Comparative Politics: Meaning, Scope and Its Evolution

After reading this article you will learn about:

1. Meaning of Comparative Politics

2. Scope of Comparative Politics and  Evolution.

Meaning and Definition of Comparative Politics:

The study of comparative politics involves conscious comparisons in studying political experience, institutions, behaviour and processes of the systems of government in a comprehensive manner. It includes the study of even extra-constitutional agencies having their immediate connection, open or tacit, with formal governmental organs.

It is, therefore, concerned with significant regularities, similarities and differences in the working of political institutions and in the patterns of political behaviour. In simple words, we can say, Comparative Politics involves a comparative study of various political systems either as a whole or through a comparative analysis of their structures and functions.Some popular definitions of Comparative Politics:

“Comparative Politics is the study of the forms of political organisations, their properties, correlations, variations and modes of change.” M. G. Smith

“Government is not the sole concern of students of comparative politics.

Comparative Politics, no doubt, has to be concerned with the government structure, but at the same time, it has to take note of:

(i) Society, historical heritage and geographic and resources endowed, its social and economic organisations, its ideologies and value systems, and its political style; and

(ii) Its parties, interests and leadership structure.” Macridis and Ward

“Comparative Politics is the study of patterns of national governments in the contemporary world.”

The term patterns of government refers to the 3 parts of study:

  1.  Government structure,
  2.  Behaviour i.e. the study of how a particular political structure or institution works, and
  3.  The laws – Jean Biondel

“Comparative Politics is concerned with significant regularities, similarities and differences in the working of political institutions and political behaviour.” M. Curtis

“Comparative politics is identification and interpretation of factors in the whole social order which appear to affect whatever political functions and their institutions which have been identified and listed for comparison.” Braibante

Comparative Politics involves a comparative study of not only the institutional and mechanistic arrangements of government but also an empirical and scientific analysis of non- institutional and non-political determinants of political behaviour such as the pattern of culture or the socio-economic environment within which the political systems operate. Empirical study of political processes, structures and functions forms the core of Comparative Politics studies. Its aim is to build a scientific theory of politics capable of explaining all phenomena of politics.

Concept of Comparative Politics:
Comparative Politics is as old as Political Science. Aristotle, the father of Political Science, used comparative method for comprehending and analysing principles, issues and problems of Greek City States of his times. He used the knowledge gained for building his theory of politics.

Following Aristotle, several political thinkers began using the comparative method for analysing and presenting their views and conclusion about politics. Thus, it can be legitimately observed that comparative politics had its origin with Aristotle.

Harry Eckstein has rightly observed:

“Comparative Politics has a particular right to claim Aristotle as an ancestor because of the primacy he assigned to politics among the sciences and because the problems he raised and the methods he used are similar to those still current in political studies.”

In contemporary times, Comparative Politics stands recognized as a primary and essential dimension of the study of Politics. A large number of political scientists even regard it as an autonomous discipline because of its vast scope and importance for a comprehensive understanding of politics in all societies.

The comparative approach has emerged as a very useful and highly popular approach for the study of Politics. Comparative study of Political Systems forms an integral part of the study of Politics.

Evolution of Comparative Politics:

Since times very ancient, Comparative Politics has been a very popular and useful subject of study within the broad ambit of Political Science.

Aristotle observed the working of 158 constitutions and used the knowledge for answering such questions as:

Which is an ideal state? Which can be the best practicable state?

Which is the best constitution?

Aristotle’s path was followed by his admirers, and the tradition still continues.

It can be stated with certainty that right from the days of Aristotle, comparative study of political institutions, governments and processes has been developing as a major and popular area of investigation with a large number of political scientists. After Aristotle, several political thinkers—Cicero, Polybius, Machiavelli, Montesquieu, J.S. Mill, Bagehot and others, used the comparative method in a highly productive way.

In the 20th century, the ancient tradition received a systematic use and development at the hands of a large number of political scientists, particularly, Ogg, Zink, Munro, C.F. Strong, Herman Finer, Almond, Powell, Blondel, A.R. Ball, Colelman, David Apter, S E Finer and others.

In the Western world, Comparative Politics came to be regarded as an autonomous discipline. Several scholars of the Third World countries (New States) got engaged in Comparative Politics studies and the exercise still continues. Comparative Politics continues to be a very popular area of study. The increase in the number of sovereign independent states has made the task more interesting as well as challenging.

In fact, in contemporary times, the importance of Comparative Politics has increased tremendously. The existence of 193 political systems and some non-state political entities in the world has greatly enlarged the scope of Comparative Politics. The need to build a scientific theory of politics and the potential of Comparative Method to serve this end has been mainly responsible for its increased importance.

In the 19th century, Comparative Politics studies (Popularly designated as Comparative Government) were used by the political scientists for arriving at correct and valid conclusions regarding the nature and organisation of state and government through a comparative study of organisation, powers and functions of various political institutions working in various states.

The basic objective was to enquire into the historical and legal similarities and dissimilarities among the various forms of government and their political institutions for getting answer to two main questions:

Which form of government was the best?, and

Which types of political institutions were the best?

Comparative study was regarded as the key to the understanding of politics and consequently the key to provide answers to these two question.

A comparative normative-prescriptive study of political institutions was conducted for answering these questions. The features, merits, demerits, similarities and dissimilarities of political institutions were compared and an attempt was made to identify the best political institutions. This focus continued to remain popular up till the end of the 19th century.

In the 20th century, the study underwent revolutionary changes. The traditional focus (Comparative Governments) got replaced by a new direction. Now the study of actual behaviour of political institutions and political processes came to be the adopted as the main area of study.

For this purpose, several new concepts and approaches were developed. The building of a scientific theory of politics through comparative studies of politics came to the objective.

The dissatisfaction with the traditional approach and scope of Comparative Government due to its lack of comprehensives in scope, unrealistic nature and unscientific methodology led to the birth of the need for developing a new science of Comparative Politics capable of explaining all phenomena of politics in all parts of the globe as well as for building a scientific theory of politics.

The increased opportunity for comparative politics provided by the rise of several new political systems in Asia and Africa, and the increased necessity for building a scientific theory of politics capable of guiding the path of the organisation of political institutions in the new states, gave an added importance to the attempts at the development of the new science of Comparative Politics, Political Scientists now adopted Comprehensiveness, Realism, Precision and use of scientific methods as the new goals for the study of Comparative Politics.

With the passage of time, the experience and knowledge gained helped the development of Comparative Politics as a vitally important and popular subject of study. Several developments of the post-war era greatly revolutionized this area of study. Consequently, it came to be regarded as an autonomous subject, of course, within the broad ambit of Political Science.

The traditional objective of deciding the best forms of government came to be replaced by the objective of systematic and comparative politics studies for comprehensively, realistically and precisely analysing and explaining all the processes of politics.

From a legal- institutional study Comparative Politics came to be transformed into a behavioural, process- oriented, functional and scientific study of all political systems in terms of their structures, functions, environments and development processes. This attempt continues even today and Comparative Politics continues to be a popular and highly productive area of the study of politics.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

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