Meaning, Definition and Origin of Political Science
What is Politics??!! I hear about it in tea-stalls, restaurants, buses and in all other places that I go to... I have been hearing this word since childhood... and everybody is so serious when they talk about it... so should I get to know what is politics?
The term ‘Politics’ is closely related to the Greek word ‘Polis’ meaning ‘city-state’ (for affairs of the cities-for affairs of the state). The study of politics dates back to 5th century BCE Greece with immense contributions by political philosophers Plato (428/427 BCE – 348/347 BCE) and Aristotle (384 BCE- 322 BCE). Before the 20th century, the study of politics was integrated with other disciplines such as history and philosophy.
Politics was primarily concerned with the study of ethics. It further focused on the study of political ideas, political institutions and proce sses within states and the relations between states. But the last two centuries witnessed the study of politics concentrating on the conflict between liberty and equality. In the 21st century, a central theme has been the constant conflict between liberty and security. Some other major themes that are not central to the study of politics are development, environmental sustainability, gender equality and international peace and co-operation.
All through history, political philosophers have different perspectives on the central theme of politics. The Greek philosopher Aristotle, the father of Political Science, considered the study of politics as a systematic inquiry to understand the truth about politics so as to explain the relationship between the State and the individual. He described and classified different political systems. Aristotle and Plato made immense contributions to the origin and development of the discipline. Plato analyzed different political systems and Aristotle, closely following the trails of his teacher Plato, gave the analysis a historical perspective. They tried to understand the working of different forms of governments.
ARISTOTLE ON HAPPINESS
Aristotle believed that happiness was the most important thing in life. He taught that one should not waste one’s time in the pursuits of pleasure, but should seek happiness instead. According to him, true happiness lay not in material things, but in understanding one’s true nature, and regaling one’s full potential. In short, happiness depends upon ourselves, and not on the outside world. One of Aristotle’s most famous quotes is
“...happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence...”
Politics was a matter of discussion in the churches during the medieval period as political power remained with the church under the Holy Roman Empire. The works of philosophers such as St. Augustine (‘The City of God’) amalgamated the principles of political philosophy with those of religion. It must be noted here that for the Greek and medieval philosophers, politics was knowledge centering on the city-state, which by and large had spiritual bond. It was more of a community than a state.
It was during the Italian Renaissance that Niccolo Machiavelli laid the foundations of modern political science through his emphasis on empirical observation and investigation of political structures and political behaviour from a secular perspective. Politics, in the words of Harold Lasswell, an American Political Scientist, is ‘Who gets What, When and How?’ This definition is based on the assumption that all societies exhibit sharp diversities with people pursuing different interests and values and hence there requires a mechanism through which the conflicting interests are reconciled. Also, scarcity of resources is a feature of all modern societies and so politics would mean the mechanism through which goods and resources are distributed. For Karl Marx, politics was all about class conflict and political power and to David Easton politics meant ‘the authoritative allocation of values’.
Political scientists have explained politics through its basic concepts such as power, order and justice. Power is the ability to make and enforce rules and to influence the behaviour of the individuals. Power may or may not be legitimate. One needs to understand the difference between power and authority. Authority is the moral or legal right and is the ability to control. It implies legitimacy, where power is exercised through established institutions and people willingly accept it as proper and just. Power, on the other hand, may or may not be legitimate.
Politics is also concerned about order which denotes the structures, rules, rituals, procedures and practices that make up the political system. As the majority is ruled by the minority, there is always an apprehension of the fairness of the government mechanism. Therefore, the exercise of power should be based on the foundations of justice. Thus, power, order and justice are regarded the basic concepts in politics. Since the late 19th century, the study of politics as an academic discipline is commonly referred to as ‘Political Science’
The switch from ‘Politics’ to ‘Political Science’ occurred as the discipline began to emerge as an autonomous discipline in the modern period. The term politics referred to the affairs of the city state, which was a small community, in the ancient Greece. But the term nowadays refers to as Gilchrist says, ‘current problems of the government’. It means that when someone says he is interested in politics it implies that he is involved in several political activities relating to political issues, legislations, labour issues, party activities and the rest which has far wider canvass. On the other hand, the political studies are distinct and hence they need to be differentiated from current problems. Further, politics in one country differ from the others. What is ‘politics’ in India may not mean the same in other places. But ‘political science’ will mean one and the same thing everywhere. Hence it would be better to name the discipline as Political Science than as Politics. The Political Scientists who met at Paris in 1948 also found the term ‘Political Science’ more acceptable. It is not appropriate to use the two terms as synonyms, though a few still prefer to style the discipline also as politics.
The important developments in Political Science since the time it became a distinct academic discipline occurred in the United States. Until then, Politics was a part of disciplines such as philosophy, law and economics. Political Science as an autonomous discipline dates back to 1880 when John W. Burgess established a School of Political Science at the Columbia University. By 1920’s most of the leading Universities established an exclusive department for the study of Political Science. The American Political Scientists showed tremendous interest in this direction and took efforts to separate it from history, law and philosophy. The discipline then had very formalistic and institutional approach and this trend continued up to the Second World War.
But later, scholars such as Woodrow Wilson and Frank Goodnow stressed more on the study of social facts over the study of static institutions. There was a conscious effort by scientists such as Arthur Bentley to develop an objective, value-free analysis of politics and the principle impetus in this regard came during the 1920’s from the Chicago University. Charles E. Merriam was the leading figure in this movement for empirical observation and measurement in political analysis. Charles E. Merriam’s ‘Political Power’ and Harold Lasswell’s ‘Politics: Who Gets What, When, How?’ made the aspect of power the central theme of politics. The totalitarian regimes in Europe and Asia in the 1920’s and 30’s and the onset of the Second World War turned the discipline away from its focus on institutions and procedures. Works during this phase focused more on political parties, pressure groups, elites and the basis of electoral choices. This new focus on political behaviour came to be known as ‘behaviouralism’. The term was borrowed from ‘behaviourism’ in psychology. Later, the 1960’s saw the emergence of a new trend known as ‘Post-Behaviouralism’. It was a reaction against the orthodoxy and dominance of the behavioural methods in the study of politics. The call for the development of this trend was given by David Easton, who ironically, was one of the leading advocates of the behavioural revolution. He claimed that the behavioural method lost touch with reality and hence post-behaviouralism argued that research did not have to be necessarily value free and the emphasis had to be on relevance over precision. Thus, the intellectual revolution resulted in many political scientists attempting to comprehend the sociological, anthropological and psychological aspects of the study of Political Science. They vehemently criticized the traditional methods and its formal and parochial tools of analysis. They pointed out that the political theorists in the past concentrated on state, government, institutions and their formal structures and did not take into consideration the interactions between them and the subjects and failed to examine the political behaviour of humans. Thus, modern political analysis began to rest upon the following four principles:
· the search for comprehensive scope
· the search for realism
· the search for precision
· the search for intellectual order
Definition of Political Science
Scholars have defined Political Science in different ways. For Garner it begins and ends with State. Leacock and Seeley see its dealing with government. Robson and Lasswell regard it as the study of power and influence. Some scholars define it as the study of political aspects of organized human society. But the latter one instantly enlarges the scope of political science as it tends to include everything. Thus Political Science has been variously defined though for most part of the history the emphasis was placed on state, its institutions, laws and processes. Political behaviour of individuals and groups also became a part of it after the behavioural revolution. The latest addition to this has been the concept of governance.
There is a limited amount of power in society, which can only be held by one person or group at a time.
- Karl Marx
Power is a relationship in which one group of persons are able to determine the actions of the others in the direction of the former’s own end. - David Easton
Power breeds power and this form the central tenet of elitism. - Robert Michel
Man is by nature a political animal and he, who by nature and not by mere accident is without state is either above humanity or below it. -Aristotle in his book Politics
Why is Aristotle regarded as a great political philosopher? Discuss
Why do we say that both Plato and Aristotle had a profound influence on Greek social, political and economic life?
Read more about Charles E. Merriam, Woodrow Wilson and Arthur Bentley and find out their important works.
STUDENT 1: What? Did Aristotle say democracy was a bad form of government??
STUDENT 2: Yes! But by democracy Aristotle meant mob rule. He thought polity was a much better and stable form of government.
STUDENT 1: By the way, what is polity?
STUDENT 2: In polity, the supreme power is vested in the hands of a large proportion of population and it was used for common good.
STUDENT 1: Oh! I see!
The following is the report by The Hindu on 14.8.1947delivered by the first Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
“Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially", declared India’s first premier, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, moving the resolution prescribing an Oath for the members in the Constituent Assembly to-night.
“At the stroke of midnight hour,” Pandit Nehru said, “when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. (cheers) The moment come, it comes but rarely in history, when we step our from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity”.
“Freedom and power bring responsibility. That responsibility rests upon the Assembly, a sovereign body representing the sovereign people of India. Before the birth of freedom, we have endured all the pains of labour and our tears are heavy with the memory of this sorrow. Some of those pains continue even now. Nevertheless, the past is over and it is the future that backons to us now.
The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer, it means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity. The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us, but so long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over. And so we have to labour and to work and work hard to give reality our dreams. Those dreams are for India, but they are also for the world, for all the nations and peoples are too closely knit together to day for any one of them to imagine that it can live apart. Peace has been said to be indivisible, so is freedom, so is prosperity now, and so is prosperity now, and so also is disaster in this one world that can no longer be split into isolated fragments”.
· What do you understand by the term “Tryst with destiny” ?
· List any three challenges highlighted by the Prime Minister Nehru.
· Discuss why freedom, power, peace and security are considered as core components in our day to day life.
Divide the class into groups and hold a discussion on the various definitions of Political Science.
Collect pictures of any five political philosophers and write a short note on any three of them.
· Provides insights into the meaning of Politics and the manner in which it affects the lives of people.
· Examines the definitions of Political Science and the changing nature of the discipline.
· Explains the scope of Political Science.
· Throws light on the various approaches to the study of Political Science.
· Discusses the relationship between Political Science and other Social Sciences.
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