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1] Political Theory QA

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Practice Questions

  1. Discuss the significance of a normative approach to Political theory. [2020/15m/200w/4b]
  2. Comment on resurgence of political theory. [2019/10m/150w/1a]
  3. Comment on the decline of Political Theory. [2018/10m/150w/1b]
  4. Comment on the post behavioural approach. [2016/10m/150w/1b]
  5. Comment: ‘…Political theory is not an escape mechanism but an arduous calling’. (John Plamanetz). [2014/10m/150w/1a]
  6. Discuss the differences between normative and empirical theories of politics. [2012/12m/150w/1a]
  7. Examine the significance of the behavioural revolution in politics. [2011/30m/2b]
  8. ‘Political Theory is, quite simply, man’s attempt to consciously understand and solve the problems of his group life and organization. It is the disciplined investigation of political problems. Not only to show what a political practice is, but also to show what it means. In showing what a practice means, or what it ought to mean, political theory can alter what it is.’ (Sabine). Comment. [2009/20m/200w/1a]
  9. Explain the changing analytical perspectives in the development of political theory. [2008/60m/2]
  10. Examine the arguments in the Normative vs Empirical debate in the study of political theory. [2002/60m/2]
  11. Comment: Relevance of contextualist approach to the study of political theory. [2001/20m/200w/1a]
  12. ‘Post-behaviouralism is not a negation of the behavioural revolution but only its corrective’. How does it seek to raise the status of the discipline of Political Science. [2000/60m/3]
  13. Critically evaluate and bring out the weakest aspects of behavioural and post-behavioural approaches to analysis of political systems. What measurable and quantifiable criteria are available in political science to evaluate political behaviour? [1999/60m/3]
  14. What is meant by behavioural approach to politics? Is it a fool-proof approach? How far is it correct to say that the behavioural approach to political analysis appeared in order to counteract the Marxist approach? [1998/60m/2]
  15. Discuss the basic assumptions of behaviouralism. In what way post-behaviouralism differs from behavioural theory? [1996/60m/2]
  16. Examine the fact-value dichotomy in political science. To what extent has post-behaviouralism resolved the conflict in the dichotomy? [1995/60m/2]
  17. Examine the place of ‘obligation’ in political theory. [1995/60m/4]

Sample Answers

1] Discuss the significance of a normative approach to Political theory. [2020/15m/200w/4b]

Political theory is an intellectual effort to gain systematic knowledge about political phenomena. Plato, the father of political philosophy, states the whole discipline is principally normative. Thus, the normative approach represents one of the oldest ways to study political theory. Some philosophers like Leo Strauss find no difference in the normative approach and political theory itself. 

The normative approach seeks to understand the meaning and essence of an idea. It theorises on what ought to be, rather than is. It also helps to set the standards of right and wrong and sets out a political ideal. It involves the study of normative issues. It has a prescriptive and futuristic approach. And considering the nature of the discipline, the normative approach is considered to be most suitable to study political theory.

Though this approach has dominated the study of political theory for a long, it has been criticised for being divorced from reality. Aristotle’s empirical approach and David Easton’s behavioural school have sought to bring relevance, practicality and a scientific approach to the discipline. These approaches complement the normative method.  Another criticism of the normative method is the possibility of biased theories viz. Fascism was a hodgepodge of ideologies used to serve totalitarian purposes. 

However, the relevance of the normative approach is timeless. Political theory is the study of political ideas and phenomena. The normative approach helps to evaluate reality and determines an ideal to strive for. And this significance was reinstated by post-behaviouralism, an amalgamation of normative and empirical approaches to political theory. 

[253 words]

2] Comment on Resurgence of political theory. [2019/10m/150w/1a]

Political Science has been a dynamic discipline since the beginning. And different perspectives have dominated different times. The political philosophy (theory) approach was hegemonic till the 2nd World War. However, afterwards, we witness its decline with the rise of behaviouralism.

Behaviouralism was an attempt to convert political science into ‘pure’ science like natural sciences. However, this was met with a lot of limitations. Science relies on data, experiments and aims to formulate laws. There was a very little area for gathering data in the field of political science e.g. electoral politics. Thus it ended up reducing the scope of the field. Behaviouralism also hampered the utility of the discipline since it removed the normative dimension of the field. This approach was criticised and there was an attempt to reform it, also known as ‘post behaviouralism’.

With rise of social movements in the USA like Black Rights movement, opposition to the Vietnam war etc. behaviouralist approach failed to provide the solutions to these problems. Thus the need was felt to revive the political philosophy. And the boost came with John Rawls publication of ‘Theory of Justice’ in 1971.’

Thus, it can be seen that political theory follows Thomas Kuhn’s concept of paradigm. There is no finality – there is the thesis, antithesis and synthesis. This keeps the discipline open to falsification (Karl Popper), dynamic and relevant – making the resurgence of political theory a cyclical and inevitable phenomenon. 

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3] Comment on Decline of Political Theory. [2018/10m/150w/1b]

Political theory indicates the philosophical approach in political science. And we witness its decline, specifically after 1st and 2nd WW, when along with power, the centre of political science also shifted to the USA from Europe.

In the post-war period, rather than providing solutions to erstwhile problems, political thinkers were busy in philosophical speculations and studying political history. While other disciplines like sociology, psychology had long adopted the methods of modern science, political science was still dominated by traditional methods. Further, the erstwhile model of comparative politics (legal institutional approach) was incapable of providing a sound explanation of 3rd world countries political practices.

All of this combined led to the decline in political theory which was further fuelled by scholars like David Easton trying to revive the discipline by converting political science into ‘pure science’ and abandoning ‘age-old’ methods (behavioralism).

We witness the revival of political theory once again in post behavioural theory. Today political theory has regained its original dominant position and have emerged as dynamic and vibrant democratic discipline by accommodating various streams of knowledge(emergence of feminism, post colonialism, post modernism etc). Scholars like Dante Germino, Isaih Berlin, Leo Strauss believe that philosophical approach is the ‘most suitable’ for political science and hence Political theory is always relevant.

[210 words]

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4] Comment on the post behavioural approach. [2016/10m/150w/1b]

Post behavioralism is comparatively a recent phenomenon in the long history of political science. It emerged out of the lecture of David Easton titled ‘Credo of Relevance’ which highlighted the crisis in political science as a discipline and the dis-satisfaction with behavioralism, which in turn was proposed to reform political science.

Behavioralism had led to the compromise on scope as well as relevance of the subject. David Easton gave a call for ‘creative theory’ (action and relevance) to revive the discipline, christening it post behavioralism. He suggested that our theories should be relevant to times and should also lead to action. Technique is important, but can be compromised for the purpose it serves. It is better to be vague than non-relevant.

Values are not rejected rather welcome in post-behavioralism, given that they contribute to the flourishing of human civilization. Rather than ‘pure science, political science is ‘applied science’. Thus, theory should be such that it has the capacity to solve the crisis. The responsibility of social scientists is bigger than that of natural scientists.

We can call political theory as thesis, behavioralism as anti-thesis and post behavioralism as synthesis. It has kept political science relevant and has helped in arresting its decline.

[202 words]

5] Comment: ‘…Political theory is not an escape mechanism but an arduous calling’. (John Plamanetz). [2014/10m/150w/1a]

Political theory is the systematic study of political phenomena. It is an intellectual effort to attain knowledge about the goals and methods of politics. 

The dominant approach to studying political theory is the normative method. It seeks to understand the meaning and essence of ideas. It focuses on ‘what ought to be’ rather than ‘what is’ and thus, sets out an ideal. Therefore, the normative approach is considered to be prescriptive and futuristic. 

However, the approach was criticised by the behavioural school as an escape mechanism. David Easton blamed traditionalists for the decline and purported irrelevance of the discipline. He stated that political theories were indulging in old ideas rather than dealing with contemporary issues. His behavioralist theory sought to systematise political theory to make it more scientific, dynamic and value-neutral. 

Behaviourism was criticised for ideological reductionism by Dante Germino. Normative scholars criticised it for compromising with scope and relevance of the discipline i.e. it was neither necessary nor desirable to make political science ‘value-neutral. They critiqued the unrequited jargon as well as the status quoism (Herbert Marcuse). There was limited critical analysis of existing political phenomena – behavioural school was more descriptive and empirical than critical and analytical. Thus, traditionalist scholars faulted behaviouralists for denigrating the normative method. For Plamenatz, the normative approach to political theory was not ‘an escape mechanism’ rather, an arduous task of scrutinising the present and formulating and striving for an ideal. 

Thus, this criticism was instrumental in formulating Easton’s ‘credo of relevance’ which is a blend of normative and empirical approaches.

[257 words]

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Kuldeep Chauhan

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