“Everything is Politics”

Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), famed Prussian general and author of On War, defined war as “the continuation of politics by other means.” The clear presupposition of von Clausewitz’s definition is that politics and war have the same end in mind, defeating and dominating all opposition. Only the means differ. Of course, we may object to the Machiavellian nature of von Clausewitz’s realpolitik. But as a description of how nations actually relate, it often fits the facts. As I try to make some sense of the upheaval that characterizes contemporary society, von Clausewitz’s definition of war comes to mind. Only, it needs to be flipped on its head, so that it fits contemporary social facts. It’s flipped form reads as follows:

“Politics is the continuation of war by other means.”

Follow me one step further. In times of national crisis, everything you do and say and every relationship becomes political. The novelist and Nobel Prize laureate (1929) Thomas Mann, writing about German culture just before WW I, said, “Everything is politics” (The Magic Mountain, 1924). Perhaps you have heard the feminist assertion, “The personal is political.” This slogan entered popular culture with the publication of Carol Hanisch’s 1969-essay by that title. It was used by Gloria Steinem and other feminists of the late Twentieth Century to make all dimensions of male/female interactions matters of public debate and policy.

It seems to me that the idea expressed in the assertions “everything is politics” and “the personal is political” has been taken up and generalized by contemporary post-modern culture. They are no longer merely theoretical and aspirational but are descriptive of the facts of the present state of society: every social interaction is a political act and every person is an ally or an enemy in a political cause. All relationships have become relations of power. In every interaction, we oppress or are oppressed, dominate or are dominated, we act as racists or anti-racists, or we win or lose. The logic goes as follows:

War is politics (von Clausewitz).

Politics is War (Highfield’s inversion of von Clausewitz)

The Personal (everything) is political (Post-Modernism)


The personal (everything) is War.

Think about it: social media, the press, sports, business, entertainment, education from kindergarten to graduate school, science, family life, and marriage—everything is political! Everything is war. And in war everything is fair: Pandora’s Box is opened. Legions of demons are unleashed: hatred, lies, slander, theft, murder, rage, betrayal, and spying. No evil is forbidden as long as it helps our side. “Truth” is only an idea that can be plausibly used to justify our cause. “Reality” is a state of affairs (in military terms, “facts on the ground”) to be created by power. “Justice” is a vision of our interests realized. “Peace” is but hidden preparation for war.

Concluding Thought

Genuine peace is possible only if we deny and resist the philosophy that asserts, “the personal (that is, everything) is the political.” The peacemaker denies that every relationship is a power relation. Peacemakers seek to replace win/lose with win/win interactions. They seek unity among differences. They expand rather than contract the space of the personal.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God” (Matt 5:9).

Next Time: What is the difference between ethics and politics, between what is right and what is legal? If “everything is political” there can be no difference between the two. But peace is possible only if the two differ.

3 thoughts on ““Everything is Politics”

  1. Dr Jonne Smalhouse

    Hello Ron.
    May one remind your readers that there are some quite different sides to an argument on politics and war… Clausewitz was one such exponent who declared “the study of the forces that shape, maintain, and alter the state is the basis of all political insight and leads to the understanding that the law of power governs the world of states, just as the law of gravity governs the physical world. The older political science was fully aware of this truth but drew a wrong and detrimental conclusion- the right of the more powerful. The modern era has corrected this unethical fallacy, but while breaking with the alleged right of the more powerful”. He has been shown, to have himself been an adherent to another tyrranical general of the ‘ancient’ world of which he speaks in echoes, namely Thucydides. This general has been described by scholars as ” a cynic devoid of moral sensibility” and whose vision requires that ” man, isolated from and opposed to nature, moves along a narrow path, unrelated to what lies beyond…” Now these snippets are all fair and proper ( excepting that Einstein’s ideas on gravity are more up-to-date and useful), but in actual fact, it may be useful to look at the politics (and ideas on warfare) expounded by Plato, Aristotle, or even Socrates and Democritos before wholly relying on Thucydides! The latter tending towards the encouragement of a well known german dictator who favoured him.
    Moving swiftly on, let’s not quote whole tomes of Greek philosophers; but suffice it to say, allowing a slightly more modern adversary to Clausewitz, earlier and namely John Locke, who uses Plato and Aristotle to derive his politics from nature, happiness, the law of property (and personal property) and indeed God. As i remember, Locke declares that a person’s property, and their rights as an individual are unassailable ( perhaps even God-given) and the only difficult exceptions in their defense being the taking of life. Does any of this sound familiar? Have a read up…. Much of modern UK and USA law begins in Locke (if i may be so bold).
    Lastly. Sometimes a person has said to me ” i hate that flavour milkshake, it makes me sick…” to which i reply ” no you don’t, you mean to say that you dislike it intensely!” A general or a soldier or a patriot or a politician may truly ‘hate’ their enemy, but it should be a path less travelled, for where there is hatred there is also bitterness and evil. And so to talk about politics and war in this fascinating way is a real challenge. Just remember (with great respect) that there are alternative ideas and sensible rhetoric.


  2. ifaqtheology Post author

    I accept your admonition. My main point, however, is not about war but about how our society make all things political so that we can talk of nothing else and every relationship is political.


    1. Dr Jonne Smalhouse

      Totally agree. That comes over loud and clear. Apologies.
      Your main tenet makes me think, as i sometimes write upon, that man and humanity ( the mind of ) is a simple ” difference engine”. It fails on so many levels to unpolarize itself; Aristotles’ median path or middle ground is seemingly impossible.
      T= total depravity.
      And of course, why the life study and practise of walking with Jesus is essential.



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