Political Terminology

Political Terminology . Lack of a Precise Nomenclature : It is Characteristic of political Science that, differing from the natural sciences, it lacks a precise and generally accepted nomenclature.  Such terms as “state” “government” “politics” “administration” “nation” “nationality” “liberty,” “democracy” “oligarchy, people” and many others are used in different senses and convey different meanings to different persons.

Frequently they have both a technical or scientific and a popular meaning, each differing from the other though used without discrimination. This is regrettable because it often leads to confusion and misunderstanding, such as one does not encounter in the literature of the natural sciences, where the terminology employed is more precise and exact.

Sheldon Amos remarked that some of the terms employed, having a double meaning and being capable of a favorable or unfavorable use, are sometimes distorted by writers and speakers and used for the purpose of sub serving a momentary or Special interest or for sup porting a particular thesis.

The Terms “Politics ” and “ Political Science”:

What was said above in regard to the ambiguity of the terminology of political science is illustrated by the use of the term “ politics ” (derived from the Greek words polis and politeia), which is defined in the dictionaries and textbooks as both an art and a science and is used by text writers in both senses.

The obvious objection to the employment of the term in this dual sense could be removed by restricting its use to describe the activities by which public officials are chosen and political policies promoted, or, in a wider sense the sum total of the activities which have to do with the actual administration of public affairs, reserving the term “political scienc ” to describe the body of knowledge relating to the phenomena of the state.

Careful writers, of whom the Germans are the most representative, have generally observed this distinction. They distinguish between the terms Politik, Staatspraxis, and Staatskunst, on the one hand, and Staatswissenschaft and Staatslehre on the other.

Thus Bluntschli, in his treatise Theory of the State, says, “ politics” (Politik) is more of an art than a science and has to do with the practical conduct or , guidance of the state, whereas “ political science ” (Staatswissenschaft) is concerned with the foundations of the state, its essential nature, its forms or manifestations, and its development.

Other writers, such as Bryce and Seeley in England and’ Burgess and Willoughby in the United States, have observed this distinction and have employed the term “political science.” rather than “politics ” in their treatises dealing with the origin, nature, organization, and sphere of the state.

The Terms -“ Theoretical ” and “ Applied ” Politics.

Some writers, who apparently hesitate ‘to admit that the study of the phenomena of the state is properly a science and who therefore regard with skepticism the term “political science,” have nevertheless recognized the validity of the distinction referred to above by distinguishing between “theoretical ” and “practical” (or applied ) politics, the former term being employed when referring to the fundamental characteristics of the state without reference to its activities or the means by which its ends are attained the latter when referring to the state in action, that is considered as a dynamic institution.

Thus everything that relates to the origin, nature, attributes, and ends of the state, including the principles of political organization and administration, falls with in the domain of “theoretical ” politics, while that which is concerned with the actual administration of the affairs of government belongs to the sphere of “applied ” or “practical” politics. The majority of writers today, however, prefer the term “political science” instead, of “ theoretical politics” and the simple term “ polities ” instead of “applied politics” or “practical politics.”

Some writers employ the term “science of politics” others, the “theory of the state,” like the Staatslehre of the Germans, because, as one author remarks, “it gives a clearer idea of the wide nature of the field of inquiry ” and at the same time avoids the necessity of a delicate and intricate discussion as to whether the study of politics is a science or a philosophy.

In spite of all objections, however, the term “political science” (Striatswissenschaft, science politique, scienza politica) has come to be more generally employed by the best writers and thinkers to describe the mass of knowledge derived from the systematic study of the state, while the meaning of the term “politics” is confined to that of the business or activity which has to do with the actual conduct of affairs of state.

The Political Sciences.

Against the single term “political science ” the objection has been urged that it does not correspond with the facts, since there is no single science dealing with the state, but rather a group of related sciences, each concerned with particular aspects of it. Thus, it is said, the modern state is a very complex organization which presents itself under divers aspects and is capable of being studied from many different points of view.

The mass of knowledge relating to each phase or aspect of the state has developed a history and a dogma of its own quite distinct from the rest. The phenomena of each have become so numerous and complex as to create a necessity for special treatment by the investigator.

Thus the tendency has been to group them‘into separate categories and treat them as distinct sciences.The plural form, the political sciences, therefore seems to cor respond more nearly with the facts and is preferred by many writers, especially the French, who commonly speak of the sciences morales et politiques.

According to the latter view a political science is one which is concerned, not necessarily with the state in all of its aspects or relations, but with any particular phenomenon of the state or any class of phenomena either as a whole or incidentally, directly or indirectly. Thus there may be as many political sciences as there are conceivable aspects or forms of manifestation of the state. In this sense sociology, political economy, public finance, public law, diplomacy, constitutional history, may be denominated political sciences, since they all deal either primarily or incidentally with some class of phenomena belonging to the state.

Those who maintain that the singular form accords more nearly with the facts argue that in reality the above mentioned sciences are rather coordinate social sciences than independent political sciences.

Thus, says one writer, in support of this view,

“The various relations in which the state may be conceived may be subdivided and treated separately, but their connection is too intimate and their purpose too similar to justify their erection into different sciences.”

Without attempting to pass judgment up on the respective merits of the two views, it is safe to say that either form may be justified by distinguishing between political science in its strict sense, that is, the science which deals exclusively with the phenomena of the state, and political science in the wider sense as embracing all the sciences which deal with particular aspects of state life, such as sociology, history, economics, and others. When used in the former sense, the singular form should be employed, when used in the latter sense, the plural is justifiable.