What is Politics and Political Science?

Common people, renowned scholars and political scientists of high repute very often use the words politics and political science to denote the same thing that is they use the two terms interchangeably. But a proper scrutiny and hair split analysis will reveal that there is a difference between the terms though this difference can easily be ignored. It is believed that the term politics is derived from the word Polis the exact meaning of which is city-state.

In ancient Greece, polis or the city state was the most popular and general form of political organisation. Every polis or city- state had its own form of government, administration, management etc and all these did not depend upon the size of the polis or city-state. Thus politics means the political affairs or administration of polis. Thus politics is understood to denote something about polis or city-state.

In today’s world there is practically no existence of city-state but the term politics derived from polis has gained popularity, publicity and importance. Now-a-days by politics we generally mean the activities associated with the governance of a country or area. We thus cannot separate the term politics from the affairs of state and these affairs are associated with the administration and decision making issues of state. Politics in this way has been inextricably connected with state as it was in ancient Greece with the polis.

We have so far noted only one meaning of the term politics but there is another meaning which is also to be found in wide circulation. This meaning is—activities aimed at improving some one’s status within an organisation. In this sense politics is used to mean as a type of instrument or vehicle to achieve definite purpose.

The purpose may be of a particular person or group of persons and it may be good or bad. However it may be, politics acts as an instrument and it carries with it pejorative sense or connotation. We are thus in a position to conclude that politics has two distinct meanings—one is academic which is associated with the administration or management of state and the other is non-academic which is generally pejorative.

It is the latter meaning which has introduced a difference between politics and political science. A general and numerously accepted definition of political science is: The study of state, government and politics and this study must be based on scientific principles and reasons. Political science is, therefore, an academic discipline.

Some academicians are inclined to treat it in the following way:

Political science is not only the study of government and state but also it is the application of empirical theory and scientific methods to the analysis of political matters. After the Second World War (193-9-1945) a very good number of political scientists of United States applied number of scientific methods for the investigation and analysis of political matters incidents and issues and after that they framed models and concepts and all these have finally constituted body of political science.

Hence it can naively be observed that while in non-academic sense the politics is used pejoratively, political science is blessed with academic and wider meaning. A large section of common men is accustomed to using the non-academic connotation of the term politics. We very often say that behind all these activities there is politics.

The meaning of which is that persons concerned use their official position or other means to achieve particular objectives to which they are not legally and normally entitled. Politics in this sense is an unfair means. Therefore, the non-academic meaning of politics has nothing to do with fairness. In both national and international politics this meaning of politics has gained precedence.

In international politics we are well acquainted with the term power politics. Many big powers use politics as a weapon to establish their authority in – international system and to enhance their image and influence. But political science is quite satisfied with academic meanings. Some conclude that political science is purely an academic concept and a discipline while politics when used un-academically cannot be treated as a discipline. However, this narrow meaning has found out a secure place in the whole gamut of the subject.

A few more words may be still added to our analysis about politics in academic sense and non-academic sense. A recent author aments by observing that politics is a “dirty” word and it is very often associated with some sort of self-seeking interests and hypocrisy and in the name of politics many nefarious activities are gleefully performed and this tendency is considerably vitiating social atmosphere.

Politics in its dirty aspect is the real precursor to criminalisation of politics which is quite prevalent in Third World countries. In fact, criminalisation of politics or its dirty nature is the go of the day of Third World States.

We all ardently desire that politics must be emancipated from this quagmire and be posted on a healthy footing or platform. Attempts are being made in different corners sporadically and without tangible consequence. A critic observes “The discipline of politics (or political science or government) does little, if anything, to dispel this image of politics and politicians. It is a pious hope of all right thinking person’s that politics as a “master science” (to borrow Aristotle’s phrase) must be allowed to thrive in its fullest academic sense and if it is achieved politics and political science in academic sense will lose their difference. The students, political scientists and academicians whole heartedly desire this.

Other Definitions of Political Science:

We have already noted that political science or politics is an academic and in this sense it can be defined as a study of political affairs, relevant governmental matters and lively issues influencing the functions and decision making process of government or persons at the helm of power. Into this definition is included the teachings and results of political research and investigations.

The research, teachings and investi­gations are carried out by universities and academic institutes. These institutes are run and managed by government and non-governmental organisations. The purpose of all these researches and investigations is to arrive at certain conclusions, to prepare models and concepts and to suggest general principles which prepare the general corpus of political science.

So what we call political science today is nothing but the result of painstaking research performed by numerous scholars at different corners of the globe. But outside the academic institutes and universities many interest groups, journalists and other persons conduct investigations about political affairs and governmental matters.

But all these do not generally form the part of political science because in all these research works there is hardly any continuity and they are not conducted for exclusively academic purposes and model building. Their sole purpose is to satisfy the transitory public interests. However, political science as a study of relevant, political affairs and research is gaining importance.

David Held has viewed politics (or political science) in a different way. In his opinion politics is a practical activity (emphasis added) about the discourse and struggle over organisation of human possibilities and in this sense political science can be treated as a study of power (emphasis added). The concept of power relates to the capacity of social agents and institutions.

In this definition of politics given by Held we find three components of political science. Political science relates to political activity, to power, to capacity of various agents and organisations. Hence any definition of political science must encompass all these components.

An important aspect of this definition is political science has been treated as a practical activity. As such political science does not hover in imagination or a solitary place. It is a down-to-earth phenomenon connected with the affairs and activities of groups, institutions and various agents.

Another definition of politics is—it is a study of “activities of cooperation, negotiation and struggle over the use, production and distribution of resources”. This definition highlights another very vital aspect of political science. There are various types of resources available in any society. The production and distribution of these resources are to be preceded by definite policy on the part of the government or authority, cooperation among various agents involved in the production and distri­bution of resources.

It may require negotiation of one agent with another. In the case of conflict between outlook and objective struggle may occur. But for greater and better interests of society the conflict ought to be settled. The point to add here is that in all these situations the involvement of state or government appears to be an inevitability. This definition of politics views the subject from the angle of cooperation, negotiation and conflict.

Why the question of cooperation, conflict and negotiation? It is no secret that in any society there are persons and groups who hold different opinions on the same issues and in a democratic society none can impose his own views/decision upon other. Naturally conflict of opinion is the chief characteristic of such a society and in order to arrive at a decision the settlement of the conflict is a must.

The practical situation teaches that no society can survive and thrive which has made itself a cauldron of animosity. Cooperation and negotiation take place under the stewardship of political organisations or government—nominated agencies. A definition of politics includes all these because political science is not simply an academic subject but also a potential and necessary provider of guidelines for policy makers and researchers.

This aspect of political science can be overlooked only at the detriment of the importance of subject. We, therefore, conclude that political science as a study of cooperation, negotiation and conflict holds good for any liberal or pluralist society.

Harold Lasswell has defined political science in the following words. He calls political science an empirical science, as an empirical displine, as the study of the shaping and sharing of power, and a political act as one performed in power perspectives.

The central idea of this definition is Lasswell calls political science an empirical science. If so according to Lasswell the subject is chiefly concerned with the shaping and sharing of power. This definition of Lasswell reminds us about an aspect of the definition. Political science as a social science deals with cooperation and conflict and the latter also means that whenever there arises a conflict the authority takes steps for its settlement and no settlement of any conflict is possible without power.

Hence we can define political science as an empirical discipline dealing with shaping and sharing of power. Lasswell believes that political science is the study of power exercised by the state or agencies authorised by state.

In any modern civilised society individuals do not live alone, they live in groups and behave as members of group. Naturally the behavior of individual is considerably influenced by the members of the group to which he belongs.

Viewed in this light Raphael defines politics in the following manner:

Politics deals with the behaviour of groups and individuals in matters that are likely to affect the course of government. Raphael has clarified his stand. He says that the functions and policies, voting behaviour of persons, relation between the government and the people etc. are generally the subject matters of political science.

The interesting fact is that in strictest sense there is no difference between Lasswell’s definition and Raphael’s definition. Political science is primarily an empirical science and in that sense it comes to be associated with sharing and application of power and this power is applied by the government.

Like Lasswell, W. J. M. Mackenzie has defined politics in the light of power. Let us quote some relevant portions from Machenzie’s noted work Politics and Social Science (1967). He says: “Politics is about power………. about legitimate authority………. about the reconciliation of interests. Politics is also concerned with the legitimate use of violence and also the monopoly authority over the power and the use of violence.

Today a large number of thinkers have started to view the subject specifically in the light of power, violence and their use: What Mackenzie has added to this definition is- he has emphasised on legitimate used of power and violence. This does not of course mean that illegitimate use of power and violence is totally banished from the arena of politics.

Our practical experience teaches us that power illegitimately used also finds a place in political science. But politics does not deal with this properly. Such type of incident is regarded as aberration in the whole gamut of political science. The emphasis on power has been occasioned by the advent of empirical treatment of the subject.

I think it would be very much helpful to refer another definition given by Almond, Powell, Strom and Dalton (Comparative Politics Today). They have said: “By politics we thus refer to the activities associated with the control of public decisions among a given people and in a given territory, where twin control may be backed by authoritative and coercive means.” Politics deals with who uses this authoritative and coercive means and for what purpose this is used.

A proper definition of politics can, for academic purposes, be divided into two parts—the authoritative and coercive use of power or means or methods and the other part is for what purpose this power is used. If the use of power is not legitimate or authoritative and the purposes of the use of power are not clearly stated that technique or way cannot be the subject matter of political science.

The application of coercive method is also related to human decisions. For the general welfare and management of society the persons holding and exercising power are to take certain decisions and mere adoption of decisions is not all. Their application, strictly speaking, constitutes the vital aspect of political science.

For this reason Almond etc have said “Politics has to do with human decisions and political science is the study of such decisions.” Are all sorts of decisions included into the subject of political science? Our answer is: “Not all decisions are political. Political science brings under its purview only political decisions.”

Easton’s Definition:

We have analysed a number of definitions of political science and we shall now turn to David Easton’s famous definition which he has given in his noted work The Political System (1971). He says: Political Science is described as the study of the authoritative allocation of values for a society.

The point to note is that this particular definition is quite different from all other definitions. The meanings of the three concepts are to be enquired and they are: policy, authority and society. Only the authority allocates or can allocate values and for that purpose it adopts policy: Values are allocated for society.

Defining policy Easton says:

“A policy whether for a society, for a narrow association or for any other group, consists of a web of decisions and actions that allocates values. By adopting a policy authority deprives someone of anything and allows others to have it.”

Now we come to the concept of authority or authoritative. Mere adoption of policy is not all. The policy is required to be implemented and for that purpose the authority will take steps for enactment of law. Finally a complex administrative structure is to be built up for the implementation of the law and policy.

Only the authority can do all these tasks. If there is no support or role of authority behind a policy people may be reluctant to show credence to the policy and may refuse to obey it. So it has been observed by Easton that a policy must be authoritative otherwise people will not obey it. If the policy is authoritative refusal to obey it will be followed by punishment.

Defining society Easton has said that a society consists of persons or large number of people who are continually interacting among themselves and maintain a stable relationship among them. Certain minimum conditions must be maintained so that the inhabitants of the society can live peacefully and comfortably and for that purpose it is essential that goods and services must be provided for all the members of the society.

In any society there are a number of groups of individuals whose objectives, mode of living and requirements may not be similar. But it is an important duty of the authority to provide goods and services to all of them and without the authoritative allocation of values that objective cannot be achieved. That is why Easton observes: authoritative allocation of values is a minimum prerequisite of any society.

At this level we return to one of our earlier points. Politics is concerned with conflict and cooperation. When an authority allocates values for society it practically becomes authoritative and the decision of the authority is binding on all.

Finally Easton says:

Authoritative allocation requires the existence of a well defined organisation called government. In the opinion of Easton the subject which deals with the authoritative allocation of values can conveniently be called political science. The study includes policy, authority, society and government. These concepts enunciated by Easton are so linked that they cannot be separated from each other.

Almond (Politics of the Developing Areas: Introduction) says:

“The difficulty with this definition is that authoritativeness as defined by Easton does not differentiate political system from church or business firms and the like. But his combination of comprehensiveness of application plus authoritativeness comes close to the kind of tool we need in this work of comparing political systems of differing scales and degrees of differentiation. We may sharpen Easton’s definition by turning his conception of authority into legitimate physical compulsion.” What Almond emphasises is that mere authoritativeness cannot make any policy or decision binding and if it is not binding the policy or decision will be a hollow one.

Naturally, if required, the policy must be accompanied with compulsive measures and this compulsion must be legitimate. Almond suggests that if these two words are added to the definition of Easton it will be a complete and widely accepted one. Almond’s suggestion, it is claimed, is based on the empirical studies of political systems of different parts of the globe.

Noted German sociologist Max Weber (1864—1920) also thought that without legitimate physical compulsion it would be impossible for the government/ authority to implement any policy/decision. We find Almond to observe that legitimate physical force is the most crucial aspect of any political system and if any political system is deprived of it, it will be away from the proper platform of political system and political science.

Concept, Model and Theory:

In the second half of the twentieth century analysis of political science passed through sea changes so far as method of analysis, preparing of modes and building up of theory are concerned and the changes have been occasioned by the inability of the traditional political science to meet the challenge of the new situation and the determination of a number of political scientists of both the hemispheres to inject new thought and line of analysis into the subject.

As a result of this venture and new outlook certain terms which were generally used by other sciences and are being increasingly used by them have conveniently found their places in politics. For proper understanding of political science it is necessary to throw light on these terms because without it a clear understanding of the subject will never be achieved.

First of all we shall deal with Concept. According to Heywood concept is a general idea about something usually expressed in a single word or short phrase. There is a difference between idea and thing. Thing is a proper noun and it discusses various aspects of the particular article or thing or animal.

But concept does not deal with these aspect. It gives certain idea about a thing. When we talk of a bird we deal with biological characteristics of the bird. This does not constitute the basis of concept. It does not go into the details. It gives simple idea about a thing. For example, the concept of liberty gives the idea about it. The liberty is an ideal and we discuss its various aspects with a lot of enthusiasm and seriousness.

Concept is a very important part of today’s political analysis because with the help of concept we analyse different general principles of political science. With the help of concept we generally impose an idea upon something or a principle of politics.

A concept generally highlights the ideal or principle of political science and this enables the reader to grasp knowledge about the subject. When we say that equality or justice is an ideal or principle we first of all build up a preliminary conception about it and after that we try to enter into the depth of the concept. Heywood says: “Concepts are general……. They are building blocks of human knowledge.”

In recent years it has been found that political scientist and researchers are increasingly resorting to concepts because they are more inclined to using it for analysis of the subject. Political scientists and researchers are involved in controversies and it is due to the fact that while one political scientist views the concept in one way another political scientist focuses light on other aspect.

But this controversy does not inflict any harm upon concept. Indeed almost all the important issues of political science are treated in the term of concepts. Political science, now-a-days, is explained by building up concepts and this approach, it is claimed, has considerably enhanced the scope and importance of the subject. In the second half of the twentieth century behaviouralism has successfully introduced a number of concepts into political science such as feedback, input, output etc.

Models:

Model is another form through which ideas of political science are expressed. It can be defined as a representation of some idea or view in smaller scale or form. Let us quote Heywood in support of our view. “A model is usually thought of as a representation of something usually on a smaller scale”. Hence model resembles something which is quite big or large. In the preparation of the model the original thing is faithfully remembered.

But in political science the model has different connotation. The model does not always carry with it the smaller form of original thing. In this subject model is used to mean an “analytical tool”. That is when a political scientist or researcher proceeds to discuss something in a particular way or form he uses model.

As for example we very often talk of models of democracy, Westminster model of parliamentary form of government. Today different political scientists have prepared models of political systems and David Easton’s model is one of them. With the development of the application of higher and sophisticated techniques to the analysis of political science, the importance and role of model have considerably increased.

Particularly in the empirical study of politics the idea of model has earned special significance. The empiricists are prone to use models. Generally facts and data are collected from various sources, they are meticulously analysed and then models are prepared. So we can say that model building and empirical analysis are both closely related.

Theory:

A theory is a supposition of a system of ideas intended to explain something. This is the definition of C.O.D. Political Scientists and researchers collect data and facts from numerous sources and then analyse them. After the analysis has been done they prepare proposition and this finally constitutes a theory. So we can say that there are number of components of a theory. One is data or fact. Second is analysis of the data.

Third is preparation of proposition. Building up of theory is also a great part of empirical analysis of political science. The important aspects of theory are- facts are systematically explained and after that proposition are made. In both situations facts are explained with all seriousness and alertness of mind. While a researcher builds up a theory he honestly follows what data and facts reveal. In fact, there is no place of value judgment or normative evaluation. It is claimed that in the pre­paration of theory the researcher strictly follows what the facts reveal.

There is a minor difference between model and theory. While model is repre­sentative of something theory is a proposition. Again model is an explanatory device and theory is not of this category. Inspite of this difference both theory and model are used interchangeably. In our day to day conversation and analysis we do not strictly follow this difference.

But there is a close link between models and theories. Though both are constructed on the basis of empirical data and facts, value judgments enter in the analysis imperceptibly. Political scientists cannot rule out the possibility of the intrusion of value judgment and normative biasness. A recent view that has gained currency is that value should not be ignored.

Political Theory and Political Philosophy:

We quite often use the terms political theory and political philosophy. I think that these two terms need to be clarified because of the fact that there are few subtle differences between the two. According to Concise Dictionary of Politics, “Political theory is critical systematic reflection about power in its public and private forms particularly about the claims of government to possess legitimacy and authority and more generally such reflection about the place of politics in social-life.”

In this definition we find that political theory deals with the following issues. Both public and private power and, this power must be related to government which possesses legitimacy and authority. Political theory also includes politics which has been explained in our earlier analysis.

Van Dyke has drawn our attention to two aspects of political theory. He says that political theory is concerned with political belief systems. These belief systems are general and comprehensive in nature. Political beliefs are related with moral and ethical questions of the political activities and principles which are performed and followed by government, agencies, institutions and individuals.

According to Van Dyke political theory also includes suggestion, recommendations and advices given by political scientists. We thus see that political theory can never flourish and spread its manifold aspects in vacuum; it has not fallen from heaven. Political theory is generally based on the conclusions analyses, opinions, propositions made by the philosophers and political scientists.

We have briefly discussed political theory. We shall now focus our attention to political philosophy. Stated briefly it means “the systematic elaboration of the consequences for politics of suggested resolutions of philosophical dilemmas.”

In political philosophy politics and philosophy are both combined. Political issues and affairs related to politics are explained elaborately and philosophically. Even in a limited way political philosophy endeavours to explore various political implications of political matters, issues and disputes.

One important feature of political philosophy is while it analyses political issues and matters, it not only goes into the depth of the subject but also it tries to analyse in the light of “what is”? and “what ought to be”? This is purely a normative procedure to analyse politics. Since ought has a special place in political philosophy we can easily find out a close relation between political philosophy and moral philosophy. Value judgment cannot be separated from political theory.

In fact what we call today political theory or political science it was in earlier centuries political philosophy because the general principles of political theory issued from the brain and pen of renowned philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, Hegel, Marx etc. Today we make serious attempts to divorce political theory from political philosophy but the task is not so easy.

If we go through the various stages of the development of political theory we shall find that political theory has sometimes been overshadowed by political philosophy. The subject matters of earlier political theory were description, explanation and evaluation and the latter opened the way of normative character of political theory.

All these, however, were elaborately analysed by great philosophers and naturally it was very difficult for political theory to free itself from the shackles of philosophy. Earlier political theory was not only normative and evaluative it was also prescriptive. Political philosophers generally prescribed what ought to be followed. The political philosophers did not give any importance to scientific models and application of scientific techniques to the study of political science.

Before Machiavelli (1469-1527) politics was largely dominated by theology and in most of the cases politics struggled hard to establish its special and separate identity. Particularly in the middle Ages the indomitable influence of religion blurred the distinction between religion and politics. Most of the thinkers and philosophers cherished clear biasness for religion and were reluctant to make distinction between the two.

They treated politics in the light of religion. Even church and Christianity claimed highest authority to utter the last word about politics and its numerous manifestations. The result was that politics or any general principle of political science came to be vital parts of theology and philosophy. Politics was “neither autonomous nor primus inter pares” though politics enjoys autonomous status today.

So far as methodology of political science is concerned we see that different aspects of the subject were explained and interpreted by the rules of formal logic and theories of knowledge and all these are parts of philosophy. These ideas stood on the way of independent status and spontaneous development of politics. In earlier time philosophy played an important part in the analysis of political science.

For all these reasons politics and political philosophy were almost treated identically. Whenever any learned person began to think about politics he did it in the background of philosophy. Plato, Aristotle, Hegel, Marx all were great philosophers. Particularly Plato, Aristotle and Hegel were primarily concerned with the analysis of philosophical problems and issues and while doing so they either made passing remarks about politics or treated politics as subsidiary part of philosophy.

This made political science as subservient to philosophy. David Easton in his The Political System has drawn our attention to this “ignoble” position of political science in general and political theory in particular. The application of scientific methods to the analysis of political science, the emergence of behaviouralism and emergence of empiricism have been able at least partially, to free political science from the clutches of philosophy, logic and theory of knowledge.

Nature of Politics:

If we study the various definitions given above we shall come across several features or various aspects of the nature of politics and some are stated below:

One, the definition or idea of politics is flexible or changing. To the traditional thinkers politics was the study of state and government. Today the definition is not confined within a limited sphere or few notions.

The subject is variously defined and includes many notions. The idea of politics encompasses numerous aspects of political behaviour of individuals, groups, associations, agents etc. Even the elements of international relation have found their place in the definition or analysis of politics. To sum up, politics is a broad concept and changes its contents with the change of time.

Two, Controversy is a very important element of politics. Let us elaborate it. Politics means the existence of issues and again it means the existence of controversy. It is argued that where there are issues (and, politics cannot be thought of sans issues) there must be controversy.

Issues are never homogeneous and the heterogeneity of issues creates an atmosphere of debate and in this way politics cannot be separated from controversy. Let us quote Wasby, “Where no controversy exists, where no issues are being debated, politics does not exist”. The controversy pervades to all sections of society as well as to all sorts of groups, institutions, individuals, organisations etc.

Three, J. D. B. Miller, emphasies the disagreement nature of politics in his The Nature of Politics. It is true that the controversial nature of politics indicates the disagreement among opinions issues and explanations. When there is disagreement among individuals, organisations, institutions, groups, controversy or debate is bound to crop up. The point to note is that according to Miller, the disagreement is the true nature of politics.

It is very difficult to think of politics which does not envisage any type of disagreement. Because of this disagreement, it is observed, there arise struggles among the actors of politics. Vernon Van Dyke (Political Science: A Philosophical Analysis) believes in these times. Miller also says that if there were no disagreement among individuals, groups or organisations, political action or activity could not get any scope to emerge.

Four, It will be a misconception if we think that controversy or disagreement is the exclusive feature of politics and in the arena of politics there is no place of agreement or consensus. Persons, organisations and groups debate among them on any political issues but at the same time they arrive at agreed terms or solutions.

In the absence of agreement the functioning of society or the existence of social life would have been an impossibility. To sum up, politics is characterised by both agreement and conflict. It also deals with resolution.

Five, a number of modern political scientists (Lasswell and Robert Dahl are prominent among them) believe that politics involves power and influence. In an analysis of politics an important question is raised—Who gets, What, When and How? Politics is said to be the provider of the answer to this question. That is only through the exercise of power and influence an individual or organisation can get what he it wants.

Politics also provides the way of getting the desired objective. It is the contention of Lasswell, Dahl and many others that if this question is ignored in the study of politics, its central idea will lose importance. For this reason power and influence can never be kept out of politics. Rather they form the central part of politics. Many political scientists even try to call power as the summun bonum of politics. This, of course, is highly political. Many do not agree.

Six, one important feature of politics is its pervasiveness. In all forms of state and society (primitive, tribal, modern, developed, developing and underdeveloped) there always exists politics. Even in past in all types of society/state there existed politics. The form and nature of politics have changed no doubt.

This is due to the fact that in every state or society there is management or administration and for this politics is essential. However, the nature or politics has assumed new forms and dimensions in different ages but politics still exists. Today, we call national politics, international politics, local politics, party politics etc. Politics is everywhere.

Seven, conflict is not the exclusive feature of politics. There are also institutional arrangements for the settlement of conflicts.

Finally we turn to an interesting feature of politics pointed out by the author of the essay, “Politics” published in Oxford Concise Dictionary of Politics. According to this view politics, in fact, is the manifestation of civilised and ordered society. In such a society, people are endowed with reason and because of that quality there arises disagreement and there are also procedures for the resolution of this conflict or disagreement.

Now these two (disagreement and the resolution of it) generate an atmosphere of politics. Guided by reason individuals do not want to continue the disagreement and they start to find out ways of settlement. It is generally regarded as politics.

The state of nature was neither a political society nor a ‘civilised’ one. Muscle power and physical force were the ways were freely used by this members of the state of nature for the settlement of disputes. The state of nature was a state of war. Some people wanted to do things and by dint of muscle power they did it.

Hardly there is any place of politics in monolithic society because such a society is characterised by complete agreement among the members of society on various issues which crop up from time to time. Viewed from this angle one can conclude that the three great contractualists (Hobbe, Locke and Rousseau) may be called the introducers of the concept of politics because all these three thinkers started their political analysis with the state of nature. This view, however, is contested by many.

Is Political Science a Science?

The controversy whether political science is science or not is as old as the subject itself. Even today the controversy has not died down. There are a large number of people, many of whom are prominent in their own fields, who believe that to call political science a science is simply a travesty of the word science.

The central idea of science is the experimentation and after that correct prediction and it is unfortunate that these two have hardly any scope in political science and because of this political science cannot be placed in the same rank of physics or chemistry.

But the opponents of this view forcefully argue that physics and chemistry are science no doubt but they are not only sciences, there are others types of science. Physics and chemistry are physical science but there are also social sciences and political science is a prominent branch of social science. When we call political science a branch of social science, we invariably use the word science in a broad sense.

In this sense the word science means systematic study of any subject in a very methodical way and to arrive at certain conclusion based on information, facts collected and analysed in a scientific way. Thus in political science there is certain amount of scope of prediction and generalisation which are based on scientific study and investigations.

One points more. When one calls political science a science one need not use the word science in a conservative and literal sense, but in a broad and unorthodox sense. For example, in the eighteenth century the Glasgow University set up a chair of Physics in the name of Natural Philosophy. The Moral Sciences Tripos of Cambridge University taught philosophy. In 1895 London School of Economics and Political Science was established.

It is interesting to note that the persons associated with its formations used the word ‘science’. Webb couple and many other dignitaries were associated with this institution and they preferred the word science. Till today a very large number of people like the word science. Politics and political science both are interchangeably used.

A few decades back there was great hesitation’ regarding the use of the word science. But today the subject has reached such a stage of development that there is no sign of hesitation.

W. J. M. Mackenzie in his small and illuminating work Politics and Social Science makes the following observation which is pertinent in more than one respects. “So far as I can judge, political science is still the name which carries meaning to the general public. The word ‘science’ here indicates, simply that there exists an academic tradition of the study of politics a discipline communicated from teacher to pupil, by speech and writing for some 2500 years now. It does not mean that this discipline claims to be a material science or that it could be improved by copying the methods of Physics and Chemistry more exactly”. The argument of Mackenzie is unassailable.

Greek philosopher Aristotle called politics a master science that is a science subject with great importance. In’ 1741 Hume published his essay “Politics may be reduced to a science”. “Hume’s main objective was to show that some constitutions necessarily worked better than others and that politics was not just a question of personalities” (Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics).

Today attempts are being made to make the subject scientific and for this purpose researchers, students and scholars are trying hard to make the subject objective as well as value-free. They are also endeavouring to explain and analyse the events systematically. Behavouralism is an example.

In support of the contention that political science can reasonably be called science Mackenzie has drawn our attention to some of the recent developments. He says, “Techniques of data collection and data processing have developed enormously”. More emphasis is being given to the training in the subject and it is gradually intensified.

Mackenzie also points out that a large number of natural scientists are taking more and more interests in political science. For example, physical scientists are interested in war and peace as well as disarmament treaties. Because the decisions of politicians and statesmen considerably influence the research in physics and allied subjects. Today the political science is treated as a system which means that it is a part of bigger environment.

The various units of environment influence each other. The tangible result is political science influences other branches of social and physical science and at the same time it is also influenced by other sciences. Hence biology, botany and other disciplines come to be related with political science. Political science borrows methods of analysis from these disciplines. In this way political science is gradually improving itself and this has raised its status as a science.

Political scientists are now borrowing materials and methods from games theory, and cybernetics. New methods of scientific analyses are being applied to political science. Of all these methods the most important is statistical or mathematical method. The empirical approach to the study of politics uses the statistical method.

In past there were gulf of differences between political science and physical science. In fact, there was a Chinese wall between the two. But today the barriers are wearing thin. A young political scientist is well versed with the terms and concepts of mathematics, physics and other branches of pure science.

Not only is this, the interchange between political science and other branches of social science gradually increasing. Mackenzie says that today’s political science is not what it was several decades ago. It is not simply political science it is “Meta-politics”. If this is the position there is no reason to refuse to call it a science subject. The methods of analysing political science are gradually refined and perfected and this process will continue in future. So we conclude that political science is a science though a science of different category.

Political Science is a Social Science:

In the last section of our analysis we mentioned that though political science is not pure science like physics and chemistry it is undoubtedly a prominent branch of social science. This observation is laconic in nature and therefore requires elaboration. We have already noted Morgenthau’s definition of political science.

For the sake of relevance we quote him again, “Political science grew not by virtue of an intellectual principle germane to the field, but in response to pressures from the outside. What could not be defined in terms of traditional academic disciplines was defined as political science”. Wasby says that this definition of political science is true with respect to both content and method of political science.

From the above observation we again conclude that what we declare as the content of political science is, in fact, derived from many other subjects which are known as branches of social science. Hence there is hardly anything like pure political science, various aspects and matters of political science are derived from a number of social sciences. Even political science borrows its method of analysis from other subjects.

With the passing away of time and the development of man’s knowledge and interest the dependence of political science upon other social sciences is increasing. It is also to be noted here that this dependence is never a one way traffic. Other disciplines of social science are in one way or other dependent on political science. To sum up, political science and other disciplines of social science are interdependent.

It is to be noted here that no science physical or social can claim purity and it is due to the interdependence of subjects. Today we are acquainted with the terms such as bio-physics, bio-chemistry, ethical economics, welfare politics etc.

Political Science is Dependent on Society:

The materials which build up the structure of political science, it is asserted, are derived from society. Bernard Crick, a prominent English political scientist has specifically given stress on this aspect of political science. He says that the political and related issues and events of society considerably influence political science.

When a political scientist starts to analyse any aspect of political science his thoughts and views are circumscribed by the prevailing situation and happenings of the society in which he lives. Beginning from Plato down to Marx not a single political scientist or philosopher could deny the influence and pressure of the prevailing time and situation. Even the political scientists of the present epoch cannot evade the influence of incidents and circumstances around them.

The degrading condition of democracy and devaluation of values, morality, ideals etc influenced Plato and Aristotle to declare their opinion against democracy and to devise an ambitious plan for an ideal state. The near anarchical condition of Britain led Hobbes to think that only an absolute sovereign power could restore peace and tranquility in society.

When Locke began to write his treatise liberal thought was about to flourish and because of that he strongly advocated for liberalism. The miserable conditions of workers of Britain pained Marx and Engels so much that they devoted their entire life to the way of emancipation of the working class.

Bernard Crick says that whenever a society is plagued by crises, the impact falls upon the society and it is reflected on political science. Hence the study of politics is everywhere, a response to a belief that there is a crisis. Political science studies the crisis and after that prescribes ways how to get rid of the crisis. Crises are of numerous types and political science studies them.

The Great Depression of the thirties of the last century and various civil wars may be cited as examples. To combat the Depression the American president took drastic measures which intervened with the freedom of private entrepreneurs of America. The civil war among the various units in Italy and the prevalence of anarchical condition compelled Machiavelli to think of the Unification of Italy and consolidation of power of the prince.

He also believed that the mixture of politics with religion and ethics as well as morality was one of the main reasons of anarchy from which Italy was suffering the palliative suggested by Machiavelli (1469—1527) was the complete separation of politics from religion, morality and ethics. This sufficiency laid the foundation of secularisation of politics. All these illustrations undoubtedly demonstrate that political science cannot keep itself aloof from society which is the root of other social sciences.

Political Science and General Theory:

The relationship between political science and other social sciences has been stressed in a larger degree. The main purpose is to broaden the scope and other aspects of the subject. As a result of it political science in collaboration with other social sciences has been able to build up a scheme of general theory.

The relation between the two has been specifically mentioned by a recent critic. “Political science is now less parochial than before the war, but this exercise in togetherness has demonstrated all too clearly that there is little difference between the social science disciplines, save only as they are shaped by their influential history, the vested interests of the departments”.

The author of these significant lines wants to point out that in ultimate analysis all the branches of social science are very closely related. The various disciplines of social science draw their sustenance from the society, they deal with the problems of society and they invest their energy and intellect to the solution of manifold problems from which the society suffers. But there are differences in approaches. Again the elements or subject matters of the social sciences are not similar. These differences help establish separate identity.

Attempts are being made to build up a general theory which will embrace all the branches of all social sciences. This attempt has emanated from the idea that since all the disciplines are interrelated particularly the various branches of social science and all contribute to the formation of a social theory it would be better if they are combined together.

But it is to be noted here that the contributions of all disciplines are not equal or identical. That is each discipline of social science contributes in its own way, according to its own ability and approach. Naturally the differences in contribution of various branches of social science are bound to crop up. In spite of these differences the contribution of each discipline cannot be minimised whatever small that contribution be.

Here we shall quote the pertinent observation of Wasby. “For those who feel that our goal should be a general theory of all behaviour, each component of social sciences is valuable to the extent that it contributes to such a general theory, and findings true in only one area of human behaviour are less valuable than findings duplicated with respect to other aspects of life. Thus one component of social sciences that can contribute, or has contributed more to such general theory qualifies as the master social science”.

It is very difficult to say beforehand that there is a particular discipline in social science which can be said as master or the most important social science, the contribution of the discipline is crucial for our analysis.

Associated with this is our desire to use the subject and also our goal. To put it in other words, how and for what purpose we want to utilise the subject that will decide the contribution. It is however, a fact that tendency is gradually becoming more and more active in favour of a general theory which will embrace all the disciplines of social science.

There are several reasons behind this tendency and one such reason is the complexity of social and political system. All modern political systems are highly complicated and embrace economic, sociological, geographical, political issues. Naturally if any researcher proceeds to build up a general view about society he must study seriously all the disciplines of social science.

Moreover, any political scientist or researcher of social problem does not take rest by analysing the issues or problems He prescribes certain recommendations. On experience it has been found that the study and the recommendations are spread over all the branches of social science. Naturally any segregation of one discipline from another cannot help either the political scientist or the policy maker.

An in depth analysis of social problems and various issues reveals that the whole society can be treated as a system and each unit of the system in one way or other influenced by another unit and this unit again influences other units. In other words no unit of any social system is an isolated one.

This notion gathered additional importance in the fifties of the last century when a number of political scientists from both sides of the Atlantic channelised their energy and intellect to the development of general systems theory. Hence the tendency of formulating a general theory is quite rational.

Comparative Study of Different Disciplines:

A comparative study of the contributions of different disciplines of social science will strengthen the concept of relationship among the disciplines. Today economics is regarded as the most important branch of social science. Some call it master social science because in one way or other economics dominates all other disciplines.

The policy makers of the-state are heavily preoccupied with the economic problems and finding out their solutions. Planning, industrialisation liberalisation, globalisation all are involved with economic problems. The governments of both developed and developing countries are profoundly pressed by the problems created by these No administration in any part of the world can ignore economic issues. Economists always play the crucial role in state administration.

But the importance of economics does not mean that the role of political scientist is in a negligible position or political science has nothing or very little to do. The economists offer their suggestions while the policy makers may or may not accept that. In fact the state, which belongs to political science, is the final determiner of various political decisions and policies and all these are implemented by the state officials. Both political science and economics are involved in investigative analyses and studies of problems with which the state and society are confronted.

The conclusions of these studies are integrated and the state authority incorporates them into the policy and administration. Thus politics and economics are combined. No modem state can be effectively administered without economics and political science.

Sociology is a very important branch of social science group. Sociology in general terms is called the study of society so also economics and political science. For balanced and overall progress of society a thorough and penetrating study of society is essential. But any study launched by a sociologist will not be a complete one without any help from or reference to economics and politics. “Sociology as the study of society necessarily integrates more specialised studies such as economics and political science”.

There is a new subject called political sociology which is a combination of sociology and politics. Sociology is also connected with economics and other disciplines. Sociologist cannot arrive at acceptable and creditable conclu­sions without any analysis of economic aspects of society. In this way sociology combines economics and political science.

Normally geography is not a branch of social science but its contribution to social science in general and preparing a general theory in particular cannot be overlooked There are several branches of geography such as economic geography, cultural geography, human geography etc.

These separate branches of geography guide and control human behaviour and are also concerned with social progress. Political science also is not completely unrelated with geography. The authority of the state adopts various schemes to utilise geography for the development of human resources.

There are also other disciplines of social science and all are directly related with human behaviour and general theory and by virtue of that they are also connected with political science. For example, history is an important branch of social science and its relation with political science is as old as political theory.

A major part of the materials used in political science is derived from history. Political science, on the other hand, also helps in various ways the study of history. Again both are the study of society and also mould the progress of society.

In the light of the above analysis we can observe that alt the disciplines of social science help in accordance with their own ability to the study of society and contribute to the formation of general theory. But the extent of this contribution cannot be assessed in a definite way. What we can say, at best, is the contribution of a particular discipline is greater than that of the other.

But this should not lead one to jump upon the conclusion that because of this difference in contribution a particular discipline can be called a master social science. Wasby writes “Regardless of the relative virtues of particular disciplines many scholars would reject the idea that any one field could be the master social science… individual disciplines would be reduced in importance, although each could contribute to general social theory in varying degrees, as well as to each other”.

Exact Position of Political Science:

In the background of above analysis one can reasonably ask what is the exact position of political science in the whole gamut of social science? We are of opinion that the role or contribution of politics or its position cannot be assertively stated. It is mainly because political science deals with social issues and problems which are volatile.

Notwithstanding this primary difficulty one can say that the importance of political science as a guide to social policy and in the field of decision-making is increasing day after day. Even a few decades back political scientists were neglected.

But today on numerous crucial issues their advice is sought. This happens both in developed and developing political systems. This no doubt posits a challenge to political scientists and from the events it is clear they are performing their responsibility with a lot of success and have earned eulogy from various corners.

Does the above analysis mean that political science is going to be rated as master social science? The answer may be both positive and negative and because of this controversy we refrain ourselves from taking any side. However, political science can be treated separately because of its position among all the branches of social science.

Keeping this in mind Wasby says—”Some do consider that political science is primus inter pares in the social science, both because Aristotle called politics, the master art and because modern social scientists have felt that the polity performs the goal-attainment function for the society as a whole”.

We have already noted that political science is a social science and this status of the subject is not all about it. There are a good number of social sciences and a pertinent question may arise in this regard. Whether political science is at par with other social sciences and in this respect political scientists have confidently said that this subject is first among the equals or in Latin phrase primus inter pares.

Political science of the second half of the twentieth century or even at the beginning of the twenty first century is remarkably different from what it was at the beginning of the twentieth century. The large scale application of scientific methods and sophisticated tools has brought about sea change in the study of the subject.

Wasby says, “Now an increasing number of political scientists are borrowers. Perhaps one important factor in this change was the war time experience of many political scientists as government employees working on in the midst of manifold complicated problems. They recognised that they needed to be a combination of political economist, political geographer and political psychologist because as administrators they did not find problems neatly divided into political science, economics, sociology et at, the problems, had to be handled in their totality.”

Scope of Political Science:

Political science is the most important branch of social science and its chief concern is with the political behaviour of individuals, groups of individuals, agencies, institutions, organisation et al. Since all these are subject to change and they are changing continuously the subject matter of political science is bound to change, so also the scope of Political Science.

Now the interesting fact is that various scholars and political scientists have made sincere attempts to view its scope from their respective angles and perspective resulting in wide variations in the treatment of scope.

A renowned author has analysed the scope of Political Science from four different angles and these are: Politics as the art of government, politics as public affairs, politics as compromise and consensus, politics as power and distribution of resources. But this categorization of scope of political science cannot be treated as final because the emergence of new phenomena and situation will Impact the decision making process of government, government and governed relation, attitude of people towards politics and government, people’s ideas about the functions of state etc.

No serious thinker can neglect all “these issue whilst analysing politics. Two or three decades ago even a well-versed political scientist paid little thought and attention to globalization and neo-liberalism. But today these two concepts have covered a significant portion of the subject while analysing the scope, we must note it.

Politics as the Art of Government:

A large number of people are unwilling to call politics as a science, (since it is controversial we abandon it for the purpose of present analysis.) The general opinion is that politics is an art and the art is closely related with the management of government. 

According to Aristotle a polity is a type of social organisation (and also a political organisation) where political authority was exercised by large number of people whose main concern was to achieve general welfare. Researchers have found that in ancient Greek polity politics took place and in those days politics meant management and administration of Polity.

It is also said that though in Greek city states there was direct democracy but in all affairs people were not found to be directly involved in the functioning of the state. Politics was practised among small number of men and in the process of final decisions only few and experts participated. Scholars have come to know this from the history of Western political thought. Politics meant adoption of decision, enactment of laws, their implementation, administration of justice etc.

The participants were politicians, government servants and some other people who were interested in political affairs. Their acts were combinedly called politics. This Greek tradition passed through ages and in this way politics has come to be known as art of government.

In recent decades politics as an art of government has undergone considerable changes because of the fact that in the management and administration of society government alone is not the only player. Numerous social, political organisations also play crucial part and this has been necessitated by the growing complex character of society. Naturally the scope of politics as an art of government has to a considerable extent enhanced. Not only this, into the scope of politics is included certain negative aspects of society.

For example in many parts of the world particularly in the states of Third World the criminalization of politics, is assuming alarming dimension and in this arena no government can sit idly. A government worthy of its name must devise means to tackle this development and ultimately this comes to be a part of art of government.

It may be noted that Italian philosopher Machiavelli lamented that corruption, degradation of politics and internecine war among the different provinces of Italy were the chief factors of the backwardness of Italy and failure of Italy to be influenced by renaissance which had overwhelmingly influenced other parts of Europe.

So his advice to the prince ultimately came to be a part of politics and as an art of government. His advice to the prince has produced a plethora of questions and created an atmosphere of heated controversy. But the fact still remains that Machiavelli’s opinion can logically be treated as politics in an art of government.

Politics as Public Affairs:

The scope of politics as an art of government is very narrow. In modern time the politics is treated with a very broader outlook and it is seen primarily as public affairs. Its chief concern is to meet the demands of public affairs. The advocates of this conception prefer to divide the affairs of the society into two broad categories— public and private.

The business of politics is to maintain various types of public affairs and for that purpose it enacts laws, implements them and when necessary applies physical force. This conception leads us to make a distinction in the social affairs between public and private. The state, as the highest political organisation, is concerned with the public affairs.

But this does not mean that it does not see any interest in the private affairs. It must see that the private affairs and their management do not affect the general interest of the community.

The association or politics of political organisation of state was first brought to light by famous Greek philosopher Aristotle (BC 384-BC-322). He believed that the purpose of politics is to ensure “good life” and set up a just society. This is purely an ethical standpoint and Aristotle viewed politics in that light.

The failure of politics to achieve this will degrade its position and status. That is why he always insisted that politics must always try to make its citizens good and virtuous. This function of politics is noble and for this reason he called politics a master science.

It is necessary to draw a line between public and private affairs. Public affairs generally mean the affairs of various governmental organs such as the three arms of government—the police, the army and numerous public security arrangements. If we closely look at politics we shall find that the state or government is quite busy with all these departments or agencies.

Any fruitful study of politics cannot ignore all the above noted aspects. There is no doubt that the functions and behaviour of all the above noted organs are changing with the change of time and attitude of men. But the fact remains that the involvement of state or political organisation with them has not gone out of sight.

Now we shall see why politics is regarded as the management of public affairs. Besides public affairs there are number of affairs which may be called private and these are activities of various social, political and cultural groups, business organisations, clubs, pressure groups etc.

All these private organisations constitute what we call Civil Society. Edmund Burke (1729-1797) called civil society as little platoons within the entire and huge structure of political organisation. The activities of the state are restricted to politics, commerce, security and foreign affairs. Whereas the functions of civil society relate to family and different private affairs.

The division between political organisation which is called state and civil society is never water tight. For the sake of general interest and greater welfare of the community the authority of the state very often interferes with the functions and management of civil society.

This has come to be an important aspect that falls within the jurisdictions of state. Thus politics deals with matters of civil society. Marx and his followers have specifically dealt with the relation between civil society and state. It is found in Marxist literature that capitalist ruler of state always tries to control the agencies of civil society by means of influencing art, literature, history, law and other things which generally belong to civil society. Thus in Marxist conception politics is a much broader idea.

Neo-liberals of the eighties of the last century have strongly argued in favour of the curtailment of the functions and powers of state and enhance the same of civil society with the sole purpose of giving more freedom to individuals. Viewed from this angle it may be observed that according to neo-liberals politics comes to be a restricted conception.

Politics as Compromise and Consensus:

This particular aspect of politics is seen as very important because in any state there inhabit different individuals. Within the geographical area of the state there are many institutions, agencies and organisations. Sometimes the purposes of these run counter to those of these state and this gives rise to conflict. In every state there are organisations whose functions is to resolve any conflict.

Apparently it should not be the concern of state but in ultimate analysis settlement of all sorts of disputes forms crucial part of political science because for this purpose the state is to frame laws, it takes steps for their implementation. Any political analysis effectively deals with the conflicts and their resolution. In this way the state plays the role of a compromiser.

Disputes and their settlement do not form the core of any political analysis because to view politics as simply the manifestation of conflicts is wrong. It is also the bounden duty of any authority to see that cooperation among individuals and institution comes to be a salient feature. To arrive at it the political organisation must create a congenial atmosphere.

This is no doubt an uphill task but the state cannot deny its responsibility. However, when the state adopts its scheme ensures an atmosphere of cooperation that becomes a part of political science. Cooperation among the citizens may create a peaceful situation and conflict may not be frequent. Even after that disputes may exist and it is the duty of state authority to find out compromise formula or to help the parties to the dispute to arrive at consensus.

Politics Embraces all Social Activities:

One very interesting feature of modern day politics is two quite opposite forces have engulfed the study of this subject. One group believes that state is the true custodian of its citizens’ interests and welfare and hence the state should perform those activities which will ensure the above objective.

The opinion of the other group is the role of the state should be minimal. Performing the essential services the state should leave all other activities to the responsibility of the individuals. “Adrian Leftwich in his What Is Politics? The Activity and Its study” (1984) has said that if we scrutinise various political activities and the role of the state we shall find that everywhere the positive and even crucial role of political organisation will be found.

In other words state is at the centre of all activities which are termed political. These activities may be private or public, formal or informal. All these categories do not matter at all. What matters most is the state is present everywhere. He says, “Politics is at the heart of all collective social activities”.

Today if we took at all the aspects of state we shall come across the fact that state is present everywhere. The opposite picture is neo-liberals want to restrict the state activity to minimum function. However, such an attitude has not been universally acclaimed and as a result state practically embraces all sorts of social activities.

Politics is Viewed in Terms of Power:

Power is always at the heart of whatever the state performs. We have earlier noted that the importance lies in ensuring cooperation among man, institutions, organi­sations etc. It also settles disputes and tries to arrive at consensus. Needless to say that power remains at the very centre of all these activities.

There are number of exponents of this concept and most renowned of them are Harold Lasswell and Kaplan. Both of them viewed politics in term of power. Lasswell’s famous book: Politics: Who Gets What, When, How? (1936) once created ripples in the academic world of political science. Without power, decision and policy cannot be properly implemented.

The resources of any society are scarce and for their proper distribution it is essential that the distributing authority must have power. However, to have power does not mean that it will be used indiscriminately. It may be used judiciously and rationally. Politics encompasses both these aspects of the use of power.

Indiscriminate and ruthless use of power lies at the centre of dictatorial form of government and rational application characterises a government as democratic. Marxists however see power as the main idea of bourgeois politics. Though this Marxist view has been contested by many there is no doubt that in capitalist state power runs through all stages gleefully.

This is called the power approach to politics. It means that power is the central part of politics and state is unable to do even the minimum and normal functions without power. Not only this if the state wants to play the role of a compromiser or instrument of public affairs or a weapon for the settlement of disputes the application of power is essential. So we may, for the sake of debate, disagree with Lasswell or Kaplan, but we cannot deny the importance of power.

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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