Robert A. Packenham observes that ‘political development’ has received varying attention at the hands of scholars. Upto 1965, it was treated as a ‘dependent’ variable. Political development, thus, was based on political modernisation (rationalisation, participation, and integration), and political democracy.
Various approaches use it as:
1. A function mainly of the legal-formal apparatus of government, prescribing features like equal protection of law, rule of law, election by secret ballot, separation of powers, etc.;
2. A function of a level of economic development;
3. A function of administrative capacity;
4. A function of a social system that facilitates popular participation at all levels and helps bridging over various diversities; and
5. A function of political culture reflecting fundamental attitudinal and personality characteristics among members of the political system.
However, these approaches did not study political development deeply and comprehensively. They could not weigh each other comparatively and free themselves from their normative notions. They also lacked data to prove their assumptions. They neglected variables like the will, skill and capacity of political development.
After 1965, political development was visualised as a continuous process, and not some fixed-end-state. Helpern defined it as ‘a persistent capacity for coping with a permanent revolution’. Various terms were used for this conceptualisation, such as, the will and capacity, problem-solving capacity, institutionalisation, ability to sustain new goals, etc. Scholars of post-1965 era treated it as an independent or intervening variable. Huntington is his article, ‘Political Development and Political Decay’ defined it as ‘the institutionalisation of political organisations and procedures.’
Almond and Powell explained it as, ‘the increased differentiation and specialisation of political structures and the increased secularisation of political culture.’ A political system is said to be developing, according to Diamant, ‘where there is an increase in its ability to sustain successfully and continuously new types of social goals and the creation of new types of organisation.’
Halpern observes it as the relationship between ‘the structural changes and demands set loose by uncontrolled force of transformation’ and ‘the will and capacity of political authority to cope with these changes and demands.’ Eisenstadt finds it as ‘an institutional framework capable of continuous absorption of change.’
This perspective also uses concepts like skill, capacity, etc., in imprecise manner. Huntington’s concept of ‘institutionalisation’ is also not very clear. Diamant, Eisenstadt and others have an overlap between definition and explanation. They arbitrarily treat it from independent to dependent or intervening variable.
Political development has some normative aspects also. Its goal is said to be ‘modernisation’ which has not been operationalised and explained properly. Scholars leave such aspects open to others. Statements like ‘the capacity to cope with changes’, ‘problems arising out of political development’, etc., are not properly explained.
Often they overlook short-range aspects in favour of long-range aspects. Western scholars generally regard cost of violent revolution more than cost of flow and piecemeal modernisation. Thus, in these studies of political development, various important aspects have been either neglected or over-emphasized.
However, political development, finally, can be explained as a generic process of successfully sustaining new demands, goals, and organisation in a flexible manner. In view of the developing countries, it also means meeting of particular goals and demands. In these countries, it is simultaneously a cause for other types of social changes.