Political theory, the oldest subdivision of the discipline of political science, is concerned with the analyses of political thought, speculation, or philosophies about government or politics. The political theorist is concerned with the understanding and appraising Of general facts in relation to developing hypotheses about political behavior and to questions about social values. The goal of the theorist is to help us clarify our thinking about government and to illuminate our understanding of political life and activity. His work should lead us to a firmer grasp of why governments and electorates act and react as they do.
Why We Need Political Theory
Most of us have or use a political theory or theories if we become involved in political life to any extent. Theory is generally understood to mean a summary statement of what we think we know about the partial Or complete explanation Of political phenomena. A theory may permit us to recognize something as political, give a general understanding of the political world, determine the political “good” from the “bad,” and help us to know what the political future holds.
Accordingly, courses in political theory are offered in which one studies those theorists and theories that seek to discover a framework that aids in putting together a general order, pattern, and consistency to political facts; to establish correct explanations and analyses Of those facts; and to create rules or concepts of political action that will serve as a model for future analysis and prediction. Political theory courses usually can be taken in the sophomore year but more likely in the junior year. Previous coursework in American national government and comparative government is desirable. The content in political theory courses may range from the classics of political literature to the literature Of contemporary empirical theory.
Whether or not practitioners are successful in developing effective theories will play an important role in the future of politica! Science study. If theories can be developed, then one must recognize that political science has its own theoretical base from which it can explain and possibly control political behavior.
The study Of political theory and ideology are integral parts of political science. Both are analytic methods, or ways of looking at political phenomena. which are an important part Of politics. As noted in Chapter One, values and value arguments are part Of politics and are among the most important things studied by political theorists. Moreover, in reviewing the development of political theory, we are looking at the origin of both political science and many of our basic institutions and values. For this reason, we now turn to political theory and ideology, to help provide the foundation for understanding the political value conflicts that make up the heart of subsequent chapters.