What does “The Primacy of Politics” mean?

Patrick McCorkle
6 min readJun 26, 2016


Imagine if there were riots all over your city, state or nation. It quickly becomes dangerous to be outside. Schools decay, businesses leave and poverty becomes rampant.

No one restores order.

No, I am not describing what happens in the aftermath of a family gathering with your in-laws or bachelorette\bachelor parties. It is similar, but what I am describing is the breakdown of all political authority.

To me, such chaos demonstrates the “primacy” of politics. What does primacy mean? The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “the state of being the most important thing.” So the name of this blog, “The Primacy of Politics”, refers to politics being first in importance above all else.

Now, let’s define what politics means.

We will work with this definition: “The activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially if the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power.” Not surprisingly, political science Professor Harold Lasswell titled his book, “Politics: Who gets What, When, How.”

In other words, politics is all about resolving disputes- hopefully peacefully- and then dividing resources appropriately. You may think of a politician as an used car salesman with a new career path, but he or she ultimately wants to resolve conflicts and allocate materials in a civil manner.

In colorful language, a functioning political system means instead of you screaming at an another citizen in a manner worthy of reality TV, you use the government to resolve the matter.

To avoid redundancy, I will use politics and government interchangeably for the rest of the piece.

Breaking down “The Primacy of Politics” thanks to our two definitions, it can be translated as “the importance of resolving disputes and dividing resources peaceably above all else.”

Let’s try a thought experiment.

Much like air, politics, political structures and government demonstrate their value once they don’t exist.

Now, what happens when they don’t work? When disputes are not resolved and resources are not distributed peacefully?

First, our lovely federal government fails. The dislike of the federal government is legendary and trust in our national government has not been great since Watergate. No big loss, right? With the destruction of federal authority, Republicans, Democrats, Independents and other political groups do not recognize Washington, D.C. as the national seat of our government.

Everyone from New Deal Democrats to Tea Party Conservatives suddenly cackles with glee and takes advantage of the chaos. Multiple parallel societies arise. How do we coordinate our national defense, allocate farm subsidies or watch boring as hell footage on CNN?! D.C. is no longer recognized as a legitimate authority.

Let that sink in- D.C. is not universally recognized as our capital, the seat of national government.

This easily leads to a civil war, and those are not exactly a fun night at Buffalo Wild Wings. We forged our nationhood through the blood of the Civil War- let’s not do it again. Due to all these rival groups, treaties, diplomatic arrangements and trade agreements with foreign nations will be redone.

Additionally, powerful rivals like China and Russia could swoop in and take advantage of the chaos. There is virtually nothing left of the United States.

Considering this awful scenario, the national government is working rather effectively. You cannot claim the federal government sucks because it took an extra two weeks to process your stinking passport! Or because politicians are dicks to each other- politics is a blood sport, unfortunately.

A functioning federal government allows the other levels of government to operate freely, knowing if something is too large for them, they can rely on the federal bureaucracy. The Supreme Court, the federal budget, national defense, the IRS- without the federal government these things do not exist. True, the DMV is gone, but at a high price.

Obviously, the situation mentioned above leads to the collapse of state governments. You may be thinking- “No way! Screw the federal government! It is a leech and doesn’t do anything- states do all of the work while the feds piss our money away!”

While this initially seems logical and appealing, similar to when your parents leave for a weekend so you throw a raucous keger, the argument does not hold. Each state becomes a sovereign state and independent authorities without the federal government. If a dispute arises between two states, what institution arbitrates the conflict? How do we regulate trade or conduct defense?

The Articles of Confederation failed because there was no strong, central authority. No state survives the infighting and lack of a national authority. Your local state university, while giving you a shitload of debt, was a fun place to spend seven years. With the state government gone, how does one transfer credits between institutions? Say goodbye to inter-library loan as well.

For you travelers out there, you can’t visit a different city or county because of political breakdown, violence or the fact that people can’t decide who should pay the taxes for state highways! Many people commute for their jobs- this rests upon businesses providing work and a state government which oversees such commerce. You may think your governor is a douche or may not want to pay state taxes, but trust me- you don’t want the absence of state government.

Finally, let us turn to local government. For the Rousseau-lovers and city-state enthusiasts, this may be a dream come true. Once and for all, you can enjoy your local community without interference from pesky state or federal intervention.

However, city government is dependent on state government like state government is dependent on the federal government. Unless you can get all the oil, food, drink, and other resources from your local municipality, you are up sh#t creek. Without the proper materials, your city will devolve into infighting and anarchy.

In the past, you would have watched paint dry instead of attending a city council meeting or heaven forbid, running for office. Now, you would kill for any of these things. Boring city council meetings and crusty local politicians asking for your vote demonstrate that local politics is working. Isn’t it a lot better to have several older people, probably from the Old Testament, discussing problems in a boring, yet diplomatic matter than to have dudes auditioning for The Purge: Election Year running around?

Without a clear political authority, local law enforcement will quickly become ineffective. Finally you realize that those dumb and annoying city ordinances are local people coming together, debating, voting and passing laws which improve the condition of the municipality. Local government may be boring, but heck it is essential.

In conclusion, politics is the resolution of disputes and distribution of resources, ideally in a civil manner. A failure in the federal government would lead to failures in state and local politics. Failed governments lead to anarchy, civil war, foreign occupation and a crappy time.

I hope that the name “The Primacy of Politics” makes even more sense now.

The bottom line is that we Americans have had functioning local, state and federal governments during our history. We had one several civil war and we have never been conquered by a foreign government.

We have had our periods of crisis, but America has always emerged triumphant. Thus, we take for granted how important politics is to a productive and prosperous society. Our past success is no guarantee of future success.

When you struggle to engage politically, ask yourself, what happens if government, politics and political structures fail? If federal, state and local politics all collapse in succession? Picturing these nasty realities will help you appreciate and get involved in politics. If our citizenry does not take an active interest in political matters, things rot and decay quickly. While you gaze lovingly upon your cat pictures, remember they may not be around if political authority disintegrates.

Ok, ok, I will shut up. I hope those cute cats are something else :P

Thank you so much for reading. Please like, share or comment if you would be so kind.

Originally published at theprimacyofpolitics.blogspot.com on June 21, 2016.

Edited on November 13, 2020 to current version



Patrick McCorkle

I am a young professional with keen interests in politics, history, foreign languages and the arts.