Politics are not an abstract concept produced by theorists outside the realm of practical developments or solely with a normative commitment to an idealized order.
Politics at an abstract level can be seen as a particular kind of engagement whose goal is to acquire enough power capability so that the power holder is able to influence the identity, interests and behaviors of others, both at home and abroad. Deciding who gets what and when lies at the center of various kinds of political engagements.
From a philosophical perspective, all political activities, whether they are conducted at the individual, family, societal, state, international or global levels, have one overriding goal: to ensure the physical integrity, prosperity and well-being of the actor that engages in such activities. Whether we talk about states, individuals or other political actors, all political activities are also normative in essence.
Ensuring physical survival, trying to become more powerful than others and acquiring the tools so that one can transform the others with the influence of its own image, are all normative exercises. We all tend to believe that we deserve to exist in this world and for us to exist in good physical and mental conditions we need to strive to bring into existence a friendly environment.
If we don't live in a friendly environment, neither our physical survival nor mental integrity can be guaranteed. The need to pursue transformational policies at different scales has become more acute in recent years as growing exposure to others alongside the processes of globalization, integration and transnationalism has begun affecting our lives more decisively than ever.
We no longer have the luxury of separating ourselves from others and live in our ghettos. The idea that we need to survive is at its roots a normative claim, for we believe that our existence in this world matters.
Looking at it from this angle, all normative preachings with respect to how things at home and abroad should be organized do in fact reflect the quintessential goal of politics, that is to survive physically and spiritually. Fear and survival instincts lie at the center of political activities. Alternative conceptualizations of order and justice at different levels are all attempts at making sure that we physically survive and have a good life.
Looking from this perspective, one can safely argue that different understandings of how things should be done in fact reflect our different interpretations of what exists in reality. The idealized world we cherish constitutes our real world. Our individual prescriptions of a much better and just life do serve our need to survive.
As in domestic politics, the underlying goal of politicians in foreign politics is to ensure their survival through the employment of different strategies and instruments. Irrespective of regime type, political ideologies, national role conceptualizations, formal rules of political arrangements, personality traits of decision-makers and many other variables that potentially affect foreign policy, the motivation of politicians is to come to power in their countries, remain there and help bring into existence a friendly environment at home and abroad.
Strategies, road maps, blueprints, tactics and instruments might change, yet the key goal remains the same, coming to power, staying there and changing the surrounding environment in your image.
Looking at foreign policy from this perspective suggests that there are no clear dividing lines between domestic and foreign policy. Similar to Prussian military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz's famous dictum that war is the continuation of politics by other means, foreign policy is also the continuation of domestic politics outside national boundaries.
As it is said in the context of American politics, foreign policy does not stop at the water's edge. All international engagements are undertaken with domestic political considerations in the background. This is the case all over the world and neither regime type, personal characteristics of rulers, the geographical location of countries nor power distribution within the existing system would change this fact.
As the constructivist international relations theory puts it succinctly, domestic and foreign politics are constitutive of each other. Therefore, it is wrong to accuse any politician in any particular country of putting political interests at the center of his or her political engagements at home and abroad. As classical realists argue, the rules of politics are the same internally and externally.
Yet such a characterization of politics should not lead us to conclude that the ends will always justify the means. Philosophers Thomas Hobbes, Hans Morgenthau and Kenneth Waltz are correct to point out the anarchical nature of the political environment in the general sense and the importance of survival logic undergirding different political activities.
Yet on the other hand Machiavelli's abject amorality in political life should not distract us from the fact that social relations at home and abroad can only be built on the basis of two timeless maxims, namely: "people are social animals" and "treat others the way you want them to treat you."
If one cardinal rule of politics is to survive and maximize power, the other is that human beings cannot live alone. All political activities are conducted in social environments, and we should never cease our efforts to strike the right balance between survival or power needs on the one hand and the eternal principle that "unity can only be achieved in diversity" on the other.
* Professor at the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Antalya Bilim University
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