make sense of political life. It also explores the ideas of influential political theorists from Plato to Thomas Hobbes to Hannah Arendt.
- American politics studies the history and current organization of political institutions at the national, state, and local level in the United States. It also examines popular conflicts in America over private rights and material interests; racial, class, and gender inequality; and public goods, including the good of American citizenship itself.
- Comparative politics covers the spectrum of political histories, systems of government, public policies, political parties, and social movements across the world. It examines, for example, parliamentary systems, ethnic conflict, authoritarian regimes, immigration policy, and nationalist movements from Asia to Europe to the Americas to Africa and the Middle East.
- International politics investigates U.S. foreign policy, international organizations such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, and the World Criminal Court; the politics of population migrations; war, terrorism, and international security; and the political dilemmas sparked by economic globalization and such border-crossing problems as resource depletion and environmental decay.
The Department of Politics at Mount Holyoke College offers students courses within all four fields as well as courses that cross the lines between them.