Almond and Powell have shown the possibility of comparing political systems at three levels: (a) maintenance and adaptation, (b) conversion, and, (c) capability – and their patterns of relationship among the three levels of functions. The concept of political development, according to Almond and Powell, involves these levels of functions.
However, their comparison scheme dwells upon three major criteria: (i) structural differentiation or multi-functionality; (ii) secularisation; and (iii) the stage of political development. The first two relate to the basic concepts of ‘structure’ and ‘political culture’. The third is the interrelationship among the three levels of analysis. The theory of political systems consists of ‘the discovery of the relations among these different levels of functions, and of the relation of the functions at each level.
Political development denotes some significant changes in the size and substance of the flow of inputs into a political system. It results in further structural differentiation and cultural secularisation. There are many problems or challenges which lead to changes in the size and substance of the flow of inputs, and put the system or its structure and culture under stress.
The problems or challenges have been broadly categorised as:
1. The problem of state building:
When the political system fails to ‘penetrate’ the society, the political elite create new structures and organisation to regulate behaviour and extract resources from the system. It is generally associated with the development of a centralised and effective bureaucracy and other structures. It takes much time and efforts to evolve appropriate state-mechanism and build structures there upon.
2. The problem of nation-building:
When the system lacks adequate development of attitudes of obedience and compliance in the population, the elite redirect socialisation and recruitment processes by which people transfer their devotion and loyalty from smaller tribes, villages, sects, caste, colour, etc., to larger central political system, It may be called as an enveloping we-feeling.
3. The problem of participation:
It arises when there is rapid increase in the volume and intensity of demands for a share in decision-making by various groups and levels in the society. Participation results in the making of political groups and factions, election, and legislative bodies. It calls for understanding these forces, political competence, and responsive attitudes, among the elites.
4. The problem of distribution:
It emerges when there is a sudden increase in the volume and intensity of demands for more distribution of resources or values among various segments of population. The system can face this challenge if it is able to extract more resources from its environment, and regulate the behaviour of demanding individuals and groups. At this juncture, its symbolic and responsive capabilities may come to its help. Distribution-problem subsumes all welfare functions.
A political scientist has to analyse the ways in which the system operates at three kinds of maintenance and adaptation, conversion, and capability to perform their functions. A study of these ways gives out certain patterns of challenges and responses, of political systems. Challenges and responses to them cause political development in political systems. Almond and Powell have studied, analysed, and compared various political systems prevailing from primitive age to modern era, and have prepared a typology of these patterns of political development.
They have done it by relating conversion process to capability functions. Their developmental classification of political systems leads to ‘a theory of political development’. The basis of various levels of development has been threefold – differentiation, autonomy, and secularisation.
In other words, political development means occurrence of more and more differentiation in structures, their operation in autonomous manner and rationality throughout the system. Almond has made these three variables as the basis of description, explanation, and prediction regarding the behaviour of political systems, and yet he regards his developmental approach as ‘probabilistic’.