System theorists in Political Science adopt the perspective of ‘system’ in their study of politics. In comparison with general system theorists, they like to define it in a narrow and restricted manner. As such, the latter are interested in ‘political system’ and not ‘systems’ in general.
A political system can be seen as a set of objects together with relationships, between the objects and between their attributes, or, a whole which is compounded of many parts – an ensemble of attributes; or, a set of elements standing in interaction; or a group of objects or elements standing in some characteristic structural relationships to one another and interacting on the basis of certain characteristic processes.
Even the society can be seen as a system of functionally inter-related variables. Robert T. Holt finds the social system as the system of interdependent roles and corporate structures of society. As such, a system involves some constantly cognisable processes underlying a set of persons, relations, actions, roles, structures or events. Every system carries some natural or artificial purposes, objectives, or goals.
It can be concrete or abstract, empirical or trans-empirical, observable or abstract. The railway system is concrete, empirical and observable, but the ethical or Hegelian system is abstract, ideational, and non-empirical. Some systems can be both, semi-concrete or semi-abstract, as in case of political system. Each system consists of some actions, activities or interrelations.
They can be natural, motivated or contrived. If ecosystem is natural, an education system can more or less, be regarded as contrived. Attempt to bring in a socialist or secular system in India or elsewhere can be considered as motivated. Every system is built of certain basic material.
This basic material is operated by and through its units, organs, subsystems, processes and activities. Each system, in due course of time, develops some specific characteristics, tools, means, and techniques. If the basic element of human physiology is life or consciousness, the religious system depends on faith in God. They have their own tools, techniques, methods, and styles to accomplish their goals.
However, it is not always easy to know the basic, elemental or key material of a system. One can easily know and recognise the means, methods, and instrumentalities of a concrete and empirical system like the water or light system of a city. But one often becomes helpless in the delineation of an ethical or a religious system. A man can know it only by observing its symbols, relevant expressions, and other indirect behaviour patterns. As regards their forms and goals, there are acute conflicts and controversies.
However, most of the systems are related to each other in some direct or indirect manner. As such, their mutual relationships can take up hundreds of kaleidoscopic forms, independent, dependent, semi-independent, simple, complex, direct, indirect, etc. It is always difficult to measure and objectively evaluate the power, influence, capacity, capability, activities, and quantum and quality of relations, particularly in case of abstract systems. Cohen rightly observes a system as ‘any ongoing set of recurrent and interrelated social actions’.
Similar is the controversy on the nature of ‘political system’ in the field of Political Science. There are sharp differences over the nature of state organisation even among traditional thinkers. After the behavioural revolution, political scientists have replaced ‘state’ by ‘political system’, considering the former as formal, inadequate and unsatisfactory. Still it is not clear which is the central element of political system.
Classical political thinkers had found knowledge, reason, natural land, religion or conventional law as the basic element of state. Most of the modern political scientists find ‘legitimate physical compulsion’ as the key variable of political system. For Easton, it is ‘authoritative allocation of values for society’. Lasswell and Kaplan regard ‘severe deprivations’ as the basic material of political systems. Dahl relates it to power, government and authority. Catlin discovers ‘control over wills’ as the basis. Almond defines the political system, more or less, as ‘the legitimate, order-maintaining or transforming system in the society’.
All the scholars have called its various organs and processes in varying terms. Easton has put them in the two broad categories of ‘inputs’ and ‘outputs’. Almond and Coleman have classified them into seven functional categories, putting four under ‘inputs’ and three under ‘outputs’. Lasswell has analysed them as seven processes. There is a total lack of unanimity regarding form, structures, organs and processes of a political system. Almost all, Bottomore, Weber, Binder, Shils, Almond and Coleman, Almond and Powell, Eisenstedt, etc., have classified political systems in different manner.