Brief notes on the Traditional and Modern Definitions of Political Science


Political Science

The name, ‘Political Science’ is most expansive, relevant and acceptable. It extensively and deeply analysis the state and other associations and organizations-, their powers, political ideas and philosophy, international relations, laws and organizations. It examines, from different angles the relations of politics with economy, culture and other aspects of life. Modern political science, in association with other social sciences, is able to have real and proper understanding of political life, political activities, and the scope of politics. This shows why the caption, ‘political science’ is generally considered appropriate.

Eminent Political Scientists have given different definitions of Political Science and differently described its scope, as stated below.


Traditional Definition

According to the French Political Scientist, Paul Janet, “Political Science is that part of social science which treats of the foundations of the state and principles of government.” In the words of Bluntschli of Switzerland, “Political Science in the proper sense is the science which is concerned with the state, which endeavours to understand and comprehend the state in its fundamental conditions, in its essential nature, its various forms or manifestations of development.” According to R. N. Gilchrist, “It is a study of state and government.”

In the words of R. G. Gettell, “It is a historical investigation of what the state have been, an analytical study of what the state is and a politico-ethical discussion of what the state should be.” Harold J. Laski has observed, “The study of politics concerns itself with the life of man in relation to organised states.”

According to Catlin, “Political Science means the study of the activities of political life and activities of various organs of government”. In the words of J.W. Garner, “In short, Political Science begins and ends with the State.” These observations suggest that Political Science is confined to the study of state, government and political organisations.


Modern Definitions

The above definitions have seen Political Science from the narrow legal institutional approach. After the Second World War, the Behavioural Revolution has come into being. It has brought about a great change in Political Science. It lays more stress on political behaviour than on institutional dynamics. In the first part of the twentieth century social scientists like Arthur Bentley, Graham Wallas and Charles E. Marriam emphasized the social and psychological aspects of politics.

According to Lasswell and Kaplan, “Political Science is a Policy Science. Political Science is a study of shaping and sharing power. “It aims at establishing harmony between ‘power’ and ‘freedom’. Power for the state and freedom for individual are indispensable. Therefore, Political Science is indispensable for our organized, constructive life. According to Hillman, “Politics is the science of who gets what, when and why.”

Harold Lasswell, in his famous book,Politics: Who Gets What, When, How? Has also said the some thing. The eminent social scientist, Max Weber has observed, “Political Science is both positive and normative science which studies human behaviour in its justice seeking aspect.” In the words of David Easton, “Political Science is concerned with the authoritative allocation of values for a society.”


Now ‘political system’ is used in place of the word, ‘State’. This indicates a new perspective of Political Science. Political Science is no longer confined to the study of state. It now deals with other subjects and tendencies which previously were not covered by it.

Politics is concerned with “legitimate coercion’. So Robert Dahl has observed, “The political system is any persistent pattern of human relationships that involves to a significant extent power, rule or authority.” With the help of legitimate power, politics establishes integration and harmony among citizens. In the words of Merki, “Politics is the process through which man orders the society in which he lives according to his political ideas about the ends of man.”

According to Michael Curtis, “The study of politics is concerned with the description and analysis of the manner in which power is obtained, exercised and controlled, the purpose’ for which it is used, the manner in which decisions are made, the factors which influence the making of these decisions, and the context in which these decisions take place.

The above definitions and observations suggest that state, government and legal system have been the focus of Political Science from the beginning. But in course of time, its scope has widened. In the study of politics, the importance of institutions and laws has decreased, and that of political behaviour has increased.


Now Political Science has emerged as an important social science. Its main objective is to forge relations among individuals and to build relations between individuals on the one side, and on the other, the society and state. It is keen to establish harmony between the power of state and the freedom of individual. In an idea! Political system, the laws and functions of state help in increasing the freedom of individual and developing his personality. Political Science is also now interested in studying international relations and cooperation among states.

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