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PSIR 1A-1: Political Theory – Previous Year Questions & Answers

Model Answers to PYQs (2018-2023)

1] Normative approach in political science. Comment. [2023/10m/150w/1a]

In the words of Harold Lasswell and Abraham Kaplan, there are “two distinct components in political theory-the empirical propositions of political science and the value judgments of political doctrine.’

Normative political theory guides us in assessing political actions, policies, and institutions based on their moral implications, often addressing questions of justice, rights, and ethics. It is prescriptive in nature, offering recommendations for more desirable political outcomes. This approach often employs idealized models, such as the “just society” or the “ideal democracy,” as benchmarks for evaluating real-world politics. Drawing from philosophical traditions like liberalism, utilitarianism, and deontology, normative political theory informs public policy by addressing ethical dilemmas and guiding the creation of more morally sound institutions and laws.

While Plato and Aristotle sought to identify the characteristics of a good polity, it was a normative endeavour; today, most modern political scientists seek to identify the characteristics of politics, their causes and effects, leaving aside moral judgments about their goodness and badness.

The empirical approach enables us to strengthen our means but we will have to resort to the normativity of political philosophy to determine our ends. Means and ends are interdependent; hence political science and political philosophy play complementary roles in our social life. [203 words]

2] Comment on Decline of political theory [2023/10m/150w/1e]

In the mid-twentieth century, the exponents of new political science began to question the continued relevance of traditional political theory.

Alfred Cobban in his paper on ‘The Decline of Political Theory’, argued that political theory had lost its significance in capitalist as well as communist systems as political theory has no practical role in sustaining them. One was characterized by the overwhelming role of bureaucracy and the other by the vanguard and oligarchy. Similarly, SM Lipset in his Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics argued that the values of contemporary society had already been decided, a thought similar to Fukuyama’s ‘The End of History’. Thus Lipset, too, questioned the continued relevance of political theory in those days.

However, Dante Germino in his Beyond Ideology: The Revival of Political Theory writes that political theory was again in ascendancy, particularly in the political thought of Michael Oakeshott, Hannah Arendt, Bertrand de Jouvenal, Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin.

Although there was a decline of political theory and philosophical methods, it regained popularity within a short time. Thus, we can say that for a substantial political theory, we need to have a normative anchor for our empirical methods. [195 words]

3] ‘Credo of Relevance’ in post-behavioralism advocates the importance of action science. Analyze. [2023/15m/200w/2c]

The discipline of political science has undergone many revolutions. Amongst these, post-behaviouralism was a reaction against rising behaviouralist orthodoxy and in the words of David Easton, its battle cries were ‘relevance and action’.

The tenets of post-behaviouralism are called the ‘Credo of Relevance’. The first credo reads that ‘substance must precede technique’. For the aphorism of science that it is better to be wrong than vague, post-behavioralism would substitute a new dictum, that it is better to be vague than non-relevantly precise.

Post-behavioralists complain that behavioural inquiry is dominated by abstractions that conceal the reality of politics. So, they propose that political science reach out to the real needs of mankind in a time of crisis. The post-behaviouralists believe that science cannot be neutral hence it needs to be aware of the value premises it stands on.

The credo also says that the intellectuals’ historical role has been and must be to protect the human values of civilization. This is their unique task and obligation. Moreover, to know is to bear the responsibility for acting and to act is to engage in reshaping society. The intellectual, as a scientist bears the special obligation to put his knowledge to work. Contemplative science was a product of the nineteenth century when a broader moral agreement was shared. Action science of necessity reflects the contemporary conflict in society over ideals and this must permeate and colour the whole research enterprise itself.

The post-behavioural revolution is future-oriented. It does not especially seek to return to some golden age of political research or to conserve or even destroy a particular methodological approach. It seeks rather to propel political science in new directions. [277 words]

4] Write on the Systems Approach [2022/10m/150w/1a]

The systems approach is a theoretical framework used to study the political system as a whole rather than focusing on individual components. This approach is based on the belief that the political system is a complex network of interrelated parts that work together to achieve a common goal.

In this methodology, a system is defined as a bounded region in space-time, involving energy interchange among their parts, which are associated in functional relationships, and with their environments, similar to the concept of ‘ecosystem’ in biological sciences.

The purpose of general systems theory, as it is known, is to reduce multiplication of efforts by integrating all knowledge and treating all systems as inter-related. It suggests that even parts of a system, called sub-systems, should be treated not as separate and isolated units but organic parts of the whole.

Since every system has its own structures and sub-structures which function with the help of inputs, throughputs, outputs and feedbacks, so two more approaches have emerged as derivatives of the systems approach.

While ‘structural-functional approach’ which lays emphasis on the structures and functions of every part and sub-part of a system and its functional aspect, the ‘input-output approach’ lays emphasis on inputs that come from the ‘environment’ and play their part in the decision-making process, while decisions taken by the people in authority are called ‘outputs’.

Brought into political science by scholars like David Easton and Gabriel Almond, the system approach is criticized for being too mechanical as humans are not lifeless machines. [250 words]

5] Examine the importance of behavioural approach in political theory. What led to its decline? [2021/15m/200w/2b]

The Behavioural approach to political science emerged in a nascent form in the 1920s under Charles Merriam and became a dominant approach to studying political science by the 1940s.

Political scientists had widespread dissatisfaction among political scientists with the descriptive nature of political science. Political scientists started behavioural approach to propagate the interdisciplinary character of political science in order to make full use of the advances in human intelligence which the social and natural sciences had introduced to the world.

Behavioural approach emphasizes the application of scientific methods in Political Science research. David Easton provides a list which contains the  features of  Behaviouralism. To him, they are the intellectual foundation stones.

Behavioural approach is important as it makes Political Science more scientific and brings it closer to the daily life of people. It has introduced human behaviour into the field of Political Science. And it has also helped bringing predictability in political Science.

Despite of merits, the Behavioural approach has been criticised for its fascination for scientism. The supporters of this approach were wrong when they said that human beings behave in similar ways in similar circumstances. Most of the political phenomena are indeterminate. Therefore, it is always difficult to use scientific methods in the study of Political Science. It was also felt that the behavioural approach was too reductionist, reducing complex political systems to simple mathematical models.

Finally, the rise of postmodernism in the latter half of the 20th century led many political scientists to reject the idea that objective truth could be discovered through scientific methods, leading to the ultimate decline of behaviouralist approach.

Despite its decline in popularity, the behavioural approach remains an important part of political theory. Today, many political scientists use a combination of behavioural and other approaches to study political systems and behaviour. [299 words]

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

The normative approach aims at making a normative statement which is concerned with what ‘ought to be’ or ‘should be’. It seeks to determine and prescribe value and is related to concepts such as justice, fairness, equality, and rights.

Whereas an empirical statement is concerned with a situation which can be observed by our sense-experience, which can be verified by repeated observation and whose accuracy can be tested, a normative statement tends to express preference for a particular type of order as dictated by a sense of duty or universal need or by commitment to a moral principle or ideal.

The normative approach helps to identify and address issues of justice and fairness in political systems. By examining political systems through a normative lens, political theorists can evaluate whether these systems are fair and just for all members of society.

The approach also helps to identify potential areas for reform in political systems. By evaluating political systems based on ethical and moral principles, it suggests where policies or institutions may be failing to meet the needs of citizen.

Since normative approach seeks to create a perfect or an ideal system, it ensures the continuous improvement of political system and brings discussions, debate and dynamism to the field of political theory. [210 words]

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

There were two major causes of the decline of political theory; firstly, the rise of positivism which led to the craze for science; and the prevalence of political ideologies culminating in Marxism. But now it is again in ascendancy, particularly in the political thought of Michael Oakeshott, Hannah Arendt, Bertrand de Jouvenal, Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin.

The works of these writers have revived the grand tradition of political philosophy. Germino suggested that in order to understand the new role of political theory it was imperative to identify it with political philosophy. Political philosophy is a critical study of the principles of right order in human social existence, involving inquiry into right and wrong. It is neither reductionist behavioural science where everything is reduced to sense-experience, nor opinionated ideology which accepts some principles to be true without inquiring into their validity. It comprehends both the knowledge of facts and the insight with which that knowledge is comprehended.

A political philosopher cannot remain indifferent to the political struggle of his times as a behaviouralist would claim, as detachment is not ethical neutrality. Behavioural political science concentrates on facts and remains neutral to values and the behavioural political theory has often implicitly or uncritically endorsed the policies and practices of the established order.

Differences are observed in the philosophical aspect of political theory in different countries, periods, and individuals. There is no feature of the human world entirely free from evaluative significance. So, undoubtedly it can be said that there has been resurgence of political theory. [254 words]

8] Comment on the decline of Political Theory. [2018/10m/150w/1b]

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

In post war period, rather than providing solutions to the 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 sound explanation of 3rd world countries political practices.

All of this combined, led to the decline in political theory, and was further fuelled by scholars like David Easton who tried reviving the discipline by converting political science into ‘pure science’ (behaviouralism) and abandoning ‘age-old’ methods (normative theories).

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. [205 words]

The post contains answers to the last 6-year papers i.e. (2023-2018). Answers to the previous year questions from 2013-2017 are a part of our book PSIR Optional Model Answers to PYQs (2013-2022)

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