Politicalideas live. People who come up with political ideas die, but thepolitical ideas live even long after their death. For instance, theMarxist and liberal ideas developed by Karl Marx and John Lockerespectively was demonstrated through the cold war when the twophilosophers had long died. The ideas of these great politicalphilosophers informed the understanding of the conflict between Eastand West, and formed a political ideology that caused politicalmobilization around the world (Huysmans, 2015). There are severalways through which political ideas live: as inspiration in politicaldebate by being changed, adapted and re-appropriatedinstitutionalized practices by having consequences and bycirculating in political theory and practice. This essay will explainthese six different ways in order to enhance understanding of whetherideas are political, and how political ideas live. It uses real lifeexamples from history to determine whether the six ways actuallyapply. The examples of politicians and freedom fighters fromdifferent parts of the world throughout history will be used todemonstrate how political ideas have lived for a long time after thedeath of those who developed them.

Politicalideas as inspirations

Politicalideas which live as inspirations are mainly philosophical in nature.Political ideas inspire leaders to act in a specific manner in theirpolitical careers. Different political leaders are inspired bydifferent political ideas from the past to act in a specific manner.In the field of leadership and the people, political ideas live whenthey are inspired by great leaders and political philosophers fromthe past. For example, Karl Marx explained the Marxist approach toleadership while John Locke explained the liberalist approach(Huysmans, 2015, p.67).

TheMarxist approach explains the issues of class relations and conflictsin the society. This inspired the Cold War, which apparently emergedas a result of conflict in terms of capitalistic and economicstruggle. This reflects the Marxist approach which believes thateconomic change and capitalism is enhanced by class struggle thatresults in conflicts in the society. It is argued that the tenets orpolitical ideas of Marxism were inspired by Karl Marx and FriedrichEngels (Bartolovich &amp Lazarus, 2002). These ideas are politicalbecause they inspire the fundamental ideas of forming a governmentthrough specific mechanisms of social relations. It is also politicalbecause it supports the development of human society throughtransformation from capitalism to socialism. Such development cannotbe achieved without political players hence political activitiesshould be carried out to get the right form of government and theright people who can implement such transformations amidst resistancefrom those who embrace capitalism. Class struggle is an importantconcept of Marxism, which indicates that Marxism is indeed apolitical idea because it opens people’s minds regarding thedivision of the society between the rich and the poor (Gregor, 2012).This class struggle gives rise to political powers such as CubanRevolution which allowed Politician Fidel Castro to take power andcontrol the socialization of production in Cuba.

Marxistpolitical ideas have lived through a long period of time, inspiringseveral social movements and political ideologies includingrevolutions and the cold war. Different world views have also beeninspired by Marxism as a political idea. For example, China, Cuba,Vietnam and Laos have communist form of leadership which is inspiredby the Marxist theory. The Cuban Revolution of 1959 led to theleadership of Fidel Castro of anti-imperialism ideology, inspired bythe Marxist political ideas. The Soviet Union was also a socialistunion that was inspired by Marxism. Marxism is related to socialrelations, which inspires socialist movements including the SovietUnion and other communist and socialist forms of leadership andsocial interactions of people. Therefore, Marxist theories andpolitical ideas have lived through the years in form of inspirationsinspiring different forms of leadership and social relations amongdifferent classes and people in the society.

Liberalpolitical ideas developed by John Locke have also inspired worldviews in terms of liberty and equality. Liberalists support freedomof press, speech worship. They also support civil rights, freemarkets, democratization, secular governments and internationalcollaborations in trade and sociopolitical functions (Gregor, 2012,p.67). This is a political idea because it promotes politicalactivities including democratic elections and political leadershipand fight for civil rights which may result in political groups andclasses representing different interests in the society such asfeminism.

Liberalismhas inspired today’s world views in terms of leadership and peoplesignificantly. For example, the process of democratization andconstitutional rule experienced in most Western countries nowadays isinspired by the political ideas of liberalism. The need to expandcivil rights in Western countries, especially United States includingSecond Wave Feminism of 1960s and 1970s were fundamentally influencedby the political ideas of liberalism. Furthermore, civil rightsmovement experienced in United States in 1960s was inspired by theliberal views. Therefore, it is clear that the political ideas ofJohn Locke which existed several years ago have lived for a long timethrough the inspiration of several forms of leadership and movementsof people in the society.

Theidea of representation is also one of the fields that have attracteda great deal of inspiration from the past. The idea of representationis political because its definition is contestable and subject toadaptation. Representation is used in the contemporary society as ajustification for legitimate authority. Any idea is political if itis represented somehow. When a person claims that he represents theinterests of a certain group or person, then he arouses politicaldebate which makes representation to be considered as a politicalidea. For instance, the Labour Party of UK may claim that theConservative Party represents the rich people. This shows that theidea of representation emanates from political activity whichinvolves claim-making among various political groups.

TonyBlaire is also another key leader who was inspired by Machiavelli’stheory on the prince. According to Machiavelli, the prince wouldalways be contented with sharing power with fellow nobles whoconsider themselves as equals of the prince. Tony Blaire shared a lotof policy making roles with Gordon Brown who was a key leader in theLabour Party since 1990s. Gordon Brown was given the responsibilityto implement economic agenda while the Prime Minister carried outseveral other roles including security and foreign policy. This wasborrowed from Machiavelli’s political idea of the Prince becauseleaders or “princes” maintain their power under all costsincluding sharing power with other nobles.

Theidea of representation is one of the dynamic political ideas thatunderpin all forms of political organisation (Offe, 2006). As aninspiration, the idea of representation is used from generation togeneration as a way of mobilizing the support of electorates andother political groups. The ideas of self-government and liberty inthe fight for independence in some African countries are examples ofthe idea of representation as leaders are inspired by the idea tojustify their fight for the liberty of the people they represent. Forexample, the Apartheid in South Africa was inspired by the idea ofrepresentation to fight for the rights of black people. NelsonMandela and his group leading the Apartheid were inspired by the ideaof representation because they sought the legitimacy of authority byrepresenting the black people in the fight for freedom.

PoliticalIdeas Living in Political Debate

Somepolitical ideas are controversial and are subject to debates fromtime to time. Some authors are mentioned to support some differentarguments in political debates. For example, the book “The Prince”by Machiavelli is a significant centre of political debate asdifferent political groups argue about the justification ofMachiavelli’s political ideas (Huysmans, 2015, p.214). According toMachiavelli, what keeps politicians in power is their ability toseize power, rule and govern others, and make their own decisionswithout considering what others think. This is a political ideabecause it relies on mechanisms of acquiring power and ruling overothers. Machiavelli borrowed this idea from the success of AlexanderBorgia who used corrupt mechanisms to win elections by bribing andused the wealth of the church for the benefit of his family. Thiskind of political leadership involved infighting and bickering amongvarious cities in Italy. Each city was controlled by individuals orgroups eliminated competition through power mongering, betrayal,murder and other unjust mechanisms. According to Machiavelli’spolitical idea of the ideal prince, a leader does not have to be goodor just. In order to maintain a stable state, a “prince” shouldput aside good virtues such as kindness, justice and honesty.Therefore, this idea is political because it is based on how leadersmaintain political power.

Machiavelli’spolitical idea lives across generations through political debates(The Open University, 2015). Various political groups argue whetherthe use of corrupt mechanisms is a good political idea. Those whobelieve in justice and fairness oppose this contentious issue. Thedebate of this form of leadership is also kept alive following theHolocaust during World War II when millions of Jews were killed byAdolf Hitler in order to prevent the spread of the Jews in Europe.This mechanism of leadership which causes murder and great injusticeagainst some groups or individuals has become an essential topic ofdebate in contemporary politics. Hitler is a key personality whoappears in various political debates. Several leaders who opposepolitical injustice and violation of human rights in the contemporarysociety mention Hitler as a good example of politicians whosepolitical ideas were unjust and unfair. Therefore, such politicalideas live through debates as controversial ideas.

Theidea of democracy in the society is also a debatable idea which canlive on in the society through debates. This is a political ideabecause it falls under representation which ensures that the peopleor groups can choose the leaders that will represent their interestsin the government. Cleisthenes was the father of Athenian democracywho developed the idea of democracy during the era of classicalantiquity in Athens. The idea was a political one because it involvedthe selection of citizens in a random manner to perform judicial andadministrative functions in the government. Citizens were allowed tovote and speak in the assembly where laws were made. This democracyled to the modern democracy which is debated over other forms ofleadership including autocratic and Bureaucratic styles ofleadership.

Thosewho support democracy argue that democracy is good for certainreasons and those who support other leadership styles give their ownreasons for supporting them (Offe, 2006). The line which shows thelimits of democracy is also debatable because the Athenian democracyis definitely different from modern democracy. For instance, it isnot clear whether citizens should be given complete freedom to choosetheir own leaders to represent them or the chosen executives shouldchoose other leaders. The threshold or line shown be drawn to showexactly the position where minimal conditions for democracy are met.To draw this line, great political debates are made. The realdemocracy is far from being real, but the political idea as it wasinitially developed continues to be debated, to arrive at anagreeable minimum threshold.

Whensomeone says country A is more democratic or less democratic thancountry B, it becomes a question of political debate because no onecan determine in certainty what it means to become more democraticwithout a specific threshold of democracy (Huysmans, 2015, p.24).Therefore, countries pursue their own democracies believing them tobe the best level of democracy they can achieve, and struggling toachieve higher democracy as debate continues on how to achieve thebest or optimum level of democracy. The level of democracies indifferent countries and the threshold of democracy in each countrytherefore depend on the outcomes of political debates concerning thepolitical idea of democracy in general (Offe, 2006). In this regard,democracy and other styles of leadership are political ideas thatlive in through debates from generation to generation, and from onecountry to another.

Fromthis discussion, it is clear that the concept of political debates asa mechanism through which political ideas linked to the concept ofcrisis in representation because different politicians and differentcountries provide different levels and different views ofrepresentation through democracy.

PoliticalIdeas living by being changed, adapted and re-appropriated

Politicalideas can also be changed or adapted over the years to reflect thechanging political environment of a given point in time. In thisregard, Huysmans (2015) suggests that political ideas can be keptalive through recycling of political arguments from time to time.Political ideas may be changed, adapted or re-appropriated inpolitics to blend with the changing political environments. Forexample, when Stalin articulated his political ideas to the SovietUnion, he based them on Marxist school of thought but he did notpropagate them to appear exactly as those of Karl Marx. Instead, hechanged the political ideas of Karl Marx to become relevant to thesituation of the Soviet Union and the political waves that occurredat that time across the world. In this regard, the way through whichpolitical ideas live by being changed, re-appropriated or adapted canbe linked to the three issues of leadership and people,representation, and crisis of representation.

Oneof the political ideas which show the link between these issues isthe Marxist ideas which have been re-appropriated in some countriessuch as China. There are still some countries which have appropriatedthe political ideas of Marx to form a communist government that hasadapted some of the features of the Marxist political views (Offe,2006). This reflects a change in the political ideas that areconcerned with leadership and people. The original idea of Marxismwas concerned with a change from capitalism to socialism, but thecommunism leadership approach in China reflects increased role of thestate in economic activities with some elements of socialism andcapitalism at the same time.

Anotherexample is the leadership style of Tony Blaire. He was the UK’sPrime Minister between 1997 and 2007 (The Open University, 2015). Asa member of the Labour Party, Tony Blaire explained that he wasconcerned with socialism from the Marxism ideology, which placed himon the left. He believed in socialism because he considered it to berational and moral. However, he belonged to the Labour Party which isa democratic socialist. In this case, the Tony Blaire and his partyhave re-appropriated the older style of socialist leadership toinclude a new concept of democracy in order to be in line with themodern wave of democracy in the Western world. His socialist approachled him to intervene and engage in the war on terror, consideringterrorism as immoral.

Inhis speech following the terror attack in Washington on September 11,2001, Tony Blaire reiterated the need of the world coming together asa community to fight terrorism. In this case, Blaire adapted theMarxist’s view on terrorism to reflect the challenges facing theworld in the 21stcentury. Internationalization resulted from capitalism whichencouraged trade among countries, but the idea of socialism waschanged by Blaire and his Labour Party to involve socialism in theinternational community. The political idea of socialism as developedby Karl Marx continued to live through re-appropriation bycontemporary leaders such as Tony Blaire. Tony Blaire responded tothe terror attack because he recognized that his leadership would beshaped by events (The Open University, 2015). Therefore, he believedthat he would shape events with his political influence. In thiscase, he adapted his political idea to shape the events happeningaround him. Through Tony Blaire’s approach, it is clear thatpolitical ideas can live through re-appropriations where responsescan be changed to reflect the changing events in the political eventsnationally and internationally. Peter Riddell suggests that themodern political leader should be an actor in order to convince thepeople. He or she should be able to appear ordinary for the people tobelieve him or her. This supports the argument that political leaderslike Blaire play the role of keeping political ideas alive bychanging or adapting them to become suitable to the prevailingsituation.

Politicalideas living in institutionalized practices

Enactmentof institutions that implement certain practices in the society isone of the mechanisms through which political ideas live. In thiscase, political ideas live in practices within institutions.Practices within institutions are always affected by interests,passions and reason (Huysmans, 2015). People within institutionspursue their interests, use rational arguments and provide reason forwhatever they think and do. These practices allow political ideas tolive from generation to generation within those institutions. In thisregard, institutionalized practices as ways of keeping politicalideas alive are linked to the concepts of representation, leadershipand people, and crisis in representation.

Institutionalisedpractices are mainly influenced by representation democracy in themodern world (Haikio, 2014). Democratic institutions usually developcommunities where people are emotionally attached to each other,beliefs, and shared values that determine the way of life of thepeople within those institutions. Political institutions are marketswhere people pursue their interests. Political ideas are kept alivein institutions such as parliament, church, family, law, prison,medicine, etc. Once these ideas are institutionalized, they becomepart of the practices and beliefs of those institutions.

RobertDahl suggests that democratic institutions are required for variouspurposes. For instance, it serves the purpose of promoting freedom ofspeech (The Open University, 2015). Institutionalization of politicalideas also promotes participation. When these practices areinstitutionalised, they live within the institutions as part of thedemocratic political system. Freedom of speech is an idea that wasborrowed from the liberal theories of John Locke, and can be keptalive in democratic institutions such as judiciary, parliament andprisons which support freedom of speech. Institutions are formed toperform specific functions in a democratic society. This allowsleadership to go on with practices that are legitimately acceptablein the society.

Institutionalpractices and requirements for political parties and other politicalgroups also enable political ideas of the parties to live throughgenerations (Huysmans, 2015, p.64). For example, the Labour Party hasstood for social democracy for a long time and has institutionalizedthat political idea through party constitution. All other partiesalso have their laws which protect the parties’ political ideas.Furthermore, political ideas are also institutionalized in stateinstitutions such as national constitutions and kept alive throughrepresentative democratic institutions. Institutional requirementsalso include policies implemented by the government in order to proveits legitimacy and win the support of the citizens.

Accordingto James Madison who wrote TheFederalist Paper,institutionalisation of practices enables people to control theirrepresentatives in the government (Huysmans, 2015). For example, whengood public service is institutionalised in the state through a goodconstitution, the people can control the government by suing thosewho misuse public offices in courts, relying on the protection of theconstitution. Institutionalised practices live in representativedemocracies for a long time for people to be able to preventpoliticians and other leaders from abusing their public offices andpolitical powers and authority provided to them by those theyrepresent through democratic processes.

ByHaving Consequences

Politicalideas also live by having consequences in the political class and thesociety at large. This mechanism is linked to leadership,representation and crisis in representation. Political ideas haveconsequences because those who choose them will experience politicalexperiences, which may be either good or bad. For example, the ideathat technological arms were developed to drive the politics of theCold War successfully has led to heavy spending on the military(Huysmans, 2015). USA is one of the main examples of countries whichspend a lot of money on the military and its activities. Some othercountries have also developed sophisticated weapons such asexplosives to be used in war. This is borrowed from the Cold Warwhere weapons were developed through technology. Furthermore, thereis a political idea that the Cold War was an ideological struggle.This idea also had its consequence – it has shown the importance ofpropaganda as nations struggle or compete for domination across theworld. This affects leadership and representation because the leadersget a way of dominating while the citizens feel underrepresentedbecause their resources are used in wars rather than importanteconomic policies.

Somepolitical ideas also have consequences that affect how the world isstructured rather than national policies and budgetary debates. Forexample, the political idea of ideological propaganda during the coldwar led to consequences that go beyond policies. It led to socialstruggle between liberalists and communists, causing liberationstruggles, diplomacy, wars, and economic consequences (Haikio, 2014,p.21). These consequences have kept the political ideas ofideological struggle alive. The consequences have been sometimesviolent, causing terrorism and power struggle between differentcountries especially between countries of the East and Westerncounties. These consequences have lived for a long time, as peopleidentify themselves to specific ideologies which happened since theCold War. As a result, those political ideas still live alongside theconsequences they have caused.

Oneof the contemporary examples of political ideas that live throughtheir consequences is the political ideas of Tony Blair. He had apolitical idea of fighting against terrorism to enhance a peacefulworld. As a consequence of the Iraq War, Tony Blair built a rivalryat home which led to his political decline as the Prime Minister,until he resigned in 2007 (The Open University, 2015). This showedthat the political ideas of Blair caused consequences in hispolitical career that will live for a long time because other PrimeMinisters will learn from it and avoid being involved ininternational policies at the expense of home policies. Theinvolvement of Tony Blair in the Iraq War undermined his publicauthority and affected his public support. This indicates thatpolitical ideas live in consequences which affect the leadership ofcontemporary political leaders, and become a lesson to other aspiringleaders.

Circulatingin Political Theory and Practice

Politicalideas live by circulating in political theory and practice.Leadership and representation are enhanced by political ideas whichlive in political theory and practice. In terms of leadership, someleadership styles such as aristocracy and autocracy may not exist inpractice because people have abandoned them in favour of democracy,but they still live in theory (Haikio, 2014). On the other hand,democracy continues to live in practice because most countries areenhancing democratic development as part of political processes andin their political institutions. For instance, countries useuniversities and other educational institutions to teach courses thatconvey several political ideas. Therefore, political ideas live bybeing taught in political theories within institutional facilities ofthe state.

Politicaltheory encompasses all the other five ways through which politicalideas live because it is conveyed by showing the consequences ofpolitical ideas, how they inspire people, how they have beeninstitutionalized and how they are re-appropriated to speak ofcontemporary issues in the society (Huysmans, 2015). Politicaltheories present political ideas explicitly and systematically, andthese ideas have consequences in practice. Therefore, politicaltheories and practice explain how political ideas live.

Democracyas a style of leadership is a good example of how political theoryand practice keep political ideas alive. Democracy has been essentialpart of theory since the ancient Greek era. Nowadays, it is widelypracticed as a preferred style of leadership and representation ingovernments. Institutions teach about democracy through politicaltheory, explaining their origin, institutionalization andconsequences (Offe, 2006). When students and other people interestedabout politics learn about this political idea, they live it andpractice it in their political careers, and also pass it to othergenerations through learning and teaching.

Representationin the modern era represents a good example of how political ideaslive through practice. In a representative government, those inleadership claim authority because they are mandated by thedemocratic election they have undergone. Leaders in a democracyoperate a government of the people, by the people and for the people.This is a famous concept of democracy taught through political theoryfrom time to time. Therefore, the practice of modern representationis an important aspect of political practice that keeps politicalideas alive for a long period of time.


Thesix ways through which political ideas live can be linked to theconcepts of leadership, representation, and crisis in presentation.Leadership has been there in political theory and practice for a longtime, and carries a lot of political ideas which are kept alivethrough six major ways. First, political ideas live as inspirationsbecause the early fathers or founders of certain political ideasinspire coming generations to follow and allow their political ideasto live. Political ideas also live through people by being changed,adapted and re-appropriated. Political ideas regarding leadership andrepresentation are being changed from time to time to become relevantor adapt to the changing political events and environments. Thirdly,political ideas live in institutionalised practices. For example,democracy in leadership allows political ideas to beinstitutionalised in constitutions, representative parliaments andlaws of the country. Furthermore, political ideas live by havingconsequences on those who practice them. When leaders andrepresentatives hold specific political ideas, they experience theirconsequences which may be negative or positive, and others learn fromthem. Political theory and practice also allows political ideas tocirculate in people. Democracy, leadership and representation arepart of political theory and practice which are circulated throughinstitutions and political leaders and students to allow politicalideas to live. Lastly, political ideas are kept alive throughdebates. Some political ideas are subjects of debate which are passedfrom generation to generation through political debates. Forinstance, political ideas such as leadership styles are subjects ofpolitical debates which are kept alive by those debates.


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THEOPEN UNIVERSITY 2015. Transcripts:Room 1,The Open University.