Political development is a more elusive concept than economic development. It is more controversial in normative terms and more difficult to measure in empirical and operational terms. It is used frequently by both normative and non-normative or existential thinkers. Normative theorists stress that a political system develops as it approaches the good political order.
They devote less attention to systematic statement of conditions which give rise to and maintain political development, and are more concerned with specifying ends and justification for having such political development. The existentialists spend more time on specifying the characteristics of what they regard as politically developed systems and the conditions and processes which give rise to them. Lucian W. Pye has vividly examined diversity in the explanation of the concept of political development.
Political development has been variously explained as:
1. Political prerequisite of economic development;
2. The politics typical of industrial and advanced societies;
3. Political modernisation under which advanced nations are regarded as pace-setters;
4. The operations of a nation-state;
5. Administrative and legal development, it includes all colonial practices and authoritative structures;
6. Mass mobilisation and participation involving new standards of loyalty and demagoguery;
7. The building of democracy;
8. Stability and orderly change;
9. Mobilisation and power; and
10. One aspect of a multi-dimensional process of social change regards it unnecessary to isolate political development from other aspects coming under the total process of modernisation.
There are other interpretations also, such as, national self-respect, attainment of dignity in international affairs, etc. But according to Pye, most of them create confusion. According to him, these various interpretations share some broad characteristics, which can provide the basis of agreement.
He categorises them under three aspects and interlinks them in the form of development syndrome:
(a) Spirit or attitude towards equality:
It includes participation, universalistic nature, standards of achievement etc.;
(b) Capacity of political system:
It is related to outputs: economy, performance of government, effectiveness and efficiency, rationality in administration, and secularisation of public policies; and
It involves increase of structures, institutions, division of labour, specialisation, followed by ultimate sense of integration. Thus, political development, according to him, is a three-dimensional process of equality, capacity, and differentiation. He admits that these do not necessarily or easily fit together.
Rather, acute tensions and problems are generated by them. Pressure for greater equality can challenge the capacity of the system, and differentiation can reduce equality by stressing the importance of quality and special knowledge. His development syndrome is also unilinear. Problems of equality relate to political culture and sentiments about legitimacy and commitment to the system.
Capacity-problems involve the performance of authoritative structures of government. Problems pertaining to differentiation strike at the performance of the non-authoritative structures and the general political process in the society at large. In any case, political development revolves around the relationships between political culture, the authoritative structures, and the general political process.
Mehta opines that Pye interprets development by incorporating almost every conceivable feature of the American political system. Pye finds the development-process as evolution of society from incoherent homogeneity to coherent heterogeneity, with capacity to solve developmental problems.
Alfred Diamant conceives it as a ‘process by which political system acquires an increased capacity to sustain successfully and continuously new types of goals and demands and the creation of new types of organisation.’ For this process to continue over time, a differentiated and centralised polity must come into existence. It must be able to command resources from and power over wide spheres and regions of the society.
Almond visualises it as the acquisition by political systems of a new capability, in the sense of a specialised role structure and differentiated orientations, which together give a political system the possibility of responding efficiently, and more or less, autonomously to a new range of problems. Both Almond and Powell reiterate that political development shows the formation of new capabilities, with specialised role-structure and differentiated orientation which enables the political system to deal with new challenges.
Hagan also finds it as ‘the formation of new structures and patterns which enable a political system to cope with its fundamental problems.’ Samuel P. Huntington characterises political development as ‘institutionalisation’ which can be applied both to past and present. For him, it is the development of institutions to meet people’s demands. According to him, this process of institutionalisation can go forward and breakdown and can decay as it has happened many times in the past.
He wants to use it as a ‘value-free’ concept, applicable to all types of societies. However, Pennock and Smith put a caution that it should not be measured in terms of the ability of political systems to survive only but also to satisfy the demands of those who are subject to its rule. The system has to satisfy them with ‘political goods’. Riggs also concurs with him and observes that political development opens a number of choices to satisfy political goals.