Behaviouralism has been criticised from several quarters. It can be divided into three parts:
(2) Objections from traditionalists, and
(3) Reactions from phenomenologists, Marxists and others.
1. General Criticism:
(i) Behaviouralism suffers from lack of consensus and consistency. The behaviouralists are academically modest as they regard their findings and assumptions as relative. But in practice, they are immodest who refuse to accept the existence of a fact if it cannot be quantified, weighed, or measured. They declare themselves as purists and value-neutrals, but do have a set of values. Christian Bay has pointed out that they have a bias towards liberal democracy, and a liking for status quo and stability. Personally, they want to keep away from politics, and wish to remain apolitical or sit behind blue curtains.
(ii) Even if their achievements are ‘scientific’, they are trivial and unimportant. Rammey, Kirkpatrick, Dahl, Deutsch, Eulau, etc., have observed that despite expenditure of millions of dollars, the behaviouralists have not been able to produce a science of human behaviour. The making of a reliable, valid, and satisfying Political Science is still a mirage. They have yet to discover laws of human behaviour.
(iii) Behaviouralists overlook the simple fact that the subject matter of Political Science and natural sciences is different. As such, they should have different methods and techniques of study and evaluation. The subject matter of politics is comparatively much more complex, less uniform, more changing, discrete, intentional, and not directly observable.
The methods of natural sciences, therefore, are not suitable to the study of Political Science. Unfortunately, there is the tendency to concentrate everything on the use of those methods. Either substantive areas are not taken up or unimportant matters are chosen to collect data and information. Some critics regard their methods and techniques as inadequate for the making of a scientific theory, and its verification.
(iv) Behaviouralism is a historical, and neglects the role of values. James A. Gould and Vincent V. Thursby exhort how can an act be ‘political’ without a purpose and value. Neglect of values simply leads to value nihilism. According to them, most of our present is deeply ingrained in or is the result of the past.
(v) The sole concern to produce a ‘science of human behaviour’ has resulted in running away from politics. Alfred Cobban considers the concern as a device invented by the teachers of universities to avoid controversies or politics without producing a science. The tendency to escape from immediate and urgent problems of society had made the behaviouralists arm-chair intellectuals or stooges and parasites living in high ivory-towers. Their ‘pure’ findings, away from dust and dirt of actual politics, cannot be considered useful for laymen and politicians.
(vi) Behaviouralism tends to substitute spiritualism and morality by materialism or sensory knowledge. Knowledge based only on human senses happens to be partial, limited, crude, segmental, and transitory. A part, a particular or a unit can be comprehended only with reference to the whole, the general, or the unity. The latter is provided by disciplines like Philosophy, Metaphysics or Religion. According to them, behaviouralism requires the control, guidance or supervision of higher, subtle and super sensory elements. The higher should govern the lower. The subtle and the abstract abounds the physical and the concrete.
2. Objections by Traditionalists:
Traditionalists have repeated some of the objections mentioned above.They have not accepted all the characteristics or features described by David Easton.
Their criticism is summed up below:
(i) Political reality is multi-variety and complex. It is utterly fruitless to seek regularities or a claim to study it objectively or dispassionately. As observations of political events cannot be replicated or controlled and experiments are almost naught the findings cannot be regarded as testable. Any search for obtaining replicable generalisations is futile. Reality may remain hidden underground.
(ii) As dynamic politics operates much below the surface, the techniques of interview, questionnaire, etc., do not help in knowing the reality. When reality remains unknowable through these techniques, there remains no room for verification. Behind every apparent behaviour there exists a social and cultural background, which can rarely be comprehended by behavioural tools and techniques.
(iii) Even the collection of facts, data or information cannot be fully objective. Quantification is closely related to subjective considerations. If we start following the behaviouralists, by upholding the methods and techniques over contents and problems, about 70-80 per cent of the subject matter of Political Science will go out of the discipline itself. Most of the subject matter of Political Science is not observable.
(iv) Data collected by the behaviouralists do not represent the political reality. They tend to observe the unobservable, and sometimes measure the immeasurable, or quantify the unquantifiable. Phenomena like liberty, equality, patriotism, peace, etc., cannot be put under the category of observables.
(v) It is impossible to claim oneself to be value neutral. Every scholar or researcher entertains his own value preferences, and cannot separate them even for a moment.
(vi) As the behaviouralists do not possess even middle range or low-level empirical theories, there is no hope for general or overarching theories. If the theory is general, it will not be valid, and vice-versa. In fact, theories with them, in terms of their own definitions, are not ‘theory’.
Reactions from Critical Theorists and Marxists:
Critical theorists like Habermas present the view that the modern industrial society can be understood only by a holistic and synthetic perspective. Each individual is an operating embodiment of his cultural and technological milieu, and of forces of economic production which make up his praxis. This praxis or learning from this milieu is the determining factor. Praxis inculcates legitimacy to the system. With this view, all attempts to develop an empirical theory appear futile.
Under the influence of growing neo-Marxism in the United States, the student community and the young scholars have joined Neo-Political Science Movement. They want to free social sciences from the behaviouristic shackles of the status quo. They are closely related to the movement regarding Civil Rights for all, anti-nuclear war, rise of Black Power etc.
Their ideology is receptive to Marxism as well as Existentialism. According to them, behaviouralists stand for capitalism and military dictatorship and have led Political Science to a death trap. It has come in support of the affluent and self-contented American society. Its impact elsewhere also will be the same.
Bernard Crick considers it as undemocratic as it tends to treat man either as a machine or animal. Conclusions derived from individual and micro studies cannot be applied at macro levels. It has led to so much specialisation and professionalisation that the elements of integrity and harmony are disappearing. The whole discipline is disintegrating. At the moral level, behavioural scholars appear to be ready to serve the dictators, monopolists, and power-hungry politicians.
Another critic has remarked that the behaviouralists have so far not been able to say anything which had not been said before. Behaviouralism has triggered off a war and brought about anarchy in academics. It cannot show any path to humanity to march toward a desirable direction. It lacks even allegiance towards the autonomy of the discipline.
Scholars from Phenomenology, Philosophy of Science, and others have considered its emergence as ‘end of polities’. It tries to justify improper as proper by transforming ‘political’ as ‘non-political’. Irrationality becomes rationality, and vice versa. Its value-neutralism can be treated as another kind of mischievous politics.
This game of ‘Scientificing’ is being played through journals, articles, seminars and conferences, and research projects. According to them, it is useless to talk about ‘pure knowledge’. Scientific method and ideology both are closely related. There is a great need to develop a Social Science which may bring about radical changes. It should understand and examine social reality while giving utmost priority to human existence. The problem is that of total change of contemporary society, much less of mere interpretation, still less of explanation.
Most of the arguments advanced above pertain to early stage of behaviouralism; very soon, the behaviouralists prepared themselves in a positive and constructive manner. They concentrated their efforts in all seriousness and sincerity, and remedied several weaknesses, accepting the limitations and rescheduling their goals and priorities.
Post-behavioural movement represents the culmination of this overall reform and reorientation amounting to another ‘revolution’ and ‘change’ in Political Science. Its emergence has to a large extent dispelled many of the above arguments and crudities of early behaviouralism. As such, reply to the remaining objections would suitably be taken after the discussion of post-behavioural revolution in Political Science.