Political Science

Background of Political Science: In order to understand the nature and scope of political science, it is desirable too outline the field of knowledge that it covers, to survey the methods that it uses, and to indicate the boundary lines that separate it from other, closely related sciences. It is also necessary to define certain fundamental political terms. Unlike the precise and exact terminology of the natural sciences, the terms of political science are often used carelessly in ordinary speech, are given double meanings, and are frequently distorted deliberately by being given a favorable or an unfavorable connotation for partisan or national purposes.

Nature of Political Science:

Political science may be defined as the science of the state.1 It deals with the Associations of human beings that form political units, with the organization of their governments, and with the activities of these governments in making and administering law and in carrying on interstate relations. It deals with those relations among human beings which come under state regulation, with the relation of individuals or groups to the state itself, and with the relation of states to other states. It considers the problem of adjusting political authority to individual liberty.

The topics in which it is mainly interested are state, government, and law. Political science is concerned not only with political institutions but also with political ideas. These include the theories of the state which are created by political philosophers and the general political principles which form the political thought of the mass of the people.

Political theories and ideals exerted a powerful influence on State development, especially after man began consciously to direct and modify what was at first largely unconscious growth. In the present world political ideas are especially important because of the conflict of ideologies between those states with a democratic background, such as the United States, the British Commonwealth, and western Europe, and those states with a long history of autocratic rule, such as Russia and many nations in eastern Europe.

Wide differences in the theory of the relation of the state to the economic system also exist between states and between parties within states.

In its historical aspect, political science deals with the origin of the state, and with the development of political institutions and theories in the past. It interprets movements and tendencies in a process of change and evolution. In dealing with the present it attempts to describe, compare, and classify existing political institutions and ideas. Political science also looks to the future, to the state as it should be, with the aim of improving political organization and activities in the light of changing conditions and changing ethical standards.

It is thus a study of the state in the past, present, and future of political organization and political function of political institutions and political theories. From this material it attempts to explain the nature of the state and to deduce the laws of its growth and development as well a to suggest needed reforms in political Institutions and activities in a world that is undergoing rapid change.

Political Science as a Science.

It has been asserted that political science is not a science, in the exact sense of the term, because of the magnitude and complexity of its material, because of the difficulty of applying rigorous science methods of investigation and experiment, because there is no consensus of opinion among experts as to its methods, principles, and conclusions, and because it is unable to predict political developments in the future.

It is true that political science cannot be an exact science, since its laws and conclusions cannot be expressed in precise terms and since it cannot predict political events accurately. Besides, social and political relations are constantly changing, and what may be true of them today may not be true in the future.2

If, however, a science be described as a mass of knowledge concerning a particular subject, acquired by systematic observation, experience, and study, and analyzed and classified into a unified whole, then political science may justly claim to be a science. General laws can be deduced from a systematic study of its material, and the conclusions drawn from the study of political principles are applicable to the solution of political problems.

It is often difficult to apply scientific principles in practice. Statesmen are compelled to compromise, patch up, and deal with small separate interests, rather than to take a large, scientific view of government, because of the influence of past or existing conditions, and because of public ignorance or selfishness.

The science of politics, which seeks an accurate description and classification of political institutions, and a precise determination of the forces which create and control them, may be distinguished from the art of politics and the philosophy of politics. The art of politics has for its aim the determination of the principles or rules of conduct which it is necessary to observe if political institutions are to be operated efficiently.

The philosophy of politics, or political theory, deals with generalizations rather than with particulars it seeks to determine essential and fundamental abstractions. Juristic political philosophy aims to determine the nature of the state as the creator and enforcer of law.

Ethical political philosophy seeks to ascertain the nature and sphere of authority of the state in the light of the purposes for which the state exists. It defines the state in terms ft m ends and judges its organization and activities in accordance With the deg to which they fulfill these ends,

Methods of Political Science:

The investigator of political phenomena must work without the assistance of mechanical apparatus he cannot reproduce at will the political facts under investigation his phenomena do not react at regular intervals and his material is influenced by the unpredictable actions of individuals and groups. He must also avoid a priori arguments and abstract and dogmatic doctrines based on deductive reasoning. Among the methods of investigation, or of viewing the state, that may be used to advantage are the following:

The method of observation studies the world of political life at first hand and attempts to discover the facts of governmental organization and activities by direct contact with those actively engaged in the work or by statistical studies. The observer must be critical of his sources of information, avoid superficial analogies or generalizations, and examine the relation of one fact to other facts.

The method of experimentation may be used to a limited extent, since governments are constantly changing the course of state life. Every new law, institution, or policy is a conscious or unconscious experiment. Observation of the results of the changes may suggest further modification successful efforts may be imitated elsewhere and unsuccessful ones may be avoided.

The statistical method assembles political data that can be counted or measured, and from it draws conclusions, examines trends, and serves as a basis for governmental policy. It is especially valuable in studies of population growth and movement, of voting and public opinion, and of economic conditions, such as labor, agricultural and industrial production, foreign trade, taxation and finance. Statistical studies are a necessary basis for administration and for political and social reform.

The biological method draws an analogy between the state and a living organism, describes the structure and analyzes the functions of the state in terms of human anatomy and physiology and interprets the development of the state according to the theory of evolution. It results in interesting analogies, but must be used with great caution, since the laws of growth and change which govern living organisms are not applicable to the state.

The psychological method attempts to explain political phenomena through psychological laws, especially by studying the motives of human behavior, the action of minds in groups and associations, and the methods of influencing public Opinion. It helps to explain the issues upon which political parties are based and from which international controversies arise.

The juridical, or legalistic, method regards the state as a legal Person or corporation, existing for the creation and enforcement of law. It views political society as a collection of legal rights and obligations, and analyzes the public law relations of the state, but ignores many other extra legal and social forces that underlie the constitution and laws of the state and that influence human relations.

The historical method makes inductive generalizations from the study of historical facts. It attempts to explain what political institutions are and are tending to be in the knowledge of what they have been and of the way in which they have developed. In using this method one must take care in the selection and analysis of material and in the avoidance of bias and prejudice. The facts collected must be accurate and the reasoning based on these facts must be clear and logical.

The comparative method, which is closely related to the historical method, attempts to discover general laws and conclusions from the study of past or existing states, by a process of selection, comparison, and elimination. In the effort to sift out common causes and consequences care must be taken to avoid superficial resemblances, to assemble all the pertinent elements in the problem under consideration, and to make proper allowance for diversity of conditions and circumstances.

The philosophical method assumes an abstract ideal and draws deductions from it concerning the nature, functions, and aims of the state. It then attempts to harmonize its theories with the actual facts of history and of political life, modifying its theories as necessary. The danger of this method lies in depending Upon mere abstractions which have no relation to tactical facts. If supplemented by sound observation and by critical historical and comparative study it has value.


The Field of Knowledge: The field of human knowledge may be divided into the natural sciences, which deal with the world of nature or the physical environment in which men live, and the humanistic sciences, which deal with human beings and their organizations and activities.

The former includes such sciences as astronomy, chemistry, physics, geology, geography, zoology, and botany. The latter includes such studies as history, sociology, anthropology, political science, economics, philosophy, psychology, and ethics.

Political science is thus a humanistic science, and more specifically a social science, since it deals with human beings in association and not as individuals. Many problems are the common concern of all the social sciences, each approaching them from its own point of view.

Political Science and the Natural Sciences:

In its relation to the natural sciences political science is connected most closely with zoology and geography. Man is an animal, and the Study of human anatomy, physiology, and hygiene may be viewed  a subdivision of the general science of zoology. Such subjects as race, birth and death gates, and eugenics are examples of the topics that lie in the border zone of political science and zoology.

The biological theory of evolution influenced political thought in many ways, especially in connection with the idea of the state as an organism and with disputes concerning the value of competition and war. Besides, men are influenced by the world of nature in which they live, especially by the configuration of land and water areas, by climate, and by natural resources. These Mien the form of the state and the nature of its activities. Here the connection between political science and geography is Evident. The state includes a population and a definite area hence political science must deal with the human beings that compose the state and with the physical features of its territory.

Political Science and Sociology:

Man is a social being, and his various social activities may be studied separately or may be studied as a whole. Sociology is a general social science, it deals with the social aggregate and attempts to discover the facts and laws of social life as a whole. Social relations may vary from commercial and religious interests, almost world wide in scope, to the single family or the narrowest fraternal group and such organizations are, in many cases, little concerned with state boundaries.

Political science is a specialized social science, dealing with the political life of man, which is one part of his total social life. Its unit of study is the state, it is interested in a particular portion of society viewed as an organized political unit.

Political science is thus a narrower and more specialized study than sociology, and is, in a sense, one of its differentiation. Political science contributes to sociology facts concerning the organization and activities of the state as a part of the general social structure, sociology contributes to political science information concerning the origin. of political institutions and authority and knowledge of the laws of social control.

Political science assumes that man is a political animal, sociology attempts to explain how and why he became one, and how his political life is affected by his membership in other forms of association. Many of the changes that have taken place in political ideas in recent years have been along the lines marked out by sociology, especially in the theory of law.

Political Science and Anthropology:

Anthropology, which deals with the physical character of man, his historical and geographic distribution, his racial divisions, his environmental and social relations, and his cultural development, contributes valuable material to the study of political science. It investigation of the ideas, customs, and organizations of primitive man has thrown light upon the origin of the state and the way in which political ideas and institutions have developed.

Its study of racial divisions and their relations to their environment is a valuable antidote to theories of racial superiority which have been prominent in recent political thought. Like sociology, it emphasizes the complexity of human life and the many influences that must be given consideration in political affairs.

Political Science and History:

History is a record of past events and movements, their causes and interrelations. It includes a survey of conditions and developments in economic, religious, intellectual, and social affairs, as well as a study of states, their growth and organizations, and their relations with one another. While the political scientist is often inclined to view history as mere raw material for his purposes, and the historian tends to view political science as an emanation from history, the two studies are in fact contributory and complementary.

Political science is not concerned with the narrative aspect of history, except as these influence the nature of the state, political institutions, however,can be understood only through a consideration of their historical setting,the way in which they developed,and the extent to which they have fulfilled the purposes of their existence.

From the data of history, therefore, the political scientist selects and coordinates facts with a view to their special significance in explaining the nature of the state and in building up general causes and permanent principles of political science. These data furnish material for induction and comparison.

History gives thus “the third dimension of political science”  or, as Professor Seeley puts it, political science is the fruit of history, and history is the root of political science. The material of political science is not, however, drawn entirely from history.

The study of the state has also a psychological, ethical, and philosophical background. Political science is concerned with the state as it ought to be, whereas history deals With what has been. The record of past states, with their successes and failures, throws light upon the vexed questions of the best form of government under given conditions is and of the proper functions of governmental activity.

Political Science and Economics:

Originally economics, or, as it was then called, political economy was viewed as a sub division of the general science of the state. It was interested chiefly in the methods by which the state could be made rich and powerful and could be provided with an ample revenue. At present, economics has widened its field to include all the individual and social activities that are involved in the production, distribution, and consumption of wealth.

With some of these political science is but slightly concerned in others the interrelation of political science and economics is obvious. The laws of the state devote considerable attention to questions of property, contracts, and corporations in the international relations of states commerce and finance are important factors.

A considerable part of economics deals with the activities of the state in regard to wealth. Such subjects as taxation, currency, and governmental industries form a field common to both Sciences economics viewing them as certain forms of man’s total activity with regard to wealth, and political science viewing them as certain functions of governmental administration.

In addition economic conditions materially affect the organization, development, and activities of the state and the state, in turn, by its laws, frequently modifies economic conditions. The rise of feudal government on a basis fundamentally economic is a good example of the former and even a casual acquaintance with modern conditions shows the close connection existing between business and politics.

The way in which the state may influence economic conditions is illustrated by corporation legislation, tariff laws, and labor regulations. All economic activities within the state are carried on under conditions laid down by the laws oh the state, and the prevailing theories of governmental functions profoundly affect the economic life of the country.

The theory of state socialism is a Combination of political and economic doctrines, and many of the most important problems of present day government deal with economic conditions and with the extent to which they should be controlled by state action.

Guild socialism and communism are concerned primarily with economic problems, but they also favor drastic changes in political organization and activities. Since the Industrial Revolution, the relation of politics to economics has been especially close. Mercantilist theories of state control, individualistic theories of laissez faire, and recent theories of governmental regulation or of state controlled and state planned economy represent the cycles of change in modern history. The extensive nationalization of industry in Great Britain and the establishment of a communist state in Russia are obvious examples of the close relation between present day politics and economics.

Political Science and Psychology:

Modern writes on political science show a marked tendency to explain political phenomena by means of psychological laws. As states become democratic and are influenced by public opinion the methods of influencing public Opinion by means of various types of propaganda receive attention. The emphasis which modern psychology place: upon instincts and emotion rather than reason and the study of the psychology of groups and associations both have important political effects.

The spirit of nationalism is largely influenced by sentiment and emotion, by religious beliefs and by historical tradition. Political interests and political parties are to a great extent psychological in nature and the traditions and ideals of a people are potent forces in political life. Governments and laws, in order to work successfully must be adapted to the mental ideas and moral sentiments of those whom they govern.

Peoples differ in their political capacity and the form of government or the degree of liberty that is united to one group may be ruinous to another. The methods of psychology are used by modern government for many purpose,especially in the army, in civil service tests, and in the courts of justice.

James Bryce, in his study of modern democracies, said, “Politics has its roots in psychology, the study of the mental habits and vocational proclivities of mankind.”

Political Science and Ethics:

Ethics, the science that deals With conduct in so far as conduct is considered right or wrong, also has points of contact with political science. The origin of mom ideas is closely connected with the origin of the state. Both arose in that early group life when custom was law and w moral and political ideas were not differentiated. With the development of civilization and the conflict between private and group interests, custom gave way to individual morality of the one hand, and to law, or political morality, on the other.

Right and wrong, with social sanction, were distinguished from rights and obligations, with political sanction. Yet the relation between morals and law is still close. Moral ideas, when they become widespread and powerful, tend inevitably to be crystallized into law.

On the other hand, laws may modify moral standards, but if they attempt to force moral ideas in advance of their time they usually fail in enforcement. Moral standards fix the ideals toward which man is working, and it is from the ethical standpoint alone that the state is ultimately justified.

The proper form and functions of government must be deter mined in the last analysis on the basis of the ethical compromise that secures the greatest good to the individual and at the same time promotes the greatest common welfare.


1. H.G James, “The Meaning and Scope of Political Science,”  in Southwestern political Science Review, June, 1920.

2. E.D. Ellis,  “Political science at the Crossroads ” in American political Science review, November, 1927.