There are many ways to define or categorize politics, whether by tactics, structure, customary practices, or other means. One of those other means is categorizing the politics of a system by the basic purpose of such politics. The noted military theorist Carl von Clausewitz noted, “War is a continuation of politics by other means.” But what is often missed in that definition is Clausewitz tacitly assumes politics is a form of conflict short of war… and that, in my experience, is certainly true.
While there are many purposes behind political conflict, those that are most basic, at least from what I have observed, are the politics of economic conflict, which one might call the politics of avarice, and ideological conflict, or the politics of belief. Historically, these two conflicts have usually been intertwined to some degree, in that economic systems reflect the beliefs of those in control of the economy and that belief systems cannot persist without economic support.
History has shown that when the politics of belief take control of a society and explicitly dictate who may hold power, or even survive, based on their adherence to a particular system of belief, that’s usually when politics get really nasty, and life gets unpleasant, if not fatal, for those who do not share the beliefs of those in control, as witness Spain under the Inquisition, the Taliban, ISIS, Germany during the Third Reich, and other political systems dominated by a requirement for absolute adherence to a belief.
One might claim that it’s just as bad when pure economics reign, but I’d contend that, while an unfettered market system will invariably create great income inequality, the privations created by that inequality generally don’t create the systemic executions, torture, and oppression regularly imposed by the tyranny of political systems that require adherence to a specific belief structure.
That may be why I have great concerns about those individuals, even those with the best of intentions, who wish to use politics as a means to legally impose belief structures on individuals. A true believer, even with the best of intentions, still poses a danger to all society, while a pure free market advocate poses a danger to the poor and disenfranchised.
Both need to be curtailed, but the danger posed to society by not curtailing the true believers is far greater, something that the Founding Fathers felt most strongly, and that was why they insisted on the separation of church and state, something that today’s true believers would have us forget or ignore.