7 Political Theories

7 Political Theories

The analysis of political events seeks to explain why such actions occur the way they do. Most theories speculate about the nature of inter-state political relations in the context of time and environment. Such analysis is to understand patterns of behavior between and among states.

Some theorists seek to deduce certain general principles by means of which they can explain past events and predict events in the future.

Plato’s (427-347 BC) model of political studies was meant for politicians who could heal political ills if they possessed true political knowledge. Aristotle (384-322 BC) laid the foundation for the study of politics with the proposition that man, by nature, was a political animal.

Aristotle argued that man could not exist outside of a social context and wrote: “He who is unable to live in a society or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must either be a beast or a god.”

He called “political science” practical wisdom to underscore the point that it was a body of knowledge immediately applicable to governance activity.

Revisiting Political Theory: Exploring Man and Political Association

Political theorists delve into questions about human nature and the goals of political associations, often viewed as relics by some colleagues.

Traditional Realists emphasized “power politics” and the supremacy of nation-states, shifting focus to positivism, where laws were based on facts devoid of religious influence.

As the Westphalian system of nation-states waned, realists struggled to define their role amidst the rise of inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations.

Since the UN’s establishment in 1945, supranational authorities like the EU have challenged the sovereignty of nation-states, signaling a shift in global politics.

The shift from policy to behavior in political analysis poses a challenge, blurring the lines between traditional political theory and applied sciences.

Some political scientists argue that traditional Realist approaches lack scientific rigor, emphasizing ideology over objective evaluation, thus limiting their applicability.

Modern Approach: Behaviouralism

In the mid-50s, the concept of “power politics” seemed to have no place in the liberal tradition that insisted on the application of scientific reason in their work.

Furthermore, the confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union, the divide between rich and poor nations, the role of intergovernmental organizations, and the interlinked global economy provided food for thought for theorists. No single theory can be applicable in such a complex global political and economic environment.

Challenging Traditional Realism

The demand triggered the emergence of a group of theorists known as “behavioralists” who challenged the idea that “traditional realism” was the sole approach to international politics.

They advocated for a “behavioral, scientific approach” to interstate relations based on tangible, measurable, quantifiable data and verifiable knowledge of behavior patterns and ranges of conduct.

Critique of Traditional Realism

What the behavioralists disliked about traditional realism was its unsystematic approach to model building. They saw no relationship between the activities of knowing and evaluating.

If knowing more about the world did not inform how to act in the future, traditional political theory was not relevant. This approach suggests that one way to derive a theory is to look at what people do, i.e., study their practice and discover principles that might underpin the practices.

Focus on Actual Behavior

Behavioralists wanted to say, “This is how we actually have been viewing the world,” and not “This is how we should be looking at the world.”

Behavioralists were interested in those hypotheses that reflected structural aspects of thinking. During the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, President John Kennedy desperately needed theoretical models of Soviet behavior in order to select an appropriate response.

Criticism and Challenges

Critics of behavioralist theory point out that human judgment could never be completely guided by intellectual constructions.

Secondly, there are various ways in which it can go wrong because, since they predict what behavioral pattern will emerge from certain situations, their predictions are only hypotheses and not facts.

Moreover, the human element that is unpredictable by nature is involved in decision-making, and it is argued that theories can go totally wrong in a given situation.

Structuralism Functional Framework

A historical survey of methodology (the system of methods and principles used in a particular discipline) suggests that social activity is analyzed by the yardstick of either:

  1. holism, or
  2. individualism.

Individualists argue that there are no social laws that operate independently of a human being, and all explanations can be understood at the level of an individual.

Holists, on the other hand, argue that when people interact, they create systems. These systems are defined by certain characteristics.

Individuals may come and go but the structure of the system remains. The task of social scientists is to identify these structures and determine how they impinge on social action.

The origin of structuralism has been a subject of debate.

Some political theorists argue that Durkheim established the foundations when he developed a collective form of analysis. Another group on the other hand traces structuralism back to 19th century revolt by Bentham (1748-1831) against prevailing individualist explanations of social action.

The third group argues that if structuralism is associated with holism (the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts), then this mode of analysis owes its origin to Aristotle.

Structuralists assume that human behavior cannot be understood simply by examining individual motivation because, when combined, human behavior establishes structures of which individuals may be unaware.

For instance, when people walk across a field, they may unintentionally create a path. Others subsequently follow the path and in doing so “reproduce” the path. Marxists, for example, accept the emergence of a capitalist method of production and argue that the mode of production established a pattern of social relations that constituted class structure.

Morton Kaplan developed six structural models that may underpin the international political system, namely, the balance of power, tight bipolar, loose bipolar, universal, hierarchical, and unit veto systems.

Richard Rosecrance reconstructed 200 years of European history into nine epochs and discussed each in terms of its characteristics of inter-state structures. Kenneth Waltz seemed to have produced a most ambitious structural theory.

He maintained that international relations specialists “failed to appreciate the essential characteristics of structural explanations: only by default have they produced individualist or reductionist explanations.”

The application of structural theories to the analysis of the world economy has created a controversial sub-field in international economic relations.

The approach was pioneered by writers from Latin America who argued that wealth and poverty, development, and underdevelopment existed side by side, and there was no guarantee that poor states would develop more rapidly if they became more closely integrated into the global division of labor.

They divided the world economy into two regions: the wealthy and the poor. The wealthy constituted the center while the poor were the periphery.

In mainstream social science, it is now accepted that individualism and structuralism represent complementary approaches. Structuralism is considered to be synonymous with “radicalism”.

Some structuralists argue that violent intervention can only change society with structural changes (Lenin changed Russia’s society through revolution). On the other hand, many others do not accept this view.

It is argued that Morgenthau, in his book Politics Among Nations, wrote that the structure of the international system had been transformed during the 20th century.

Bipolarity (distribution of power in two powerful states – the US and the Soviet Union) replaced multipolarity (power is distributed among three or more). There is a debate as to whether bipolarity or multipolarity leads to international stability.

Morgenthau was of the view that the balance of power that was crucial to the maintenance of international stability worked best in a multipolar world.

However, some argue that Morgenthau failed to take into account that the “balance of terror” created by the possession of nuclear weapons by the two powers (the US and the Soviet Union) stabilized the international system during the Cold War era for more than forty years.

Systems Theory

Often the phrase “system” is used in connection with international “system” or global “system” or nation-state “system”.

This means a search for analogies between models of structure or behavior of physical systems or biological systems and relations in and between social and political groups. The systems, together with sub-systems, are designed to meet the needs of human individuals or groups who make decisions for the system or sub-system.

For example, the “international system” consists of 191 UN member-states, inter-governmental and non-governmental, and multinational corporations. These components of the international system are commonly called its sub-systems.

In the 70s, America’s defeat in Vietnam, global recession, and quadrupling of oil prices led scholars to ask one important question: What would happen to the global system if the US could no longer influence the global economic system?

The scholars came up with a new theory that another “dominant actor” would emerge to assume leadership and guarantee stability in an international system.

This means that although a global system was created largely by a hegemonic power, the system continued to persist even if that actor became too weak so long as the basic pattern of interest that gave rise to it remained. This is, in a nutshell, the system theory in world politics.

Kaplan, as noted earlier, presented six different types of structural systems, which were then related to the types of actors and the different types of systems.

These classes are the organization focus type of decisions (available resources), objects and instruments of policy,

  1. the way rewards are allocated,
  2. preferences for cooperation
  3. level of activity (active or indifferent states), and
  4. daptive and non-adaptive behavior.

J. David Singer applies the system theory to war. He begins by defining the social system that postulates a global system (all of mankind), the international system (all national political units), and the interstate system. Within the interstate system are two sub-systems – the central and major power systems.

In the late 50s, attention was focused on systems theory, quickly identified by Kaplan and others as the methodology most likely to develop a theory of international politics.

For more than a decade, the discipline was inundated with systems terminology. Critics of the system theory point out that it often assumes too great similarities between systems or becomes so abstract as to be virtually meaningless.

Difference Between Structuralism And System Theory

Both system theory and structuralism gravitated toward holism.

However, there are differences in emphasis. System theory, for instance, finds its origins in the natural sciences and represents an attack on mechanistic modes of thinking.

On the other hand, structuralism owes its origin to social sciences and represents an alternative to individualist thinking of social activity.

Game Theory

The word “game” has been used in the sense of “game strategy”. Anatol Rapoport explained that game theory could be formally defined as a theory of rational decision in conflict situations. Models of such situations may involve a game, namely,

  1. a set of decision-makers, called players,
  2. a set of strategies available to each player,
  3. a set of outcomes, each of which is a result of particular choices made by the players, and
  4. a set of payoffs accorded to each player in each of the possible outcomes.

Rapoport focused on the rationality of human beings as the prime mover of desires and goals. In his book “Fights, Games, and Debates,” he argued that rationality was seen in how able players would play games of strategy.

His argument runs like this:

For each player, there are three outcomes: win, draw, and lose. A player prefers win to draw and draw to lose, and so does his opponent, except that for the opponent, the outcomes are reversed. Each player then makes his choice of moves on the basis of reasoning which goes something like this: “If I do this, he is likely to do that, in which case I will have a choice of this and that”. We tend to think of a player as rational as he, in turn, imputes rationality to his opponent…. Game of strategy then offers a good model of rational behavior of people in situations, where (1) there are conflicts of interests; (2) a number of alternatives are open to each phase of the situation; (3) people are in a position to estimate consequences of their choices, taking into consideration the very important circumstance that outcomes are determined not only by one’s own choices but also by the choice of others, over whom one has no control.

Different Game Theories Conceptualized:(billiard Or Chess Or Prisoner’s Game)

One group of writers suggested the following process in a game theory: First, nature selects a combination of types (aggressive or reconciliatory), one for each player, according to a given prior probability.

Next, each player is informed of his type. Thereafter, the selected types choose their strategies. It is assumed that every player knows the outcome, function, and characteristics of all possible types. Every player also knows that all players possess this knowledge and knows that each player knows.

An equilibrium (balance) is a combination of strategies for each player, the policy assigned to each of his types is a best response to policies played by combinations of types of other players, weighted according to his distribution.

The game theory was applied to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. In that model, non-cooperative games in strategic form with incomplete information were invoked.

The incomplete information referred to the fact that each player (Israel or Palestinians) was unable to determine the other side’s genuine interest. Each of the players faced a whole spectrum of policies.

If both players would choose aggressive policies, the probability of war increases whereas if both players would select conciliatory policies, the chances of settlement would increase up to certainty. If an aggressive policy of one side was pitted against a conciliatory policy of the other side, the status quo might prevail.

Some writers conceptualized game theory in terms of a billiard or chess game. In a billiard game, the ball has a hard crust. No one can see inside it.

The inside of each ball is identical, as far as an observer can see. Any movement of a ball on the table arises not from the ball itself; it is rather propelled across the surface on impact from another ball or changes as it collides with the rim of the table.

The cause of action is outside and independent of any one billiard ball.

On the other hand, in a game of chess, individual players have to think strategically in making moves. In the game, the focus is on the players, not on the objects, as in the billiard game.

In a game of chess, movement of the pieces is not determined, as in the billiard game, rather, in making any move from a particular place on the board or with a particular piece, for instance, a knight or bishop, the player employs the rules of the game.

As long as two players play chess, any meaningful or strategic move will depend on the rules by which the game is constituted, which may be either followed or broken. The point is that rules are public in nature and shared by both players.

In playing, action is not determined by the rules, but players follow rules in acting. One question one might ask is why a particular move rather than another was made, that is, what were the intentions of the player displayed by a particular move.

Another favored game theory is known as the Prisoner’s Dilemma. The model is usually a two-person game with the players’ assumed choices limited to either defection or cooperation. This game is workable in certain ways in a zero-sum world of value maximizers with clearly defined national goals.

Critics To Game Theory

Critics to game theory argue that as a teaching device, game theory has obvious uses.

However, as a research method, its foundation in the concept of rationality has weaknesses. The game strategy presumes that players (decision-makers) could and would choose options or policies that would achieve or satisfy, not one but a number of objectives. This assumption presumes that choices or decisions are made in a static world.

The reality is that political leaders operate simultaneously in power structures that are never static. Under the circumstances, they are obliged to play multiple games simultaneously. Most of their preferences and those of their opponents are in a state of constant dynamic flux.

Furthermore, no reasonable complete behavior of nation-states can be made because each state is run by an institution that ranges from democratic to dictatorial type, and in such variable situations, it is not realistic to foresee the outcome of the game theory.

In view of this, the application of game theory in the real world is very limited. Carey B. Joynt and Percy E. Corbett believed that “Despite some official experiments with games theory and simulation models, there is little evidence that the theory has significantly changed the traditional processes of policy-making.”

Decision Making Theory

Decision-making is a process by which a person, group, or organization identifies a choice or judgment to be made on the basis of alternatives available to it. Some authors suggest that there are fairly well-defined stages in decision-making, and the stages are as follows:

  • Recognition
  • Formulation
  • Alternative search
  • Judgment or choice
  • Action
  • Feedback or outcome

Recognition means that there exists a problem and a decision has to be made. Formulation implies the classification of relevant objectives and values, followed by alternative choices. Judgment and choice are two different kinds of decision-making.

In a judgment, one places a label on a single alternative or attribute. Choice involves comparisons among alternatives. Once the decision is made, it is acted upon, and the decision-maker receives information about outcomes of the action.

Other authors categorize decision-making as involves

  • Perception
  • Cognition
  • Memory
  • Choice
  • Management

Perception and cognition are interrelated. Perception is what one sees, and cognition means what one knows. Perception may result in the consideration of a variety of ways, many of which could be inconsistent with each other. Cognition represents a person’s basic views about the nature of the reality of the problem and the means to address the situation.

Memory involves past positive or negative episodes that can be remembered. Policy choice means a decision-maker makes a choice among specific options. Management refers to the implementation of the decision.

It may be borne in mind that the stages referred to in the above paragraphs are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Furthermore, the perceptions or beliefs of a specific leader of past episodes may explain decision-makers policy choices for a particular one.

Communication Theory

All communication planners use theories to guide their actions. There are several kinds of theories, and they fall into five categories:

  • Social scientific theory
  • Normative theory
  • Working theory
  • Commonsense theory
  • Contingency theory

In brief, social scientific theory is derived from work done according to scientific rules and methods. Normative theory is based on values and ideological positions, while working theory is practical.

It instructs the practitioner on planning communication to achieve a particular communication goal. The commonsense theory originates from personal experiences. All these theories are interconnected.

Finally, contingency theory is based on the premise that modern society operates with multiple value systems as opposed to universal and authoritarian values. As a result, the line of thought may operate on the principle that there is no “one best way” to communicate.

The above theories indicate the richness in the field of communication, and it is useful to know theories to guide where good choices can and must be made in a given situation.