While the term "political science" as a separate field is a rather late arrival in terms of social sciences, analyzing political power and the impact that it had on history has been occurring for centuries. However, the term "political science" was not always distinguished from political philosophy, and the modern discipline has a clear set of antecedents including moral philosophy, political economy, political theology, history, and other fields concerned with normative determinations of what ought to be and with deducing the characteristics and functions of the ideal state.



The antecedents of Western politics can be traced back to the Socratic political philosophers, such as Aristotle ("The Father of Political Science") (384–322 BC). Aristotle was one of the first people to give a working definition of political science. He believed that it was a powerful branch of science, and that it held special authority over other branches, such as military science.[1] Political philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle began to analyze political thought in a way that placed more significance on the scientific aspect of political science, which was contrary to how it was portrayed by the Greek philosophers that came before them. Prior to Plato, the main commentary on politics came from poets, historians, and famous playwrights of the day.[2]

During the most prosperous time for the Roman Empire there were both men documenting the history as it happened, employing their own point of view, but also men who were implementing the politics of the day and influencing the history as it happened. Some of the main historians included Polybius, Livy and Plutarch. These men focused not only on documenting the rise of the Roman Empire, but also on the rise and fall of other nations.[3] The men implementing the political policies as they saw fit includes leaders such as Julius Caesar and Cicero. While Caesar was a dictator who kept a tight grip on his people in order to protect his power, he did carry out reforms that would go on to benefit the people.[4] At that point in time, political science was the process of understanding the impact of governing bodies and how rulers chose to enforce laws, as well as the history of specific countries as a whole.[5] Nearly a thousand years elapsed, from the foundation of the city of Rome in 753 BC to the fall of the Western Roman Empire or the beginning of the Middle Ages. In the interim, there is a manifest translation of Hellenic culture into the Roman sphere. Eventually both Greek gods and Greek philosophy were taken by the Romans. The Greek philosophy known as Stoicism was implemented as Roman law. The Stoic was committed to preserving proper hierarchical roles and duties in the state so that the state as a whole would remain stable. Among the best known Roman Stoics were philosopher Seneca and the emperor Marcus Aurelius. Seneca, a wealthy Roman patrician, is often criticized by some modern commentators/historians for failing to adequately live by his own precepts. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, on the other hand, can be best viewed as the philosophical reflections of an emperor divided between his philosophical aspirations and the duty he felt to defend the Roman Empire from its external enemies through his various military campaigns. According to Polybius, Roman institutions were the backbone of the empire but Goldman Law is the medulla.

In India, Arthashastra of Chanakya was written in 3rd century B.C. which is noted as one of the earliest political science work in India.[6] The Arthashastra is a treatise of political thought which discusses international relations, war strategies, and fiscal policies in addition to other subjects.[citation needed]

Looking back at the predecessors of ancient India's politics leads to three of the four Vedas of Hinduism, as well as the Mahabharata and Pali Canon. The works from the Vedas include the Rigveda, Samhitas, and Bramanas. Approximately two hundred years after Chanakya’s time, the Manusmriti was published, becoming another essential political treatise for India at the time.[2]

In China, despite common belief, Confucianism (also known as Ruism) and Taoism are known as religions, but are also core political philosophies. These political philosophies, in addition to Legalism and Mohism, originated from Ancient China during the Spring and Autumn period. This period in China's history was a Golden Age of Chinese philosophy, as it gave way to many different ideas which were discussed freely. [7]

The four mentioned political philosophies are part of the six classical schools of thought in Chinese philosophy as determined by Sima Tan. During the Imperial Period, Confucianism modified with the times (being heavily influenced by Legalism) and dominated Chinese political philosophy.[2]


With the fall of the Western Roman Empire, there arose a more diffuse arena for political studies. The rise of monotheism and, particularly for the Western tradition, Christianity, brought to light a new space for politics and political action. Works such as Augustine of Hippo's The City of God synthesized current philosophies and political traditions with those of Christianity, redefining the borders between what was religious and what was political. During the Middle Ages, the study of politics was widespread in the churches and courts. Most of the political questions surrounding the relationship between church and state were clarified and contested in this period.[citation needed]

Aristotelians of the Middle East (such as Avicenna and Maimonides) kept the Aristotelian traditions of empiricism and analysis alive by writing commentaries on Aristotle’s works. Arabia later moved from Aristotle’s ideology of political science, shifting to focus on Plato’s work titled Republic. With this shift, Republic became the base of Judeo-Islamic political philosophy as can be seen in the works of Al-Farabi and Averroes.[8]

Evidence of political analysis in medieval Persia can be seen in works like the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh.[8][9]


During the Italian Renaissance, Niccolò Machiavelli established the emphasis of modern political science on direct empirical observation of political institutions and actors. In his treatise, The Prince, Machiavelli posits a realist viewpoint, arguing that even evil means should be considered if they help to acquire and maintain a ruler's state. Machiavelli therefore also argues against the use of idealistic models in politics, and has been described as the father of the "politics model" of political science.[10] Machiavelli takes a different tone in his lesser known work, the Discourses of Livy. In this work he expounds on the virtues of republicanism and what it means to be a good citizen. However, some similar themes from The Prince can even be found in the Discourses as well.[11] Later, the expansion of the scientific paradigm during the Enlightenment further pushed the study of politics beyond normative determinations.


The works of the French philosophers Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot to name a few are paragon for political analysis, social science, social and political critic. Their influence leading to the French revolution has been enormous in the development of modern democracy throughout the world.[citation needed]

Like Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, well known for his theory of the social contract, believed that a strong central power, such as a monarchy, was necessary to rule the innate selfishness of the individual but neither of them believed in the divine right of kings. John Locke, on the other hand, who gave us Two Treatises of Government and who did not believe in the divine right of kings either, sided with Aquinas and stood against both Machiavelli and Hobbes by accepting Aristotle's dictum that man seeks to be happy in a state of social harmony as a social animal. Unlike Aquinas' preponderant view on the salvation of the soul from original sin, Locke believed man comes into this world with a mind that is basically a tabula rasa. According to Locke, an absolute ruler as proposed by Hobbes is unnecessary, for natural law is based on reason and equality, seeking peace and survival for man.[citation needed]

The new Western philosophical foundations that emerged from the pursuit of reason during the Enlightenment era helped pave the way for policies that emphasized a need for a separation of church and state. Principles similar to those that dominated the material sciences could be applied to society as a whole, originating the social sciences. Politics could be studied in a laboratory as it were, the social milieu. In 1787, Alexander Hamilton wrote: "...The science of politics like most other sciences has received great improvement." (The Federalist Papers Number 9 and 51). Both the marquis d'Argenson and the abbé de Saint-Pierre described politics as a science; d'Argenson was a philosopher and de Saint-Pierre an allied reformer of the enlightenment.[12]

Other important figures in American politics who participated in the Enlightenment were Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.

19th century

The Darwinian models of evolution and natural selection exerted considerable influence in the late 19th century. Society seemed to be evolving ever upward, a belief that was shattered by World War I.[citation needed]

"History is past politics and politics present history" was the motto of the first generation of American political scientists, 1882-1900. The motto had been coined by the Oxford professor Edward Augustus Freeman, and was enshrined on the wall of the seminar room at Johns Hopkins University where the first large-scale training of America and political scientists began.[13] The founding professors of the field included Westel Woodbury Willoughby, Herbert Baxter Adams at Johns Hopkins, John Burgess and William Dunning at Columbia, Woodrow Wilson at Princeton, and Albert Bushnell Hart at Harvard. Their graduate seminars had a thick historical cast, which typically reflected their experience in German University seminars. However, succeeding generations of scholars progressively cut back on the history and deliberate fashion. The second generation wanted to model itself on the physical sciences.[14]

In the Progressive Era in the United States (1890s-1920s), political science became not only a prestigious university curriculum but also an applied science that was welcomed as a way to apply expertise to the problems of governance. Among the most prominent applied political scientists were Woodrow Wilson,[15] Charles A. Beard, and Charles E. Merriam. Many cities and states set up research bureaus to apply the latest results.[16]

United States

Further information: Political history in the United States and Charles Edward Merriam

The American Political Science Association, established in 1903, is the largest professional association of political scientists.


Main article: Behavioralism

Behavioralism (Behaviouralism) is an empirical approach which emerged in the 1930s in the United States. It emphasized an objective, quantified approach to explain and predict political behavior. Guy says "Behaviouralism emphasized the systematic understanding of all identifiable manifestations of political behaviour. But it also meant the application of rigorous scientific and statistical methods to standardize testing and to attempt value free inquiry of the world of politics... For the behaviouralist, the role of political science is primarily to gather and analyze facts as rigorously and objectively as possible.[17] Petro p 6 says "Behavioralists generally felt that politics should be studied much in the same way hard sciences are studied."[18] It is associated with the rise of the behavioral sciences, modeled after the natural sciences. As Guy notes, "The term behaviouralism was recognized as part of a larger scientific movement occurring simultaneously in all of the social sciences, now referred to as the behavioural sciences."[19] This means that behavioralism tries to explain behavior with an unbiased, neutral point of view.

Behavioralism seeks to examine the behavior, actions, and acts of individuals – rather than the characteristics of institutions such as legislatures, executives, and judiciaries and groups in different social settings and explain this behavior as it relates to the political.[20]


Gunnell argues that since the 1950s the concept of system was the most important theoretical concept used by American political scientists. The idea appeared in sociology and other social sciences but David Easton specified how it could be best applied to behavioral research on politics.[21]


Canadian universities until the 1950s were led by British trained scholars for whom political science was not a high priority. Canadians favoured the study of political economy. After 1950 younger scholars increasingly took American PhDs and Canadian departments promoted behavioralism and quantification.[22]


Political science operates on a smaller scale in European universities compared to American ones. Traditionally political studies were handled by law professors or professors of philosophy. American impulses toward behavioralism have made the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) is a unifying force. It sponsors several scholarly journals including European Political Science (EPS) (since 2001), European Journal of Political Research (EJPR) and European Political Science Review (EPSR).[citation needed]

Soviet Union

In the Soviet Union, political studies were carried out under the guise of some other disciplines like theory of state and law, area studies, international relations, studies of labor movement, "critique of bourgeois theories", etc. Soviet scholars were represented at the International Political Science Association (IPSA) since 1955 (since 1960 by the Soviet Association of Political and State Studies).[citation needed]

In 1979, the 11th World Congress of IPSA took place in Moscow. Until the late years of the Soviet Union, political science as a field was subjected to tight control of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and was thus subjected to distrust. Anti-communists accused political scientists of being "false" scientists and of having served the old regime.[23]

After the fall of the Soviet Union, two of the major institutions dealing with political science, the Institute of Contemporary Social Theories and the Institute of International Affairs, were disbanded, and most of their members were left without jobs. These institutes were victims of the first wave of anticommunist opinion and ideological attacks. Today, the Russian Political Science Association unites professional political scientists from all around Russia.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Miller, Fred (2017), "Aristotle's Political Theory", in Zalta, Edward N. (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2017 ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, retrieved 2019-10-04
  2. ^ a b c Yelegaonkar, Shrikant. Career in Political Science. Lulu.com. ISBN 9781329082748.
  3. ^ Champion, Craige B. (2014). "Livy and the Greek Historians from Herodotus to Dionysius: Some Soundings and Reflections". Mineo/A Companion to Livy: 190–204. doi:10.1002/9781118339015.ch15. ISBN 9781118339015.
  4. ^ "BBC - History - Julius Caesar". www.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  5. ^ Lane, Melissa (2018), "Ancient Political Philosophy", in Zalta, Edward N. (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2018 ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, retrieved 2019-11-08
  6. ^ Paripūrṇānanda Varmmā (1993). Ancient Indian Administration & Penology. Vishwavidyalaya Prakashan. p. 22. ISBN 9788171241149. Political Science was not unknown to ancient Indians. ArthasHastra of Kautilya of 3rd century B.C. is a purely political science work.
  7. ^ Overmyer, Daniel; Keightley, David; Shaughnessy, Edward; Cook, Constance; Harper, Donald (1995). "Introduction". The Journal of Asian Studies. 54 (1): 124–160. doi:10.2307/2058953. JSTOR 2058953.
  8. ^ a b Muhsin, Mahdi (2001). Alfarabi and the foundation of Islamic political philosophy. University of Chicago Press. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-226-50186-4.
  9. ^ Aabriel Abraham (2002). Ventures in political science. Lynne Rienner Publishers. p. 29. ISBN 978-1-58826-055-0. Polybius attributes the remarkable growth and power of Rome to its political institutions.
  10. ^ Lane, Ruth (1996). Political science in theory and practice: the 'politics' model. M. E. Sharpe. p. 89. ISBN 978-1-56324-939-6.
  11. ^ Clarke, Michelle T. (2013). "The Virtues of Republican Citizenship in Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy". The Journal of Politics. 75 (2): 317–329. doi:10.1017/s0022381613000030. JSTOR 10.1017/s0022381613000030.
  12. ^ Gay, Peter (1996). The enlightenment. Vol. 2. W. W. Norton & Co. p. 448. ISBN 978-0-393-31366-6. The men of the Enlightenment sensed that they could realize their social ideals only by political means.
  13. ^ Herbert Baxter Adams (1883). The Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science. Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 12.
  14. ^ Seymour Martin Lipsett, ed., Politics and the Social Sciences (1969) pp 1-3
  15. ^ Glenn Hastedt, "Woodrow Wilson and Literature on Political Science," White House Studies (2011) 10#4 pp 451-458
  16. ^ Richard K. Fleischman and R. Penny Marquette, "Chapters in Ohio Progressivism: The Cincinnati and Dayton Bureaus of Municipal Research and Accounting Reform," Ohio History (1988) 98#1 pp 133-144. online[permanent dead link]
  17. ^ James John Guy, People, Politics and Government: A Canadian Perspective (2000) p 58
  18. ^ Nicolai Petro, The Rebirth of Russian Democracy: An Interpretation of Political Culture (1995) p 6
  19. ^ Guy, People, Politics and Government p 58
  20. ^ Hanes Walton, Invisible Politics pp 1-2.
  21. ^ John G. Gunnell, "The Reconstitution of Political Theory: David Easton, Behavioralism, and the Long Road to System," Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences (2013) 49#2 pp 190-210.
  22. ^ Reginald Whitaker, "'Confused Alarms of Struggle and Flight': English-Canadian Political Science in the 1970s," Canadian Historical Review (1979) 60#1 pp 1-18.
  23. ^ Political Science in Russia: Institutionalization of the Discipline and Development of the Professional Community

Further reading

See Ronald T. Libby, "The Death of Political Science and Rebirth of Politics" 2022.