The study of politics has had a long tradition. As a matter of fact, Political Science has its roots in ancient Greece. The Greeks used the term “politika” to describe the numerous activities of the “Polis” or city-states in which they lived. Thus, it was the Greek thinkers who laid the foundation for the development of a systematic science of politics. They were mainly concerned with questions of morality and ethics and tried to define an ideal state. The first efforts to systematically study politics can be traced in the works of the two famous political thinkers from ancient Greece, namely, Plato and Aristotle. Later, Christian religious thinkers like St. Augustine and St.Thomas Aquinas, also dwelt upon the idea of an ideal state and sought to derive moral and ethical principles regarding the same. Accordingly, in the classical (Greek) and Christian formulations, Political Science was more in the realm of political philosophy focusing on the study of state.
In the fifteenth century, Niccolo Machiavelli, the Italian political thinker, started the tradition of studying existing and historical political institutions. It marked a departure from the classical and Christian traditions of political philosophy. Efforts were made to identify institutional arrangements that would maintain social order and political stability. Accordingly, political thinkers subsequently tried to deal with the historical origins of different political institutions and their structural frameworks.
However, it must be mentioned here that the origin of Political Science as an academic discipline is not very old. Many thinkers have contributed towards the growth of Political Science as a discipline. In this context, the name of Francis Lieber, who was a professor of History and Political Science at Columbia University, needs special mention. His work ‘Civil Liberty and Self Government’ has made significant contribution towards the growth of Political Science as an academic discipline.
Another landmark in the growth of Political Science was the establishment of a school of Political Science at Columbia University at the initiative of John. W. Burgess in 1880. It was called the Faculty of Political Science. In 1886 this school inaugurated the Political Science Quarterly which was the first scholarly journal of Political Science as a discipline. It heralded a new era in the growth of the discipline as it gave scholars a new platform to express their views in writing.
The establishment of Johns Hopkins University in 1876 was another milestone in the growth of Political Science. In this context, the establishment of Johns Hopkins Historical and Political Science Association in 1877 and The Johns Hopkins Studies in Historical and Political Science are worth mentioning.
Accordingly, the above two universities- Columbia and Johns Hopkins, contributed significantly towards the growth of Political Science as an academic discipline. The studies and research carried out in these universities also widened the scope of Political Science which was earlier confined to the study of political institutions and historical origin. The subject subsequently began to embrace various concepts like rights, justice, law, sovereignty while analyzing the functioning of governments. The political thinkers also started discussing the merits and demerits of various forms of governments, political institutions etc.
The establishment of the American Political Science Association in 1903 provided a boost towards the strengthening of Political Science as a discipline. It soon became a leading organization for the study of political science and provided a platform for different scholars, departments and institutions from the discipline of Political Science. It also widened the scope of Political Science beyond the study of political philosophy and institutions.
During the 1920s, Political Science made a paradigm shift in the form of the positivist movement. It sought to make the study of Political Science scientific by applying empirical and statistical methods. The Social Science Research Council was chartered in 1923 to encourage scientific research in Economics, Sociology and Political Science. The positivist movement culminated in the behavioural revolution of the 1950s. The growth of behaviouralism can be regarded as the major landmark in the growth of Political Science as a discipline. The behaviouralists put emphasis on making the study of Political Science scientific. They were influenced by the developments and research in different disciplines and they tried to make the study of Political Science inter-disciplinary. In order to draw scientific conclusions the behaviouralism advocated the use of statistical methods and tools in the study of Political Science. Thus, with the emergence of behaviouralism the character of Political Science had changed to a large extent. Behaviouralism shifted the focus of Political Science from the study of political institutions to the study of day –to day behaviour of the individuals in a political society. Political thinkers like David Easton, Charles E. Merriam, Arthur Bentley contributed significantly through their writings and research towards the growth of behavioural revolution in Political Science.
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The emergence of Political Science as a university discipline was marked by the creation of university departments and chairs. The term Political Science gained currency the late 19th century. The American Political Science Association was founded in 1903. It brought out its publication titled the American Political Science Review in 1906 in an effort to distinguish the study of politics from economics and other social science disciplines.
After the Second World War and in the early fifties of the twentieth century, Political Science was highly influenced by sociologists like Tocqueville, G. Mosca, Max Weber, Talcott Parsons etc. Such an interaction between political scientists and sociologists helped to bring the study of Political Science closer to society. For instance, the concept of the state, which had been central to Political Science, gave way to the new concept of the “political system,” developed by David Easton. The new concept highlighted the interaction between the society and the political process. During this period the behavioural revolution in Political Science became popular and various methods of research and techniques of data collection were identified by the political thinkers. The Social Science Research Council of United States set up in the early twenties of twentieth century continued to play an important role in popularizing behavioural ideas in the post Second World War era.
Political Science entered a new phase towards the late 1960s in the form of the Post-behavioural revolution. The rise of behaviouralism clearly introduced a scientific vigour in the study of political phenomena. However, it soon came to be realized that too much emphasis was being laid on adoption of scientific techniques in the field of Political Science. In the process, Political Science was losing touch with the real social and political issues. Therefore, post-behaviouralists made an effort to make Political Science relevant to the society. However, it must be remembered that post-behaviouralism cannot be separated from behviouralism as it has emerged out of behaviouralism. Through using different techniques and methods, the post-behaviouralists have tried to overcome the drawbacks of behaviouralism and make the study of Political Science more relevant to the society. Thus, we can see that the Political Science which emerged as a study of the state and government has undergone tremendous changes in the later period. Because of the contribution of different scholars its scope is widening and its nature is changing. In the present time, the focus of Political Science shifts from the study of the state and government to the political system as a whole.