Theory is defined as a set of propositions that is internally consistent and based on a certain set of axioms and assumptions. Theory must be logically derivable in all cases. It must be politically persuasive, especially when it deals with norms. It must be empirically verifiable when it deals with reality. Therefore, political theory is defined as a set of propositions about “who gets what, when, how” (Harold Lasswell) and “the authoritative allocation of values in society” (David Easton). Thus defined, political theory covers a very wide range of subjects in the form of propositions.
In what follows, first the origins and types of political theory are examined. Among the types of political theory, this article takes into account the following three: (1) classical philosophy, (2) empirical political theory, and (3) formal political theory. Next, this article examines schools of political theory and their evaluation. Under this heading, 10 schools are evaluated: 4 schools of normative political theory (conflict, shared values, exchange, and coordination) and 6 schools of empirical political theory (systems theory, behavioralism, rational choice theory, institutionalism, neuroscience, and globalism). Third, this article discusses the need to enhance conversations between normative political theory and empirical political theory, or between “ought” and “is.” In other words, normative political theory should talk more about the plausibility, feasibility, and self-sustainability of the normative order it advances, and empirical political theory should discuss normative implications more seriously. With the aim of providing for more conversations and interactions within political theory, concise and concrete illustrations of such proposed conversations and interactions are given.
- Origins and Types of Political Theory
- Classical Philosophy
- Empirical Political Theory
- Formal Political Theory
- Schools of Political Theory
- Four Schools of Normative Political Theory
- Shared Values
- Six Schools of Empirical Political Theory
- Systems Theory
- Rational Choice Theory
- Four Schools of Normative Political Theory
- Conversations Between Normative and Empirical Theories
Origins and Types of Political Theory
Although political theory as a part of the modern discipline of political science emerged only in the 20th century, the origins of political theory are unquestionably in ancient thought—whether in the philosophy of Greece, Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, or China. One can cite passages from Aristotle, Kautilya, or Confucius easily to demonstrate that they are political scientists indeed and that political science, although modern, has very ancient roots. One of the major differences the discipline of political science can claim to have vis-à-vis other social science disciplines such as economics and sociology is that the ancient versions of political science, such as those of the three philosophers mentioned above, retain much power and relevance to the current reality in politics. Aristotle is often mentioned in contemporary writings on politics and political science. Kautilya is referred to in discussions on rulers’ state craft both at home and vis-à-vis their rivals. Confucius continues to be taken up as providing possible versions of authoritarian politics. It is rare for Aristotle to be discussed in relation to economics, although his ideas on this subject are significant for the history of economics. All these disciplines are relatively young, since they have grown as modern social science disciplines in the West, especially in the 20th century. Yet one can argue that political science has retained its ancient origins even at the dawn of the 21st century. Thus, its development is very complex.
In Western Europe, the major distinction between the sacred and the secular was made gradually but quite steadily during the Enlightenment and the Reformation, and it diffused to European settlements and later to the rest of the world as well, at least superficially; secularism is therefore closely related to Western cultures. Religion and politics are said to have been distinguished in the West since the modern age. The same can be said about the relationship between religion and science. William of Ockham gave an early epistemological foundation for what would be called modern science by making a clear distinction between realism and nominalism. Realism refers to the school of thought that believes that God does exist in reality and that reality was conceived as the basis of that knowledge; nominalism refers to the view that God exists insofar as the concept of God is imagined. With this stance, science was able to separate itself from the cosmos of the sacred. With this separation, modern science was able to make spectacular progress in the West.
Needless to say, the separation between God and science and between God and politics did not come about so neatly or once and for all; rather, the picture is complex. The separation between religion and politics has been tenuous at best. At any rate, for our purposes, the separation of politics from God was a step forward in distinguishing political theory from philosophy. Also the separation of science from God was a step forward in distinguishing political theory from political philosophy. This distinction tries to separate God’s judgment from that of scientists or political leaders.
At the crux of political theory is the mixture of the normative and the empirical—that is, what ought to be versus what is. The normative has to do with the judgment by which a verdict on justice is determined. While in medieval times, such judgments came from the Catholic Church or, in some cases, duels were fought between opposing parties, in modern times, they come from the courts where secular matters are concerned. Courts have been conceived like God. The concept of the empirical refers to something that can be experienced or tested in the daily lives of people. It was not until modern times, with the increasingly sharp distinction between the sacred and the secular—which made “reality checks” possible—that empirical testing became common.
Political theory comprises all this under one umbrella, including both classical philosophy and empirical political theory. To complicate matters further, political theory contains within its territory what is called formal political theory. Classical philosophy refers to prescientific and pre-empiricist statements about what justice is, how it should be achieved, and how it should be conceptualized. Empirical political theory refers to statements made from the scientific and empiricist viewpoints on how politics is played out. Formal political theory refers to logically and/or mathematically derivable statements that may or may not be amenable to empirical testing. Dealing with the normative and the empirical is inherently not easy. Compounding the problem is the recent tendency toward overspecialization and mutual isolation, rather than mutual engagement, among political scientists dealing with the normative and the empirical. Mutual isolation between classical normative theory and empirical theory has gone sometimes too far as their borderlines are not always very clear.
In practice, normative political theory and empirical political theory are far apart for several reasons. First, their knowledge base differs. Classical political theorists often are concerned with philosophy, theology, and intellectual history, whereas empirical political theorists are often interested in other empirical social sciences such as economics, sociology, and social psychology or in other applied empirical sciences such as neuroscience in politics. Second, their methods of training are very different. Classical political theory focuses on text critique and robust argumentation. All study is based on careful reading and argumentation. Empirical political theory focuses on hypothesis testing conducted according to positivistic practices or a systematic reality check. Yet these differences are not strong enough to undermine their disciplinary identity as political science and to split it into two or more subdisciplines. Although no solid and systematic evidence exists, it looks as if the shared fascination with how power is built and exercised seems to give many political scientists identity and solidarity to band together.
The types of political theory—classical philosophy, empirical political theory, and formal political theory—are discussed in turn in the remainder of this section.
Classical philosophy comprises almost everything from the normative to the empirical, the prescriptive, and their mixture. In The Great Learning (Daxue), one of the famous Confucian teachers instructs his disciples to do the following: “Tackling things, seeking truth, nurturing yourself (morally), sorting the family, governing the state, and pacifying the world under heaven.” This sentence instructs the disciples that to stand above people they must start studying many things and knowing a lot. Then, they must discipline themselves morally. That leads them to sort out things in their family, and this process becomes the basis of governing the country. Only by going through all this can disciples envisage “pacifying the world under heaven.”
This philosophical statement is described in a number of ways: (a) the authoritarian conception of governing by the sage, (b) the moralistic conception of governing, and (c) the familial conception of the state. The way in which the argument is constructed is bottom up. But the argument itself is replete with authoritarian, paternalistic, and personalistic overtones.
The no less famous classical philosophy of Niccolò Machiavelli, author of The Prince, is also prescriptive and empirical. He warns his readers that politics is determined by virtue and fortune. By virtue is meant a range of strengths including moral strength. Such an exercise of strength is needed to deal with the effects of fortune. This classical philosophy was meant to teach the monarch to act properly and prudently. Thus, it is largely prescriptive. At the same time, it is sometimes speculated that since Machiavelli was republican, his preaching was meant to subvert monarchism by deliberately encouraging the monarch to act most “monarchically”—that is, always assuming one’s superiority, not trusting anyone but oneself, and acting mostly on the basis of strength—thus undermining the basis of popular support, which was becoming increasingly significant.
Classical philosophy includes the Federalist Papers, in which precursors of empirical political theory are often found. The view that federalism is a viable alternative to a unitary state is an example. This proposition has generative affinity with the work of William Riker (1964) and his Rochester School on formal political theory. Riker’s brand of formal political theory on democracy and democratic choice has some affinity with both classical philosophy and empirical political theory.
Immanuel Kant’s famous essay Perpetual Peace has been empirically tested lately, with quite stimulating debates arising from such efforts. In 1795, Kant argued that three conditions should be nurtured to bring about eternal peace. First, commerce should be invigorated, with free passage and free trade ensured among nations. Second, one should encourage the republican form of politics rather than the monarchical form, to make war more difficult. Third, international institutions should be created to allow for the expression of voices of varying assertions, to facilitate discussion, and to come up with formulas for conflict resolution. Kant’s formulation has been reformulated in the tradition of empirical political theory by Michael Doyle, Bruce Russett, and others. The first is called liberal peace. The second is called democratic peace. The third is sometimes called peace by consortium. The second is the most popular, and U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush used this doctrine to justify U.S. military interventions. Kant’s affinity with empirical political theory is abundantly clear, even if it is not universally accepted as such.
Thomas Hobbes is arguably the most frequently mentioned author in relation to the state in the social sciences, along with Max Weber and Karl Marx. Facing what he saw as anarchy both at home and abroad in 16th-century England, Hobbes argued that absolutism and an absolutist state should be the answer to these anarchies—what people wish to achieve cannot be accomplished unless anarchical situations are overcome. In discussions of failed states and rogue states, therefore, Hobbes is one of the philosophers most frequently referred to. Describing and analyzing what is seen as anarchy in places and time points such as Cambodia in the 1980s and 1990s, Somalia since the early 1990s, Sudan in the 1990s and 2000s, Afghanistan for the past 40 years, the Democratic Republic of Congo for most of the 1990s and 2000s, Rwanda in the 1990s and 2000s, and the West Balkans in the 1990s and 2000s, many authors point to the need to establish a monopoly of violence and the legitimate use of power in the initial and yet critical phase of state building, along with the concord forged with the international community. A similar diagnosis and prescription are offered to show the process of state building that may evolve from a democratic spirit and under globalizing circumstances and the process of absolutism arising from claims of state sovereignty. Needless to say, the yearning for state sovereignty cannot be suppressed fully—one form of which is expressed by the concept of “sovereign democracy” coined by Vladislav Surkov, chief of staff to former Russian President Vladimir Putin and now President Medvedev. Sovereign democracy implies a sovereign state whose representative heads are chosen democratically but that disallows foreign interference from abroad, even if by democratic means—for example, the attempts at “colored revolutions” in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan. Chinese leaders view “peaceful change” (heping yanbian) as anathema because it means foreign interference to force a regime change on the basis of human rights and democracy as universally shared values. Thus, on the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre (June 4, 1989), China was placed under high-level alert. In short, Hobbes is just as relevant now, at the dawn of the 21st century, as in 16th-century England.
Empirical Political Theory
Empirical political theory aims at generating hypotheses that can be empirically tested and that are also capable of generating a higher level set of generalizations. In other words, empirical political theory places utmost importance on two aspects of research: (1) empirical validation (or falsification) and (2) empirical generalization (or theorization). Thus, empirical political theory first proposes an empirically verifiable hypothesis and then tests it. If it is confirmed, it can then be generalized. A good example of this type of theory is voting in U.S. presidential elections. To link with political theory, the characteristically American utilitarian model of electoral victory based on the death toll of American troops in combat situations and on per capita net income level change over the preceding year(s) serves as an example. As pointed out by Douglas Hibbs (1989), the question of whether the candidate of the party that occupies the executive office is elected in the presidential elections is likely to be determined by the combination of the death toll of U.S. troops in combat situations and per capita net income level change over the preceding year(s). This model hypothesizes that voters yearn for peace (i.e., having no Americans killed in combat) and for prosperity (i.e., increasing income). If one considers the 2008 U.S. presidential race, two Ss were important: Operation Surge in Iraq and subprime housing loans. Operation Surge reduced the death toll of American troops from the summer of 2007 through Election Day. How this affected the voter equation is one of the key points. The other S is the economic setback triggered by the subprime housing loans crisis. Not only were stock prices going down, but the U.S. dollar also lost value. Whether the government could prevent a recession by stimulating the economy through pumping a massive amount of money into it was also a key issue in the voter equation. Expecting the economy to recover seemed premature. This worked against the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, who did not support such an economic stimulus.
A number of studies suggest that trust and health are quite significantly related. Those who hold concerns about social institutions such as social insurance are more likely to report bad health. Similarly, those who do not trust others very much tend to report their own bad health. The reasoning is as follows: Those with lower vertical trust, that is, those who do not place much confidence in social institutions, cannot enjoy the benefit of making the best use of them, one of the consequences of which is the loss of health. In a similar vein, those with lower horizontal trust, that is, those who do not place much confidence in other persons, cannot enjoy the benefits of working together, one of the consequences of which is the loss of health. Loss of health is measured by self-reported health using the World Health Organization’s Quality of Life questionnaire. This proposition is interesting from a public policy perspective in that keeping public confidence in social institutions is important in itself. Otherwise, the service that can be supplied by social institutions cannot be fully provided. Thus, from a more conventional public policy perspective, public policy performance is a dependent variable and is to be explained by a number of factors. However, from the version of public policy perspective, the dependent variable is something individuals can experience physically, such as health, or emotionally, such as happiness and honor.
The electoral system can be either divisive or cohesive. In the political theory of representative democracy, how to choose electorates is of key importance. Representative democracy takes into account at least two forms of justice. “Representative democracy requires two conditions to be successful”: (1) fair representation, reflecting electors’ preferences, and (2) government stability, enabling government to execute policy pledges to the electorate. Two major systems exist: (1) proportional representation, whereby parliamentary or legislative seats are awarded according to the percentage of votes polled by a party, and (2) first pass the post, in which the person from a district who receives the highest number of votes is awarded the seat; this method awards a disproportionate number of seats to parties that get a larger number of votes and reduces the number of seats awarded to parties with a smaller share of votes. The proportional representation system is said to give fair representation but not regime stability, whereas the first-past-the-post method is said to give moderately unfair representation but regime stability. The latter is widely adopted in many English-speaking countries, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and, until recently, New Zealand. The former is widely adopted by Continental European countries. Lately, the mixed system combining both methods has become more popular, especially in non-European regions such as the Asia-Pacific region, and seems to provide fair representation and regime stability to a reasonably satisfactory degree.
Proportional representation can be very divisive, as, for example, in Israel or in Iraq. The state of Israel is sometimes said to have committed two institutional mistakes in its founding days: First, it was unable to promulgate a constitution, largely because of the fundamental cleavages manifested on the issue of religion and the state, and, second, it adopted proportional representation as the mode of election. Parenthetically, there are only three states in the world that do not have a constitution: Israel, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand. The United Kingdom does not have a written constitution, except for the Magna Carta, and it seems that New Zealand has inherited that tradition. Interestingly, the Iraqi constitution adopted a proportional representation electoral system, whereby ethno-religious cleavages have been amplified and invigorated. The one-person-from-one-district, or first-pass-the-post, system, common in the United States and the United Kingdom, tends to exaggerate the number of votes the winning party gets to obtain parliamentary seats. In other words, more proportional strength is given to the winning party so that government can enjoy at least a minimally stable majority.
Formal Political Theory
Formal political theory is a set of propositions that are logically derived from a set of assumptions about politics. A formal political theory of electoral democracy was first formalized by Anthony Downs (1957). This theory relates the statistical distribution of electorates’ ideological and policy positions on a number of dimensions to the policies parties make to capture more votes. In other words, political parties shape their positions according to the number of voters who are likely to vote for them. Anthony Downs propounded an economic theory of democracy that has become very influential for those political scientists who believe that political science should be able to generate theories from which empirical claims about political phenomena can be deduced (after the theories themselves have been tested as described above). Downs’s key insight into spatial economics is illustrated by his example of gas stations, which he explains are located close to each other because the spatial distribution of consumers of gasoline is that of a statistically normal curve. In other words, rather than opening a gas station miles away from another gas station, one might as well open it close to the other one, with the chance of getting many more customers for both. Downs applied this insight to the dynamics of electoral democracy. Suppose there are two major parties, one right-wing and the other left-wing. Further suppose that voters who support extreme views are fewer than voters who support moderate views, statistically speaking. To gain more votes, candidates will moderate their views, whether about war and peace, bread and butter, or honor and humiliation. The consequence is that the two major parties move closer to each other. As a result, such parties start to look alike. Many empirical efforts have been made to validate or invalidate empirically this Downsian theory of party competition. Thus, formal political theory has been quite well linked in many ways to empirical political theory. By using the statistical distribution patterns of electorates in a multidimensional space, this formal political theory shows that under representative democracy, electorates are sovereign whereas candidates or political parties are the subjects. This analysis is one example of how formal political theory has been applied to explain empirical phenomena.
Politics is played out most commonly in and among organizations. How people react to the decline of organizational life is one of the key questions in politics. Albert Hirschman (1970) formulated the model of exit, voice, and loyalty. The binary choice is between loyalty and exit. These binary choices are most commonly observed in the market: One’s choice is between purchase and nonpurchase. In organizational life, if one is loyal, one will remain with the organization in spite of decreasing rewards. The exit option is to get out without procrastination. Between the two options is a third, more common one: raising one’s voice to ask others to join forces in improving organizational life. This is more common in politics. But when one starts thinking about the major consequences of each option, it is much more complex. Consider an exit-prone country whose income has not increased dramatically in a long time, such as the Philippines. Filipinos earn a substantial amount of income through emigration—by sending doctors to the United States and maids to the Gulf countries, as they bring back a substantial amount of their earnings to their country. One can speculate that a consequence of a large migrant population is the lack of momentum for endogenous development. In contrast, in a loyalty-prone nation such as Japan, not leaving the country is a common response to the decline of organizational life, so migration rates are low. At the height of organizational decline, as conditions become intolerable and such loyalty fails to attract attention or admiration, loyalty may take on the character of voice. This is a formal political theory, but it could be an empirical political theory as well. The theory of exit, voice, and loyalty touches on complex manifestations of organizational life and varied options of human endeavor to improve it. In other words, the exit option is based on conflict, the voice option is based on coordination, and the loyalty option is based on loyalty.
Other than classical philosophy, empirical political theory, and formal political theory, there are two major genres that can be sometimes treated under the umbrella of political theory: epistemology and methodology. Epistemology refers to the study of how human beings recognize what they see and hear as knowledge. René Descartes, a French philosopher, most famously in Le Discours de la Méthode, laid down what might be called the modern positivistic method. It is a set of advice and instructions that would be helpful to obtain a clearer understanding of what one observes. Methodology refers to the study of various instruments through which reality can be observed and analyzed effectively.
Schools of Political Theory
Schools of political theory are sometimes messy in part because empirical political theory has grown, at least initially, out of other disciplines such as psychology, psychiatry, sociology, economics, and anthropology. One of the direct origins of empirical political theory is to be found in the deep transformations and the new needs following World War II. The application of methodologies and concepts from these disciplines to political science was first done by Samuel Stouffer and Harold Lasswell. For empirical political theorists, historical and institutional descriptions were the only methods used in their research. With the new methodologies and concepts, empirical political theory expanded its scope dramatically. Observing, measuring, and assessing in a generalizable fashion became conventions in political science, which allowed schools of empirical political theory to proliferate. Prior to World War II, the discipline of political science was concerned mostly with constitutions and institutions, on the one hand, and political philosophy, on the other. World War II was also a catalyst for empirical political theory, because governments were interested in measuring and assessing the morale of their troops and the effectiveness of propaganda and of military actions. Stouffer and colleagues conducted a morale study that contributed immensely to the development of survey research. Similarly, Harold Lasswell, Ithiel de Sola Pool, and colleagues advanced a propaganda study that contributed immensely to the development of intelligence analysis. Robert MacNamara and colleagues developed a bombing effects study that contributed immensely to the development of strategic analysis of costs and benefits associated with strategic options. Another example is the military occupation study by Ruth Benedict, which was instituted through a psycho-cultural analysis of the Japanese people. It took more than two decades after World War II for political science to come into its own with empirical political theory.
With regard to normative political theory, schools are commonly linked to great philosophers like Aristotle, Machiavelli, John Locke, Karl Marx, Michel Foucault, and Jürgen Habermas. But the increased interactions with other disciplines and related methodologies and concepts have also helped advance schools of normative political theory. One of the schemes adopted here is that of Russell Hardin, which distinguishes four schools of normative political theory.
Four Schools of Normative Political Theory
Hardin classified normative political theory in terms of theory based on conflict, on shared values, on exchange, and on coordination.
Normative political theory focusing on conflict of interest includes the work of Carl Schmitt (1922/1985). Schmitt defines politics as a friend–foe relationship within and across nations. His theory is commonly categorized as ultra-conservative and sometimes fascist. Its explanatory capacity is high under conflictual situations such as wartime but not in more peaceful contexts. Although it is not necessarily categorized as work in the area of normative political theory, Carl von Clausewitz’s On War has a strong normative affinity with the notion of the friend–foe relationship. Clausewitz defines war as no more than the continuation of politics by other means. In a similar vein, Field Marshall Boris Shaposhnikov defines peace as no more than the continuation of war by other means. The fact that both Clausewitz and Shaposhnikov were military officers may mean that their theories may be regarded not as normative political theory but as a technical guide for action, but the simplicity and clarity of their works may appeal to those studying war and conflict. Turning to a Marxist work that tends to focus on class conflict, Barrington Moore’s (1966/1993) book, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, can be regarded as normative political theory focusing on class conflict. His argument is that agriculture is pivotal. The rise of democracy, fascism, and communism in the 20th century may be explained by studying the evolution of agriculture: Commercialization of agriculture led to its advancement, as in England and France; agriculture stagnated due to the indifference of the land-owning class, as in Germany, Japan, and Italy; and agriculture was overexploited by state-led capitalism, as in Russia and China—which corresponded to the advent of democracy, fascism, and communism in these countries, respectively.
Normative political theory focusing on shared values was dominant in the 20th century, especially after the Cold War. The ascendancy of shared values as a normative political theory has much to do with the rise and spread of liberal democracy since the past century. Liberalism is based often on the utilitarian calculation of free individuals, as John Rawls argued (1971). Democracy is based on the aggregation of the preferences of citizens, as described by Downs (1957). In a sense, liberal democracy demands a regime in which shared values are key. As long as liberal democracy is premised, the type of normative political theory focusing on shared values flourishes. Even the latest definition of politics by Robert Goodin (2009), as the constrained use of social power, reflects this. It is important to note that liberalism does not require either the knowledge or the sharing of values of other individuals. Downs’s An Economic Theory of Democracy is a formal political theory with normative implications. Values are often illustrated by the left–right ideology. In a two-party system, the two parties tend to move toward the center from both directions, that is, from left to center and from right to center. Moderate or “centrist” citizens share values, whereas extreme or fringe citizens have few fellows. To win votes, the two parties target the numerically large central point. This leads the parties to adjust their ideological and policy positions and to compete to attract the large number of citizens located at the center. The explanatory capacity of normative political theory on the basis of shared values is high, especially when the tide of globalization weakens the intermediate and high-level organizations within the national body politic, so that individual citizens become more important than ever before.
Normative political theory based on exchange is represented by Adam Smith. It is well known that of Smith’s two major works, The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations, the former explains the sources of the human ability to make moral judgments. His key concept is sympathy, whereby the act of observing others makes people aware of others’ behavior and the morality of their own behavior. Without sympathy in interpersonal relations, exchange loses its solid base. Even when it is writ large in national and global markets, exchange functions well only if it is grounded in sympathy in social relations. Sympathy is sometimes called social capital by authors such as James Coleman and Robert Putnam, among others. It is not necessary to note that human life cannot function sufficiently well if it is equipped only with exchange instruments and mechanisms. As long as the system of numerous exchange relationships called markets functions well, those normative political theories can be evaluated highly. More frequently, political life calls for schemes and instruments that go beyond exchange. To the extent that exchange helps resolve conflict, normative political theory based on exchange does have good explanatory capacity.
It may be surprising to find that the notion of coordination has not played a major role in the development of normative political theory. It is natural that normative political theory based on conflict abounds, given that all politics is regarded as dealing with conflict-of-interest situations and friend–foe relations. It is also natural that normative political theory based on exchange abounds because conflict resolution can be achieved often by making use of exchange on a small to large scale. Hardin (2009) points out that normative political theory on the basis of coordination has been insufficiently advanced, perhaps because of a lack of awareness of coordination as a scheme and instrument of politics in a normative political theory framework. Even Hobbes’s argument on absolutist rule by a sovereign king can be rendered as normative political theory articulated by the notion of coordination if Hobbesian theory is reformulated within a multilevel, multistage framework. In such a framework, a powerful concept is strategy. Determining how to coordinate when you take Strategy A and your adversary takes Strategy B is complex. Implementing a two-party coordination based on multilevel and multistage strategies makes normative political theory more complex. Yet this line of theorization has been conducted since the mid-20th century in other disciplines, such as military science, business management, and different branches of engineering, often in the form of game theory. Normative political theory with coordination as a key concept is bound to grow, since politics relies heavily on coordination.
Six Schools of Empirical Political Theory
As noted before, schools of empirical political theory are difficult to classify (see Robert Goodin, 2009; Robert Goodin & Hans-Dieter Klingemann, 1996; Fred Greenstein & Nelson Polsby, 1975). Two yardsticks are the behavioral revolution (the 1950s through the 1960s) and the postbehavioral revolution (the 1970s through the 1980s), followed by the “perestroika” movement in the American Political Science Association (the 1990s through the 2000s). With the behavioral revolution, systems theory and behavioralism became prominent. With the postbehavioral revolution, new attempts were made beyond the behavioral revolution in political science. The postbehavioral revolution and the perestroika movement tried to make political science more interpretative, reflective, context sensitive, and path dependence attentive, on the one hand, and more focused on institutions as contrasted to individuals, on rigorous utilitarian calculus versus culturally derived motivations, on neurophysical movement as opposed to manifested human behavior, and on a global outlook as against the perspective of the national organic whole, on the other.
Dissatisfied with the state of political science in the 1940s, which was very different from what it is today, Easton attempted, during the 1960s, to make political science a scientific discipline whose theories are derived from empirical testing of theoretically formulated hypotheses on the basis of systematically generated data. By so doing, Easton aimed at creating a “general theory” of politics with a systems theory framework. Easton’s famous definition of politics as the “authoritative allocation of values for a society” was born of this systems theory thinking. It was refreshing to those political scientists who were dissatisfied with the political science of that period, with its focus on constitutions and institutions on the one hand and ideas and ideologies on the other. Easton, with Jack Dennis, embarked on the study of a political system in terms of the political socialization of children, whereby children learn about politics from parents, peers, teachers, and preachers. Norms, values, and rules are those components that are channeled from one generation to another in a political system. What was probably felt by those self-claimed systems theory–influenced political scientists was that the political system is a vastly complex set of interactions of actors under a vast array of rules and norms and that theorizing it at a systems level on the basis of empirically derived evidence is definitely a daunting task. The behavioral revolution was raging in the United States concurrently with the acceptance of systems theory thinking. Then came a mild disillusionment with both systems theory and behavioralism in political science, concurrent with the turmoil in the world during the late 1960s and early 1970s. In other words, the limitations of systems theory thinking were deeply felt. Easton himself confessed later that his systems analysis and behavioralism had clear limits.
Calls for behavioral persuasion were hailed as revolutionary by enthusiasts, who proclaimed that it would transform political science from an old, rusty discipline to one of the newest, acclaimed disciplines, with its focus on action rather than intention and motivation and on analysis rather than interpretation. Despite the short-lived enthusiasm for behavioralism, the spirit and style of behavioralism were consolidated in highly reputed journals. Returning to the explanatory capacity of empirical political theory, we can take up Bruce Russett’s (1993) democratic peace theory. The hypothesis tested is one of the arguments made first by Kant: A republican regime (as contrasted to a monarchical regime) is less prone to waging war against another republic than against a nonrepublican regime. In contemporary parlance, the hypothesis states that democracies rarely fight each other. Russett made use of pooled time-series data composed of pairs of all the sovereign states each year from 1815 through 1989.
Rational Choice Theory
Rational choice theory was born of formal political theory. Yet it is normally attached to the testing of propositions that are logically derived from a certain set of assumptions and axioms. Its rise was due in part to the steady influence of economics in political science. Also, among the subdisciplines of political science, political economy, in which economics-trained academics like Anthony Downs (1957), Mancur Olson, and Gerald Kramer exerted considerable influence, was widely studied in the 1970s and 1980s. It was also due in part to the reaction against the kind of behavioralism that was criticized as blind and barefooted empiricism. Daran Acemoglu and James Robinson’s (2005) Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy is an example. It starts with the presence of different social groups. They prefer different political institutions with different ways of allocating power and resources. The highly resourceful groups want to monopolize power. The rest want democracy. In due course, democracy prevails because the majority wants it. In Thailand, the old elites and the newly growing masses fight each other intermittently, using violence. The old elites have not acquiesced in the capture of power by the masses and have recaptured power by resorting to a military coup d’état. But their reasoning is lucid and general, unlike the largely descriptive political science accounts of such struggles between democracy and dictatorship.
As distinguished from the institutionalism of the past, institutionalism today is called neo-institutionalism. Its key features are (1) a strong empiricism using detailed institutional mechanisms and (2) an ardent comparativism of institutions, which is used to highlight the strength of the argument being made. The following contrast is intended to make the general orientation and product of institutionalism much clearer. If Acemoglu and Robinson are the representative authors of rational choice theory, John Ferejohn is the representative author of institutionalism. Acemoglu and Robinson formulate and test in a more general way. Ferejohn formulates and tests in a more comparative fashion, making the best use of a comparative exercise in hypothesis formulation and testing. These features are forcefully presented in his work on federalism and on war and state building. The limit of institutionalism can be said to depend on the scope and angle of comparative institutional screening and investigation, whether it examines the electoral consequences of electoral rules such as proportional representation and one-person-from-one-district or the social policy consequences of the taxation system.
During the revolutionary period of behavioralism, Easton’s A Framework for Political Analysis and A Systems Analysis of Political Life may be called the bible of behavioralism. Another work that might be considered seminal is Karl Deutsch’s (1963) The Nerves of Government. It highlights the importance of the nerves of the body politic, which enable flows and feedbacks of information. The work can be regarded as a forerunner of the neuroscience school of politics in a sense, although his framework did not delve into neurons and other neurophysical components and functions. Since Deutsch’s interest moved from social communication and nationalism in a divided country to regional integration across the Atlantic, he is often categorized as a behavioralist. The steady advances in neurophysical science since the 1990s may make Deutsch a true forerunner of neuroanalysis. If Tip O’Neill is right when he says, “All politics is local,” a neurophysician is right when he or she says, “All politics is neural.” Neuroanalysis is sharply contrasted to behavioral analysis in that the former focuses on intention and motivation as revealed by changes in the neurons in the brain whereas the latter focuses on concrete, visible action. The former does not probe into real intentions and motivations. Scientific advances such as magnetic resonance imaging and other devices have made it possible to interpret and understand human intentions and motivations. In detecting suspected criminals, both assembling material evidence and deciphering the motivations of crime suspects are indispensable. Neuroanalytical data are increasingly used to fathom politics. Giacomo Rizzolatti and Corrado Sinigaglia’s (2008) Mirrors in the Brain: How Our Minds Share Actions, Emotions, and Experience reveals how political science can benefit from neuroanalysis. Although neuroanalysis is not limited to political science, its use is bound increase because, after all, the complexity of politics lies in the fathomability of the movement of brain neurons.
Political science at the dawn of the 21st century is moving in two opposite directions simultaneously: One is a neuronal direction, while the other is a global direction. Advances in science and technology have enabled human beings to connect with each other far and fast in order to “macrograsp” politics and dig deep into the brain in order to “micrograsp” politics. The tide of globalization was energized by the technological advances in the 20th century. One of them is the electronic revolution in communications, which enabled the movement of money to go “mad,” in the words of Susan Strange. It now moves incredibly fast, and along with money, many other things (e.g., commodities, education, medicine, migrants, viruses, crimes, drugs, weapons, and information) move fast on a global scale. Politics is not an exception to this irresistible and irreversible tide of globalization. David Held (1995) is the representative globalist. His Democracy and the Global Order builds the normative stand of cosmopolitan democracy founded on various democratic theories. The extent to which normative political theory is really universal and global at the same time was questioned until recently because a large bulk of normative political theory originated from modern Europe, where state building and political theory construction were both carried out mostly on a national scale.
Conversations Between Normative and Empirical Theories
So far, this article has summarized three kinds of political theory: classical, empirical, and formal. It has also shown that they are intimately related to each other. In this section, a few illustrations are used to show that normative and empirical political theories can conduct fruitfully their conversations in ways that would help articulate them more sharply and precisely and identify their blind spots, thus enriching each other. Examples drawn from to make this point include warlike democracies and bottom-up regime typology. Both of these draw their propositions from classical political theories, such as those of Kant, Machiavelli, Aristotle, and Charles de Montesquieu, and conduct empirical testing of such propositions to see how much revision is desirable in both classical and empirical theories.
Normative political theory is meant to transcend the particular time and space in which it is generated in its argument about how justice is to be achieved. That is its raison d’être in a sense. At the same time, it is recognized that in normative political theory, issues based on conflict, shared values, and exchange tend to dominate. Those based on shared values have been especially numerous. This is in part because in the latter half of the 20th century, political science publications and their readership have been dominated by academics in the United States who have shown an enduring affinity with liberalism. Empirical political theory is also meant to go beyond the particular temporal and spatial settings so as to be valid under universal circumstances. At the same time, it is recognized that the bulk of empirical political theory has tended to be focused on the latter half of the 20th century and on the United States and the European Union. These two facts together represent a serious problem: Empirical political theory is heavily biased to present the West as a fountain of universal truth and justice.
It is remarkable that Kant, living in Koenigsberg his entire life and witnessing the vicissitudes of life in European environments, grasped the wave of the future in a most succinct way. Although democracies are peace loving among themselves, they are war prone toward nondemocracies, which they fear are a threat to their existence. The right-wing Kantians were born in the 2000s, in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States and the Afghan and Iraq wars. They argued that if Kant had been alive and had observed these events, he would have supported the Iraq war to prevent the weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) state of Iraq from exploding externally. They argued that democracies cannot be just passive, sitting idly by while innocent civilians are being killed and when democracies are challenged by the threat of force. Instead, democracies should fight against antidemocratic forces. In stark contrast to the democratic interventions of right-wing Kantians, the left-wing Kantians called for democracy that rejects interference from outside in the internal democratic affairs of a country, termed sovereign democracy by Vladislav Surkov. This refers to the incidents that took place in relation to the democratization and secessionist movements in those societies that used to be united in the former Soviet Union, such as Chechnya, Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan.
In the late 18th century, Europe saw the French Revolution and the Napoleonic War. Kant believed that the advent of a republican regime, free trade, and multilateral treaties and international organizations would herald eternal peace in a fledgling form. It is clear that Kant’s ideas are surely bound by time and space. In the dawn of the 21st century, we saw the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Afghan and Iraq wars, leading the right-wing Kantians and the left-wing Kantians to argue as to whether humanitarian interventions are justified (the right-wing Kantians) or not (the left-wing Kantians) to propagate democratic regimes from the outside. Thus, we can conclude that normative political theory has, not surprisingly, a context boundedness.
Along a different line of argument, Kant’s republics have two types of checks-and-balances mechanisms, according to John Ferejohn and Frances Rosenbluth (2008). Horizontal checks are those mechanisms working at the higher level of the legislature and the executive. Lawmakers and law executors are different and separate. Neither can dictate to the other, and thus, a regime’s restraining mechanisms work better than otherwise would be the case. Vertical checks are those mechanisms working between the elite and citizen levels. Kant’s republican democracies distinguish between the decision-making elites and the decision-shaping citizens but only on the condition that they interact with each other. In other words, elites take into account citizen preferences in their decision making, while citizens express their preferences verbally and demonstrably to elites in their decision shaping. Ferejohn and Rosenbluth argue that Kant must be differentiated from Machiavelli in that the republican democracies equipped with checks-and-balances mechanisms in Kant’s argument prescribe tangentially against Machiavelli’s democratic mobilization theory and, thus, his war-prone democracy theory. Machiavelli’s argument is based on the comparison between republican Rome and monarchical Florence. Republican Rome was endowed with soldiers whose war-fighting motivation and capacity were high because it was a politically inclusive regime. Monarchical Florence was plagued by mercenaries whose war-fighting motivation and capacity were not high. Ferejohn and Rosenbluth use Machiavelli to make sense of war-prone democracies as witnessed in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Therefore, according to them, peace-loving and war-prone democracies are not separate but different sides of the same coin.
In 1835, focusing on the armed forces in democracies, Alexis de Tocqueville observed and pointed to the inherent danger of the military conducting activities that might give a bad reputation to democracies. Tocqueville observed that the army in America defended the invaders, who plundered the land originally possessed by natives and broke armistice and peace treaties with the natives. The army was hugely supported by the Americans, who advanced to the west from the initial patches of land on the Atlantic coast as if it were their “manifest destiny,” before this phrase was coined later. Tocqueville was apprehensive of the danger of the military having its conduct legitimated by democracies whose ideas he emphatically approves and expressly admires. In the wake of 9/11 and the acts of revenge the United States engineered, Reiji Matsumoto sensitizes this aspect of American democracy fully, citing Tocqueville. In other words, democratic peace and war proneness are different sides of the same coin.
American authors like Max Boot and Robert Kagan make the same set of observations of American being prone to the use of force in settling conflicts of interest abroad even before its independence from England. Both authors are called neoconservative in the United States; in Russia, they are called the Bolsheviks of the 21st century. The American neoconservatives and the Russian Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin during the previous century have two things in common: They are idealists, pursuing their ideals with commitment and compassion, and they are realists, legitimating the use of force if their casus belli is deemed justifiable in light of their ideals, such as democracy and human rights. Perhaps Tocqueville was right in his instinctive apprehension since he had experienced democratic imperialism in Europe in the form of the revolutionary war waged by Napoleon Bonaparte.
Classical political theorists often talk about regime types. Aristotle, in his Nicomachean Ethics, argues that ethics is the basis of politics. Thus, depending on the prevailing ethics in society, three regime types are identified: monarchy, aristocracy, and politeia. Monarchy is shaped by the kind of ethics that prevail between a father and a son; aristocracy is shaped by the kind of ethics that prevail between a husband and a wife; and politeia is shaped by the kind of ethics that prevail between an elder brother and a younger brother. Aristotle’s theory is monadic in the sense that once the prevailing ethics is identified, the regime type is automatically determined. Montesquieu’s (1748) Spirit of Law is also monadic. Three regime types—republicanism, monarchy, and autocracy—are determined by the driving spirit of a regime. Republicanism is driven by virtue, aristocracy is driven by honor, and autocracy is driven by fear. It is clear that the relationship between citizens and the state is monadic and that once the regime type is specified, the prevailing ethics of citizens is also specified. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Weber talked about regime types via means of regulation—that is, charisma, force, and legal rationality. Again, the monadic determination is assumed. Once the means are specified, regime types are determined, and vice versa. The state of affairs has not changed much even in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. For instance, Stein Rokkan, during the 1960s, articulated the formation of democratic states in European history. Yet Rokkan talks about only regime types, not citizens. One may wonder why there has been little interest in citizens and their relationship with the state when opinion polls are conducted all over the world, including in many authoritarian societies. Until recently, one could explain the paucity of discussion on citizens in theories about the state as the main theories deal with the institutions rather than with the social actors.
Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics makes ethics shared and practiced by a certain set of people the determinant of regime types—thus his regime types of monarchy, aristocracy, and politeia. Within politeia, he has three regime subtypes: autocracy, oligarchy, and democracy. How are the three regime subtypes of politeia determined? Some scholars conjecture that those regimes subtypes are not well “disciplined” by a certain set of ethics the way monarchy and aristocracy are determined by what is called the societal regime prevailing at the bottom. Ethics here is broadly understood as the prevailing political culture, whose key components are defined as identity, confidence, and satisfaction. These few societal regime types are not quite formulated at an abstract level that may be comfortable to some political theorists. But it is important to stress the need to initiate conversations. The classical theorists may start from anywhere they wish. The empirical theorists may start from the point where they are most comfortable. What is important is that they must move in new directions, which could bring them to carry out conversations tête-à-tête, instead of digging holes on both sides of what might be called the Maginot line of both schools of theorists.
With survey and nonsurvey data being continuously collected, empirical political theorists must grapple with the bottom-up determination of a regime type. So must normative political theorists. Neither normative nor empirical political theorists should discuss a regime type without examining the bottom level, that is, the citizens. The theoretical problem does not end here. Even in the general discussion of a regime type, say democracy, fuzziness abounds in the usage of this term.
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