In fact, there are as many definitions as there are writers on the subject and all these definitions give to the entity — the State — different meanings and conflicting roles. This tendency continues even now though in a slightly different form.
“The recent definitions of politics (as a study),” writes Frank Thakurdas, “are not so much cast in the discipline of the thinker (easily detectable) but in the conceptual framework that he has worked out in advance (as it were) the basic presupposition of his personal manner of interpreting the complete phenomenon of politics. But also including the ‘purpose’ that the studies involve in terms of the practical ends they sub serve.”
Some writers restrict the scope of Political Science to the study of the State alone, for example, Bluntschli. All such writers exclude the study of government from the scope of Political Science, for the State for them obviously includes the study of government. There are others who hold that Political Science deals only with government.
Karl W. Deutsch says, “Because Politics, the making of decisions by public means, it is primarily concerned with government, that is, with the direction and self-direction of large communities of the people.”
According to Robson, “The purpose of political science is to throw light on political ideas and political action so that the government of man may be improved.” Harold Laski takes a more realistic view and emphasises that the scope of Political Science embraces the study of both the State and government, although he maintains that the State in reality means the government.
Government is the helmsman of the ship of the State. There can be no State without government. The State is a people organised for law within a definite territory. This entity, the sovereign political unity of life, orders and compels obedience by punishing those who violate its commands. But no State acts by itself.
There must be present in every State some men or body of men competent to issue orders on its behalf and to see that they are actually obeyed. That is the government. This is, however, the conventional field of functions of the government. The modem government has emerged as an active and positive agent in the direction of affairs of all communities.
In the older democracies, and still more in the newer developing States as well as in the Communist countries, government is looked on as a major, or even the dominant, organising power in society.
A description of the State must, therefore, include the study of the structure and functions of government, its forms and institutions, modes of representation, interaction of political parties, interest groups, mass media of communication, relationships involving rule, authority and power and most important of all, the problems connected with the emergence of a big and active government both in the national and international fields.
The State, all the same, remains the central subject of the study of Political Science as the whole mechanism of government emerges from and revolves around this entity. The need for government arises because there had been and there is need for the State.
The need for the State is deeply embedded in the compelling necessities of human life and the advantages accruing from dwelling together on a defined territory and sharing the benefits of political life. Without the State, life itself cannot be sustained. But this is not the only object of the political life.
The State comes into existence, as Aristotle said, “originating in the bare needs of the life of man and continuing in existence for the sake of good life”. Whether man is a political animal or not, it remains an unchallengeable fact that man cannot be what he desires to be without the State.
It is premature to accept the recent system theory, domestic and international, with all its innovations. So long as the State remains a matter of reality in practical politics and its citizens are required to preserve its sovereignty and integrity, and the unquestioned respect for the symbols of its distinctness, like the national flag and the national anthem, is instilled in them from their very childhood, it is an indispensable institution for the existence of its nationals and their development.
When the State plays such a vital role in the life of man, it becomes all the more important to know it in all its aspects: what the State has been what it is, and what it ought to be. The State, as it is, refers to its existing structure and the analysis of the principles and practices of modern governments. But what the State is can only be understood by knowing what it had been.
As we have seen, the way in which government in a country develops is the wisdom of generations. This involves the study of the origin of the State, its evolution, and the development of the mechanism through which it functions.
But knowledge of the past and the present of the State does not exhaust the scope of Political Science. We must also try to gather how far the existing structure of the State and its institutions respond to the needs of man and determine his well-being. This had been the unceasing quest of generations all through these centuries and it continues to exist with a never-ending zeal.
This quest reinforces the need for a deep knowledge of the past and its comparison with the present. The process involved makes us wiser for the future as it sharpens our intellect to reform the existing institutions so that they may adequately cater to the aspirations of the generations to come.
It means to discover the principles that should be adhered to in operating the machinery of the State, to criticise what is bad or inefficient and to suggest improvements so that the State may serve its purpose meaningfully. It is the dream for the ideal for the fulfillment of which all people have always yearned and striven, though what an ideal life is and how it can be achieved is a subject of controversy.
All this relates to the study of the State as it ought to be. Here Political Science enters the realm of political ethics and studies the moral problems of mankind in order to establish the principles of collective morality.
We consider and evaluate the purposes and ends of the State and the fundamental topics involved in such a study are: the ethical foundations of authority; the nature and limits of political obligation; the rights and freedoms of the individuals, groups and nations; and an examination of the entire body-politic from the point of view of the ultimate ends of human life. The approach may be speculative or analytical, or in the case of Plato, a combination of both.
In the last four decades or so there has been an upheaval, “intellectual revolution” as it is described, in the thoughts and ideas of American political scientists and the innovations they have introduced has greatly influenced the nature and subject matter of our study.
The approach to the traditional theory of Political Science, as they call it, is criticised on grounds of parochialism and formalism. The focus of study in the past, it is explained, tended to be primarily on institutions and their legal norms, rules and regulations, or on political ideas and ideologies rather than on performance, interaction and behaviour.
The modern political analysis, guided by sociological, anthropological and psychological methods and theories, rests upon four basic principles: (1) the search for more comprehensive scope; (2) the search for realism; (3) the search for precision: and (4) the search for intellectual order. The object is to free the discipline of Political Science from the value judgments or quasi-ethical or philosophical judgments.
These modern political scientists seek to develop a kind of empirically oriented and value-free Political Science and bring it at par with natural sciences. Values are thought to be subjective preferences about which science has nothing to do. Traditionally, the study of political values—of what, for example, ought to be the political structure and what political goals ought to be sought—has been the field of political philosophers.
A main concern of the modem political philosophers is the study of great thinkers of the past—Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau among others. In the process he will analyse such value words as ‘justice’, ‘rights’, ‘freedom’. This activity is currently supplemented by the study of values as political facts.
To take a specific example, while the students of Political Science remain interested in the historical formulations of the argument that we ought to obey the law because we have consented to it by participating in the choice of government, and spend time in analysing the nature of ‘consent’ in all its variety.
There are now investigations to discover to what extent ‘consent’, as defined, is in fact a value subscribed to in a particular society and what consequences for political behaviour follow from the acceptance of the value. That is, there is increasing importance attached to the political setting—the political values and attitudes which together make the political culture.
Separated, rather than divorced, from the study of political values is the study of political institutions. For a long period the study essentially centred around the legislatures, executives and judiciaries, the three institutions for making, carrying out and interpreting the law.
As the study developed and knowledge advanced, the area extended to include political parties, bureaucracies, interest groups and other groups engaged in politics which have a continuous existence.
At a later stage, it was further supplemented by how political communications work through press, radio, television, discussions or meetings and how demands emerge and are formulated through interest groups and political parties and their impact on government’s policies.
The emphasis is on procedures and institutions through which authoritative decisions are made and the outcome of such decision-making in the form of rule-making, rule-application and rule-adjudication, to use terms broader and more meaningful than the traditional legislative, executive and judicial functions.
The keynote is on facts and as a consequence, political institutions are themselves evaluated to see to what extent theory and practice diverge; the values of the present and the past in varying degrees.
Recently, emphasis has been placed on the study of what is called ‘political behaviour’. This approach, which is not restricted to declared behaviouralists, concentrates on the behaviour of the individuals and groups within political institutions.
The aim is to get behind the formal structure and to study the actual processes of politics in order to uncover the “inside story” and has led to a new or revived interest in the impact of social factors in the political life. This branch of political studies owes a great deal to other social sciences, particularly sociology.
“It is always the focus of interest,” says Maclver, “that distinguishes one social science from another. We should not think of the social sciences as dividing between them physical separate areas of reality.
What distinguish each from each are the selective interests.” A student of Political Science must see the problems of the State and the processes involved therein against a background of general knowledge, either existing or to be acquired, as a basis for comment and assessment.
Political Science, thus, enters into various fields and touches many horizons. The process of specialisation on the various aspects of the discipline, orientation of methodology, importantly behavioural, and the interdisciplinary explanations has together brought about a radical change in the scope of the discipline.
Political decisions are not made in a vacuum or due only to the personal idiosyncrasies of political actors. Economic factors, the social structure, the class, status and stratification systems influence both the content and mode of making political decisions.
Nor can one remain oblivious of ‘political orientations’ of the members of society—how citizens ‘see’ the political system itself, how they react to it emotionally, how they evaluate it morally.
Equally important is the ‘political socialisation’ process how members’ general attitudes have been influenced by family, churches, work-groups, etc. The political system is an aspect of the social system and political activity and its study is a special category of social study and activity.
Politics is, therefore, not isolated from other human activities. Students of Political Science must take due consideration of the environments in which the political system is set, particularly the social setting, otherwise their study is devoid of realities and consequently barren.
Despite the advances made in the recent political analysis, there is no unified theory of Political Science to present. Almond and Powell admit that the new developments are trends only and not as completed accomplishments. The most important work, both empirical and theoretical, is still to be done.
Yet, there is no denying the fact that the analytical-cum-empirical method “has definitely enlarged the field of our inquiry as it has cleared up the rust in which many helpful distinctions within the framework of political studies lay obscured. It is not that the traditional boundaries have been obliterated; they may merely have been extended and given a sharpness and depth hitherto unknown.”