History of Political Science
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History of Political Science

Political science as a separate field is a rather late arrival in terms of social sciences. However, the term "political science" was not always distinguished from political philosophy, and the modern discipline has a clear set of antecedents including also moral philosophy, political economy, political theology, history, and other fields concerned with normative determinations of what ought to be and with deducing the characteristics and functions of the ideal state.



The antecedents of Western politics can be traced back to the Socratic political philosophers, and Aristotle ("The Father of Political Science") (384-322 BC). These authors, in such works as The Republic and Laws by Plato, and The Politics and Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle, analyzed political systems philosophically, going beyond earlier Greek poetic and historical reflections which can be found in the works of epic poets like Homer and Hesiod, historians like Herodotus and Thucydides, and dramatists such as Sophocles, Aristophanes, and Euripides.

During the height of the Roman Empire, famous historians such as Polybius, Livy and Plutarch documented the rise of the Roman Republic, and the organization and histories of other nations, while statesmen like Julius Caesar, Cicero and others provided us with examples of the politics of the republic and Rome's empire and wars. The study of politics during this age was oriented toward understanding history, understanding methods of governing, and describing the operation of governments. Nearly a thousand years elapsed, from the foundation of the city of Rome in 753 BC to the fall of the Western Roman Empire or the beginning of the Middle Ages. In the interim, there is a manifest translation of Hellenic culture into the Roman sphere. The Greek gods become Romans and Greek philosophy in one way or another turns into Roman law e.g. Stoicism. The Stoic was committed to preserving proper hierarchical roles and duties in the state so that the state as a whole would remain stable. Among the best known Roman Stoics were philosopher Seneca and the emperor Max Aurelius. Seneca, a wealthy Roman patrician, is often criticized by some modern commentators/historians for failing to adequately live by his own precepts. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, on the other hand, can be best thought of as the philosophical reflections of an emperor divided between his philosophical aspirations and the duty he felt to defend the Roman Empire from its external enemies through his various military campaigns. According to Polybius, Roman institutions were the backbone of the empire but Goldman Law is the medulla.[1]


With the fall of the Western Roman Empire, there arose a more diffuse arena for political studies. The rise of monotheism and, particularly for the Western tradition, Christianity, brought to light a new space for politics and political action. Works such as Augustine of Hippo's The City of God synthesized current philosophies and political traditions with those of Christianity, redefining the borders between what was religious and what was political. During the Middle Ages, the study of politics was widespread in the churches and courts. Most of the political questions surrounding the relationship between church and state were clarified and contested in this period.

The Arabs lost sight of Aristotle's political science but continued to study Plato's Republic which became the basic text of Judeo-Islamic political philosophy as in the works of Alfarabi and Averroes; this did not happen in the Christian world, where Aristotle's Politics was translated in the 13th century and became the basic text as in the works of Saint Thomas Aquinas.[2]


During the Italian Renaissance, Niccolò Machiavelli established the emphasis of modern political science on direct empirical observation of political institutions and actors. In the Prince Machiavelli posits a realist viewpoint, arguing that even evil means should be considered if they help to create and preserve a desired regime. Machiavelli therefore also argues against the use of idealistic models in politics, and has been described as the father of the "politics model" of political science.[3] Machiavelli takes a different tone in his lesser known work, the Discourses of Livy. In this work he expounds on the virtues of republicanism and what it means to be a good citizen. [4] Later, the expansion of the scientific paradigm during the Enlightenment further pushed the study of politics beyond normative determinations.


The works of the French philosophers Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot to name a few are paragon for political analysis, social science, social and political critic. Their influence leading to the French revolution has been enormous in the development of modern democracy throughout the world.

Like Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, well known for his theory of the social contract, believed that a strong central power, such as a monarchy, was necessary to rule the innate selfishness of the individual but neither of them believed in the divine right of kings. John Locke, on the other hand, who gave us Two Treatises of Government and who did not believe in the divine right of kings either, sided with Aquinas and stood against both Machiavelli and Hobbes by accepting Aristotle's dictum that man seeks to be happy in a state of social harmony as a social animal. Unlike Aquinas' preponderant view on the salvation of the soul from original sin, Locke believed man comes into this world with a mind that is basically a tabula rasa. According to Locke, an absolute ruler as proposed by Hobbes is unnecessary, for natural law is based on reason and equality, seeking peace and survival for man.

The new Western philosophical foundations that emerged from the pursuit of reason during the Enlightenment era helped pave the way for policies that emphasized a need for a separation of church and state. Principles similar to those that dominated the material sciences could be applied to society as a whole, originating the social sciences. Politics could be studied in a laboratory as it were, the social milieu. In 1787, Alexander Hamilton wrote: "...The science of politics like most other sciences has received great improvement." (The Federalist Papers Number 9 and 51). Both the marquis d'Argenson and the abbé de Saint-Pierre described politics as a science; d'Argenson was a philosopher and de Saint-Pierre an allied reformer of the enlightenment.[5]

Other important figures in American politics who participated in the Enlightenment were Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.

19th century

The Darwinian models of evolution and natural selection exerted considerable influence in the late 19th century. Society seemed to be evolving ever upward, a belief that was shattered by World War I.

"History is past politics and politics present history" was the motto of the first generation of American political scientists, 1882-1900. The motto had been coined by the Oxford professor Edward Augustus Freeman, and was enshrined on the wall of the seminar room at Johns Hopkins University where the first large-scale training of America and political scientists began.[6] The founding professors of the field included Herbert Baxter Adams at Johns Hopkins, John Burgess and William Dunning at Columbia, Woodrow Wilson at Princeton, and Albert Bushnell Hart at Harvard. Their graduate seminars had a thick historical cast, which typically reflected their experience in German University seminars. However, succeeding generations of scholars progressively cut back on the history and deliberate fashion. The second generation wanted to model itself on the physical sciences.[7]

In the Progressive Era in the United States (1890s-1920s), political science became not only a prestigious university curriculum but also an applied science that was welcomed as a way to apply expertise to the problems of governance. Among the most prominent applied political scientists were Woodrow Wilson,[8]Charles A. Beard, and Charles E. Merriam. Many cities and states set up research bureaus to apply the latest results.[9]

Since 1920

The American Political Science Association, established in 1903, is the largest professional association of political scientists.


Behavioralism (Behaviouralism) is an empirical approach which emerged in the 1930s in the United States. It emphasized an objective, quantified approach to explain and predict political behavior. Guy says "Behaviouralism emphasized the systematic understanding of all identifiable manifestations of political behaviour. But it also meant the application of rigorous scientific and statistical methods to standardize testing and to attempt value free inquiry of the world of politics... For the behaviouralist, the role of political science is primarily to gather and analyze facts as rigorously and objectively as possible.[10] Petro p 6 says "Behavioralists generally felt that politics should be studied much in the same way hard sciences are studied."[11] It is associated with the rise of the behavioral sciences, modeled after the natural sciences. As Guy notes, quote=The term behaviouralism was recognized as part of a larger scientific movement occurring simultaneously in all of the social sciences, now referred to as the behavioural sciences."[12] This means that behavioralism tries to explain behavior with an unbiased, neutral point of view.

Behavioralism seeks to examine the behavior, actions, and acts of individuals - rather than the characteristics of institutions such as legislatures, executives, and judiciaries and groups in different social settings and explain this behavior as it relates to the political.[13]


Gunnell argues that since the 1950s the concept of system was the most important theoretical concept used by American political scientists. The idea appeared in sociology and other social sciences but David Easton specified how it could be best applied to behavioral research on politics.[14]


Canadian universities until the 1950s were led by British trained scholars for whom political science was not a high priority. Canadians favoured the study of political economy. After 1950 younger scholars increasingly took American PhDs and Canadian departments promoted behavioralism and quantification.[15]


Political science operates on a smaller scale in European universities compared to American ones. Traditionally political studies were handled by law professors or professors of philosophy. American impulses toward behavioralism have made the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) is a unifying force. It sponsors several scholarly journals including European Political Science (EPS) (since 2001), European Journal of Political Research (EJPR) and European Political Science Review (EPSR).


In ancient India, the antecedents of politics can be traced back to the Rig-Veda, Samhitas, Brahmanas, the Mahabharata and Buddhist Pali Canon. Chanakya (c. 350-275 BC) was a political thinker in Takshashila. Chanakya wrote the Arthashastra, a treatise on political thought, economics and social order. It discusses monetary and fiscal policies, welfare, international relations, and war strategies in detail, among other topics. The Manusmriti, dated to about two centuries after the time of Chanakya is another important Indian political treatise.


Ancient China was home to several competing schools of political thought, most of which arose in the Spring and Autumn period. These included Mohism (a utilitarian philosophy), Taoism, Legalism (a school of thought based on the supremacy of the state), and Confucianism. Eventually, a modified form of Confucianism (heavily infused with elements of Legalism) became the dominant political philosophy in China during the Imperial Period. This form of Confucianism also deeply influenced and were expounded upon by scholars in Korea and Japan.

Modern scholarship has rapidly developed in the 21st century.[16] Since 1995 The Journal of Chinese Political Science (JCPS) has been a refereed academic journal that publishes theoretical, policy, and empirical research articles on Chinese topics.[17]

Middle East

In medieval Persia, works such as the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and Epic of Kings by Ferdowsi provided evidence of political analysis, while the Middle Eastern Aristotelians such as Avicenna and later Maimonides and Averroes, continued Aristotle's tradition of analysis and empiricism, writing commentaries on Aristotle's works. Averroe did not have at hand a text of Aristotle's Politics, so he wrote a commentary on Plato's Republic instead.

See also


  1. ^ Aabriel Abraham (2002). Ventures in political science. Lynne Rienner Publishers. p. 29. ISBN 978-1-58826-055-0. Polybius attributes the remarkable growth and power of Rome to its political institutions.
  2. ^ Muhsin, Mahdi (2001). Alfarabi and the foundation of Islamic political philosophy. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-226-50186-4.
  3. ^ Lane, Ruth (1996). Political science in theory and practice: the 'politics' model. M. E. Sharpe. p. 89. ISBN 978-1-56324-939-6.
  4. ^ Clarke, Michelle T. (2013). "The Virtues of Republican Citizenship in Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy". The Journal of Politics. 75 (2): 317-329. doi:10.1017/s0022381613000030. JSTOR 10.1017/s0022381613000030.
  5. ^ Gay, Peter (1996). The enlightenment. 2. W. W. Norton & Co. p. 448. ISBN 978-0-393-31366-6. The men of the Enlightenment sensed that they could realize their social ideals only by political means.
  6. ^ Herbert Baxter Adams (1883). The Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science. p. 12.
  7. ^ Seymour Martin Lipsett, ed., Politics and the Social Sciences (1969) pp 1-3
  8. ^ Glenn Hastedt, "Woodrow Wilson and Literature on Political Science," White House Studies (2011) 10#4 pp 451-458
  9. ^ Richard K. Fleischman and R. Penny Marquette, "Chapters in Ohio Progressivism: The Cincinnati and Dayton Bureaus of Municipal Research and Accounting Reform," Ohio History (1988) 98#1 pp 133-144. online
  10. ^ James John Guy, People, Politics and Government: A Canadian Perspective (2000) p 58
  11. ^ Nicolai Petro, The Rebirth of Russian Democracy: An Interpretation of Political Culture (1995) p 6
  12. ^ Guy, People, Politics and Government p 58
  13. ^ Hanes Walton, Invisible Politics pp 1-2.
  14. ^ John G. Gunnell, "The Reconstitution of Political Theory: David Easton, Behavioralism, and the Long Road to System," Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences (2013) 49#2 pp 190-210.
  15. ^ Reginald Whitaker, "'Confused Alarms of Struggle and Flight': English-Canadian Political Science in the 1970s," Canadian Historical Review (1979) 60#1 pp 1-18.
  16. ^ Allen Carlson, Mary Gallager, Kenneth Lieberthal and Melanie Manion, Chinese Politics: New Sources, Methods, and Field Strategies (Cambridge, 2010)
  17. ^ Sujian Guo, ed. (2013). Political Science and Chinese Political Studies: The State of the Field. Springer. ISBN 978-3642295904.

Further reading

  • Adcock, Robert. Modern Political Science: Anglo-American Exchanges Since 1880. (Princeton University Press, 2007.) online
  • Adcock, Robert. Liberalism and the Emergence of American Political Science: A Transatlantic Tale (Oxford University Press, 2014)
  • Almond, Gabriel A. Ventures in Political Science: Narratives and Reflections. (Rienner, 2002)
  • Almond, Gabriel A., ed. A Discipline Divided: Schools and Sects in Political Science (1989) excerpt and text search
  • Baer, Michael A., Malcolm E. Jewell and Lee Sigelman, eds. Political Science in America: Oral Histories of a Discipline (University Press of Kentucky 1991) online
  • Crick, Bernard. The American Science of Politics. (1960)
  • Easton, David, John G. Gunnell, and Luigi Graziano, editors. The Development of Political Science: A Comparative Survey. (Routledge, 1991). online
  • Easton, David, John G. Gunnell, and Michael B. Stein, editors. Regime and Discipline: Democracy and the Development of Political Science. (University of Michigan Press, 1995).
  • Eulau, Heinz. The Behavioral Persuasion in Politics (1963)
  • Farr, James and Raymond Seidelman. Discipline and History: Political Science in the United States. (University of Michigan Press, 1992).
  • Garson, George David. Group Theories of Politics. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1978.
  • Goodin, Robert E. ed. The Oxford Handbook of Political Science (2010) excerpt and text search; a one volume version of 10 vol. Oxford Handbooks of Political Science listing
  • Goodin, R. E.; Klingemann, Hans-Dieter,eds. A New Handbook of Political Science. (Oxford University Press, 1996)
  • Gunnell, John G. Imagining the American Polity: Political Science and the Discourse of Democracy (Penn State University Press, 2004).
  • Karl, Barry Dean. Charles E. Merriam and the study of politics (1974) the standard scholarly biography
  • Klingemann, Hans-Dieter, ed. The State of Political Science in Western Europe. (Opladen: Barbara Budrich Publishers, 2007). Long essays on each country excerpt and text search
  • Klosko, George, ed. Oxford Handbook of the History of Political Philosophy (2012)
  • Lipset, Seymour Martin, ed. Politics and the Social Sciences (Oxford U.P., 1969)
  • Marenco, André. "The Three Achilles' Heels of Brazilian Political Science." Brazilian Political Science Review 8.3 (2014): 3-38. online
  • Monroe, Kristen Renwick, ed. Perestroika!: The Raucus Rebellion in Political Science. (Yale University Press, 2005)
  • Ryan, Alan. On Politics, a new history of political philosophy (2 vol 2012), 1152pp, Herodotus to the present
  • Seidelman, Raymond and Harpham, Edward J. Disenchanted Realists: Political Science and the American Crisis, 1884-1984. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1985.
  • Utter, Glenn H. and Lockhart, Charles. American Political Scientists: A Dictionary. (2nd ed. Greenwood Press, 2002). summary of the work of 193 scholars online
  • The Evolution of Political Science (November 2006). APSR Centennial Volume of American Political Science Review. Apsanet.org. 4 February 2009.

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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