A political system is an aspect of the social system, and political activity and study is a special category of social activity and study.
The boundary of politics is often not clear, so that, for example, actions of trades union leaders may sometimes be induded in politics and sometimes not. The same is true of activities in areas more often thought of as economic, cultural and so on.
For the purpose of analysis, the political system may be separated from economic and other systems but in practice the study of one system remains lopsided if not aided by other areas of the social system.
When a ‘traditionalist’ attempts to establish relationship of Political Science with other social sciences and concludes that the knowledge gained by any phase of human behaviour and attitudes about the institutions that men build, or the ideas to which they respond in the mass, cannot fail to be of use in similar fields of inquiry, he is really emphasising the relevance of the social system in which each social science supplements and fortifies the rest.
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Friedrich gives a simple but matter-of-fact definition of a system. He says, “When several parts that are distinct and different from each other compose a whole leaving a defined functional relation to each other which establishes a mutual dependence of these parts upon each other so that the destruction of one entails the destruction of the whole, then such a constellation is called a system.”
Hitherto the study of Political Science had primarily hinged upon the State, government and the institutional framework. The analysis was, thus, limited by legal and institutional meanings and the realities of politics were not taken cognizance of.
The concept of a political system is a new way of looking at the political phenomena and its analysis in all aspects. Its study includes “all the interactions which affect the use of or threat of use of legitimate physical coercion.
The political system includes not only governmental institutions such as legislative, court and administrative agencies, but all structures such as kinship ties and caste groupings; and anomic phenomena such as associations, riots and demonstrations as well as formal organisations like parties and media of communication.”
Robert Dahl’s definition is succinct. He says, “A political system is a persistent pattern of human relationships that involves to a significant extent power, rule or authority.”
A political system, as such, embraces interactions between formal and informal socio-political and legal institutions in a given society having its multi-dimensional impact including the environment. The student of Political Science must, therefore, be aware of the environment in which the political system is set, particularly the social setting.
The basic assumption of a political system is that it is a variety of the social system and the study of one system cannot yield meaningful results without reference to other areas of the social system.
It means that the various systems constituting the social system are interdependent. By interdependence is meant that when the properties of one component in a social system change, there is a chain reaction and all other components and the system as a whole are affected.
To repeat a familiar example, when the rings of an automobile wear away, the motor car burns oil, the functioning of the other parts of the machine or system deteriorates, and the power of the vehicle declines.
To put it in the words of Almond and Powell, ” when one variable in a system changes in magnitude and quality, others are subjected to strains and are transformed, the system changes its pattern of performance, or the unruly component is disciplined by regulatory mechanism.”
The emergence of political parties with their network of separate organisation and the mass media of communication, like the press, the radio and the television, significantly changed the performance of the structures of a political system and the capabilities (that is, the way it performs as a unit in its environment) of the system in its domestic and foreign environments.
Three characteristics of a political system will be thus obvious. The first is comprehensiveness, meaning thereby that a political system does not only consist of the legal structure (legislative, executive and judiciary) or even political parties, pressure and interest groups and the media of communication, but it also includes all the social structures as kinship, lineage, religion, caste and status groups as well as the economic phenomena, revolutions, riots and terrorism, a new phenomenon with its national and international ramifications.
The second characteristic is interdependence, and it obviously flows from the first. As said earlier, if one component of the whole system changes, it has its impact on other components of the system and, as such, on the system as a whole, though the extent may not be the same in proportion on all the components of the system.
The third is the independent boundaries of all the component parts of the social system. Almond and Powell explain that the boundaries of a political system are subject to large fluctuations in different environments. During the war-time the boundaries become extended as the entire social structure is to be geared up to meet the exigencies of war and to win it too.
The Punjab crisis and the activities of the terrorists during the first six years necessitated arming the executive with unprecedented powers to contain terrorism and restore conditions of normalcy.
The disturbed conditions had also paralysed the economy of the state, and created conditions of uncertainty for one particular religious community resulting into some families of that community to migrate to other parts of the country disturbing the social structure of the Punjab and its cultural values.
Similarly, of course, not to the same extent, the boundaries again are changed on the day of elections, general or mid-term, as the voters become politicians for a day. With the return of normal conditions the boundaries of a political system contract.
Political System: Essay on the Meaning of Political System!
The system theory in social sciences was adopted from biology. It first made its appearance in the field of social anthropology from where it was adopted in sociology, a little later in psychology and still later in political science. David Easton and Gabriel Almond played a leading role in developing the system theory in the field of political science.
According to Easton, a political system is “that system of interactions in any society through which binding or authoritative allocations are made and implemented.” Thus it is the making of binding or authoritative allocations which distinguishes the political system from other systems both within and outside the over-all society.
Max Weber has defined political system as “a human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” Almond defines political system as “that system of interactions to be found in all independent societies which performs the functions of integration and adaptation (both internally and vis-a-vis other societies) by means of the employment or threat of employment of more or less legitimate physical compulsion.”
According to MacIver, Almond’s definition of political system combines, “Weber’s definition of the state, Easton’s conception of authoritative allocation and Parsons’ view of the function of the political sub-system in society.”
It is not our purpose here to analyse the above definitions of political system and examine their exactness or inexactness; that is the job of a student of political science. As a student of sociology, it may be noted that force or physical coercion forms an essential element of a political system.
Although all other systems like churches or families or business firms employ authority of one kind or the other but what distinguishes political systems from other types of social sub-system is that the latter do not have absolute coercive powers over the life and death of individuals. It is the monopoly of coercive power which characterizes the relationships between the political system and non-political systems.
Since state is the most powerful political organisation which regulates the social relationship of man and is the overall control institution of society, therefore its study becomes important for a student of sociology.