Historical Evolution of Comparative Politics

 The Emergence Of Comparative Politics As A Subfield Of Political Science

Before the Second World War, the field of comparative politics was known as comparative government. And it was based on the historicism of 19th-century European politics, which emphasized the importance of history in understanding political institutions.

Comparative government stressed the historical examination of Western political institutions (that is, their "constitution"). This means that scholars were primarily interested in studying the development and structure of governments in Western Europe and North America. They also tended to treat democracy and other political concepts as philosophical concepts rather than as empirical phenomena that could be studied and measured.

This approach was predominantly descriptive rather than problem-solving, explanatory, or analytic in its methods. This means that scholars were more interested in describing different types of governments than in explaining how they worked or why they changed. Their descriptions were also often limited to the formal structure of governments rather than the informal practices and relationships that also shape political outcomes.

As a result, it was labeled the "traditional approach." This approach was criticized for being narrow in scope, Eurocentric, and atheoretical. It was also seen as being out of touch with the new realities of the post-war world, which was characterized by the decolonization of Asia and Africa and the rise of new political ideologies such as communism and socialism.

The emphasis of the traditional approach was on a single cultural configuration, that is, the governments of Western Europe and North America, while the political systems of Asia, Africa, and Latin America countries were studied in passing or by a few adventurist political scientists. Cross-cultural differences were completely ignored. This approach was criticized for being ethnocentric and for failing to take into account the diversity of political systems around the world.

The study was limited in scope and depth. This is because scholars were focused on studying a small number of Western countries and describing their governments in a formalistic way. This approach did not allow for a deep understanding of how political systems work or how they change.

In addition, the traditional approach focused on government institutions and their legal norms, rules, and regulations, or on political ideas and ideologies. This approach was criticized for being too static and for failing to take into account the dynamic nature of political life. It was also criticized for neglecting the role of social and economic factors in shaping political outcomes.

From the foregoing, there was a lot of dissatisfaction with the traditional approach and more vigorous efforts to innovate and create new comparative inquiries in political science. This led to a revolution in comparative politics in the post-war era.

Professor Sydney Verba captured this revolution in comparative politics in the following words:

a revolution in comparative politics

This revolution in comparative politics came with a methodology that sought to identify the characteristics of political systems in the light of generalized categories. This means that scholars began to develop theories about how political systems work and how they change. They also began to use quantitative methods to test these theories.

It seeks to develop some of the basics of intellectual tools of analysis and study certain yardsticks with which analysts can measure political systems. This means that scholars have developed new conceptual frameworks and research methods for studying comparative politics. They also began to develop new standards for evaluating the quality of research in the field.

The new approach makes the study of politics the study of a "system." This means that scholars began to view political systems as complex wholes rather than as collections of isolated institutions. They also began to examine the relationships between political systems and other social systems, such as the economy, culture, and society.

It is linked organically with the social structure, traditions, ideologies, culture, and environment within which it operates. This means that scholars have begun to recognize that political systems are shaped by a variety of factors, both internal and external. They also began to examine how political systems interact with other social systems and how they are influenced by the broader environment.

Examples:

  • The traditional approach to comparative politics focus on studying the formal structure of the United States government, such as the Constitution, the separation of powers, and the role of the different branches of government.
  • The new approach to comparative politics would focus on studying how the US political system actually works in practice. This could include studying how interest groups influence policy-making, how political campaigns are run, and how voters make decisions.
  • The new approach to comparative politics would also compare the US political system to other political systems around the world. This could include studying how the US system of democracy compares to other systems of democracy, such as those in the United Kingdom or Canada.

The new development and its methodology were engineered by the following forces:

  • The emergence of many independent countries outside Europe and America posed new challenges to political scientists. They had to abandon their parochial focus on the West and develop new methods for studying a more diverse range of political systems.
  • The rise of the Soviet Union as a world power after World War II created a new bipolar world order. This led to increased interest in comparative politics, as scholars sought to understand the different political systems that existed in the world and how they interacted with each other.
  • The need for the United States to build alliances with newly independent countries in Africa and Asia during the Cold War also contributed to the development of comparative politics. American policymakers needed to understand the political systems of these countries in order to develop effective foreign policy strategies.
  • The failure of American aid projects in many developing countries led to a growing awareness of the need to better understand the political systems of these countries. Political scientists were deployed to study these systems in order to identify the reasons for the failures and to develop more effective aid programs.
  • The collapse of many administrative theories developed by US political scientists in the American bureaucracy led to the realization that these theories were not universally applicable. Political scientists began to focus on developing more generalizable theories that could be applied to a wider range of political systems.

These forces led to the emergence of comparative politics as a new field of study. Comparative politics is the study of the political systems of different countries. It seeks to identify the similarities and differences between political systems and develop theories about how they work and how they change.

Comparative politics became imperative because:

  • It describes activities in each unit (political systems). Comparative politics provides detailed descriptions of the political systems of different countries, including their institutions, processes, and cultures.
  • It helps to find out what the political systems have in common. Comparative politics identifies the similarities between political systems, such as the fact that all political systems have some form of government and that they all need to address certain basic problems, such as the provision of security and the distribution of resources.
  • It helps to know the uniqueness of a political system. Comparative politics also identifies the differences between political systems. These differences can be due to a variety of factors, such as the history, culture, and economic development of a country.
  • It forces the analysis to stand out and look objectively at a particular system. Comparative politics requires scholars to take an objective view of political systems. They cannot simply accept the claims of government officials or the biases of the media. Instead, they must carefully examine the evidence and develop their own conclusions.
  • The experience of one country can be used to anticipate the effect of a change in the political system of another. By studying the political systems of different countries, scholars can develop theories about how political systems change and how these changes affect people's lives. This knowledge can then be used to anticipate the effects of proposed changes in the political system of a particular country.
  • Comparative politics creates a wider understanding of how countries with different histories, different ethnic makeups, different social problems, and philosophical backgrounds approach the basic problems of creating and sustaining satisfactory institutions and processes of government. Comparative politics helps us to see the world from different perspectives and to understand the different ways in which people have organized themselves politically.
  • It's to develop a scientific method in politics that enables us to avoid over-description and common-sense explanations of political events and phenomena. This, therefore, creates intellectual order. Comparative politics seeks to develop rigorous scientific methods for studying political systems. This helps us to avoid over-reliance on description and common sense, and it allows us to develop more generalizable theories about how political systems work and how they change.

Conclusion

The emergence of comparative politics was a major development in the field of political science. It led to a new way of thinking about politics and a better understanding of the political systems of different countries. Comparative politics is now a thriving field of study, and it plays an important role in our understanding of the world around us.

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