On the relation between politics and time

Ian Tregenza*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Citations (Scopus)


This article makes the case that politics, understood as a particular kind of public action, presupposes a notion of time marked by the three temporal states of past, present, and future. Political deliberation and judgment are future-oriented activities that, more or less explicitly, draw on the past for guidance. Aristotle's discussion of deliberative rhetoric in the Art of Rhetoric, which recognizes the inherent contingency of political decision making, is the classic treatment of the topic and is given some attention. Throughout western political theory this view of politics has been contested, most notably by figures such as Plato and Marx, whose respective attempts to transcend the contingency and unpredictability of politics, it will be argued, is connected to the endeavour to overcome the imperfections and conflicts bound up with the temporal order itself. Finally, the article examines two modern expressions of the desire to transcend politics in a timeless world of pure model building or universal morality. The first of these can be found in much contemporary neo-classical economic theory, and the second in the a-political politics of the international human rights movement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)366-376
Number of pages11
JournalAustralian Journal of Politics and History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2011

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