Meaning and scope of political science nios chapter 1st

Your course in Political Science begins with this lesson. This lesson tries to explore the meaning of Political Science. Political Science, traditionally, begins and ends with the state. So considered, it is the study of the state and government. The modern view of Political Science lays emphasis on its being the study of power and authority. Political Science also explains its ever-widening scope. Its scope includes study of the state and the study of political system; covering the study of government, study of power; study of man and his political behaviour and study of political issues which influence politics directly or indirectly. In this lesson, you will study some of the core concepts like Justice and its relevance to citizens.


After seeing this video you will be able to

  • Explain the meaning of Political Science in the light of some standard definitions;
  • Distinguish between Political Science and Politics;
  • Describe the scope of Political Science in terms of role of the State, functions of
  • Government and its relationship with citizens;
  • Recognize the relevance of Justice for citizens and State.
  • See here full chapter in video by manish verma
Meaning and scope of political science nios chapter 1st ( Full Chapter video )

Meaning of Political Science

Political Science is that part of social science which deals with the foundations of the state and the principles of the government. According to J W Garner, “Politics begins and ends with the state.” Similarly, R G Gettel wrote that Politics is the “study of the state in the past, present and future”. Harold J Laski stated in the same vein that the study of Politics concerns itself with the life of men and women in relation to organized state. Thus as a social science, Political Science deals with those aspects of individuals in society which relate to their activities and organizations devoted to seeking of power, resolution of conflicts and all these, within an overall framework of the rule and law as laid down by the state.

Changing Meaning of Political Science

The term Politics is derived from the Greek word polis which means city-state. That is why many commentators, as you saw, rightly define Politics in terms of the state or government. However, this definition does not exhaust the meaning of Politics. Politics also deals with power. Harold D. Lasswell and Abraham Kaplan define Political Science as “the study of shaping and sharing of power”.

Political Science deals with both empirical facts and normative issues. Facts are in the domain of “what is” and value preferences are in the domain of “what should be.” For example, if somebody says India is a parliamentary democracy, he or she is making a statement of empirical fact. This is what India today actually is. But if she or he were to make a statement like the one that India should switch over to presidential form of democracy, the statement would be a normative one.

Growth of the Discipline of Political Science

Systematic study of Politics started with the Greeks in the fourth century BC. Philosophers like Plato and Aristotle used it in the most comprehensive sense. Aristotle called Politics a “master science”. For him, it comprised of not only the institutions of state or government but also family, property and other social institutions. Politics, for the Greeks, was an allencompassing activity

Normally a lay man associates Politics with party politics. But as students of Political Science, we know that Politics is much larger than that: it is systematic study of state and power

In the twentieth century, after the Second World War, the ‘behavioural approach’ offered a new dimension of Political Science. The behavioural movement in American Political Science in the 1950s and the 1960s placed a lot of emphasis on the ‘science’ part ofPolitics. It wanted to model Politics after the methods followed by natural sciences like Physics, Botany, etc. The behaviouralists built theory inductively from empirical propositions. Those who follow inductive method would come to the conclusion after study, observation and experiment. For example, when some behaviouralists saw African-Americans (Blacks) of the southern United States of America (USA) voted for the Democratic Party of the United States, they came to the conclusion that the African-Americans do vote for the Democrats.

Politics, as the study of structures, institutions, processes and activities, recognizes the possibility of the use of power. The Marxist approach, which is derived from the writings of the nineteenth century German philosopher Karl Marx, views Politics as a study of irreconcilable conflicts between the two classes ‘haves’ (those who have private property, or simply the rich) and the ‘have-nots’ (those who do not have any private property, or simply the poor); in other words, the exploiters and the exploited.

Distinction between Political Science and Politics

The terms ‘Political Science’ and ‘Politics’ are often used interchangeably. However, the distinction between the two needs to be understood. Some scholars define Politics to be “the science and art of government.” But this is only a part of the total explanation of the subject of Political Science. Now-a days the term Politics is used to mean the problems of the citizens interacting with the instrument of political power in one form or the other. Sometimes, Politics was and still is used as the technique of compromise or the method to capture power and retain it.

According to many political scientists, the study of Political Science comprises theory of the state, concept of sovereign power, forms and functions of government, making and execution of laws, elections, political parities, rights and duties of citizens, policy functions and study of welfare activities of the State and government.

Practical Politics also has many positive aspects. In this era of welfare state many positive programmes such as removal of untouchability, land reforms, release of bonded labourers, prohibition of trafficking in human beings and begar (forced labour), introduction of minimum wages, employment generation programmes, empowerment of the other backward classes are all examples of positive aspects of practical politics.

Scope Of Political Science

  1. Role of the State

The term ‘State’ in its modern sense was first used by Machiavelli (1469-1527), the Italian statesman. The study of the State has since remained the focal point for the political scientists.

The State consists of four elements. These are: (a) the people; (b) the territory on which they live; (c) the government to rule and regulate the lives of the people and (d) sovereignty, which implies unrestricted authority to take decisions and manage its own affairs. You will read in detail about these four elements in the second lesson.

Market is a place where goods and services are sold and bought. It operates on the basis of demand and supply. Many people regard it as a self-regulating, self-correcting place, provided there is no interference by the state. Competition is the chief hallmark of market. Capitalism and market are considered two sides of the same coin.

The social group consisting of traders, merchants and businessmen and later the industrialists (also known as the bourgeois) was the major beneficiary of this system. The liberals emphasized that the consent of the people is the true basis of the state. Early liberal thinkers also considered the state as a ‘necessary evil’- an evil but necessary for the purpose of protecting the individual from the external and internal enemies. According to this view, that government is the best which governs the least. In other words, the state should be a ‘police state’ and hence a limited one. It should also be limited in a different sense: as John Locke, the famous English liberal philosopher of the seventeenth century, said it is there to protect the individual’s natural right to life, liberty and property.

Rights are claims by an individual on the state. Natural rights are those rights with which an individual is supposed to have been born. These are, so to say, God-given rights. More importantly, individual is supposed to have acquired them even before the state came into existence. The important implication is that since the state has no role in the creation or granting of these rights, it cannot take away or abridge these rights.

The Welfare State, which slowly emerged during the 1930s, tries to promote the well being of its citizens, especially the poor, the needy, the unemployed and the aged. It is now generally agreed that the Welfare State exists to promote common good. So the functions of the state have increased manifold.

The state to act as ‘trustee’ of the people means that it should hold people’s power as a trust for welfare of the people. It should not consider people as helpless subjects, but as co-rulers in its governance.

By power of the government, we think of the different aspects of government. We think of ministers who have departments under them for the exercise of power over the area of their domains. There is the bureaucracy and the enormous structure of governmental administration, which has power over us. It can control our lives in various ways by making, administering and implementing laws.

2. Citizens and Government

So far as the rights of the citizens are concerned, they can be divided into three: civil, political and social. CIVIL RIGHTS are those rights which are necessary for the freedom/ liberty of the individual. They include the right to life and personal liberty, right to freedom of speech, expression and thought, right to own property, right to enter into contract, right to equality before law and equal protection by law. Equality before law means absence of special privileges; equal protection of laws implies equals should be treated equally. POLITICAL RIGHTS include the right to vote and the right to contest election. SOCIAL RIGHTS include the right to some degrees of economic welfare and security and the right to live the life of a civilized being according to standards prevailing in the society.

3. Liberty

freedom. Freedom is of paramount importance for the development of an individual’s personality. Historically speaking, the term liberty was initially defined as absence of all restraints on an individual. This is known as the negative concept of liberty. Early liberalism championed negative liberty. John Stuart Mill, the nineteenth century English political philosopher, described, “Restraint as an evil”. Mill was especially worried about the restraints coming from the state and society.

4. Safeguards of Liberty

Declaration of rights of the individuals in the Constitution is considered as an important safeguard of liberty. This way the government can be prevented from encroaching upon the freedoms of the people.

Impartial judiciary is rightly called the watchdog of liberty. Without it the liberty of the individuals would be meaningless.

Decentralization of powers is another important safeguard of liberty. History is witness to the fact that concentration of power has very often led to despotism.

A large measure of social justice or diffusion of social and economic privileges is a prerequisite for liberty. If privileges become the prerogative of the select few, then effective liberty would be denied to a vast majority

Justice and its Relevance for Citizens and State

The term Justice is derived from the Latin word jus, which means a bond. Thus the word Justice means joining or fitting. “Justice”, says E Barker, “is the reconciler and the synthesis of political values.”

  1. Aspects of Justice

When we turn to the broader question of Justice, it has other constitutions, we find a number of views. Herein comes the concept of distributive Justice – what is the proper way of distribution of income or social position in a given society. There are two major conceptions of distributive/social Justice, one involves the notion of merit and the other involves need and equality.

2. Merit

The first conception argues that each person’s social position and (material) wealth must be decided on the basis of merit. When people talk of careers open to talents and equality of opportunity, they have merit in view. However, the question arises as to how to measure merit or talent? The liberals say that the price that someone can command in a free market is the reasonable indicator of his/her value to others. The socialist critics are of the opinion that market receipts are often affected by chance and social background which have nothing to do with merit.

3. Need and Equality

The second conception views that goods, positions, etc. should be allocated on the basis of a person’s needs. But how to define needs? Everybody agrees on food, shelter and clothing. Beyond this, there is no agreement. Communism (Marxism) believes that each person should define his needs and sufficient resources can be created under communism to meet all the needs of all individuals. However, others are of the opinion that needs can be satisfied by two agencies – welfare state and the market. Some needs can be satisfied through the welfare state and others being allocated through the market

4. Equality of Opportunity

(a) Absence of privileges strengthens equality; the existence of privileges would, conversely, promote inequality. This means that no one be given facilities/opportunities more than those given to others. Privileges create a situation of inequality, and in the process, harms equality.

Equality of opportunity means everybody should have the same chance to access public position and office. An example of the working of the equality of opportunity in India is the Civil Services examination conducted by the Union Public Services Commission (UPSC). Any Indian graduate from any university of India can take the examination.

Overall Results (Communitarian Justice)

There is the other kind of theory of Justice that does not take either merit or need into account. It takes into account the overall results. John Rawls’ theory belongs to this category. In his book A Theory of Justice he argues that inequalities in the allocation of goods are permissible if and only if those inequalities work to the benefit of the least well-off members of society. In other words, a society having income inequality is just if and only if that inequality benefitted the least advantaged members of that society. For example, a professor’s higher salary can be just if and only if it, directly or indirectly, benefits, so to say, the bricklayer.

Justice and its Relationship with Liberty and Equality

The nineteenth century scholars like Lord Acton and Alexis de Tocqueville considered liberty and equality as incompatible. They thought that too much of stress on equality would lead to the dilution of liberty. Many later scholars also agreed with them. Progressive taxation by the welfare state was considered violative of the liberty of the propertied people. However, it remained a fact that proceeds of tax went towards financing the programmes to ameliorate the plight of the poor, the unemployed, the needy, the handicapped and the aged. A largely egalitarian society was made possible by these programmes. In times of conflict like this, prevailing notion of Justice decides what should be the right mix of liberty and equality. Thus freedom and equality are two aspects of Justice. The ultimate
objective of both freedom and equality is Justice.