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Sairam Dodda asked: What is ‘Decline of Political Theory’? What does it mean?

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  • Rajeesh Kumar replies: Political theory helps us to analyse and explain the norms, practices, and organisation of political action. Importantly, it explores what a better political world would look like and how it can be created. Political theory often asks and attempts to answer questions such as what justice requires of citizens and the state, what are the essential rights and liberties, etc. Political theory thus is critical to the process of organising state and society, which is vital to maximise harmony and prosperity as well as to provide the conditions for individual self-realisation.

    However, in the second half of the 20th century, amid new debates on the nature and status of political theory, some scholars proclaimed the decline of political theory. The overplay of values, principles, and history in political theory were the main factors that provoked these scholars to resort to the death metaphor to describe the condition of modern political theory. David Easton, for instance, in his 1951 article, wrote that “Political theory today is interested primarily in the history of ideas” and “the ever-increasing role of historicism is a major cause of the decline of political theory.” According to Easton, in addition to historicism, hyper-factualism and domination of moral theory also contributed to the decline of political theory. Later, political scientists like Alfred Cobban and Dante Germino took this criticism further and argued that excessive dependence upon facts and failure to correlate facts with theory as well as ideological reductionism led to the decline of political theory. However, such criticism also set the pace for methodological refinement and constructive theory building in the discipline. 

    Following are suggested readings on the subject:

    David Easton, “The Decline of Modern Political Theory,” The Journal of Politics, 13 (1), February 1951, pp. 36-58.

    Alfred Cobban, “The Decline of Political Theory,” Political Science Quarterly, 68 (3), September 1953, pp. 321-337.

    Dante Germino, “The Revival of Political Theory,” The Journal of Politics, 25 (3), August 1963, pp. 437-460.

    Posted on June 21, 2019

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.