The Actual State of Advanced Modern Political Theory

Lack of modern political theory or decline of traditional political theory has not discouraged scholars in their efforts for developing an empirical political theory. For the time being, in view of its growing nature and infancy, it is possible that it will not be hundred per cent ‘scientific’. Till then, it would be proper to call it ‘modern or advanced political theory’.

The word ’empirical’ as an adjective to political theory can also be used, but it carries certain amount of ambiguity, circumlocution, and controversy. It has also been used in the past. Till a better term is coined, the word ‘modern’ or ‘advanced’ can connote both ‘scientificity’ and ’empiricism’. It also bears the notion of objectivity and verifiability.

The impetus to develop modern political theory came from many direc­tions. The failure of Weimar democracy in Germany and rise of Communism in Russia was a great challenge to the western political thought. The people of the West had given their consensual acceptability to the basic tenets, institutions, structures and processes of their political societies.

The Marxist political theory was regarded as a great threat to them. Following sociology and economics, an emphatic attitude developed amongst political scientists. Another important event was the emergence of a large number of independent states out of debris of the Second World War. The conditions of Cold War required them to be thoroughly studied and understood, a task which could not be performed with old concepts, tools and techniques of traditional political theory. The post-Cold War scenario is also a problem to both rulers and the ruled.

Political Science had attained the status of a sub-discipline as late as in 1840s. The first chair for the study of politics was established in the Columbia University under Francis Leiber in 1858. After the formation of the American Political Science Association in 1903, further steps were taken in this regard.

Sarauf mentions four scholarly traditions:

(1) Legalism: W.F. Willoughby, R.G. Gettel, J.W. Garner etc., represent this formal-legal trend;

(2) Activism and Reform: it loomed large around Washington during 1930-40;

(3) Philosophical trend: it is universal and motivates the scholar to become an all-around social reformer; and

(4) Realism: it brought impact of science in the form of empiricism.

It is represented by Bagehot (The English Constitution, 1865-67), W. Wilson (Congressional Government, 1885), James Bryce (American Commonwealth, 1888, and Modern Democracies, 1924), Arther Bentley (The Process of Government, 1908), Graham Wallas (Human Nature in Politics, 1908), Charles E. Merriam (New Aspects of Politics, 1925), David Truman (The Governmental Process, 1951) and so on.

However, from the viewpoint of its development, the whole evolution of political theory can be divided into seven break-ups:

(i) Unto 1850, the dominant nature of political theory was philosophical, deductive and normative;

(ii) During 1850-1900, historical and comparative study of political institutions dominated the scholarly scene;

(iii) The period of 1900-1923, was overwhelmed by empirical and quantitative techniques, like observation, measurement, survey etc.;

(iv) In 1923-1945 break-up, psycho­logical aspects of politics drew the attention of scholars;

(v) By the end of the Second World War to 1949, early behavioural science emerged and created rupture and revolution in the study of politics. However, it was engaged more with facts and rude and crude form of empiricism;

(vi) The period of 1949-1965 belongs to the formation of behavioural theories which also met with sharp reaction from traditional scholars; and

(vii) 1965 and after saw the coming of post-behaviouralism or reform in the attitude and programme of hardcore behaviourists.

Since then, a large number of political theorists have been working on the problem of theory-making. David Easton, Harold D. Lasswell, Gabriel A. Almond, James S. Coleman, David Apter, W.F. Riggs, Herbert A. Simon can be regarded as most prominent among them. But their ventures have also impelled scholars of traditional views to repudiate their efforts in usual manner.


Efforts are being made to develop political theory at a number of levels:

1. Singular generalisations.

2. Segments of political life – of partial theories such as, theories of parties, leadership, administrative behaviour, decision-making, repre­sentation, cleavage etc.

3. Whole of subject-matter or general theory. They can be sub-divided, as:

Allocative Theories:

They shed light on the way in which various processes contribute to the distribution and use of political sources, e.g., group approach, power theories, systems theory (when related to its internal operations) etc.

General Approach:

It is available in two forms:

(i) Functional analysis, and

(ii) Systems analysis.

‘Modern Political Theory’ is one of the sub-fields of Political Science. Apart from being an academic or conceptual field, as discussed by Deutsch and Rieselbach, it has an established structure. This structure of ‘political theory’ requires efforts towards its (a) pattern-maintenance, (b) adaptation with changing social, intellectual and scientific conditions, (c) goal attainment of explanatory power and prediction, and (d) integration to bring about coherence and harmony among various sub-fields. They studied 500 works written during 1955-1964. This period was divided into 1955-1959, and, 1960-1964. In the earlier period, most of the books were written on pattern maintenance. During the latter period, more attention was paid to adaptation and goal attainment functions. But very little work has been done, leaving Easton and Lasswell aside, on integration aspect of the political theory.

Discussion on the causes of decline of political theory elucidates that it is different from modern political theory. Traditional political theory had its best days, an4 declined only during the last one hundred and fifty years. Modern political theory is yet to emerge and contribute its role to the re-making of human society. It can be recognised on the basis of some eclectic features, like, (i) objectivity, (ii) empiricism or sense-experience, (iii) scientific method and value-relativism, (iv) explanatory and cognitive role, (v) tentativeness or falsifiability, (vi) verifiability, and (vii) logical consistency. A theory, in the process of its making, may be found at a particular stage of its development, but has to be evaluated on the basis of these criteria. Taking them as features of an ideal-type political theory, it can be said, using the term from Meehan that these formulations are ‘quasi-theories’, and not ‘theory’ proper.

Some of various forms of these ‘quasi’ or ‘non-theories’ are given below:

1. A series of definitions, as found in the game theory.

2. List of factors – if it is not relevant and operational.

3. Approaches – such as, power theory, systems theory etc.

4. Classifications – as found in Almond Coleman’s structural-functional approach.

5. Dichotomies – these are in the form of a polarity with two extremes and do not have any middle or continuum with no intervals – scaled or unsealed.

6. Analogies – may be formal-informal, or organic – mechanical (models), but are different from Utopias.

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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