Democratic Science Of Politics


Political scientists must express truth before power, oppose where citizens are silenced and their human rights abused.

By Prof. Dev Raj Dahal*

Prof. Dev Raj Dahal

Democratic theories and political science prize the idea of a good life. Most of political science theories are derived from the public culture of democratic societies. In this sense, political science is a democratic science, not a value-neutral positivist ken though it has many shades. Its teaching offers political awareness, opinion and free-will formation, political choice, evaluation and judgment of politics that fosters an understanding about political life, not only practical narration, which touches but does not feel. Political science operates in the structure of democratic principles. Free consent of citizens for democratic rule is derived from debate, communication, education and election where political science shares ideas, shapes public policy, solves problems and aids to common good. A democratic polity bridges the gulf between the intellectual class and ordinary citizens by means of communication, mediation of values and interests. Politics may be about power but its legitimacy springs from democratic ideals, accountability to popular will and public purpose. The loftiest hope of politics is peace. This is how political science changes its course on the way citizens think and seeks the rational consistency of means and ends. 

Political science, rooted in philosophy, helps to liberate human mind and body through citizens’ civic competence – cognition, conviction, values, skill and fulfilling lives. It fortifies democracy by many ways. First, it passes on political data and knowledge in an objective manner, enabling citizens to see their political condition. It offers worldview to empirical concepts and variables, even normative ideals for an opening to immense human possibilities and enhances scientific intelligence to grasp social, economic and political world of “what it is” and “what it ought to be” thus capturing multiple realms of politics. Second, it stays close to everyday life of citizens and orients them to problem resolution through political action. It serves communication between citizen and polity, easing feedback so that democracy adapts to human norms and responds to their needs and rights. Third, it initiates dialogues among the citizens to resolve issues of ecology, society, economy and polity. And finally, it blends civic education with other types of education underpinning the validity of knowledge. 

In ancient time, political science aimed to set up good polity, virtuous citizens and wise leadership but faced renewed failures. Later, it sheltered many actors and institutions – interest groups, political parties, parliament, government, polity, state, law, administration, citizens and international politics and process of governance. The dawn of democracy and modernity enlarged its scope to behavioural and post-behavioural turn, espousing diversity of motive: become competitive with other social sciences, save itself from the crisis of irrelevance and gain insight beyond statecraft. This is closing the chasms between traditional political science rooted in philosophy, theory and institutions; modern political science embedded in human interest, behaviour and incentives; post-modern one ingrained in networks, webs and movements; and normative one embedded in life-enhancing values, equity and peace. Its rebirth from triviality is eased by its advocacy for erasing social maladies – poverty, gender inequality, ecocide, violence and irrationality, and nurturing virtues of human dignity.

Political science seeks to resolve problems through contextual policy, enabling citizens to adapt to technological evolution of society, fostering civic culture and shaping structure and agency embedded in the dynamics of relations among individuals, networks, associations, parties and social movements and their cross-cutting linkages across the global spheres. The current anomie arose out of pro-market state intervention and cut of state’s regulative capacity. Corporate globalisation has devoured legislators’ ability to draft suitable laws and policies and subordinated democracy to economic logic. The ongoing democratic erosion of representative structures of the state and society demand political scientists defend democratic and humanitarian ideals. The frail status of political science, poor inter-subjective cooperation, research network, teaching and funding opportunities are winding its critical approach to theorise paradigm shifts from family, community, the state to global governance. In an uncertain time, an edifice of national community requires a robust civic culture, a social contract to ease pluralist interaction between economy, media, civil society and government and string a policy of internal cohesion and outer adaptation. Participatory democracy favours enlightened citizens to influence the government, not just elite space with or without elections. Democratisation can create common background condition for coherence.

Political science is co-dependent on non-political source of knowledge. It aims to democratise other disciplines and rescue the hybridisation of regime which has flattened democracy and blurred the boundaries between scholars and ideologues. It needs to combine civic course for training of leaders and citizens for the appropriation of native knowledge and their loyalty to the polity, state, leadership and virtues of just national, regional and international order. It improves democracy from defective practice and maintain a balance between political realists faith in the reasons of state to defend “national interests,” idealists hope in the reasons of society to guard “public interest,” nationalists’ craze for civic dimension and functionalists’ impulse for cooperation. 

Democratic polity presumes citizens’ participation in decision-making in the institutional life of society.

The rebirth of normative political science is entailed by an imperative of educating ethical and moral site of democratic waves and whet capacity to escape from self-mutilation. It bridges the gulf between the humanity, social sciences and sciences, and averts the triumph of technology over human life. It requires endogenous process of socio-economic modernisation, inner-party democracy and evasion of the politics of negation that stymies sovereign expression of national life. Future political scientists need to cultivate moral courage to live by their conscience and gain the insight on the restless spirit of the age. It propels human progress and helps them recover from the crisis of vision. 

Democratic polity presumes citizens’ participation in decision-making in the institutional life of society. An interface of political scientists with normative ideals helps in protecting democracy from the rage of free market materialism, fundamentalism, radicalism and populism of all sorts. Individuals, groups or parties based on these identities abuse the diversity of society and rear conflict to threaten democratic pluralism and hit a thin line between right to dissent and subversion. Many other “isms,” which sought to achieve the end of “philosophy,” “ideology” and “history,” were based on a utopia of a perfect world order. The failure of each grand “end” was attributed to the fact that each sealed itself off from learning from human ingenuity. Each ignored the imperfectability of human nature which produces endless chain of causes and effects ad infinitum.

Every democratic society, therefore, provides basic qualification for citizen participation in politics through socialization, education, training and orientations so that they are governed more by norms than human nature and able to debunk the falsehood that underlies utopia. Science can falsify the destructive power of utopia and improve the conditions of human life. Democracy thrives on an art of associational life that allows citizens’ involvement in decision-making by combining their assets and education and formulating ideas and programs to articulate on the political agenda. In the absence of dense civic associations, democracy becomes “polyarchy,” elite domination where citizen participation in political power is confined to leadership selection and experts dictate public policy leaving political science defend democracy while other disciplines teeter, stay neutral and free ride. Political science is public science or the science of citizens. It believes in the equality of citizens, a system of rights, freedom of organisation and expression and representation. None other social sciences value these concepts. But equality is jinxed if citizens fail to choose the gifted leaders.

Science historian Thomas Kuhn says, “Scientists cannot separate their subjectivity from their work.” Teaching political science is not about Olympian detachment. As a systematic body of knowledge, it demolishes dogma enabling citizens to achieve political maturity to assume responsibility. Democracy requires informed citizens who know the principles and institutions that dispose of power, the rules through which they operate and the motives of leadership who govern them. Teaching of political science is not a part of political indoctrination. Research is a method of acquiring critical knowledge and data about the meaning of politics. It animates interpretive method and helps build the theory of political process. Systematic collection, description, quantification and analysis of data require conceptualisation and hypothesis which are provided by the rules political scientists use in discovering the political world. Theory-building, generalisation and abstractions ring hollow unless their propositions are validated in the real life. Scientific inquiry helps to form concepts to reflect the essence of things and build a synergy of the world of political theories and the drama of political life.

Political scientists must express truth before power, oppose where citizens are silenced and their human rights abused. Their own self-enslavement to power distances them from becoming a scientist and removes their humanity from the hopes of the oppressed. Teaching expects participatory method from both teachers and students, because it supports efforts for the democratisation of attitudes, beliefs and orientations to the polity. It is also input-oriented, interactive and learning of human nature, needs, rights, wants and interests. Political scientists are ethically responsible for their action. Their professional identity and competence must have social utility to the nation for financial investments.

Independent inquiry furnishes inter-subjective response so that search for new knowledge becomes both contextual and universal. Now its élan vital has lost the goal, direction and delight. There is not a single view in political science inquiry. It even suffered from breakup of faculties, disorientation and loss requiring new unity and creative synthesis so that it can again become an intrinsic part of political wisdom. New problems of the world entail new knowledge, new processes and institutions to solve them. The movement of things, then, follows the meaning of politics – freedom and its enduring existence.

* Professor Dahal is Political Scientist

Source: The Rising Nepal