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Hi, my name is Biju P R. I am a writer, teacher and academic blogger. Anything that comes through society and technology interest me. My blog posts here define what am I doing here. Please just check it out.

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Sunday, April 29, 2018

Origin and development of Political Science

Hi, I am Biju P R.  Assistant Professor of Political Science, Government Brennen College, Thalassery, Kerala.  This is an email promotion and to introduce my third book Selfie Sex: How Internet Spoiled Our Intimacies (2018).

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Biju P R, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Government Brennen College, Thalassery, Kerala, India
My Books
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In the classic treatise on ethics and virtue titled Nicomachean Ethics, ancient father of politics had said "Well begun is half done". Well that is relevant a maxim for any discussion on the origin and development of politics.  Best understanding begins once the beginning is properly understood.  Yes, politics as a branch of knowledge originated in ancient Greece.  Though the technical and sophisticated shape this discipline claims today is a recent development, the discipline is one of the oldest ones.  Like many other superb academic and original disciplines like Physics, literature, philosophy,  politics has many classics to its credit, which gave shape to the present day political science. Before discussing that,  it is apt to first look at the development of lexicons of political science from ancient world.

In ancient Greece Polis was one of the oldest technical vocabulary developed in association with politics as a branch of knowledge.  Polis means city state.  Greeks had organised their life in a small city state, for example think,  Sparta,  Athens. Best life was possible in polis.  Ideal life was possible in polis.  Purpose of life was virtue which was possible only in an ideal polis.  That was founding philosophy of Greek city state. 

Demos and Kratos are two Greek words.  But it has great association with politics as a branch of knowledge.  Demos means people and kratos meaning power, democracy in ancient Greek meant people power which is the foundation of modern day ideal of democracy.

Socrates,  the Greek philosopher didnt write anything.  He believed memory was power.  But his disciples wrote extensively.  Particularly Plato and Aristotle. 

Plato wrote Republic which was a treatise on justice.  It spelled out the ideas of an ideal polis.  He visualised a city state in which there were three classes: philosopher kings,  guardians and artisans.  Education was provided by state free of cost to everyone.

Plato's famous student, Aristotle; had written Politics which was a classic book like Plato's Republic had extensive survey of political affairs. He surveyed 156 constitutions and identified six popular forms of governments of those days.  They were monarchy,  aristocracy and polity.  They were also ideal polises.  Once they degenerate, perverted constitutions take place.  Hence monarchy pervert into despotism,  aristocracy pervert onto oligarchy and polity pervert into democracy.  Aristotle's best contribution was his idea that polity as a best constitution and democracy as bad form of government.  By the time Augustus Caesar established Roman empire,  politics had rich vocabularies- say polis,  law,  justice,  natural law,  monarchy,  despotism,  aristocracy,  oligarchy,  polity,  democracy,  etc.  By the same time two important classics were born.  They were Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Politics.

Analyses of politics appeared in ancient cultures in works by various thinkers, including Confucius (551–479 bc) in China and Kautilya (flourished 300 bc) in India. Writings by the historian Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) in North Africa have greatly influenced the study of politics in the Arabic-speaking world. But the fullest explication of politics has been in the West, particularly the Greeks.

As everyone know,  medieval century curtailed free thinking,  politics didnt produce classics nor any vocabulary for a long time.  It was a period of god centred world in which art,  writing,  thoughts etc were steered towards god and religion.  Politics had a natural decline as a discipline that produce ideas to liberate human beings from bondages. Keep in mind,  when free thinking is curtailed,  society will have a natural decline.  Hence politics remind us the dangers to free thinking.  But there were some Christian thinkers during the medieval period which really helped politics and its founding ideas over the centuries.

Early Christian thinkers, such as St. Augustine (354–430), emphasized the dual loyalty of Christians to both God and rulers, with the clear implication that the “heavenly city” is more important and durable than the earthly polis. With this came disdain for politics. For eight centuries knowledge of Aristotle was lost to Europe, but Greek thinking was preserved by Arab philosophers such as al Farabi (c. 878–c. 950) and Averroes (1126–1198). Translations of Aristotle in Spain under the Moors revitalized European thought after about 1200. St.  Thomas Aquinas (1224/25–1274) Christianized Aristotle’s Politics to give it moral purpose. Aquinas took from Aristotle the idea that humans are both rational and social, that states occur naturally, and that government can improve humans spiritually. Thus, Aquinas favoured monarchy but despised tyranny, arguing that kingly authority should be limited by law and used for the common good. The Italian poet and philosopher Dante (1265–1321) argued in De monarchia  (c. 1313; On Monarchy) for a single world government. At the same time, the philosopher Marsilius of Padua (c.1280–c. 1343), in Defensor Pacis (1324; “Defender of the Peace”), introduced idea of secularization by elevating the state over the church institutions and considered state as the originator of laws. For this, as well as for proposing that legislators be elected, Marsilius is considered as an important modernizer.

Then came another philosopher who had given a true foundation to modern political thinking. The first modern political scientist the Italian writer Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527). His infamous work The Prince (1531), a treatise originally dedicated to Florence’s ruler, Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici, presented amoral advice to actual and would-be princes on the best means of acquiring and holding political power. Machiavelli’s political philosophy, which completed the secularization of politics begun by Marsilius, was based on reason rather than religion.

Later the English philosopher ans contractualist Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) placed power at the centre of his political analysis. In Leviathan; or, The Matter, Form, and Power of a Commonwealth, Ecclesiastical and Civil (1651), completed near the end of the English Civil Wars (1642–51), Hobbes outlined, how humans, get natural right to self-preservation and state be a product of social contract. 

English philosopher John Locke(1632–1704), who also witnessed the turmoil of an English civil war—the Glorious Revolution (1688–89)—argued in his influential Two Treatises on Civil Government (1690) that people form governments through a social contract to preserve their inalienable natural rights to “life, liberty, and property.” Locke’s views were a powerful force in the intellectual life of 18th-century colonial America and constituted the philosophical basis of the American Declaration of Independence  (1776), many of whose drafters, particularlyThomas Jefferson (1743–1826), were well acquainted with Locke’s writings. Locke proposed idea of political sovereign.

If Hobbes was the conservative of the “contractualists” and Locke the liberal, then the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–78) was the radical. Rousseau’s The Social Contract (1762) constructs a civil society in which the separate wills of individuals are combined to govern as the “general will” (volonté générale) of the collective that overrides individual wills, “forcing a man to be free.” Rousseau’s radical vision was embraced by French revolutionaries and later by totalitarians, who distorted many of his philosophical lessons. He proposed idea of popular sovereign.

Montesquieu (1689–1755), a more pragmatic French philosopher, contributed to modern comparative politics with his The Spirit of Laws(1748). Montesquieu’s idea of separation and balance of power between Parliament and the monarchy, a principle that was later embraced by the framers of the Constitution of the United States (see separation of powers; checks and balances). Montesquieu also produced an innovative analysis of governance that assigned to each form of government an animating principle—for example; republics are based on virtue, monarchies on honour, and despotisms on fear. Montesquieu’s analysis concluded that a country’s form of government is determined not by the locus of political power but by how the government enacts public policy.

The Scottish economist and philosopher Adam Smith (1723–90) is considered the founder of classical economic liberalism. In the book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), he argued that the role of the state should be restricted primarily to enforcing contracts in a free market. In contrast, the classical conservatism of the English parliamentarian Edmund Burke(1729–97) maintained that established values and institutions were essential elements of all societies and that revolutions that sought to destroy such values (e.g., the French Revolution) delivered people to irrational impulses and to tyranny. Burke thus introduced an important psychological or cultural insight: that political systems are living organisms that grow over centuries.

The early development of political science was also influenced by ideas of law. The French political philosopher Jean Bodin (1530–96) articulated a theory of sovereignty that viewed the state as the ultimate source of law in a given territory. Bodin’s work, which was undertaken as the modern state was first developing, provided a justification of the legitimacy of national governments, one fiercely defended to this day. Many political scientists, especially in international relations, find Bodin’s notion ofsovereignty useful for expressing the legitimacy and equality of states.

Afterwards,  political science began to get a sophisticated shape in 19th-century. Contemporary political science traces its roots primarily to the 19th century, when the rapid growth of the natural sciences stimulated enthusiasm for the creation of a new social science. Capturing this fervour of scientific optimism was Antoine-Louis-Claude, Comte Destutt de Tracy (1754–1836), who in the 1790s coined the termidéologie (“ideology”) for his “science of ideas,” which, he believed, could perfect society.

Also pivotal to the empirical movement was the French utopian socialist Henri de Saint-Simon(1760–1825), a founder of Christian socialism, who in 1813 suggested that morals and politics could become “positive” sciences—that is, disciplines whose authority would rest not upon subjective preconceptions but upon objective evidence. Saint-Simon collaborated with the French mathematician and philosopherAuguste Comte (1798–1857), considered by many to be the founder of sociology, on the publication of the Plan of the Scientific Operations Necessary for the Reorganization of Society (1822), which claimed that politics would become a socialphysics and discover scientific laws of social progress. Although “Comtean positivism,” with its enthusiasm for the scientific study of society and its emphasis on using the results of such studies for social improvement, is still very much alive in psychology, contemporary political science shows only traces of Comte’s optimism.

The scientific approach to politics developed during the 19th century along two distinct lines that still divide the discipline. In the 1830s the French historian and politician Alexis de Tocqueville  (1805–59) brilliantly analyzed democracy in America, concluding that it worked because Americans had developed “the art of association” and were egalitarian group formers. Tocqueville’s emphasis on cultural values contrasted sharply with the views of the German socialist theorists Karl Marx (1818–83) and Friedrich Engels(1820–95), who advanced a materialistic and economic theory of the state as an instrument of domination by the classes that own the means of production. According to Marx and Engels, prevailing values and culture simply reflect the tastes and needs of ruling elites; the state, they charged, is merely “the steering committee of the bourgeoisie.” Asserting what they considered to be an immutable scientific law of history, they argued that the state would soon be overthrown by the industrial working class (the proletariat), who would institute socialism, a just and egalitarian form of governance (see also communism).

The first separate school of political science was established in 1872 in France as the École Libre des Sciences Politiques (now the Institut d’Études Politiques). In 1895 theLondon School of Economics and Political Science was founded in England, and the first chair of politics was established at the University of Oxford in 1912.

The early 20th century was fascinating and the discipline of politics got a vibrant shape during twentieth century. Developments in the United States is noteworthy.

Some of the most important developments in political science since it became a distinct academic discipline have occurred in the United States. Politics had long been studied in American universities, but usually as part of the curricula of law, philosophy, or economics. Political science as a separate discipline in universities in the United States dates from 1880, when John W. Burgess, after studying at the École Libre in Paris, established a school of political science at Columbia University in New York City. Although political science faculties grew unevenly after 1900, by the 1920s most major institutions had established new departments, variously named political science, government, or politics.

Political science in the United States in the last quarter of the 19th century was influenced by the experience of numerous scholars who had done graduate work at German universities, where the discipline was taught as Staatswissenschaft (“science of the state”) in an ordered, structured, and analytic organization of concepts, definitions, comparisons, and inferences. This highly formalistic and institutional approach, which focused on constitutions, dominated American political science until World War II.

The work of American political scientists represented an effort to establish an autonomous discipline, separate from history, moral philosophy, and political economy. Among the new scholars were Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924), who would be elected president of the United States in 1912, and Frank Goodnow, a Columbia University professor of administrative law and, later, president of Johns Hopkins University, who was among the first to study municipal governments. Their writing showed an awareness of new intellectual currents, such as the theory of evolution. Inspired by the work of Charles Darwin (1809–82), Wilson and others led a transformation of American political science from the study of static institutions to the study of social facts, more truly in the positivist temper, less in the analytic tradition, and more oriented toward realism.

Arthur F. Bentley’s The Process of Government, little noticed at the time of its publication in 1908, greatly influenced the development of political science from the 1930s to the 1950s. Bentley rejected statist abstractions in favour of observable facts and identified groups and their interactions as the basis of political life. Group activity, he argued, determined legislation, administration, and adjudication. In emphasizing behaviour and process, Bentley sounded themes that later became central to political science. In particular, his insistence that “all social movements are brought about by group interaction” is the defining feature of contemporary pluralist andinterest-group approaches.

Although Bentley’s effort to develop an objective, value-free analysis of politics had no initial consequence, other movements toward this goal enjoyed more immediate success. The principal impetus came from the University of Chicago, where what became known as the Chicago school developed in the mid-1920s and thereafter. The leading figure in this movement was Charles E. Merriam, whose New Aspects of Politics (1925) argued for a reconstruction of method in political analysis, urged the greater use of statistics in the aid of empirical observation and measurement, and postulated that “intelligent social control”—a concept reminiscent of the old Comtean positivism—might emerge from the converging interests of politics, medicine, psychiatry, and psychology. Because Merriam’s basic political dictum at this stage was “attitude,” he relied largely on the insights of psychology for a better understanding of politics.

An important empirical work of the Chicago school was Merriam and Harold F. Gosnell’s Non-voting, Causes and Methods of Control (1924), which used sampling methods and survey data and is illustrative of the type of research that came to dominate political science after World War II.

Merriam’s approach was not entirely new; in 1908 the British political scientist Graham Wallas (1858–1932) had argued in Human Nature in Politics that a new political science should favour the quantification of psychological elements (human nature), including nonrational and subconscious inferences, a view similarly expressed in Public Opinion(1922) by the American journalist and political scientist Walter Lippmann(1889–1974).

Harold Lasswell (1902–78), a member of the Chicago group, carried the psychological approach to Yale University, where he had a commanding influence. HisPsychopathology and Politics (1930) and Power and Personality (1948) fused categories of Freudian psychology with considerations of power. Many political scientists attempted to use Freudian psychology to analyze politics, but none succeeded in establishing it as a firm basis of political science, because it depended too much on subjective insights and often could not be verified empirically. Lasswell, for example, viewed politicians as unbalanced people with an inordinate need for power, whereas “normal” people had no compulsion for political office. Although intuitively insightful, this notion is difficult—if not impossible—to prove scientifically.

Merriam’s Political Power (1934) and Lasswell’s classic Politics: Who Gets What, When, How (1936)—the title of which articulated the basic definition of politics—gave a central place to the phenomenon of power in the empirical study of politics. Merriam discussed how power comes into being, how it becomes “authority” (which he equated with power), the techniques of power holders, the defenses of those over whom power is wielded, and the dissipation of power. Lasswell focused on “influence and the influential,” laying the basis for subsequent “elite” theories of politics.

Although the various members of the Chicago school ostensibly sought to develop political science as a value-free discipline, it had two central predilections: it accepted democratic values, and it attempted to improve the operation of democratic systems. Power approaches also became central in the burgeoning field of international relations, particularly after World War II. Hans Morgenthau(1904–80), a German refugee and analyst of world politics, argued succinctly in Politics Among Nations(1948) that “all politics is a struggle for power.”

The totalitarian dictatorships that developed in Europe and Asia in the 1920s and ’30s and the onset of World War II turned political science, particularly in the United States, away from its focus on institutions, law, and procedures. The constitution of Germany’s post-World War I Weimar Republic had been an excellent model, but it failed in practice because too few Germans were then committed supporters of democracy. Likewise, the Soviet Union’s 1936 constitution appeared democratic but in reality was merely an attempt to mask the brutal dictatorship of Joseph Stalin. Works of this period focused on the role of elites, political parties, andinterest groups, on legislative and bureaucratic processes, and especially on how voters in democracies make their electoral choices. This new interest in actual political behaviour became known as “behavioralism,” a term borrowed from psychology’s behaviourism. Whereas most earlier thinkers had focused on the “top” of the political system—its institutions—behavioralists instead explored the “bottom,” especially that which could be quantified. The result was that much of political science became political sociology.

Developments outside the United States

Since the time of Marx and Engels, political scientists have continued to debate the relative importance of culture and economic structures in determining human behaviour and the organization of society. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Italian economists Gaetano Mosca(1858–1941) and Vilfredo Pareto(1848–1923) echoed Marx’s analysis that society was ruled by elites, but they considered this both permanent and natural. They were joined by the German-born Italian political sociologist and economist Robert Michels (1876–1936), whose “iron law of oligarchy” declared rule by the few to be inevitable. Mosca, Pareto, and Michels all agreed that the overthrow of the existing “political class” would simply result in its replacement by another, a view that was supported in the mid-20th century by Yugoslav dissident Milovan Djilas (1911–95) in his The New Class (1957). Pareto also contributed the idea (which he borrowed from economics) that society is a system tending toward equilibrium: like an economic system, a society that becomes out of balance will tend to correct itself by developing new institutions and laws or by redistributing power. This approach was adopted by much of academic political science after World War II and was later developed by “systems” theory.

In the early 20th century, the Swedish political scientist Rudolf Kjellén(1864–1922) treated the state as a fusion of organic and cultural elements determined by geography. Kjellén is credited with coining the term geopolitics  (geopolitik), which acquired a sinister connotation in the years after World War I, when German expansionists appealed to geopolitical arguments in support of the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler. Althoughgeopolitics still exerts a considerable influence on political science, particularly in the areas of international relations and foreign policy, the discipline of political geography developed into a distinct subfield of geography rather than of political science.

The German sociologist Max Weber(1864–1920), who rejected Marx and embraced Tocqueville’s emphasis on culture and values, was perhaps the most influential figure in political science in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Marx had proposed thatcapitalism gave rise to Protestantism: the merchants and princes of northern Europe developed commerce to such an extent that Roman Catholic restrictions had to be discarded. Weber rejected this idea, claiming that Protestantism triggered capitalism: the Calvinist idea of predestination led individuals to try to prove, by amassing capital, that they were predestined for heaven (seeCalvinism). Weber’s theory of theProtestant ethic is still disputed, but not the fact that religion and culture powerfully influence economic and political development.

Weber understood that the social sciences could not simply mimic the natural sciences, because humans attach widely varying meanings and loyalties to their leaders and institutions. It is not simply facts that matter but how people perceive, interpret, and react to these facts; this makes causality in the social sciences far more complex than in the natural sciences. To be objective, therefore, the social scientist must take into account human subjectivity.

Weber discerned three types of authority: traditional (as in monarchies), charismatic (a concept he developed to refer to the personal drawing power of revolutionary leaders), and rational-legal (characteristic of modern societies). Weber coined the term bureaucracy, and he was the first to study bureaucracies systematically. His theories, which focused on culture as a chief source of economic growth and democracy, still find support among contemporary political scientists, and he must be ranked equally as one of the founders of both modern sociology and modern political science.

Other scholars also contributed to the growth of political science in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In The English Constitution (1867), the English economist and political analyst Walter Bagehot (1826–77), who was also an editor of The Economist, famously distinguished between Britain’s “dignified” offices (e.g., the monarch) and its “efficient” offices (e.g., the prime minister).James Bryce (1838–1922), who taught civil law at the University of Oxford, produced one of the earliest and most influential studies of the U.S. political system in The American Commonwealth (1888). The Belorussian political scientist Moisey Ostrogorsky (1854–1919), who was educated at the École Libre des Sciences Politiques in Paris, pioneered the study of parties,elections, and public opinion in Democracy and the Organization of Political Parties (originally written in French; 1902), which focused on the United States and Britain. In Paris, André Siegfried, teaching at the École Libre des Sciences Politiques and the Collège de France, introduced the use of maps to demonstrate the influence of geography on politics. At first few Britons turned to behavioralism and quantification, instead continuing in their inclination toward political philosophy. In contrast, the Swedish scholar Herbert Tingsten (1896–1973), in his seminal Political Behaviour: Studies in Election Statistics (1937), developed the connections between social groups and their voting tendencies. Before World War II the large areas of the world that were colonies or dictatorships made few important contributions to the growth of political science.

Post-World War II trends and debates

Perhaps the most important irreversible change in political science after World War II was that the scope of the discipline was expanded to include the study of politics in Asia, Africa, and Latin America—areas that had been largely ignored in favour of Europe and North America. This trend was encouraged by the Cold War competition between the United States and the Soviet Union for influence over the political development of newly independent countries. The scholarship produced in these countries, however, remained largely derivative of developments in Europe and the United States. Researchers in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, often in partnership with European and American colleagues, produced significant studies on decolonization,  ideology, federalism, corruption, and political instability.

In Latin America a Marxist-oriented view called dependency theory was popular from the 1960s to the ’80s. Greatly influencing the study of international relations in the United States and Europe as well as in developing countries, dependency theorists argued that Latin America’s problems were rooted in its subservient economic and political relationship to the United States and western Europe. More recently, Latin American political scientists, influenced by methods developed in American universities, undertook empirical studies of the sources of democracy and instability, such as Arturo Valenzuela’s The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes(1978). African, Asian, and Latin American political scientists also made important contributions as teachers on the faculties of American and European universities.

Outside the United States, where political science initially was less quantitative, there were several outstanding works. Like Lasswell, the German philosopher Theodor Adorno(1903–69) and others adopted Freudian insights in their pioneering study The Authoritarian Personality(1950), which used a 29-item questionnaire to detect the susceptibility of individuals to fascist beliefs. The French political scientist Maurice Duverger’s Political Parties(1951) is still highly regarded, not only for its classification of parties but also for its linking of party systems with electoral systems. Duverger argued that single-member-district electoral systems that require only a plurality to win election tend to produce two-party systems, whereas proportional-representation systems tend to produce multiparty systems; this generalization was later called “Duverger’s law.” The French sociologist Michel Crozier’s The Bureaucratic Phenomenon (1964) found that Weber’s idealized bureaucracy is quite messy, political, and varied. Each bureaucracy is a political subculture; what is rational and routine in one bureau may be quite different in another. Crozier thus influenced the subsequent “bureaucratic politics” approach of the 1970s.

In the post world war period, politics was dominated by behaviouralism and postbehaviouralism which drawed heavily upon psychological aspects into political behaviour of people. So political culture,  politicl development,  modernisation,  got toi much significance in the study of politics.

Enduring debates in political science

Political scientists, like other social and natural scientists, gather data and formulate theories. The two tasks are often out of balance, however, leading either to the collection of irrelevant facts or to the construction of misleading theories. Throughout the post-World War II era, political scientists developed and discarded numerous theories, and there was considerable (and unresolved) debate as to whether it is more important to develop theories and then collect data to confirm or reject them or to collect and analyze data from which theories would flow.

Perhaps the oldest philosophical dispute has to do with the relative importance of subjectivity and objectivity. Many political scientists have attempted to develop approaches that are value-free and wholly objective. In modern political science, much of this debate takes place between structuralists and cultural theorists. Structuralists claim that the way in which the world is organized (or structured) determines politics and that the proper objects of study for political science are power, interests, and institutions, which they construe as objective features of political life. In contrast, cultural theorists, who study values, opinions, and psychology, argue that subjective perceptions of reality are more important than objective reality itself. However, most scholars now believe that the two realms feed into one another and cannot be totally separated. To explain the apparent inertia of Japan’s political system, for example, a structuralist would cite the country’s electoral laws and powerful ministries, whereas a cultural theorist would look to deeply rooted Japanese values such as obedience and stability. Few in one camp, however, would totally dismiss the arguments of the other.

Likewise, although some political scientists continue to insist that only quantified data are legitimate, some topics are not amenable to study in these terms. The decisions of top officials, for example, are often made in small groups and behind closed doors, and so understanding them requires subjective descriptive material based on interviews and observations—essentially the techniques of good journalists. If done well, these subjective studies may be more valid and longer-lived than quantitative studies.

Prior to the development of reliable survey research, most political analyses focused on elites. Once a sizable amount of research had become available, there was a considerable debate about whether rulers are guided by citizen preferences, expressed throughinterest groups and elections, or whether elites pursue their own goals and manipulate public opinion to achieve their ends. Despite numerous studies of public opinion, voting behaviour, and interest groups, the issue has not been resolved and, indeed, is perhaps unresolvable. Analyses can establish statistical relationships, but it has been difficult to demonstrate causality with any certainty. This debate is complicated by two factors. First, although there is a considerable body of survey and electoral data, most people ignore politics most of the time, a factor that must be considered in attempting to understand which part of the “public” policy makers listen to—all citizens, all voters, or only those expressing an intense view on a particular matter. Political analyses based on elites are hindered by a dearth of reliable elite-level data, as researchers are rarely invited into the deliberations of rulers. Accordingly, much is known about the social bases of politics but little of how and why decisions are made. Even when decision makers grant interviews or write their memoirs, firm conclusions remain elusive, because officials often provide accounts that are self-serving or misleading.

Political science has had difficulty handling rapid change; it prefers the static (stable political systems) to the dynamic. If historians are stuck in the past, political scientists are often captives of the present. For some the collapse of the Soviet Union showed that the theories and methods of political science are of only limited utility. Despite decades of gathering data and theorizing, political science was unable to anticipate the defining event of the post-World War II era. Critics charged that political science could describe what is but could never discern what was likely to be. Others, however, maintained that this criticism was unfair, arguing that such upheavals can be predicted, given sufficient data. Still, the demise of the Soviet Union spurred some political scientists to develop theories to explain political changes and transformations. Examining the collapse of authoritarian regimes and their replacement with democratic governments in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Latin America, eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union during the last three decades of the 20th century, they sought to develop a theory of transitions to democracy. Others argued that no such universal theory is possible and that all democratic transitions are unique.

At the beginning of the 21st century, political science was faced with a stark dilemma: the more scientific it tried to be, the more removed it found itself from the burning issues of the day. Although some research in political science would continue to be arcane and unintelligible to the layperson and even to other scholars, many political scientists attempted to steer a middle course, one that maintained a rigorous scientific approach but also addressed questions that are important to academics, citizens, and decision makers alike. Indeed, some political scientists, recognizing that many “scientific” approaches had lost their utility after a decade or two, suggested that the discipline should cease its attempts to imitate the natural sciences and return to the classic concerns of analyzing and promoting the political good.

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