• The main objective of this unit is to understand the concept of ‘political’. The essence of political is the quest for bringing about an order that men consider good. The term politics is derived from the Greek word polis meaning both ‘city’ and ‘state’. Politics among the ancient Greeks was a new way of thinking, feeling and above all, being related to one’s fellows. As citizens they all were equal, although the citizens varied in positions in terms of their wealth, intelligence, etc. It is the concept of political which makes the citizens rational. 
    • Politics is the activity specific to this new thing called a citizen. A science of politics is possible, because politics itself follows regular patterns, even though it is at the mercy of the human nature from which it arises.
    • Greek political studies dealt with constitutions and made generalisations about the relations between human nature and political associations. Perhaps, its most powerful component was the theory of recurrent cycles. Monarchies tend to degenerate into tyranny, tyrannies are overthrown by aristocracies, which degenerate into oligarchies exploiting the population, which are overthrown by democracies, which in turn degenerate into the intolerable instability of mob rule, whereupon some powerful leader establishes himself as a monarch and the cycle begins all over again.

Aristotle authored “Politics” – a masterpiece on statecraft

  • Aristotle is considered as father of political science. It is Aristotle’s view that some element of democracy is essential to the best kind of balanced constitution, which he calls a polity. He studied many constitutions and was particularly interested in the mechanics of political change. He thought that revolutions always arise out of some demand for equality.
  • Ancient Rome is the supreme example of politics as an activity conducted by human beings holding offices that clearly limit the exercise of power. When the Romans thought about power, they used two words in order to acknowledge an important distinction.

Politics as a Practical Activity

  • Politics as a practical activity is the discourse and the struggle over organisation of human possibilities. As such, it is about power; that is to say, it is about the capacity of social agents, agencies and institutions to maintain or transform their environment, social and physical. It is about the resources, which underpin this capacity, and about the forces that shape and influence its exercise. 
  • Accordingly, politics is a phenomenon found in all groups, institutions and societies, cutting across private and public life. It is expressed in all the relations, institutions and structures that are implicated in the production and reproduction of the life of societies. Politics creates an conditions in all aspects of our lives and it is at the core of the development of collective problems, and the modes of their resolutions.

Politics Difficult to Define Precisely

  • A crisp definition of politics-one that fits just those things we instinctively call ‘political’ – is impossible. Politics is a term with varied uses and nuances. 
  • Perhaps, the nearest we can come to a capsule statement is this: politics is the activity by which groups reach binding collective decisions through attempting to reconcile differences among their members. There are significant points in this definition.

Nature of Politics

  • Politics is a collective activity, involving people who accept a common membership or at least acknowledge a shared fate. Thus, Robinson Crusoe could not practice politics.
  • Politics presumes an initial diversity of views, if not about goals, then at least about means. Were we all to agree all the time, politics would be redundant.
  • Politics involves reconciling such differences through discussion and persuasion.
  • Communication is, therefore, central to politics.
  • Political decisions become authoritative policy for a group, binding members to decisions that are implemented by force, if necessary. Politics scarcely exists if decisions are reached solely by violence, but force, or its threat, underpins the process of reaching a collective decision.
  • The necessity of politics arises from the collective character of human life. We live in a group that must reach collective decisions: about sharing resources, about relating to other groups and about planning for the future. A family discussion where to take its vacation, a country deciding whether to go to war, the world seeking to limit the damage caused by pollution – all are examples of groups seeking to reach decisions which affect all their members. As social creatures, politics it part of our fate: we have no choice but to practice it.

Politics: An Inescapable Feature of the Human Condition

  • So although the term ‘politics’ is often used cynically, to criticise the pursuit of private advantage under the guise of public interest, politics is infact, an inescapable feature of the human condition. Indeed, the Greek philosopher Aristotle argued that ‘man is by nature a political animal’. 
  • By this, he meant not just that politics is unavoidable, but rather that it is the essential human activity; political engagement is the feature which most sharply separates us from other species. For Aristotle, people can only express their true nature as reasoning, virtuous beings through participation in a political community.
  • Members of a group rarely agree; at least initially, on what course of action to follow.
  • Even if there is agreement over goals, there may still be a skirmish over means. Yet a decision must be reached, one way or the other, and once made it will commit all members of the group. Thus, politics consists in procedures for allowing a range of views to be expressed and then combined into an overall decision. 
  • As Shivley points out, ‘Political action may be interpreted as a way to work out rationally the best common solution to a common problem – or at least a way to work out a reasonable common solution.’ That is, politics consists of public choice.

What is Politics?

  • Everybody has some idea about the meaning of the term politics; to some people the question may even appear quite superfluous. ‘Politics’ is what one reads about in the papers or watches on television. It deals with the activities of the politicians, notably the leaders of political parties. What is politics all about? Why, precisely, are these activities ‘political’ and what defines the nature of politics? If one starts with a definition couched in terms of the activities of politicians, one might say that politics concerns the rivalries of politicians in their struggle for power. This would certainly be the kind of definition with which most people would agree. 
  • There would, also, probably be agreement that politics refers to the relationship between states on an international scale. ‘Politics is about power and how it is distributed.’ But power is not an abstract entity floating in the void. It is embodied in human beings. Power is a relationship existing wherever a person can impose his will on other persons, making the latter obey whether they want to or not. Hence, arises a situation characterised by leadership, a relation of domination and subordination. 
  • Max Weber, in his famous lecture of 1918, ‘Politics as a Vocation’, started by proposing that the concept of politics was ‘extremely broad-based and comprises any kind of independent leadership in action.’ In whatever context such leadership in action exists, politics is present. In our terms, political would include any situation where power relations existed, i.e. where people were constrained or dominated or subject to authority of one kind or another. It would also include situations where people were constrained by a set of structures or institutions rather than by the subjective will of persons.

Max Weber wrote ‘Politics as Vocation’

  • Such a broad definition has the advantage of showing that politics is not necessarily a matter of government, nor solely concerned with the activities of politicians. Politics exists in any context where there is a structure of power and struggle for power in an attempt to gain or maintain leadership positions. In this sense, one can speak about the politics of trade unions or about ‘university politics’. One can discus ‘sexual politics’, meaning the domination of men over women or the attempt to alter this relation. At present, there is much controversy about race politics with reference to the power, or lack or it, of people of different colour or race in various countries.
  • In a narrower sense, however everything is politics, which affects our lives through the agency of those who exercise and control state power, and the purposes for which they use that control. In the lecture quoted above, Weber after initially giving a very broad definition of politics in terms of general leadership, went on to produce a far more limited definition: ‘We wish to understand by politics’, he wrote, ‘only the leadership, or the influencing of leadership, of a political association, hence today, of a state’. In this perspective, the state is the central political association. A political question is one that relates to the state, to the topic of who controls state power, for what purposes that power is used and with what consequences, and so on.

What is State?

  • A new issue comes here: what is state? The question is by no means an easy one to answer, nor is there a general agreement as to what the answer should be. It must first be noted that there are various forms of the state, which differ from one another in important ways. The Greek city-state is clearly different from the modern nation state, which has dominated world politics since the French Revolution.
  • The contemporary liberal-democratic state, which exists in Britain and Western Europe, is different from the fascist-type state of Hitler or Mussolini. It is also different from the state, which existed in the former USSR and in Eastern Europe. An important part of the study of politics, and certainly an integral element of this book, is the explanation of what is meant by those terms. The purpose is to show how each form distinguishes itself from the other and what the significance of such distinction is.

State: Differences on Account of Political Institutions/Social Context

  • States differ in terms of their political institutions as well as in terms of the social context within which they are situated and which they try to maintain. So, while the liberal-democratic state is characterised by representative institutions such as a parliament and an independent judiciary, the leader controls the fascist state. 
  • With respect to the social context, the crucial contrast is between Western and Soviet type systems in so far as the former are embedded in a society which is organised according to the principles of a capitalist economy, while in the latter case the productive resources of society are owned and controlled by the state. In each case, therefore, the state is differently structured, operates in a social framework of a very different kind, and this affects and influences to a large extent the nature of the state and the purposes, which it serves.
  • There are different forms of the state, but whatever form one has in mind, the state as such is not a monolithic block. To start with, the state is not the same as the government. It is rather a complex of various elements of which the government is only one. 
  • In a Western-type liberal-democratic state, those who form the government are indeed with the state power. They speak in the name of the state and take office in order to control the levers of state power. Nevertheless, to change the metaphor, the house of the state has many mansions and of those, the government occupies one.

Ralph Miliband’s Views on the State

  • In his book The State in Capitalist Society, Ralph Miliband registers those different elements, which together constitute the state. 
    • The first, but by no means the only element of the state apparatus, is the government.
    • The second is the administrative element, the civil service or the bureaucracy. This administrative executive is, in liberal-democratic systems, supposed to be neutral, carrying out the orders of politicians who are in power. In fact, however, the bureaucracy may well have its own authority and dispose of its own power. 
    • Third, in Miliband’s list come the military and the police, the ‘order-maintaining’ or the repressive arm of the state; 
    • Fourth, the judiciary. In any constitutional system, the judiciary is supposed to be independent of the holders of government power; it can act as a check on them. 
    • Fifth, come the units of sub-central or local government. In some federal systems, these units have considerable independence from the central government, controlling their own sphere of power, where the government is constitutionally debarred from interfering. The relationship between the central and the local government may become an important political issue, as witnessed by the controversy in recent British politics over the abolition of the Greater London Council and the metropolitan countries, the argument about financing local government, ‘rate capping’, and so on. 
    • Sixth and finally, one can add to the list representative assemblies and the parliament in the British system. One may also mention political parties, though they are not normally part of the state apparatus, at least not in a liberal democracy. They play their obvious role in the representative assembly and it is there that, at least partly, the competitive fight between the government and the opposition is enacted.

Politics as a Vocation

  • The point brings us back to Weber and his already quoted lecture, ‘Politics as a Vocation’. After arguing that politics is concerned above all with the central political association, the state, Weber continued by maintaining that a definition of the state could not be given in terms of the tasks which it undertakes or of the ends it pursues.
  • There was no task, which specifically determined the state. Therefore, one had to define the state in terms of the specific means, which it employed, and these means were, ultimately, physical force. The state, Weber wrote, ‘is a human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory’.
  • There are three distinct elements combined here: a given territory, or geographical area, which the state controls; the use of physical force to maintain its control and thirdly, but most important, the monopoly of the legitimate use of such force or coercion. This legitimacy must be acknowledged by most, if not all, of those who are subject to the state’s power. 
  • Weber concluded that for him politics meant ‘striving to share power or striving to influence the distribution of power either among states or among groups within a state.’ It was also mentioned that each state exists within a particular social context. The study of politics is vitally concerned with the relationship of state and society. A state centered perspective on politics does not imply that its study should neglect what happens in the wider sphere of society and how that may, as Weber says, ‘influence the distribution of power’.
  • A further fact cannot be ignored: this is the continued growth and centralisation of state power. If one sees the state in terms of a specialised apparatus of domination, then the history of modern times has been marked by the extension of its scale and grip. The modern state requires an increasingly complex bureaucracy dealing with a mounting variety of tasks. It needs larger and more sophisticated armed forces, more regulative welfare agencies, and engages in a wider range of activities than was the case before. 

Karl Marx wrote Das Capital

  • This extension of the state’s sphere of action, its growth and development, applies both to liberal-democratic systems in their capitalist socio-economic context, and to socialist systems with their collective economic framework. Weber saw such growth manifested above all in the emergence of a trained, skilled and rationally effective bureaucracy. Someone of quite a different political and theoretical background, Marx, agreed with him on this point. 
  • Marx wrote in the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte of the growth of state power in France, which he saw as typical of the modern state. He described how through socialism, eventually the state would be abolished and society would govern itself without a specialised apparatus of repression. Weber, on the contrary, believed that socialism would need even more officials to administer a collectivised economy and society.

The Legitimate Use of Power

  • The point is that, although the state depends on force, it does not rest on force alone. Here, the notion of the legitimate use of power comes in, Power, in general, and so the power of the state, can be exercised in different ways. Coercion is one form of power and perhaps the easiest to understand, but it is not the only one. Not all power relations are to be understood on the basis of the same crude model. If a lecturer through force of argument and breadth of knowledge helps students to form their ideas, such a person exercises a kind of power, though not against the students’ will.
  • More to the point, all holders of power try to get those who are subject to their rule to believe in the rightness and justness of the power they wield. This attempt at justification in order to make people consent constitutes the process of legitimation.
  • One can refer to such justified or accepted power as ‘authority’ to distinguish it from such power as is obeyed only because of a fear of sanctions. In such a situation of legitimate power, or authority, people obey because they think it is right to do so. They believe, for whatever reason, that the power-holders are entitled to their dominant role. They have the legitimate authority, a right to command. In the words of one recent analyst of power, ‘Legitimate authority is a power relation in which the power holder possesses an acknowledged right to command, and the power subject, an acknowledged obligation to obey.’

Max Weber on Legitimation

  • According to Weber, there are three types of legitimation, i.e. three methods by which the wielding of power can be justified. The first type pertains to traditional domination. There, power is justified because the holders of power can appeal to tradition and habit; authority has always been vested in them personally or in their families. The second type is charismatic legitimation. 
  • People obey the power-holder because of the exceptional personal qualities displayed by the leader. Finally, the third type is of the legal-rational kind. People obey certain persons who are authorised by specific rules to command in strictly defined spheres of action. One might also say that the first two types are of a personal nature, while the legal-rational type shows a procedural character. 
  • As such it corresponds to the modern conception of political authority. It is, as Weber says, ‘domination as exercised by the modern “servant of the state” and by all those bearers of power who in this respect resemble him.’ It is obvious that the power-holders in any system will wish to have their power accepted as legitimate. Seen from their point of view, such an acceptance will permit a considerable ‘economy’ in the use of force. People will obey freely and voluntarily.
  • The means of coercion, then, will not need to be constantly displayed; they can rather be concentrated on those who do not accept the legitimacy of the power structure.
  • In any political system, there will be those who comply with the rules only because non-compliance will be punished. Clearly, however, the stability of any political system is enhanced to the degree that people voluntarily obey the rules or laws because they accept the legitimacy of the established order. Hence, they recognise the authority of those empowered by the rules to issue commands. In reality, all political systems are maintained through a combination of consent and coercion.

Legitimation: Central Concern of Political Science

  • These are the reasons because of which, as C. Wright Mills puts it, ‘The idea of legitimation is one of the central conceptions of political science.’ The study of politics is centrally concerned with the methods by which holders of power try to get their power justified, and with the extent to which they succeed. 
  • It is crucial in studying any political system to investigate the degree to which people accept the existing power structure as legitimate, and thus, how much the structure rests on consent as distinct from coercion. It is also important to ascertain the actual justifications of power, which are offered; that is to say, the methods by which a system of power is legitimised. 
  • This, as the elitist theorist Mosca points out, is the ‘political formula’ of any political system. The question of legitimacy, furthermore, is highly important in dealing with the topics of stability and change of political systems. Consent may be granted or withdrawn. It is true that political systems can survive in situations where large sections of the population cease to accord any legitimacy to the system.
  • The case of South Africa in the recent past may be cited as an example; similarly, that of Poland, where it seemed that the Jaruzelski regime had little legitimacy in the eyes of substantial popular elements. The point is that in such a situation, a regime has to rely mainly on force. It then finds itself in a more precarious position, vulnerable and open to the impact of fortuitous events. The system may survive for quite a time.
  • However, once it rests on force far more than on consent, one condition for a revolutionary change presents itself.

Process of ‘Delegitimation’

  • This explains why a revolution is often preceded by a period when the dominating ideas of the system are subjected to sustained criticism. One may call this a process of ‘delegitimation’ whereby the ideas, which justify the existing structure of power, come under attack. Long before the fall of the ancient regime in France, the ideas of Divine Right and of autocracy were ridiculed and refuted by the philosophers, the critics of the absolute state. Such a movement of delegitimation contributed to undermine the foundations of the old order. It prepared the way for its revolutionary overthrow.
  • A case in point in modern times would be the fate of the Weimar Republic when large sections of the German population lost confidence in the democratic regime and, fearing a communist alternative, gave their support to Hitler’s National-Socialist party.
  • The result was the fall of the republic without much of a struggle. Similar causes had similar effects all over the European Continent. Many western systems of liberal democracy were overthrown and replaced by fascist or semi-fascist authoritarian systems as happened in Italy, Spain, Austria and Hungary. The conclusion, in a general sense, must be that any system loses its stability once it ceases to enjoy legitimacy in the eyes of its subjects.
  • Finally, it must be noted that even in normal times, processes of legitimation and delegitimation are permanent features of any political system. The process of legitimation is carried on in more or less subtle ways through many channels available for the legitimation of the existing order. Legitimising ideas are absorbed from the earliest stages of education, diffused through a variety of forms of social interaction, and spread especially through the influence of the press, television and other mass media. Views, which are accepted or considered to be within the boundaries of the system, are almost forced on readers, listeners and viewers. Action, which goes beyond those limits, is presented as illegitimate. Being made to look very unattractive blocks off a range of political alternatives.

Manipulated Consent

  • There are still more effective methods available to prevent subversive ideas from even arising. They may be intercepted at source, the source being the conscious and even the subconscious mind. An important dimension of power is the capacity to affect and mould people’s consciousness so that they will accept the existing state of affairs without ever becoming aware of alternative possibilities. Consent, then, becomes manipulated consent. To a certain extent we are all affected by the prevailing ‘climate of opinion’. 
  • From there an ascending scale leads to a position where the moulding of minds, manipulation, is made the deliberate purpose of the state in order to create a monolithic popular mentality. Such was the purpose of Goebbels’ propaganda machine in Nazi Germany and this is still, the purpose of any totalitarian regime.
  • Manipulation is ‘power wielded unknown to the powerless’, as C. Wright Mills defines it. Peter Worsley points out that ‘the mechanisms by which consciousness is manipulated are of growing importance in modern society.’ In Marxist language, such manipulated consent would eventually produce a ‘false consciousness’. Against that, it could be argued that where people are free to choose and to express their choice as in liberal-democratic systems, the manipulation of consciousness is not possible.
  • Manipulation can only occur where free choice does not exist, as in one-party systems. It is also argued that wherever people are free to choose, but do not infact choose an alternative to the existing order-for example, by supporting parties committed to radical changes-it is safe to assume that the existing structure of society is broadly ‘what people want’. This would lead to the conclusion that the importance of political choice and the ability to freely express that choice cannot be overrated. However, ‘what people want’ is to some extent conditioned by various factors. Choice does not take place in a vacuum. In short, the choice itself cannot be considered as completely free from the impact of a process of legitimation.

Personnel of the State Machine: The Elite

  • From the short survey we have so far made of political problems, a few points of importance emerge which will recur in the following discussion. They chiefly stem from the fact that state power is structured or broken up, so to speak, into distinct sectors. 
  • It has already been mentioned that the specific relationship of the various sectors is determined by the political system within which they operate. The internal structure, say, of a communist state. A further question involves the personnel of these sectors. The state, after all, is not a machine; though the phrase ‘machinery of the state’ may be used. The state is a set of institutions staffed by people whose ideas and basic attitudes are largely influenced by their origin and social environment.
  • The composition of the state elite is an important problem in the study of politics.
  • J.A.C. Grifith in The Politics of the Judiciary, exemplifies what is meant by the term ‘state elite’ with reference to a recent study. It shows that in Britain, ‘in broad terms, four out of five full-time professional judges are products of the elite. It is not surprising that while discussing ‘judicial opinion about political cases’, Griffith finds ‘a remarkable consistency of approach in these cases concentrated in a fairly narrow part of the spectrum of political opinion.’ 
  • It must be noted here that from different theoretical points of view, different answers will be given to the question as to how decisive the nature and composition of the state elite are. Elitist theories accord the highest importance to this factor. In their perspective, the nature of a political system is best explained by an analysis of its elite, that ruling minority, which controls the state apparatus. In this perspective, almost everything depends on the talents and abilities of the leaders. 
  • A low quality of leadership will have disastrous consequences. For that reason, Max Weber was much concerned with the nature of Germany’s political leadership. He was in favour of a strong parliament, which, he believed, would provide an adequate training ground to produce leaders willing and capable of responsible action. Alternatively, leadership would fall into the hands of the bureaucracy whose training and life style made them unsuitable material for creative leadership.
  • Marxist theories would view the matter differently. They would accord less importance to the nature of the state elite. The argument would rather be that the purpose and the aims of state activity are determined less by the elite, but far more by the social context and the economic framework within which the state system is located. 
  • This structure is of greater significance, in this view, than the character of the personnel that staff the state machine. Generally, ‘structural’ theories would emphasize the constraints on the government stemming from the social structures within which the government has to operate. Nevertheless, the two types of interpretation need not be mutually exclusive.
  • This brings us to a final question, which deals with the relation of state and society. The phrase, which Marx applied to the Bonapartist state, that its power was not ‘suspended mid-air’, can be generalised to apply to all types of state systems. Then, several problems present themselves. 
  • How does the power structure of society affect and constrain the political leaders? To what extent does the state interfere to maintain and legitimise or, alternatively, mitigate the inequalities of the social system? To what extent indeed is ‘civil society’ independent of the state? For some theorists, the concept of ‘totalitarianism’ is meant to suggest a situation where society is totally controlled by state power and, therefore, has no independence at all.

Approaches in Political Science

  • Traditional Approaches.
  • Modern Approaches.
  • Contemporary Approaches.

Traditional approaches

Philosophical Approach
  • Socrates is known as father of philosophy. He has given the ‘theory of knowledge’. According to him, the real knowledge is the knowledge of ideas. And the mode of learning this knowledge is logic. Socrates prescribed dialectics. Why this knowledge is superior? Physical world is a world of change. Hence, there cannot be a permanent knowledge. Whereas the world of idea is a world of permanence. Hence this knowledge is of permanent nature, subject to the condition, it is a product of logical reasoning.
  • Plato: Plato is called as father of political philosophy. He has suggested that it is not enough to understand the features of existing states, it is more important to understand the ‘idea of state’. The purpose of existence of the state.
  • When we understand the idea, we can mould the existing states which are bound to be imperfect towards perfection. Thus besides the advantage of getting the foundational or permanent knowledge, philosophy can help in making our lives better. Plato emphasised that the knowledge of philosopher is not just for his betterment but for the betterment of the society. Thus philosophy has a huge utility for making our lives better.
  • Philosophical approach is the oldest approach present in political science. Political science started as a sub discipline of philosophy. Classical scholars dealt with philosophical issues or normative issues like justice, equality, rights, liberties.
  • Philosophical approach remained dominant approach till second world war. Major development happened in western Europe. Philosophical approach came under criticism by behavioralists. Behavioralists wanted to make political science ‘pure science’. Hence they rejected the study of normative issues. They advocated the study of facts. Lord Bryce held that “we need facts, facts and facts.”
  • Philosophical theories were criticised as ‘armchair theories’. They do not constitute verifiable and thus are not reliable source of knowledge. They also are inherently biased and divorced from the reality. However scholars like John Rawls, Leo Strauss, Isaiah Berlin, Dante Germino believe that the philosophical approach is most suitable for the discipline of political science.
  • Conclusion:
    • Politics is too complex, choice of approach will depend on the objective of research. Single approach is never sufficient. Different approaches need to be used in combination.
Historical Approach
  • It is also among the oldest approaches. It is considered as the simplest and the common-sense based approach for understanding politics and building theories. History is closely connected with politics. The relationship between the two disciplines is explained by the scholars as – if history is a root, politics is a shoot. History is past politics, politics is present history. It is to be noted that traditional international politics has been studied as ‘diplomatic history’. It was Machiavelli who strongly advocated the study of history to understand politics. According to him, history – rather than philosophy – is a better guide for the prince.
  • In modern times, scholars like Laski and Sabine have preferred historical approach. According to Laski, “Every thinker is a child of his times”. He also writes that “no political idea is ever intelligible, save in the context of time.” According to Sabine, “political ideas are themselves the products of the crisis phases of history.” Historical approach is the most common sense based approach. It serves the requirement of a sound approach. : 3 requirements – Factual, Causal, Evaluative.
  • Though historical approach has found huge favour, yet it suffers from following challenges:
    • History is too vast, it is challenging task to find out relevant data.
    • All that is in history may not be relevant and there are many concepts in political science like philosopher king, communism, which were never present in history yet important for the student of political science.
    • History in itself is a highly politicised discipline. Edward Said’s ORIENTALISM show that the history writing has been a political project.
    • Political scholars may not use history in a scientific manner. Machiavelli himself has done the selective use of history. He used only those examples which served his political purpose.
    • There are examples of political scholars making politics out of history. Karl Popper criticized Hegel and Karl Marx for committing the guilt of historicism. Which means ideological use of history. e.g. When Marx explains history as a product of class struggle, his purpose if political.
    • John Plamanetz has criticized, making political ideas dependent on history. He suggests that political ideas should be understood on the basis of logic.
  • Conclusion:
    • Politics is too complex, choice of approach will depend on the objective of research. Single approach is never sufficient. Different approaches need to be used in combination.
Empirical Approach
  • Empirical approach is based on observation. We can observe the physical facts and human behaviour. We cannot observe ideas. Machiavelli proposed empirical approach along with historical approach. He warns prince against living in the world of ideas whereas he suggests prince to look at the things as they are.
  • If Plato recommends philosophy, Machiavelli recommends observation, Aristotle is the connecting link. Aristotle’s theory of forms emphasize on the interdependence between idea and matter, the world of being and becoming. In order to understand empirical approach, we need to compare it with philosophical approach.
Empirical ApproachNormative / Philosophical Approach
Study of factsStudy of Ideas
ObservationMethod: Logic
Descriptive (They describe what reality is)Prescriptive or Normative (They tell what should be)
Criteria is true and falseThe criteria is right and wrong
Status quoistChange oriented
  • Empirical approach can also be differentiated from scientific approach. Empirical approach is just observation. It does not become scientific on its own. Scientific approach is rigorous. It includes observation, verification, measurement, free from biasness.
  • John Locke is a supporter of empiricism over Socrates theory of knowledge. Locke rejects the view that the knowledge is imprinted on the human soul. According to Locke, experience is the source of knowledge. According to him, mind is tabula rasa (clean slate). It means human mind is clean slate. Observation and experience imprint knowledge.
  • Conclusion: Politics is too complex, choice of approach will depend on the objective of research. Single approach is never sufficient. Different approaches need to be used in combination.
Legal Institutional approach
  • Covered in the topic of Comparative politics in Paper 2.

Modern Approaches:

  • It means scientific approaches. In political science we can even use the term behavioral approaches. What is behavioral approach? Behavioural approach in political science started after 1st WW but it became prominent after 2nd WW. It was strongly promoted by American political science association. The core idea was, to make political science pure science.
  • It denotes a complete change. i.e. Change in the entire epistemology and even the ontology of discipline. When we change the method it obviously changes the scope and the nature. Thus behaviouralism is often called as ‘revolution’. Though some scholars prefer to call it movement. Charles Merriam is called as father of behaviouralism.
  • How behaviouralism emerged? We’ve to look into the historical circumstances besides intellectual proposals. After 2nd WW, academic conferences used to take place under United Nations. The scholars of different discipline used to be invited to give ideas on reconstruction and development. In these conferences, political scholars were not invited. It was believed that they have nothing relevant to offer. Political science had become almost a dead discipline.
    1. Political scholars were not dealing with the contemporary issues, they were dealing with the study of centuries old ideas. Historicist like Sabine, Dunning were busy in writing the history of western philosophy from Plato to Marx.
    2. Whereas other social science disciplines like sociology has long back incorporated scientific methods / positivism. Political science remained far from adopting scientific methods for research. Thus political theories were ‘armchair theories’ with little practical relevance.
    3. Intellectual Factors: Scholars of Chicago school of political science like Charles Merriam, Catlin were advocating for the behavioral, systematic and value free analysis. Understanding processes rather than institutions. Considering the state of discipline, attempt was made to revive, to regain the credibility for the discipline by incorporating scientific methods.
Features of Behavioural approach
  • David Easton has given eight features of behavioral approach in his address to American Political Science Association. His purpose was to make political science, ‘science’. It means to develop the laws in political science just like the laws existing in natural sciences. By observing the phenomenon. Phenomenon should have regularity. And thus developing the explanation, verification, experimentation. Scientific laws are free from biasness.
Eight features given by David Easton.
  • Regularities: Observe regularities in human behaviour. Traditionalists argument – Traditionalist believe that regularities are not possible in human behaviour. Why? There is no guarantee that the same person will behave in a similar manner under similar conditions twice.
  • Systematization: Scientific research is systematic. Hence political research should also be systematic. There should be relation between the objective of the research and collection of data. Traditionalists view – According to traditionalists, social sciences are analytical in nature, hence we cannot be very particular with respect to systematization.
  • Techniques: Behaviouralists suggest the adoption of mathematical, statistical techniques. Traditionalists view – There are very limited areas of research where we can adopt quantitative techniques. For the sake of technique, there is no point compromising with the subject matter.
  • Measurement: Just like scientific results are expressed in quantitative terms for the purpose of precision, political research should also be represented in the form of quantitative data for precision. Traditionalists believe that such approach will limit the scope of the subject as there are very few areas where measurement is possible like electoral behaviour.
  • Verification: Like scientific theories, pol science theories should also be verifiable, so that a reliable knowledge is developed. Traditionalists continue to believe that verifiability is not possible in all cases. e.g. We have to understand the idea of communism which can be understood, explained only by logical analysis.
  • Integration: Integration means inter-disciplinary approach. Political science has always been inter-disciplinary. The only difference is that traditionalists looked for data in disciplines like philosophy, history and law. On the other hand, behaviouralists suggest to borrow from sociology, psychology and natural science disciplines. They even warn against bringing the discipline near to philosophy, history and law.
  • Value Neutrality: Like scientific research is value neutral, political scholars should also not prescribe value preferences. Traditionalists like Leo Strauss is very critical of rejecting the values. According to him, “when we ignore values, it is like not making any difference in pure water and dirty water.” Pure Science: When we will adopt above parameters, political science will become pure science.
Achievements of Behaviouralists.
  • Political science was in the state of decline, behavioralists could arrest the decline. Behavioralists made significant contribution in the field of the analysis of electoral behaviour. The analysis of electoral behaviour has been helpful for political parties in formulation of their strategies and programs.
    Behavioural research helped us in understanding the difference between theory and practice. e.g. The elitist and pluralists investigated the reality of the democracy in western countries, reality of socialism in communist countries.
  • One of the major area where behaviour research proved most useful was the study of the political systems in developing areas. There is a difference in the constitution and actual practice. There is a difference in the text and context. Hence traditional approach like legal institutional proved inadequate and politics of these countries require field studies. Thus comparative politics became the major area for behavioural research.
Post Behaviouralism
  • Post behavioralism emerged out of dis-satisfaction from some aspects of behavioralism. In the history of the evolution of the discipline of political science, we see the two stages of decline.
  • 1st Decline: Before 2nd WW. In this case the responsibility was on traditionalists primarily historicists. This decline was addressed by behavioralists.
  • 2nd Decline: The second decline happened because of behavioralists. What were the indications of decline? 1950s and 60s are the phases of lot of activism in USA. There have been various types of protests like civil rights movements, women movements, environmental and peace movements… How to address these crises was a big challenge. When policymakers had to look towards political scholars, it was again found that they had nothing to offer. Behavioralists were busy in making political science, pure science. It resulted in compromise with
    • a) Scope of the subject.
    • b) Relevance of the subject.
  • They over-emphasized on the scientific techniques. In political science there are very limited areas where scientific technique can be used. David Easton, who gave the principles of behavioralism himself acknowledged that “Political scholars sitting in ivory towers, perfecting their techniques have ignored the purpose for which the technique is used.”
  • It is true that behavioralists had produced rich literature on election studies but such studies are not sufficient. Political scholars cannot ignore the normative issues like justice, rights, liberties etc. Thus scholars like Alfred Cobban blamed positivists and empiricists. Dante Germino blamed ‘ideological reductionists’ responsible for the decline of the discipline.
Features of post behavioralism
  • David Easton gave one more lecture to American political science association. This lecture is titled as ‘Credo of Relevance’. David Eastern called for ‘Creative theory’. The two parameters of the creative theory are 1) Action & 2) Relevance. It means whatever research person is choosing, it should be relevant, action oriented for the benefit of society. Thus he acknowledged the decline of the discipline because of behavioralists. Easton clarified that technique is important but the purpose for which the technique is to be used is more important.
  • Easton clarified that it is not rejection of behaviouralism rather it is taking behaviouralism forward. We can say that traditionalism is thesis, behaviouralism is antithesis while post behaviouralism is synthesis. The assumptions, methodologies, approaches remain same like that of behavioralists. The only difference it makes is
    • 1) Technique can be compromised for the sake of relevance.
    • 2) There is no need to be value neutral, values are needed.
  • David Easton has given seven features of post behavioralism.
    • Technique is important but the purpose for which the technique is used is more important. It is better to be vague than to be non-relevant.
    • Post behavioralism does not reject values, rather invite values.
    • Theory should have capacity to solve the crisis.
    • We should promote such values which contribute towards the flourishing of human civilization.
    • Political science is applied science, rather than pure science.
    • The responsibility of social scientists is bigger than the responsibility of natural scientists.
    • Political science is extremely useful discipline, needs to be actively promoted by universities, research foundations.

Contemporary approaches

  1. Post modernism
  2. Existentialism.
    • Refer Radical feminism (Sartre and Simon de Bouvier)
  3. Feminist perspective
  4. Critical school
  5. Phenomenological
    • Refer Hannah Arendt – experience
  6. Structuralism
    • Refer Althusser, Gramsci, Marx.
Classification of different approaches in political science
  • Philosophical: Idealism, liberalism, marxism, anarchism, feminism, post modernism are all philosophical, analytical perspectives.
  • Empirical: Behavioralism, post behavioralism,
  • Historical Approach: Machiavelli, Sabine, Laski
Contextualist Approach
  • It is a approach to study texts, especially classics. The writings of political philosophers like Plato’s REPUBLIC, Machiavelli’s THE PRINCE are considered as classics. There are two ways to study classics.
    • 1) Textual Approach.
    • 2) Contextual Approach.
  • Textual approach goes for literal interpretation. Static belief that the text contain universal, transcendental relevance. On the other hand, contextual approach suggest that the meanings have to be interpreted in accordance to the present situations. This is the only way texts will remain relevant. According to the scholars of contextual approach, there is no interpretation which can be called as purely literal interpretation.
  • According to the scholars of Cambridge school like Skinner and Pocock, we have to understand even linguistic context. We should know how people interpreted the meanings at the time when these texts have been written. e.g. To understand exactly what John Locke meant when he uses the term trust, we have to understand how people at that time were using the term trust.
  • Derrida has given the approach of deconstruction. He suggests that there can be multiple interpretations of the texts. We have to understand the context of the writer as well as context of the reader. According to Derrida, no meaning can be regarded as ultimate. Every understanding can be a misunderstanding.
Debate on the nature of the discipline
  • We normally categorize the disciplines into 3 types on the basis of their epistemology and ontology.
    • 1) Scientific discipline,
    • 2) Philosophical and
    • 3) Applied or arts.
  • According to Scholars like Leo Strauss, political science is philosophical by nature. It originated as political philosophy. Philosophical methods are most suitable for it.
  • Behavioralists, positivists, empiricists like David Eastern focus on the scientific nature of the discipline. Suggest scientific methods though later on they acknowledged the limitations of the application of scientific methods. They acknowledged that political science can only be applied science.
  • Political science as an art. It was Machiavelli who described ‘politics is an art, political theory is the statecraft or the management of power.’
  • With the emergence of post-modernism it has been realized that political theories are neither philosophy nor science. They are interpretations. Thus post modernists believe that it is a interpretative discipline.
  • Political science cannot be pure science because political scholars work with human language rather than symbols like natural scientists. Human language is highly subjective hence there cannot be a consensus even over the terminology.
  • Whether political science is art, science or philosophy, whether the theories are interpretations will remain a matter of debate. However there is no debate as far as the utility of the discipline and there is no debate with respect to the nature of political science as the most democratic of all disciplines. Debate is a heart and soul of politics and so the heart and soul of political theory or science.

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