Political theory is a crucial element in the study of politics. It provides a framework for understanding how political systems work, and how power is distributed within them.
But who defined political theory as political science and political philosophy? Let’s dive into the history of political theory to find out.
What is Political Theory?
Political theory is the study of political ideas and concepts. It seeks to understand the nature of politics, power, justice, and governance.
Political theorists analyze different political systems and ideologies to determine their strengths and weaknesses. They also examine historical events to gain insights into how politics has evolved over time.
The Origins of Political Theory
The origins of political theory can be traced back to ancient Greece. Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle wrote extensively on topics such as justice, democracy, and tyranny. Their works provided a foundation for later political thinkers.
During the Middle Ages, political theory was largely influenced by Christian theology. Ideas about divine right and natural law were prominent in this period.
In the modern era, political theory became more secular and focused on individual rights and freedoms. Thinkers such as John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote about social contract theory, which posited that individuals agree to give up some of their freedoms in exchange for protection from the state.
Political Theory as Political Science
The term “political science” was first used in the 19th century to describe the study of politics in a scientific manner. This meant applying empirical methods to study political phenomena such as voting behavior or public opinion.
In this context, political theory was seen as a subfield of political science. Political theorists were interested in developing normative frameworks for evaluating different forms of government or analyzing concepts such as democracy or citizenship.
Some notable figures who defined political theory as part of political science include:
- Harold Lasswell – A prominent American political scientist who defined political theory as the study of “who gets what, when, and how” in politics.
- David Easton – Another American political scientist who emphasized the importance of understanding the role of values and beliefs in politics.
- Robert Dahl – An American political theorist who wrote extensively on democratic theory and the concept of power.
Political Theory as Political Philosophy
Another way to view political theory is as a subset of philosophy. In this context, political theorists are concerned with answering fundamental questions about politics and society. They may draw on a wide range of philosophical traditions, from ancient Greek philosophy to contemporary critical theory.
Political philosophy is concerned with questions such as:
- What is justice?
- What is the relationship between individuals and the state?
- What are our moral obligations to others?
Some notable figures who defined political theory as part of political philosophy include:
- Plato – A Greek philosopher who wrote extensively on topics such as justice and the ideal state.
- Thomas Aquinas – A medieval philosopher whose work on natural law influenced later thinkers such as John Locke.
- Karl Marx – A German philosopher whose critique of capitalism continues to influence leftist thought today.
Political theory has been defined in different ways throughout history. Today, it is often seen as a subfield of political science or philosophy.
Regardless of how it is defined, however, it remains an essential component of our understanding of politics and society. By analyzing different forms of government and exploring fundamental questions about justice and power, political theorists help us make sense of the complex world in which we live.