High politics includes issues that are vital to the survival of a state, such as national security or warfare, whereas low politics deals with matters that are not essential to the nation's survival, such as social issues. This dichotomy dates back to the political theorist Thomas Hobbes. It gained increased usage during the Cold War Era, when questions of international security and possible nuclear warfare were paramount political issues.
The terminology of "high" and "low" politics suggests that those matters considered to be low politics are secondary or subordinate to high politics. According to this dichotomy, matters of high politics like national security and international affairs take precedence because the way in which they are handled determines whether lives will be lost, and whether the nation will survive against enemy threats.
The Cold War clarified the distinction between high and low politics. In an age when citizens and policy makers were intensely aware of the possibility of nuclear warfare and the accompanying extinction of human life on Earth, it was apparent which issues were of primary importance and worth fighting over.
Because of the complex nature of politics, high and low political questions are intimately intertwined. Matters of low politics affect those of high politics and vice versa. Furthermore, certain issues can slip between the two distinctions. Whereas political scientists previously considered international relations to undoubtedly be high politics, the current global environment has relegated most foreign affairs to the realm of low politics.