Metapolitics is a term used to describe political discourse that concerns itself with the underlying principles and assumptions of politics, rather than the specific policies or issues of the day. It represents a form of metalinguistic discussion about politics—a political dialogue about politics itself. Metapolitics operates at a meta-level of political discourse, seeking to comprehend the fundamental assumptions and structures of political thought and action. While it presents a complex and challenging field of study, it is essential for understanding the nature of politics and the potential for political change.
Examples of metapolitics include discussions about the meaning of democracy, freedom, and equality; examinations of the role of ideology in politics; analyses of the relationship between power and knowledge; and explorations of the possibilities for political transformation.
Metapolitics is often juxtaposed with “ordinary” politics, which concerns itself with the day-to-day functioning of government and political parties. It is regarded as a more fundamental and critical form of political engagement, as it seeks to comprehend the underlying forces that shape political reality.
The works of political philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Machiavelli; the writings of political theorists such as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida; the speeches and writings of political leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Margaret Thatcher; and the endeavors of political movements such as the French Revolution and the American Civil Rights Movement all serve as examples of metapolitics.
Metapolitics encompasses the broader ideological, cultural, and philosophical influences that shape and underpin political movements, strategies, and discourse. It transcends the immediate realm of traditional politics and delves into the underlying ideas, narratives, and assumptions that shape political ideologies and agendas.
Metapolitics focuses on long-term goals and aims to influence society at a fundamental level, seeking to shape the cultural and intellectual landscape to align with specific ideological visions. It involves strategies such as promoting certain values, ideas, and narratives through education, media, art, and cultural activities, with the intention of shifting the political landscape over time.
For those interested in metapolitics, the ongoing crisis in Manipur serves as a classic example. On the surface, it is often portrayed as an ethnic conflict between the majority Meitei community and the tribal Kuki community. However, understanding the metapolitics of present-day Manipur lays bare the entire truth. A commentary by Tuisem Ngakang titled “When Manipur Implodes: History, Politics, and Violence” encapsulates the situation. The demands and aspirations of one community are seen as anathema to the other community. The movement for Naga integration is perceived by Meitei and Kukis as an agenda to disintegrate Manipur. The demand for a Kuki homeland (which overlaps with Naga’s demand for greater Lim) is opposed by both Meitei and Nagas. The Meitei demand for ST (Scheduled Tribe) status is viewed with suspicion as an attempt to encroach upon tribal lands, both by the Kukis and Nagas.
Even in present-day Nagaland state, the division between the Tenyimi bloc, the Central Nagaland bloc, and the Eastern Nagaland bloc is influenced by metapolitics at play. Metapolitics is not ‘ordinary’ politics, and it can cause significant harm to ordinary people as the powers-that-be engage in it.