Polity NIOS Chapter 01 Meaning and Scope of Political Science

Meaning and Scope of Political Science

Political Science deals with those aspects of individuals in society which relate to their activities and organizations devoted to seeking of power, resolution of conflicts and all these, within an overall framework of the rule and law as laid down by the state.

The term Politics is derived from the Greek word polis which means city-state.

Harold D. Lasswell and Abraham Kaplan define Political Science as “the study of shaping and sharing of power”. According to J W Garner, “Politics begins and ends with the state.” Similarly, R G Gettel wrote that Politics is the “study of the state in the past, present and future”. Harold J Laski stated in the same vein that the study of Politics concerns itself with the life of men and women in relation to organized state.

The term ‘State’ in its modern sense was first used by Machiavelli (1469-1527), the Italian statesman. The State consists of four elements. These are: (a) the people; (b) the territory on which they live; (c) the government to rule and regulate the lives of the people and (d) sovereignty, which implies unrestricted authority to take decisions and manage its own affairs.

Market is a place where goods and services are sold and bought. It operates on the basis of demand and supply. Many people regard it as a self-regulating, self-correcting place, provided there is no interference by the state. Competition is the chief hallmark of market. Capitalism and market are considered two sides of the same coin.

Rights are claims by an individual on the state. Natural rights are those rights with which an individual is supposed to have been born. These are, so to say, God-given rights. More importantly, individual is supposed to have acquired them even before the state came into existence. The important implication is that since the state has no role in the creation or granting of these rights, it cannot take away or abridge these rights.

The liberals emphasized that the consent of the people is the true basis of the state. Early liberal thinkers also considered the state as a ‘necessary evil’- an evil but necessary for the purpose of protecting the individual from the external and internal enemies. According to this view, that government is the best which governs the least.

By contrast, the Marxist view, does not consider the State as an impartial institution. It asserts that, throughout the centuries, the state has been a tool in the hands of the “haves” for exploiting and dominating the “have-nots.” In the future classless society like the communist society, the state would “wither away,”. In Gandhian view, the State would justify its existence, by acting as a “trustee” of the people. It should help the poorest and the weakest one. It should restore to him or her, a control over his or her own life and destiny.

Power refers to the ability of one person affecting the attitudes or action of another. The dacoit’s power is illegitimate power while the government’s is legitimate. And the power of constitutional authorities over me is called authority. Authority contains the two ideas of power and legitimacy. Authority is that form of power which is legitimate. It is power plus legitimacy.

The relationship between citizens and the government is reciprocal. The citizens are members of the State. The state recognizes certain rights of the citizens and in turn expects certain duties from them.

Rights of the citizens can be divided in three parts: civil, political and social:

CIVIL RIGHTS are those rights which are necessary for the freedom/ liberty of the individual. They include the right to life and personal liberty, right to freedom of speech, expression and thought, right to own property, right to enter into contract, right to equality before law and equal protection by law. Equality before law means absence of special privileges; equal protection of laws implies equals should be treated equally.
POLITICAL RIGHTS include the right to vote and the right to contest election.

SOCIAL RIGHTS include the right to some degrees of economic welfare and security and the right to live the life of a civilized being according to standards prevailing in the society.


The term liberty is derived form the Latin word liber meaning free. Thus liberty means freedom. Freedom is of paramount importance for the development of an individual’s personality.

The term liberty was initially defined as absence of all restraints on an individual. This is known as the negative concept of liberty. Early liberalism championed negative liberty.

For liberty to be enjoyed by everyone, it should have reasonable restraints. This is the concept of positive liberty.

Safeguards of Liberty
Declaration of rights of the individuals in the Constitution is considered as an important safeguard of liberty. This way the government can be prevented from encroaching upon the freedoms of the people.
Impartial judiciary is rightly called the watchdog of liberty. Without it the liberty of the individuals would be meaningless.
Decentralization of powers is another important safeguard of liberty. History is witness to the fact that concentration of power has very often led to despotism.
Separation of powers, i.e. the executive, the legislature and the judiciary being separate, is a great ally of liberty. Montesquieu said, “Power should be a check on power.”
Rule of law or equality in the eyes of the law is also an important safeguard of liberty. This is the bulwark against discrimination based on caste, class, colour, creed, etc.
A large measure of social justice or diffusion of social and economic privileges is a prerequisite for liberty. If privileges become the prerogative of the select few, then effective liberty would be denied to a vast majority.
A well-knit party system is also indispensable for the preservation of liberty.


The term Justice is derived from the Latin word jus, which means a bond. Thus the word  Justice means joining or fitting. “Justice”, says E Barker, “is the reconciler and the synthesis of political values.”

Concept of distributive Justice – what is the proper way of distribution of income or social position in a given society. There are two  major conceptions of distributive/social Justice, one involves the notion of merit and the other involves need and equality.

Merit: The first conception argues that each person’s social position and (material) wealth must be decided on the basis of merit. The liberals say that the price that someone can command in a free market is the reasonable indicator of his/her value to others. The socialist critics are of the opinion that market receipts are often affected by chance and social background which  have nothing to do with merit.

Need and Equality: The second conception views that goods, positions, etc. should be allocated on the basis of a person’s needs. Communism (Marxism) believes that each person should define his needs and sufficient resources can be created under communism to meet all the needs of all individuals. However, others are of the opinion that needs can be satisfied by two agencies – welfare state and the market. Some needs can be satisfied through the welfare state and others being allocated through the market.




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