Methods of Political Science

Methods of Political Science.  Limitations and Difficulties:- Having endeavored to show that the study of political phenomena may under certain conditions attain the character of a science, we come now to inquire into the processes and methods by Which this may be done. First of all, however, we must note the limitations and difficulties under which scientific investigation of political phenomena must of necessity be conducted.

The material with Which the political scientist has to deal is very different from that with Which the investigator in the physical sciences is concerned, being of such a character as not to permit of the use of artificial contrivances or apparatus for increasing or guiding his powers of observation or for registering results.

Not only must the investigator work without the assistance of mechanical aids, but he is handicapped by the fact that the phenomena with Which political science deals do riot follow one another according to invariable laws of sequence, but rather at indeterminate intervals, constituting, as a noted-writer observed, an interminable and perpetually varying series.

There is an essential difference between physical antisocial phenomena. As has been said, the subject matter with which the political scientist has to deal,unlike that with which the physicist deals, includes an “ideal dimension” for political institutions are constantly changing and the changes are not due solely to the influence of objective conditions.

The facts of history and social life cannot be reproduced at our volition and made the subject of experiment with a view to determining what is best under a given set of circumstances. Social facts never recur at regular intervals as the manifestations of general laws, but rather as the actions of individuals or groups.

The facts of natural science ,are susceptible of evaluation they ,are governed by uniform and invariable laws. Each particle of matter is identical with every other of its own kind. An atom of carbon or a molecule of carbolic acid is not different from any other atom or molecule, but the units of the social organism may differ infinitely from one another.

The necessity of sound scientific methods in the study of social and political phenomena is probably greater than it is in the physical sciences, where the investigator has the aid of mechanical apparatus. In this connection, it has been well said that What the microscope is to biology, or the telescope to astronomy, a scientific method is to the social sciences.

The investigator should, therefrom, be on his guard against pseudo methods and not be misled by the methodological “fads,” the exploitation of which has become one of the tendencies of the present day. He would do well to keep in mind the fact that the spirit and method of all true science is inductive and pragmatic, not deductive and dogmatic. It is also positive , that ,is, it rejects all a priori arguments,purely abstract ideas, and absolute standards, and builds conclusions upon the accumulated experience of the past, as modified by the changing conditions and circumstances of the present.

Writers on Methodology :

Not until the nineteenth century did the phenomena of the state come to be generally regarded as a proper held for scientific investigation, since which time the literature of the subject has been enriched by the investigations of many scholars. Among those who have made Special contribution to the methodology of political science, Auguste Comte John Stuart Mill, Alexander Bain, Sir George Cornewall Lewis and Lord Bryce deserve particular mention. Comte conceived the principal methods for the scientific study of social phenomena to be three in number, namely, observation, experiment, and comparison.

Mill recognized four methods: the chemical or experimental, the geometrical or abstract, the physical or concrete deductive, and the historical method, the first two off which, he considered to be false methods, the last two, the true ones. Bluntschli considered the true methods of political investigation to be the philosophical and the historical. A recent French writer who has devoted a volume to the subject of methodology in political science recognizes six possible lines of investigation first, the sociological, second, the comparative, third, the dogmatic, fourth, the juridical, fifth, the method of good sense (du bon sens) and, sixth, the historical.

The Experimental Method :

The claim of the experimental method to a rightful place in the methodology of political science has been denied because, it is said, the nature of society is such that it cannot very well be made an object of artificial experimentation. “We cannot,  said Sir George G. Lewis,” treat the body politic as a corpus vile and vary its circumstances at our pleasure for the sake only of ascertaining abstract truth.

We cannot do in politics what the experimenter does in chemistry. We cannot try how the substance is affected by change of temperature, by dissolution in liquids, by combination with other chemical agents, and the like. We cannot take a portion of the community in our hands as the king of Brobdignag took Gulliver,view it in different aspects and place it in different positions in order to solve social problems and satisfy our speculative curiosity. If the chemist wishes to study the effect of a combination of certain substances, he can create by artificial processes conditions favorable to the investigation and exclude disturbing agencies.

He may isolate the phenomenon with which he deals and expose it to certain selected influences, leaving the surrounding medium unchanged. But if the political scientist wishes to experiment with democracy, for instance, he cannot select a state at will, introduce his democracy, and wait for determinate results. He will find himself powerless to exclude extraneous influences, such, for example, as famines,commercial crises, insurrections, or other events which might destroy the results of the experiment.

As Lord Bryce observed, the phenomena with which the chemist deals are and always have been identical, they can be weighed and measured, whereas human phenomena can only be described. We can measure temperature, humidity, and the force of wind, but we cannot determine how hot were the passions of a mob. We may say that in a political crisis the opinion of a cabinet will have weight, but we cannot say how much it will be. Opinions, emotions and other factors which influence politics are not capable of computation.

But while scientific experimentation, as the term is employed in the physical sciences, is inapplicable to the study of politics practical experiments, the experimenta fructifera of Bacon, are being constantly made, consciously or unconsciously. In fact, as Comte pointed out, political experimentation really takes place whenever the regular course of state life undergoes conscious or unconscious change.

Governments, of necessity, are constantly trying experiments on the community. Indeed, the whole life of the state is a succession of activities which, in a sense, are experimental in character. The enactment of every new law, the establishment of every new institution, the inauguration of every new policy, experimental in the sense that it is regarded merely as provisional or tentative until the results have proved its fitness to become permanent.

Lord Bryce in his American Commonwealth  pointed out that one of the merits of the American federal system is that it enables the people to try experiments in legislation which could not be tried in a large centralized state. By observing the operation of a new law or a new policy and then enlarging or diminishing its scope as experience suggests modification, the legislature is able to adapt its provisions to the needs and desires of the community. The process is in the nature of an experiment whose purpose is not the ascertainment of a general truth like experimenta lucifera but the testing and improving of the institution.

Sociological, Biological, and Psychological Methods :

The so-called sociological method considers the state primarily as a social organism, whose component parts are individuals, and seeks to deduce its qualities and attributes from the qualities and attributes of the men composing it. It seeks to interpret the life of the state by applying to it the theory of evolution in the same, way that the development of the individual is explained by evolution.

Closely akin to the sociological method is the biological which attributes to the state the qualities of a living organism and which attempts to define and classify its separate parts, to describe its structure in the nomenclature of anatomy, and to differentiate and analyze its functions and trace its life processes according to the methods and in the terminology of ,the biological sciences.

Among those who have made notable contributions to the study of organized society from the sociological and biological points of view may be mentioned Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer the Austrian scholars Gumplowicz and Schaffle, the French writers Durkheim, De Greef, Fouillee,  Worms, and Letourneau, and the Russians Lilienfeld and Novicow.

Comte in his study of society dwelt at length upon what he called social physics and social physiology? Spencer, who was deeply infatuated with the biological analogy, drew a striking parallel between the social and animal organisms, pointing out that each possessed a  sustaining system,a distributing system,  and a regulating and expending system

The first criticism to be made of the sociological and biological methods is that they are not so much modes of investigation as points of view from which the state may be considered. The biological method rests mainly upon analogy instead of upon real similarity in essentials, and attempts to apply biological laws to-the development of state life as if the state were in essence no different from an animal.

It requires but little reflection to see that the resemblance between the body politic and the human organism is at best only superficial, that the laws of growth and change which govern the one are inapplicable to the growth and development of the other, and that little or nothing is to be gained by dwelling upon the analogy. The attempt to construct a science of society by means of biological analogies, says Giddiness, has been abandoned by all serious investigators of social phenomena.

To a less degree, perhaps the same thing may be said of the so-called psychological method, which in recent years has been employed by many writers who have attempted to explain social phenomena and interpret social institutions through psychological laws.

The Juridical Method :

A method of study which is in great favbr among German political writers and to a less degree among the French is the juristic or juridical method. It is the method or point of view of the analytical jurists. It is the aim of this method, according to Jellinek, to “determine the content of the rules of public law and to deduce therefrom the conclusions to which they lead.” It regards the state primarily as a corporation or juridical person and Views political science as a science of legal norms (Staatsrechtslehre) having nothing in common With the science of the state as a social organism (sozzale Staatslehre).

It treats the state primarily as an organization for the creation and enforcement of law. It Conceives the relations of the state always as “offentliche Verhaltnisse”  and political concepts as “Rechtsbegrige” and describes the constitution and activities of the state only in terms of their “rechtliche Natur.” In short, it treats organized society, not as a social or political phenomenon, but as a purely juridical regime, an ensemble of public law rights and, obligations, founded on a system of pure logic and reason?

The state as an organism of growth and development, however, cannot be understood without a consideration of those extralegal and social forces which lie back of the constitution and which are responsible for many of its actions and reciprocal reactions. Any view, therefore, which, conceives the state merely as a public corporation is as narrow and fruitless as the Hegelian doctrine which goes to the opposite extreme and considers it merely as a moral entity.

Comparative Method :

The comparative method, first employed by Aristotle, later by Montesquieu and still more recently by De Toqueville, Laboulaye, Bryce, and others, aims through the study of existing politics or those Which have existed in the past to assemble a definite body of material from Which the investigator by selection, comparison, and elimination may discover the ideal types and progressive forces of political history. Only those states Which are contemporaneous in point of time, as Jellinek remarks, and Which have a common historical basis (Baden) and common  historical, political, and social institutions may be compared with advantage.

The comparative method, observes M. Saleilles, a noted French publicist, discovers the general current which runs through the whole body of constitutions and upon which experience has set the stamp of approval.

The danger of the comparative method lies in the liability to error to which it susceptible in practice, since, in the effort to discover general principles, the diversity of conditions and circumstances such as differences of temperament and genius of the people economic and social conditions, moral and legal standards, political and experience, are apt to be ignored or minimize.

J. S. Mill undertook to show that the comparative method may assume several forms the most perfect of which is the process of deference by which two polities identical in every particular except one are compared with a view to discovering the effect of the differing factor. Thus two states are compared which are similar as regards their natural wealth, legal systems, racial conditions, etc., but one of which maintains a restrictive trade system.

If, therefore, one is found to be prosperous and the other not, a general conclusion is drawn with regard to the effect of-restrictive commercial policies upon the national prosperity. The method of indirect difference Compares two classes of instances which agree in nothing but the presence of a factor on the one side and its absence on the other. Thus on state which maintains a protective system may be compared with two or more states which have nothing in Common but a free trade policy.

By the method of agreement two polities wholly different With the exception of two common factors may be compared Thus, two states agreeing in no particular except in having a restrictive trade system and in being prosperous are compared With a view to establishing a connection between the restrictive policy and the prosperity. Like the method of difference, it is inadequate because its results are likely to be affected by extraneous circumstances, or by a plurality of causes with an intermixtute of effects.

The Historical Method :

What is really a particular form of the comparative method is the historical method, for the facts relating  to past polities have little value for political science until they have been subjected to the Several processes of treatment which, as stated above, may be comprehended under the general term comparison .It is almost a commonplace to-day to affirm the necessity of historical study as a basis for the scientific investigation of political institutions which have historical backgrounds.

They can be fully comprehended only through a knowledge of their past how they have developed, how they have become what they are, and to what extent they have responded to the purposes for which they were originally destined. The maxim that constitutions grow instead of being made would have no meaning apart from this truth.

The historical method, says Sir Frederick Pollock,

“seeks an explanation of what institutions are and are tending to be, more in the knowledge of what they have been and how they came to be what they are, than in the analysis of them as they stand.”

It is, he said, nothing more than the doctrine of evolution applied to human institutions. It brings in review the great political movements of the past, traces the organic development of the national life inquires into the growth of political ideas from their inception to their realization in objective institutions, discovers the moral idea as revealed in history, and thereby points out the way of progress.

But the historical method, like the others, has its limitations. Lord Bryce warned us against superficial resemblances. So-called historical parallels, as he pointed out, are usually interesting and sometimes illuminating, but they are often misleading. There is, he said, always the danger of confusing the personal or accidental factors with the general causes at work, such as attributing to some outstanding personality an influence upon the course of history out of proportion to its importance.

He pointed out that the historical investigator is exposed to emotional influences Such as do not affect the inquirer in a chemical laboratory. The latter has neither love nor hate for a hydrocarbon, but the historical investigator may be influenced, consciously or unconsciously, by his religious beliefs, his political partisanship, his racial prejudices, or his philosophical doctrines.

What Professor Seeley called the irresistible temptation to mix up what ought to be with what is finds an illustration in the ideas of Sidgwick and Pollock (which were also the ideas of Plato and Aristotle), according to which the main object of political science is the discovery of the perfect or ideal state. To accomplish this object, political science must first proceed to inquire what is the end of the state, and having satisfactorily answered this question, it must. ascertain what institutions and laws are best adapted for the attainment of this end.

Seeley criticized this method as unnatural and fruitless. Instead of beginning with an inquiry into the purpose of the state and the characteristics of the best state, he would proceed, first, with classifying the states which he wished to study, second, with analyzing the structure of a particular state and distinguishing the functions of its several organs, third, with tracing its growth and development, noting any abnormal conditions in its life history and, fourth, with philosophizing upon the nature of the state in general.

The vast mass of facts collected by different observers must be subjected to rigid scientific tests. We must,he said, think, reason, generalize, define, and distinguish, we must also collect, authenticate, and investigate. If we neglect the first process, we shall accumulate facts to little purpose, because we shall have no test by which to distinguish facts which are important from those which are unimportant and, of course, if we neglect the second process, our reasoning will be baseless and we shall but weave scholastic cobwebs.

The Method of Observation :

Lord Bryce laid great emphasis upon What he called the method of observation, that is, the study Of governments and political institutions by observing at close range their actual working-a method which he himself followed. He Visited the countries Whose governments he desired to study and gained much of his information by personal conversation with public men and by direct observation of What governments. were doing and how they were doing it.

The political investigator, he said, must not confine his observations to a single country, the field must be enlarged to include the phenomena of all countries the fundamentals of human nature are the same everywhere, but political habits and temperaments vary in different countries. To the political investigator he offered sound advice and uttered words of warning. He must beware of superficial resemblances and deadly analogies he must avoid generalizations not based on facts he must be critical of his sources of information, and he must disengage personal or accidental causes from general causes.

The first desideratum, he said, is to get the fact, and he added: Make sure of it Get it perfectly clear. Polish it till it sparkles and shines like a gem. Then connect it with other facts. Examine it in its relation to them, for in that lies its worth and its significance. It is of little use alone. So make it a diamond in the necklace, a stone, perhaps a corner stone in your building.