top of page


To those who in the years immediately following World War II were dissatisfied with the state of political science and groping for a new beginning in the study of politics, the future was all promises although the present looked dim indeed. Today it was fashionable to speak of the “behavioral revolution” as if there had been some kind of well-organized plan, if not plot, to remake the established order, or at least spontaneous and widespread discontent at the grassroots of the discipline. Nothing could be further from reality. On the contrary, the movers and shakers of those years were lonely and isolated, surrounded by colleagues who were mostly indifferent. The hostility came later.

Perhaps the first thing to be said about systems theory is that it is not a theory. It consists of a set of concepts. No propositions about the real world can be derived from it any more than propositions about physics can be derived from infinitesimal calculus or from the methods of science in general. Advice to a political scientist to use systems theory to solve a problem, even when it is appropriate methodology, would advance him as far, but no farther than would advice to a physical scientist to use the methods of science. When the concepts of systems theory are used to construct theory in the area of political science, they can be most helpful; when they are used to evade the problems of substantive theory, they can be misleading or harmful.

It is problematical as to whether any violence is done in the present state of affairs in American political science when it is asserted that its domain of inquiry is excessively random. Indeed, it is this fact, a high information level and a low theoretic yield, that has prompted the rather extensive efforts at theory construction that are so readily apparent today. The task of the paper is to present a statement that conveys an idea of just what functionalism means in American political science.

A new interdisciplinary field is emerging that links the subject matter of political science with the methods and theories of economics. No name as yet has been institutionalized to designate this field; I prefer to call it the “new political economy.”

To begin by asserting that political theory or political philosophy, as it was understood in the past, is no longer a significant enterprise is to state that which is both obvious and yet profoundly interesting. The death of political theory has been proclaimed by its advocates and opponents alike.

One of the most popular goals of the American ideological offensive toward the emerging nations is political development and modernization. Partly in response to this offensive, social scientists have produced copious literature on this subject. Yet even the scholars sharing the same scientific outlook have difficulty in reaching agreement on the meaning of development and modernization.

One of the most interesting characteristics of American political science is the extent to which the discipline has insulated itself from contemporary philosophy and especially from the growing body of literature in the philosophy of the social sciences. Political scientists, both proponents and opponents of behavioralism, have largely avoided any substantive analysis of the philosophical problems involved in the empirical study of poltics. The purpose of this essay is not only to pursue a particular thesis about explanation in the social sciences but to discuss, at least tentatively, a series of philosophical problems which must be of continuing concern to political and social scientists.

World political trends in recent years have seesawed between the rise and fall of “socialism” or liberalism. In the fall and winter of 1959-1960, a succession of political events was seized upon by Western political analysts to dramatize the fateful debacle of “socialism” as a viable economic system.

bottom of page