Politics is an array of activities between interacting groups of people nurturing sets of thoughts, ideals and goals. Every society is made up of people who react to their social surroundings by developing converging or conflicting views and opinions. Patterns emerge and become consolidated when people unite, forming parties or movements to share and propagate what they stand for. The adherence to a wider set of ideological and spiritual beliefs further defines the identity of the respective movements resulting in a political spectrum.
The Political Spectrum
In a democratic state, parties with similar or opposing ideals compete in elections with the aim of winning the majority of votes cast by the general public. Whoever succeeds best is then elected to parliament with the mandate and responsibility of governing the nation. The origins of politics go as far back as civilisation itself. The ancient Greeks introduced one of the first forms of a democratic self-government in the sixth century BC and distingiuished between four main systems of rule: Democracy, Monarchy, Oligarchy & Tyranny.
The Ancient Greeks created one of the first organised political structures in the 6th Century BC
Skipping forward to the Middle Ages, for many centuries Monarchs and Emperors had governed Europe and any possessions abroad through a feudal-based system, appointing their own gentry to ensure control in every district or region. Most people were poor, illiterate, had no say, nor any real opportunity to improve their social status and lives. This state of affairs invariably led to abuse or neglect by the Monarchy or its representatives, often resulting in tyranny leading to rebellions and civil wars.
The Feudal Pyramid
One of the foundation stones of democracy was set in 1215, when English nobles stood up to King John's unpopular autocracy and compelled him to sign a charter of rights. Magna Carta was essentially a list of legal concepts ensuring fundamental human and civil dignity. The nobles went a step further by establishing parliament in England that same year, for better co-ordination and to limit monarchy rights.
King John of England The Signing of the Charter Magna Carta
The parliamentary system soon spread across Europe and gained power over time. However the roots of the modern political system, spectrum, and other democratic concepts, only go back to the 18th century AD. Many scholars and intellectuals started to question established beliefs, such as the authority of Monarchies and the Church, in favour of reason over superstition and science over blind faith. This period, known as the Age of Enlightenment, conceived a radical international reform movement with powerful political overtones, emphasising the notion that everybody was of equal value and should have equal rights. Calls were made to end civil or dogmatic manipulation in the name of individualism, liberty and progress.
Prominent Enlightenment Thinkers
A wave of historical events from the latter half of the 18th century would then bring around massive changes in Europe and around the world. A series of wars broke out between France and Britain in their struggle for territorial expansion, the first of which lasted seven years between 1754-1763. The war nearly bankrupted Britain but ended France's presence as a land power in the North American Continent. Initiatives by the British Monarchy to restore the economy included new levies and other intrusive measures affecting trade within its American Colonies. Further oppressive measures and British military power-flexing eventually stretched tensions to breaking point.
British Infantry in their distinctive redcoats fighting the French and American Indians during the 7-Year War
In April 1775, American patriots pronounced a Declaration of Independence and took up arms against Britain. The conflict soon spread to other countries and by its end in 1783, Britain had lost its American colonies. France too had suffered, since the war has cost the state over 1.3 billion Livres, a huge unsustainable sum which led to a major financial crises and hunger.
The American Declaration of Independence and the Call to Arms
The wealth of the French monarchy, in contrast to the appalling state of poverty of the people, inevitably led to unrest. The success of American opposition to autocratic monarchy rule imbued with fresh ideas of the enlightenment, combined with the daily hardship being suffered by the people inspired them to conduct a major revolt in 1798. A massacre ensued leading most of French nobility to flee in exile or fall under the blade of a guillotine. The King and his life were beheaded and attempts made to reform the administration of the country as Europe's first Republic of the modern age based on three fundamental concepts: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.
An allegory of Liberty leading the People in the French Revolution & the end of King Louis XVI
The success of the revolution sent shockwaves across the world, and a growing fear by Royal Houses across Europe that they would suffer a similar fate. The call for individualism, independence and self-government became even louder through the 19th century as parliaments grew stronger and regencies weaker. National Constitutions were revised and electoral systems refined to allow people of all social classes to vote for their own representatives. This and other processes evolving as a result of the age of enlightenment led to most monarchies ceding their administrative power to the people. The Church similarly lost most of its temporal power, authority, and ability to interfere within matters of the state. The achievement of independence at an individual level evolved to notions of independence on a national level, and eventually resulted in the dissolution of empires across the world.
Kindly access the pages linked below to read about how the international events mentioned above affected Maltese socio-political affairs and how these developed in their own right. Click on image to leave page or underlying text to open in a new tab.
Images Cover Image cropped from Una Pagina di Storia Patria by Dr. Enrico Zammit Lld (1884) - AAFM Archive The Political Spectrum - Thoughtful Ideas via Medium.com / Jason Miller via Cactus Canyon Jr. High School (Ajusd.org) Ancient Greek Politics - Heritage-history.com King John of England - Spartacus-educational.com Signing Magna Carta / Magna Carta - Winstonchurchill.org / AzaToth via Wiktionary.org Enlightenment Thinkers - Jonathan Israel via Jewishstudies.washington.edu British Redcoats in Action - Mark Beerdom via Pinterest.com Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull - Wikipedia.org Spirit of '76 by Archibald M. Willard - Britishbattles.com Liberty leading the People by Eugene Delacroix & Beheading of King Louis XVI - Wikipedia.org / Britannica.com