Political theory has always been in search of some basic material to build upon. It could be divinity, justice, desire, freedom, affluence etc. Goals of selecting particular material could be many, such as self-realization, meeting the grace of God, carrying out directives of revelation, national unity, territorial integrity or expansion, domination, gaining specific power status, development, explanation or justification of events, prediction, legitimacy, mass-following, reform or restructuring of polity, formulation of ideology, and the like.
Most of these goals prompt a theorist or thinker to pick up material on subjective grounds which others may nor may not agree upon. These grounds sometimes are so subjective and transitory that their choice either proves false or harmful.
With the dawn of faith in ‘science’, one likes to prefer empirical material so that others too may accept its existence and validity. In this respect, institutions, entities like group and communities, orientation of cultures, processes of voting, conduct of war etc. were usually studied by scholars through institutional and historical approaches which were mostly subjective, partial and non-explanatory.
In order to make the study of politics ‘scientific’, ‘behaviour’ was considered to be a neutral and universally available unit. Thus, a movement for studying politics or political phenomena on the basis of ‘behaviour’ started in the United States. Thus, the movement to study Political Science on the basis of or around ‘behaviour’ is widely known as ‘behaviouralism’. Behaviouralism, thus, is regarded as a turning point in the history of Political Science, thought and analysis.
It has been widely acclaimed as a great ‘revolution’ which has transformed the goals, nature, scope, methodology, and theoretical formulations of Political Science. To a certain extent, it has distinguished Political Science from Political Philosophy and speculative political thought.
Emergence of behavioural studies reflects the determination of new scholars to derive their findings on the basis of direct or indirect observation of human behaviour. It is to be regarded as a first real attempt to make political studies as a ‘science of polities’. ‘Behaviour’ is a neutral phenomenon which can be dispassionately observed by all human beings. It can be measured and analysed empirically. Scholars were now hopeful to draw out an empirical theory on the basis of ‘behaviour’. All political activity is constituted of human behaviour.
In a sense, we all are behaviouralists living, dealing with, and interacting on the basis of our observation of other’s behaviour. Courtesy, litigation, quarrel, leadership, riot etc. are names given to particular types of behaviour. Love attracts us, and misbehaviour generates repulsion. An intelligent man goes by actual behaviour of a person or groups. So is the case with other collectivities, nationalities and communities.
Man does not confine himself to the observation of human behaviour only. He has been studying since long the ‘behaviour’ of planets, sea, winds, plants, animals, etc., and, thus, augmenting his knowledge ceaselessly. Natural sciences have done a lot towards this direction. As a result, it became possible for man to emancipate ‘reason’ and ‘being’ from the clutches of church and other forms of superstitions. This enabled them to bring about industrial, technological and electronic revolutions.
A chain reaction started there from Behaviouralism can be regarded its natural outcome. According to behavioural tenet, politics also should be studied and analysed in the same way. Useful, scientific and purposive conclusions are derived from behavioural observation of politics.
It can be possible to find out ways and means to make better and directed use of the achievements of science and technology. Politics, being a governing enterprise, is mainly responsible for using the products of natural and other social sciences. But, politics itself should be studied in a scientific or behavioural manner. If the study of politics itself is not scientific, it cannot guide us to make use of other subjects scientifically.
However, it does not mean that study of politics was never based on observation of behaviour. Both rulers and scholars of bygone ages have been keen observers of human behaviour. Plato, Aristotle, Chanakya, Confucious, Cicero, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, etc., in one form or another have made subtle observation of the behaviour of the rulers and the ruled and other entities. However, their observations had often been overshadowed by metaphysical, philosophical, ethical, religious, and subjective considerations.
They rarely agree in their conclusions and often make contrary claims and create confusion. The bulk of their writings belong to the category of political literature and history. In behaviouralism, empirical observation is the base, whereas ancient thinkers put behaviouralism at a lower level and indulge in higher and subtler realities of life. They liked to work with ideas, ideas, conjectures and spiritual attainments.