Nature and Scope of Political Science

Nature and Scope of Political Science. Aristotle tells us a simple truth when he says, “He who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or god.” It means that man is a social animal. He is born in society and lives in society. This is obviously for two reasons. Man is a very gregarious animal. He is easily affected by sympathy and the desire for sympathy. He prefers company to solitude. He admires and imitates others, and he likes to be admired and imitated.


These social impulses aside, necessity also compels man to live a social life. No man is self-sufficient, and nature has not created one. His needs are many and purposes numerous. To satisfy his diverse needs and the fulfillment of his various purposes, the most associate with his fellows and seek their cooperation; such is the testimony of history. Here and there, an individual or a family has subsisted apart from the rest of the human race, but that is an exception rather than a rule. The general rule is that men live, and always have lived, in social groups.

If a man is social by nature, he is selfish and quarrelsome too. According to some accepted rules, this aspect of man’s nature and the instinct of living together and cooperating require adjustment of behavior. These rules prescribe a course of conduct based upon men’s need for one another. The first and the most important rule of social conduct is To do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

It means that I should provide for others the same conditions of life as I wish for myself. If I wish to grow and prosper, I owe it to others that they, too, should have the same conditions of life as I wish for myself. When I allow others what I wish for myself, I recognize my obligations to others while establishing others’ claims. Realization of this fact is a Way of regulating human conduct, But all conduct in society must conform to certain rules of Common behavior.

The rules governing a society may be few or many. They can range from a few primitive traditions, handed down orally, from one generation to another, or to the whole complex set of constitutional and governmental regulations which we associate with the modem State.

A prerequisite of such a society is that it must be properly organized. An unorganized society is more a mob than society, and the mob is subject to no restraint. An organized society must also be territoriality settled. People do not develop a community of interests unless they live a settled life occupying a definite territory distinct from other communities similarly organized.

Mutual adjustment and cooperation, a life to share commonweal and woe is the sine qua non of common life on common land. Then, an organized society requires some individuals to enforce rules of universal application for uniform behavior and ensure their observance. In the absence of such an agency, there is neither cohesion nor unity of purposes for which men had Organized themselves and settled down territoriality.

Thus organized, the society is called the State, rules that determine social conduct are the laws of the State and the individuals who enforce the laws and see that all equally observe them constitute its government. The subject that deals with the man about the State and its government are called Political Science. In its simplest form, political science may be defined as the study of man in the process of governing himself.

Is man a political animal?

Therefore, an elementary starting point for all political theory is the existential fact that members of the human species live together, whatever may be the elements of instinct, habit, necessity, or Choice that induce people to form societies. If a man is a social animal, is he then necessarily a political animal? Aristotle said he is, and it has remained a generally accepted truth until recently.

But opinion now veers around the belief that man is neither instinctively nor by learning necessarily a political animal. Adherents of this point of view, who are now many, particularly in the United States of America, admit that few people ever live outside the State. They also admit that the advantages of living together far outweigh the disadvantages.

Nonetheless, though human beings must and do live in political systems and share the benefits of political life, they do not necessarily participate in political life. They are not necessarily interested in politics, nor do they always care about politics, not know much about political events, or share in making decisions. In fact, in most states, the political stratum is a minority of the adult population.

Moreover, highly interested, concerned, informed, and active are an even smaller minority within the political stratum. They argue that political systems are developed simply because human beings are social and as they cannot live together without entering into relationships of influence; consequently, Whenever these relationships become stable and repetitive, political systems exist.

But this is exactly not so. The practice of politics is necessarily as old as society itself. It is born when men began to speculate about the rules of conduct by which they should be governed and matured with the succeeding generations when they began to ask whether these rules by which their ancestors were governed ought to be accepted, or ought to have been accepted in the past, why some societies choose different rules from others, whether it is possible to discover general rules of conduct which could or should apply to all societies.

In answering these questions, they go into the basic questions of the purposes for which human societies exist and their relation to the purposes of human life itself. Obviously, it is a quest for a just and happy life for men assembled in a territoriality integrated society. As such, the best form of relationship manifested in their governance that can ensure such a life.

This quest has been incessantly going on for centuries together Without reaching agreed conclusions. Nor is there any likelihood that men will ever do so, for human civilizations are forever changing, and so do they change their values. What seems true and even self-evident for one generation or one civilization is frequently rejected by the succeeding generations. Each generation explains Dorothy Pickles, “as it becomes an adult is faced with the responsibility of deciding whether to accept the rules made or accepted by earlier generations, or whether to challenge their validity and try to replace them by others. ”

However, it does not mean that all men are equally concerned with the political life of the society to which they belong. Some peoples are indifferent to politics; others deplore them. But quite many play the game of politics. Even the ordinary citizen, making up his mind whether to vote for A or B, maybe invisibly trying to answer a sort of question which Plato and Aristotle had tried to answer over 2,000 years ago, namely, who is the best form of government?

He may not be thinking in terms of the vital issues involved in such a question. He may be simply trying to decide whether A or B is more likely to further his personal or professional interests. Even so, he is one of the thousands of his fellow citizens who is incessantly helping to formulate an answer of some kind to the question, what is the best form of government for me? And the multitude of different answers given by him and his fellow citizens go to form how the government in a particular country develops. It is the wisdom of generations that makes the political apparatus of a country and its culture.

The impact which one individual citizen makes on his own or the succeeding generations may be minimal. Still, some critics of the existing social order have so touched the minds or hearts of their fellow citizens or citizens of other times or other countries that they have helped to bring about great changes in the organization of government  Plato and Aristotle still exercise profound influences on the thought of Western Europe. Rousseau and Marx are the beau ideal of millions of people beyond the frontiers of their own countries.

Locke’s teachings had a deep impact on the Americans and the French, the former seeking to justify their struggle for independence and freedom from foreign rule and the latter seeking to justify man’s right to revolt against arbitrary rule, which had plagued these countries for centuries together. Gandhi dedicated himself to uplifting man and society simultaneously.

He was out to moralize man and society. In his attempt to realize society’s better-ordering, he devised a new moral strategy, the method of regulating along with non-violent lines group life in its political, economic, and international aspects. By his twin principles of truth and non-violence, Gandhi re-revolutionized the Course of politics and the present-day world. Standing on the brink of an abysmal cataclysm does find solace in the Gandhian outlook and his peaceful technique. Gandhi’s teachings are more relevant today than they were in his lifetime, and this fact has been universally admitted.

Scope of Political Science.

There is no general agreement on the nature and scope of Political Science, “the master science,” as Aristotle described it since there is no generally accepted definition of the discipline and its organizing concept, the State. The definitions of both Political Science and the State, the latter in particular, reveal the bias of the thinkers, for example, the metaphysical (Hegel), the juridical (Austin), the sociological (MacIver), the descriptive (Garner), and many others with their own distinctive labels.

There are as many definitions as there are writers on the subject, and all these definitions give the entity the State different meanings and conflicting roles. This tendency continues even now, though in a slightly different form. “The recent definitions of politics (as a study),” writes Frank Thakurdas, “are not so much cast in the discipline of the thinker (easily detectable) but the conceptual framework that he has worked out in advance (as it were) the basic presupposition of his personal manner of interpreting the complete  phenomenon of politics But also including the purpose that the studies involve in terms of the practical ends they subserve.”

Some writers restrict the scope of Political Science to the State’s study alone, for example, Bluntschli. All such writers exclude the study of government from the scope of Political Science, for the State for them obviously includes government study. Others hold that Political Science deals only with the government.

Karl W. Deutsch says, “Because Polities, the making of decisions by public means, it is primarily concerned with government, that is, with the direction and self-direction of large communities of the people.” According to Robson, “The purpose of political science is to throw light on political ideas and political action so that the government of man may be improved.” Harold Laski takes a more realistic view and emphasizes that the scope of Political Science embraces the study of both the State and government. However, he maintains that the State, in reality, means the government.

Government is the helmsman of the ship of the State. There can be no State without a government. The State is a people organized for law within a definite territory. This entity, the sovereign political unity of life, orders and compels obedience by punishing those who violate its commands. But no State acts by itself.

There must be present in every State some men or body of men competent to issue orders on its behalf and see that they are actually obeyed. That is the government. This is, however, the conventional field of functions of the government. The modem government has emerged as an active and positive agent in all communities’ direction of affairs. In the older democracies and still more in the newer developing States and in the Communist countries, the government is looked on as a major, or even the dominant, organizing power in society.

A description of the State must, therefore, include the study of the structure and functions of government, its forms and institutions, modes of representation, the interaction of political parties, interest groups, mass media of communication, relationships involving rule, authority, and power and most important of all the problems connected with the emergence of a big and active government both in the national and international fields.

The State, all the same, remains the central subject of the study of Political Science as the whole government mechanism emerges from and revolves around this entity. The need for government arises because here had been and there is a need for the State The need for the State is deeply embedded in the compelling necessities of human life and the advantages accruing from dwelling together on a defined territory and sharing the benefits of political life.

Without the State, life itself cannot be sustained. But this is not the only object of political life. As Aristotle said, the State comes into existence, “originating in the bare needs of the life of man and continuing in existence for the sake  of good life.” Whether a man is a political animal or not, it remains an unchangeable fact that man cannot be what he desires to be without the State. It is premature to accept the recent system theory, domestic and international, with all its innovations.

So long as the State remains a matter of reality in practical politics, and its citizens are required to preserve its sovereignty and integrity. The unquestioned respect for the symbols of its distinctness, like the national flag and the national anthem, is instilled in them from their very childhood; it is an indispensable institution for the existence of its nationals and their development.

When the State plays such a vital role in man’s life, it becomes all the more important to know it in all its aspects what the State has been, what it is, and what it ought to be. As it is, the State refers to its existing Structure and the analysis of the principles and practices of modern governments. But what the State is can only be understood by knowing what it had been. As we have seen, how the government in a country develops is the wisdom of generations. This involves studying the origin of the State, its evolution, and the development of the mechanism, which it functions.

But knowledge of the past and the State’s present does not exhaust the scope of Political Science. We must also try to gather how far the state’s existing structure and its institutions respond to the needs of man and determine his well-being. This had been the unceasing quest of generations all through these centuries, and it continues to exist with a never-ending zeal.

This quest reinforces the need for a deep knowledge of the past and its comparison with the present. The process involved makes us wiser for the future as it sharpens our intellect to reform the existing institutions to cater to the generations’ aspirations to come adequately. It means to discover the principles that should be adhered to in operating the State’s machinery, to criticize what is bad or inefficient, and to suggest improvements so that the State may serve its purpose meaningfully. It is the dream for the ideal for the fulfillment of which all people have always yearned and striven, though what an ideal life is and how it can be achieved is controversial.

All this relates to the study of the State as it ought to be. Here, political science enters the realm of political ethics and studies humanity’s moral problems to establish the principles of collective morality. We consider and evaluate the purposes and ends of the State. The fundamental topics involved in such a study are the ethical foundations of authority, the nature and limits of political obligation, the rights and freedoms of the individuals, groups, and nations, and an examination of the entire body-politic from the point of view of the ultimate ends of human life. The approach may, be-speculative or analytical, or in the case of Plato, a combination of both.

There has been an upheaval, “intellectual revolution” as described in American political scientists’ thoughts and ideas in the last four decades or so. The innovations they have introduced have greatly influenced the nature and subject matter of our study. The approach to the traditional theory of Political Science, as they call it, is criticized on parochialism and formalism. The study’s focus in the past explained tended to be primarily on institutions and their legal norms, rules, regulations, or political ideas and ideologies rather than on performance, interaction, and behavior.

The modern political analysis, guided by sociological, anthropological, and psychological methods and theories, rests upon four basic principles:

  • The search for a more comprehensive scope
  • The search for realism
  • The search for precision and
  • The search for intellectual order

The object is to free the discipline of Political Science from the value judgments or quasi-ethical or philosophical judgments.

These modern political scientists seek to develop a kind of empirically oriented and value-free Political Science and bring it on par with natural sciences. Values are thought to be subjective preferences about which science has nothing to do. Traditionally, the study of political values-of what, for example, ought to be the political structure and what political goals ought to be sought has been political philosophers’ field. The modem political philosophers’ main concern is the study of great thinkers of the past, Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau.

In the process, he will analyses such value words as justice, rights, freedom. This activity is currently supplemented by the study of values as political facts. To take a specific example, while the students of Political Science remain interested in the historical formulations of the argument that we ought to obey the law because we have consented to it by participating in the choice of government, and spend time in analyzing the nature of consent in all its variety, there are now investigations to discover to what extent consent as defined, is in fact a value subscribed to in a particular society and what consequences for political behavior follow from the acceptance of the value.

There is increasing importance attached to the political setting the political values and attitudes, which together make the political culture.

Separated, rather than divorced, from the study of political values is the study of political institutions. For a long period, the study essentially centered around the legislatures, executives, and judiciaries, the three institutions for making, carrying out, and interpreting the law. As the study developed and knowledge advanced, the area extended to include political parties, bureaucracies, interest groups and other, groups engaged in politics which have a continuous existence.

At a later stage, it was further supplemented by how political communications work through press, radio, television, discussions, or meetings and how demands emerge and are formulated through interest groups and political parties: and their impact on government’s policies.

The emphasis is on procedures and institutions through which authoritative decisions are made and the outcome of such decision-making in the form of rule-making, rule-application, and rule-adjudication, to use terms broader and more meaningful than the traditional legislative, executive, and judicial functions.

The keynote is on facts. Consequently, political institutions are themselves evaluated to see to what extent theory and practice diverge the present and the past values in varying degrees.

Recently, the emphasis has been placed on the study of what is called political behavior. This approach, which is not restricted to declared behaviorists, concentrates on individuals’ and groups’ behavior within political institutions. The aim is to get behind the formal structure and study the actual political processes to uncover the “inside story” and have led to a new or revived interest in social factors’ impact on political life.

This branch of political studies owes a great deal to other social sciences, particularly sociology. “It is always the focus of interest,” says MacIver, “that distinguishes one social science from another. We should not think of the social sciences as dividing between them physically separate areas of reality. What distinguishes each from each is selective interests.”  A student of Political Science must see the State’s problems and the processes involved therein against a background of general knowledge, either existing or to be acquired, as a basis for comment and assessment.

Political Science, thus, enters into various fields and touches many horizons. The process of specialization on the various aspects of the discipline, the orientation of methodology, and, importantly, behavioral and interdisciplinary explanations have brought about a radical change in the scope of the discipline. Political decisions are not made in a vacuum or due only to the personal idiosyncrasies of political actors.

Economic factors, the social structure, the class, status, and stratification systems influence both the content and mode of making political decisions. Nor can one remain oblivious of political Orientations of the members of society-how citizens the political system itself, how they react to it emotionally, how they evaluate it morally. Equally important is family churches, work-groups, etc., have influenced the political socialization process-how members’ general attitudes.

The political system is an aspect of the social system and political activity, and its study is a special category of social study and activity. Politics is, therefore, not isolated from other human activities. Students of Political Science must consider the environments in which the political system is set, particularly the social setting. Otherwise, their study is devoid of realities and consequently barren.

Despite the advances made in the recent political analysis, there is no unified theory of Political Science to present. Almond and Powell admit that the new developments are trends only and not as completed accomplishments. The most important work, both empirical and theoretical, is still to be done.

Yet, there is no denying that the analytical cum-empirical method has definitely enlarged the field of our inquiry as it has cleared up the rust in which many helpful distinctions within the framework of political studies lay obscured. It is not that the traditional boundaries have been obliterated. They may merely have been extended and given a sharpness and depth hitherto unknown.

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