Most political science theories are derived from the political culture of liberal societies. A strong link exists between the seminal theories of political science and democratic practice. Classical political ideals sought to create good citizens and leaders for sound statecraft to nurture a fairer society. In no way political science is deemed ideologically neutral. The liberty of teaching and research in political science affirms the vital impulse of liberal ethos. Political science promotes political awareness, informed political opinion, democratic will formation and political choice of people on public issues and enables them to do proper appraisal and judgment on leaders’ performance. These acts are intrinsic functions of democratic politics.
The system of political science operates within democratic constraints and popular consent is manufactured by means of education, debate and election. A democratic polity bridges the chasm between the intellectuals and popular opinion by means of will-formation and the rule of law. Politics is about power, but democratic ideals require public purpose and accountability of power as opposed to self-will and vanity. Meritocracy rests on performance outcome while partiocracy thrives in favour of submissive mediocrities. Only democracy seeks the compatibility of ends and means as a source of civic culture. But its unrestrained and undisciplined behaviour easily incubates authoritarian leadership who knows no spirit of constitutionalism.
Failure of ideology
Knowledge, thinking and character of democratic politics are as much an art as a science. It presupposes citizens’ rights, courage and skill to engage in decision-making affecting their life, liberty and prosperity. An interface of political scientists with democracy avoids insidious materialism, fundamentalism and populism of all sorts and hones civic virtues for decent standards of living. Agile individuals, groups or parties do not promote tribal conformity in politics. This is a threat to democratic pluralism and space for dissent thus provoking various forms of opposition, even anti-institutional. Many political “isms,” rooted in a utopia — falsely promised a perfect world order. The failure of each “ideology” to achieve its ideals can be attributed to the fact that each sealed itself off from positive criticism and ignored the imperfectability of human nature -- the root of politics, the nature of society based on rational choice, power-monopolising state and anarchic nature of the international system.
Every modern society, therefore, provides basic edification for its citizens’ participation in politics through socialisation, education, training and orientations so that they are governed by norms, not human nature and able to demystify the falsehood that underlies utopia. Science can help political scientists and leaders both in improving human nature and busting the vicious power of utopia. Science is nothing without its relation to social purpose -- the purpose of improving the conditions of human freedom by lifting their biological origin to the societal and cosmological sphere. Gandhi rightly says, “A nation that wants to come into its own ought to know all the ways and means to freedom.”
Participatory democracy is a practice of learning organisational structure that allows each individual to be involved in decision-making by knowing own-self and others, formulating ideas and programmes and struggling to realise them. In the absence of such organisations, democracy turns into the domain of elite groups for domination and restricts their circulation in power. In this system, mass participation in political power is confined to leadership selection and experts dictate the course of public policy in ecological, economic and social matters. This tells why political scientists are more interested in democracy than economists who are preoccupied with the wealth-creation in the market, or sociologists absorbed with social physics and geographers with spatial variables.
In this sense, political science is the science of people. It believes in the equality of people, a system of rights, freedom of organisation and expression and representation. No other social sciences prize these concepts as a ruling paradigm. Economics once espoused efficiency and brutal competition, implying the fighting ability of individuals in the marketplace is now stressing the dispersal of knowledge in the entire society for its optimal operation and rediscovering ecological and moral sentiment, which Adam Smith visualised reflecting the social nature of human beings. Sociology explores the hierarchy of mankind. The amount of freedom of individuals or lack of it rests on their location in the hierarchy.
But equality turns messy if people are not properly trained in civic education and enable them to use their conscience to select wise leaders for rule. Political education is, therefore, necessary for people because it enables them to perennially articulate their voice, undertake political responsibility, self-determination and self-confidence in public life. Democracy requires informed citizens who know about the institutions that dispose of power, the rules through which they operate and the motive of leaders who govern them. Political science teaching and research can be consistent in the language of people. The spirit of inquiry is deployed to acquire data about the working of politics and laws of political process. Systematic collection, description, quantification and analysis of data require ideas about framing of concepts and imagination of hypotheses which are provided the rules and methods political scientists apply in understanding and reinventing the world of politics.
Theory-building, generalisation and abstractions are worthless unless their propositions are tested well in the life-world and their approved findings are applied in improving the quality of life of people. The power of fabricating concepts catches the essence of things perceived. Concept shifts from belief to core of scientific thinking and so the limitations of concepts, by
definition, mark the limitation of self-expression — whether it is research or teaching. Learning a concept builds a synergy — setting a link between the world of political science theories and the drama of political life and changing its role the way people think. Authentic political science teaching and research is not a part of political indoctrination. It is independent of power consideration. If they are less authentic, then, students fall prey to the system of exploitation. In this case, education becomes largely phony.
Political scientists must express truth before power like ancient rishis or modern public intellectuals and oppose the culture of silence. Addiction to power distances them from becoming a scientist and removes their political sensitivity from the lives of the powerless. Political indoctrination controls human thought about politics, while the purpose of political science is to liberate their thought and provide choices in political matters. Those indoctrinated ones suffer from delusion in later life once they get scientific exposure and access to diverse media, independent research and publications. Free will in thinking cultivates a culture of sane reasoning, not revelation, in which differences are solved through dialogues. Political science teaching, in this sense, entails participatory methods from teachers, because it ropes all efforts for the further democratisation of cognition, attitudes, beliefs and orientations. They are, by definition, interactive and reflective of collective learning.
It is different from other tools of imposing knowledge, which are, by nature, oppressive and restrictive of liberty. The purpose of every education is the liberation of the mind and body of the students and building their ideas, values, skills, character and competence, not colonisation. Instrumental use of education makes the students swayed by their inherent inferiority, fades their power of thinking and imagination and makes them an easy prey to domination. This sort of education prevents the ability of self-realisation. In this sense, political science teaching and research have a purpose to strengthen participatory democracy. Remaining close to everyday life of people and orienting oneself toward political action can reveal the co-relations between the life-world and the polity.
Communication between the people and polity can ease constant feedback so that democracy adapts to human norms and responds to popular needs. Dialogue does not impose. It helps communication and cooperation in a given context and liberates captive minds. A dialogue means give and take. Integrating civic education with other types of education reinforces the validity and reliability of knowledge gained through interdisciplinary inquiry. This can come only if people share, up to their capacity, in determining public policy and personal destiny. Inventing new ideas for building the stock of knowledge, solving societal problems, contributing to public policy and steering reforms aim to promote common goods. Political scientists are morally responsible for their teaching and research products and use of their knowledge for nation-building. It boosts its relevance in competition with other social science disciplines.
Training in political science, professional identity, solidarity and competence bear certain utility to the society and make their efforts worthy. It enriches their initiatives. Genuine solidarity drives the life-force of democracy. The shifting nature of society, economy and polity has made popular sovereignty and state sovereignty coterminous with participatory democracy. The search of political scientists for inter-subjective response amounts to a search for truth regarding political matters which can be both contextual and universal. How waves of democracy were followed by counter-waves, ruptures and reversals, what went wrong with the democratisation process and how they can be corrected in the future shall become a matter of perennial debates among political scientists. It helps them to seek the central tendency of political science and its contribution to public policy.
Now, there is not a single dominant view in political science inquiry and imagination. Political science suffered splits into various specialised areas. What it requires now is, therefore, utilisation of its different areas and integration into a creative synthesis so that it again becomes an intrinsic part of political wisdom. New problems emerging in the world entail new knowledge, new processes and institutions to solve them. The movement of things, then, follows the moment of reflection — both produce the deepest law of politics — human liberty. The purpose of politics according to Hannah Arendt is “never-ending endeavour of the great plurality of human beings to live together and share the earth in mutually guaranteed freedom.” In this sense, political science can ease freedom and turn towards justice.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)