Chapter Summary

The clash between idealism (what we would like to do) and realism (what we are able to do) is a common theme in film and fiction, allowing us to easily relate our own internal struggle between idealism and realism with such classics as Batman The DarkKnight; between the purity of the classic DC Comics (idealist) and the recreated commercialized DC comics (realist). Nowhere is the clash of idealism and realism more salient than in the realm of politics.

Organizing the complexities of politics within the context of our personal experiences, preferences, and expectations, allows us to simplify our understanding of the political realm and political behavior on our own terms.  Our differing conceptual frameworks offer differing ways for thinking about politics, which can make it very difficult for the systematic study of politics and political behavior. We often fail to remain open to new concepts, different approaches, and alternative perspectives. Fiction is a tool, which can help us to set aside our preconceptions and allow us to share experiences and visit places that would ordinarily elude us. Fiction writers, political actors, political theorists, and ideologues commonly invoke images of utopia as a tool to communicate their views about politics. This can be an effective device because, by pushing an idealized vision to its conceptual extreme, a utopia can clearly project specific details of a better world—and it may, in fact, expose the dangers of that world.

Political theories and Political ideologies have contributed to our collective understanding of politics. While often considered the basis of political thought, political theory and political ideology differ in distinct ways. The purpose of political theory is the development of knowledge, while the political ideology is aimed at organizing and directing goal-oriented action.  Political theories raise and provide answers for persistent questions. Political ideologies shape our conceptual framework, creating belief systems shaped through culture, religion, family, language, or conscious choice.

The difficulty people have when attempting to define the term politics, the changing nature of the subject matter, and disagreements about how to conduct research all further confound the study of politics. Students should learn two very important lessons from this first chapter. First, the study of politics is fascinating. Second, reading only the chapter summary will not adequately prepare you for lecture or for an exam.