Christian Bay in his famous essay “A Critical Evaluation of Behavioural Literature” has vehemently criticized the behavioural approach to politics.
Some of the criticisms made by Bay are noted below. There are also other criticisms:
1. According to Christian Bay behaviouralism is not true or real politics, it is pseudo-politics. Let us say it in his own words: “I would define as Political all activity aimed at improving or protecting conditions for the satisfaction of human needs and demands in a given society or community, according to some universalistic scheme of priorities, implicit or explicit.
Pseudo-political refers to activity that resembles political activity but is exclusively concerned with either the alleviation of personal neuroses or with promoting private interest….. Pseudo-politics is counterfeit of politics” (Methodologies in Political Theory). Christian Bay says that behaviouralism is not, in the real sense, politics.
It is pseudo-politics because its aim is not the general welfare or development of society. What a person thinks or aims at—that forms the core of research. Personal behaviour or attitude constitutes the general assumptions.
2. The approach of the behaviouralists towards democracy is not clear and up to satisfaction. They talk about democracy but a very common sense idea about democracy reveals that idea of democracy is not separate from value judgment and ethical explanation.
A critic observes, “It is paradoxical that some of the leading behavioural writers on democracy continue to write as if they want to have it both ways: to be rigorously value neutral and at the same time be impeccable champions of conventional pluralist democracy”. This is a grave charge against behaviouralists. The answers to the following questions—Why democracy? What is democracy for? and What is democracy? —are not available from the quite huge literature of the behaviouralists.
3. Leo Strauss has levelled another charge against behaviouralism. He says that so far as the behaviouralist literature is concerned it appears that the behaviouralists are supporters of liberal democracy. It is because they pay maximum importance to the opinions of individuals. But in ultimate analysis it will be found that they are profoundly conservative.
The American behaviouralists do not want any radical change in their political systems. Because change in political system means radical revision or abolition of the existing bourgeois structure. “Politics or at any rate American politics is and must always remain primarily a .system of rules for peaceful battles between competing private interests and not an arena for struggle towards a more humane and more rationally organised society”.
The charge of Leo Strauss against behviouralism is quite correct. The behaviouralists after the S. W. W. strenuously fought to establish that American political system, (which is capitalist system) is correct and is quite capable of satisfying the needs and aspirations of people. So there is no need to change it. In order to strengthen this position the behaviouralists have vociferously advocated their standpoint.
4. Behaviouralism deliberately overlooks a very important aspect of capitalist society. The voting behaviour of an individual does not grow and exist in vacuum; it is circumscribed by social, political, and economic phenomena. In a capitalist society there are several classes and among them two are main.
These two classes are bourgeois and proletariat, because of economic reasons, is at loggerheads. Moreover, the voting behaviour of a person is, to a large extent, determined by his position in society. The voting behaviour of a poor man is different from that of a rich man and if it is the case one cannot form any opinion about the political behaviour. By neglecting this aspect the behaviouralists have committed a blunder.
5. The behaviouralists have taken it for granted that the American democracy performs quite satisfactorily. But they have dismally failed “to articulate the criteria on which the judgment is based”. There are numerous flaws in American democracy. There are number of under-privileged groups including Negroes who are deprived of the fruits of democracy. In a word excessive love for behaviouralism and application of empirical methods to make it a pure science has blinded their vision.
6. A political scientist including behaviouralist must start from the existing set-up or structure. The purpose of his analysis is to suggest a new model or structure, which will serve the needs of society. If a model or recommendation fails to meet the requirements of society it will prove its futility. “A major conceptual and theoretical task is to develop a satisfactory theory of human needs and of the relationships between needs and wants”.
To achieve this end the political scientist must make recommendations which are related with political development. Judging behaviouralism in politics by this criterion we can unhesitatingly say that the task of the behaviouralist has not fulfilled the criterion noted just now. It says nothing about political development or comparative politics.
It focuses its attention mainly on the political behaviour of individuals. But a comparative analysis of political behaviour of men in different political systems must is required to be made in order to form a balanced and acceptable conclusion. Behaviouralism does not throw light on it.
Behaviouralism’s lack of interest in political development and comparative politics is regarded as the most pronounced drawback and this cannot be ignored. It is believed that a transition from one stage to a higher one can assure of the fulfillment of human needs. It is true that all the needs of individuals will not be satisfied. But the process of political development will continue. Behaviouralism lacks this capacity.
7. Christian Bay and many others are quite frustrated about behaviouralism. Particularly, Christian Bay opposes it on the ground that behaviouralism fails to touch the basic objective of political science. He says “the human goals of politics should be conceived in terms of maximising individual freedom-—psychological, social and political. Democracy and indeed every law and constitutional clause should be judged as a means to this end”.
Bay has persuasively argued that only a normative research can achieve this ambitious objective of politics. What Bay wants to assert is that an empirical research is not a sufficient way to fulfill the various demands. Because there is no scope to draw a distinction between what is promised and what has been achieved.
Bay and many other political scientists have lost their faith on behaviouralism. Bay suggests that philosophers shall work in tandem with political scientists and their suggestions and recommendations can be helpful for further investigation analysis of the subject. What Christian Bay wants to assert is that a revival of normative approach to politics is the only solution.
Any fruitful research of political science must concern itself with “ought” and “is”. Bay pleads “for an expansion and a more systematic articulation of the psychological and the normative perspectives of political behaviour research. Politics exists for the purpose of progressively removing the most stultifying obstacles to a free human development”.
8. Wasby contends that behaviouralism practically has said nothing new. Most of its arguments were stated in the twenties and thirties of the last century. Let us quote him—”While the behaviouralists appeared to be conveying new doctrine, many of their arguments about establishing the scientific character of the study of politics were old”.
This objection of Wasby is not without validity. The two chief pillars of behaviouralism are the political behaviour of the voter and the application of empirical or scientific methods for the analysis of this behaviour.
If we look at the political literature published in the first two or three decades of the twentieth century, we shall find that many of them dealt with these two concepts. But the drawback of the earlier thinkers was that their views were not brought to the attention of larger segments of the academic circles with a great fanfare.
9. The traditionalists have objected to behaviouralism on the ground that mere focusing the political behaviour of the individual is not enough. The critics now say that (and there is lot of justification in their observation) the factors that influence their behaviour/opinion must also be recognized and, if required, scrutinized. Though the latter day behaviouralists have admitted it the originators did not give credence to it.
What the individuals say how they behave, in what way they form their opinion —all these are highly complex. There is no straight-forward way. Moreover, present day sociologists are of opinion that today’s individuals are not alone, they think and work in a group. That is, one man’s views are influenced by other’s views and vice versa.
In this way views and opinions are crystallised in any society. Again, the formation of opinion is not uniform in character in democracy and autocracy. So mere collection and interpretation of political opinion and behaviour is not enough for building up an empirical theory. Or, the application of scientific methods cannot be an Aladin’s lamp which can solve all problems all of a sudden. The moot point is while we are analysing the behaviour or opinion of the individual we must actively consider the group.
10. We generally criticise the traditionalists for their biasness towards institutions and organisations. But the behaviouralists suffer from the same shortcoming that is biasness. The behaviouralists have given undue and maximum importance to the political behaviour/opinion of the voter and showing coolness to the organisations and institutions which play crucial role in all democratic societies. Hence, for a balanced account of a political concept it is essential that both organisations and political behaviour are to be squarely dealt with.
11. The behaviouralists have already made the assumption that the individuals behave rationally. But there are number of shortcomings behind this assumption. All the individuals are not supposed to be rational. For a rational behaviour sufficient education, consciousness and other preconditions are necessary.
But, in reality, all the individuals do not possess these qualities in total. If it is admitted we cannot expect that all the individuals will be rational. The utilitarian philosophers also built up their doctrine on the concept of rationality and it was faced with the same criticism.
12. It has been maintained by critics that behaviouralism was propounded to meet the looming crises of capitalism. The propounders diluted (of course skillfully) crises in capitalism with ideological pronouncements and this dilution is the cause of a number of confusion. We find that behaviouralism innocuously has defended capitalism. Critics are of opinion that the behaviouralists could have done it without propounding a high-sounding and complicated political theory.
13. As a political concept behaviouralism is quite good no doubt, but it does not augur for a good or highly desirable society. We know that men for centuries are aspiring after a good society. Plato contemplated of an ideal state. Marx thought of an exploitation-free state/society.
But behaviouralism says nothing of the sort. It does not invoke our imagination. Some are of opinion that this charge against behaviouralism does not hold good. Behaviouralism envisages a liberal democratic society where each individual will get freedom to exercise right.
14. Wasby has drawn our attention to another dark side of behaviouralism. Behaviouralists’ inordinate emphasis on the scientific methods has faced another criticism. The behaviouralists boastfully declare that their application of improved and sophisticated techniques has considerably enhanced the importance of the concept.
But the accuracy of the doctrine has never been judged properly. Let us see what Wasby says on this point: “Because of the heavy emphasis by behaviouralists on methods, the criticism that they are more interested in techniques than the results they obtain does strike home with a certain accuracy”. The behaviouralists, it is observed, select topics/subjects which suit their interests and about which data and facts are available.
This policy has failed to make behaviouralism a comprehensive theory. Moreover, collection of data is not everything about a concept. Correct facts and data are to be collected, they are to be analysed properly, and for this purpose good techniques are to be applied the persons who apply them must be efficient and qualified.
All these conditions must be fulfilled for constructing an over-arching theory. Critics are doubtful about the realisation of all these conditions. The behaviour or opinion of the voters may change or is subject to change. To meet this situation new techniques may be required. But the behaviouralists are silent on this issue.