In this article we will discuss about:- 1. Meaning of Political System 2. Nature of Political System 3. Meaning of System 4. Characteristics of Political System 5. Functions of the System 6. Stresses and Strains on the System 7. Interest Articulation.
Meaning of Political System:
Political system is the basis of all political activities in a state. It is immaterial whether the system is parliamentary democracy, absolute dictatorship or an enlightened monarchy. But once the system has been introduced, whether with willing co-operation of the people or imposed from above, those in power and authority wish to maintain that at all costs.
In the words of Robert Dahl, “Whether he likes it or not, virtually no one is completely beyond the reach of some kind of political system.” According to him every one is involved to some extent at some stage in some kind of political system, both willingly or unwillingly.
Nature of Political System:
In our modem times no political system can be either permanent or stable. If that becomes so, that is bound to degenerate itself and can conveniently be placed under the category of a stale or degenerated system. Such a system is bound to create many lags in socio-economic systems as well.
In fact, with the coming of awakening in every section of society all over the world, the systems have rapidly started changing and new systems are quickly attracting the attention of the people. It was a time when feudal system prevailed all over the world and that was gladly accepted by the people. It then became a way of life.
But as the time passed religion became very powerful and even feudal lords accepted supremacy and authority of religious leaders. With the passing of time people became more conscious and demanded their share in the running of administration of their own country. As is well known the old system always tries to persist and resist every change.
The forces of status quo do not wish to disturb the existing order, as that does not suit to their interests. Each change is very likely to push the existing elites in the background and create a set of new elites who in all probabilities challenge the dominance of the existing elites in all walks of life.
This is what exactly happened with the religious elites with the passing of time. They too had to bow before the democratic system which became more and more popular. A society professing democracy in political and social as well as economic system began to be considered as the most advanced one. It is a known fact that western world fought two world wars in a bid to save democracy.
But again democratic system lost the imagination of the people after sometime. It came under severe criticism today, it is believed by many that democracy is in crisis. Its disadvantages have come to the front and every society is focusing its attention on these now. The world is now in search of an alternative to democracy.
With the dawn of present century socialist system and pattern of society caught the imagination of the poor and working classes. The followers of communism began to believe, rather strongly, that democracy is a method of maintaining status quo by the rich, so that they can continue to exploit the poor and weaker sections of society.
The system being expensive cannot be of any use to those who live from hand to mouth and have no time to get political education. It was and still is being argued that democracy never has been an instrument of peaceful socio-economic change, but a system of perpetuating the existing order which favours the rich as against the poor.
It was under these circumstances that Communist system became popular and in no time. It engulfed half the world and several nations were forced to accept this newly emerging system much against their wishes.
But these days there are so many new systems which are coming to the front and are being tested for their acceptability. These include Fabianism, State Socialism, Syndicalism, Anarchism, Guild Socialism, Gandhism and many others to count.
Each new system, has some salient characteristics, which appeal to different sections of society. In fact, each political philosopher who expounds a new political system and ideas has an innovative mind and wants to give currency to his ideas.
No political system, both in the East as well as West, is by nature and character static but always dynamic. In fact, dynamism is one of the most important and universal characteristic of a political system.
Before actually discussing about political system in India, it is better to understand as to what is a political system. Why at all a political system does not remain static, what is concept of a system and what are its salient features. Other allied problems connected with a system are as to what are the functions of a system and what is meant by system persistence.
The idea of system started quite sometime back in natural sciences when natural scientists started using this word to establish and stress their view point. Even among the natural scientists, physicists and biologists than the others very much used this word.
Among the social scientists Anthropologists as well as Sociologists started using this term and in fact they borrowed this from natural scientists. In Political Science, Political Scientists used this term only in the fifties of this century.
It was only in 1956 that the Society for the Advancement of General System Research was set up. But first important attempt to study political systems on the basis of systems theory was made by David Easton and Gabriel Almond.
The others who made some efforts in this regard included Mitchell, Karl Deutsch, Richard Synder and Kaplan. In this way system concept became an integral part of political science. In the view of David Easton, system concept is an important event of 20th century in Political Science.
Meaning of System:
But what is a system? In simple language system includes those individuals and articles which influence and are influenced by changes. Von Bertalanfy is of the view that system is nothing else but such facts which are close with each other under the influence of interactions.
Friedrich has defined political system by saying that, “When several parts of that are different and distinct from each other compose a whole bearing, a defined functional relation to each other, which establishes a mutual dependence of these parts upon each other, so that the destruction of one entails the destruction of the whole, then such a constellation shall be called a system”.
According to Almond and Powell, “The political system includes not only governmental institutions such as legislatures, court and administrative agencies but all structures in their political aspects.”
Thus system includes all actions which are inter-connected, influence as well as are being influenced by each other. Viewed from this angle some system prevails every where, May that be our solar system, circulatory, digestive or nervous system.
Our digestive system can work well only when other parts and systems of the body inter-act in close co-operation with each other. Exactly this can be said about other parts of the body as well. The whole body system will really get disturbed and shall not function in an orderly manner in case one part of the system does not co-operate with the other.
In other words, it can be said that the system is combination of certain elements, which are dependent on each other and that mutual dependence continues for a long period. Take the example of a family which is an important institution of our social system, whose members perform their own duties.
But at the same time all the members of the family work for collective welfare of the family as a whole. If any single member of the family does something wrong or undesirable, respect and honour of the whole family is put at a stake.
A political system is linked with political roles and activities including pressure groups, participation in elections and in enactment of legislative measures. In other words, it can be said that an individual is concerned as well as very much associated with those activities which are inter-linked with each-other and not only with those which have either no connection or no link with each other.
Political system thus is a set of inter-related variables and a legitimate order of maintaining or transforming a system in the society. It is associated with the use of legitimate physical coercion in societies. But at the same time a political system cannot base itself on physical force alone.
Characteristics of Political System:
Gabriel has pointed out three important characteristics or features of the system. These include comprehensiveness, interdependence and boundary. From comprehensiveness means a system in which all such structures are included which help in smooth running of the system.
These also include such internal as well as external pressures which are also essential in maintaining that structure. In a system there are both input as well as output structures.
When one talks of political system one includes in that legislature, executive, judiciary, public services, political parties and also pressure groups. Not only this, but in this are included blood relations, castes, riots, demonstrations, strikes and all other similar actions which have bearing on political actions and activities.
From inter-dependence he means that when there is some change in the role of some variable in a system with that other roles in the same system also change. This brings basic changes in the system and stability comes again when the changing factor is controlled.
According to Almond, “When one variable in a system changes in its magnitude or in quality, the others are transformed, the system changes its pattern of performance or the unruly component is disciplined by regulatory mechanism.”
As regards boundary he has said that each system has some beginning or end. Though it is easy to fix such a limit in the case of natural and physical systems, yet it is not possible to do so in the case of social system, or in so far as human beings are concerned. It is because roles usually overlap each-other.
The boundaries of political system are always subject to large number of fluctuations and keep on changing. These immensely increase when there is war or there are elections. Pressure groups, lobbies and economic as well as political fluctuations very much influence boundaries. It, therefore, becomes difficult to find out where a person begins or ends his actions and activities.
Functions of the System:
Each system usually performs four functions. It helps in maintaining patterns. It tries to ensure that old values pass on from one generation to the other. This is done with the help of family, school and religion, etc. There are certain well established traditions which help in maintaining the system. Even effort is made to ensure that those who violate these traditions are controlled and remain within the system.
Then each system tries to achieve certain goals. One such important goal is to maintain political and social systems. In order to achieve these goals certain resources are mobilised.
Under adaptation are covered production, resource allocation and resource management. In every system there are several roles. If a system is to work well, for that it is essential that all these roles should work in close co-operation and in an integrated manner. Role conflicts very adversely affect smooth working of the system.
David Easton is also of the view that in a system there are input and output functions. He has included in these political socialisation, recruitment, interest articulation and interest aggregation and interest communication which also includes rule making, rule application and rule adjudication.
In a political system there is also a feedback process by which decision makers in a system try to find out reaction of their decisions and the extent of problems which the decisions have created or solved in any way. Efforts are also made to find out how can solution to existing problems be found out.
Since a political decision can create many upheavals and sensations, both knowingly and unknowingly. It is essential that a good feedback system should try both to find out and analyse these as well. This will make the authorities realise the gravity of the situation and make them find out a solution to new problems, which otherwise would have remained ignored.
Robert Dahl is of the view that, “A political system is any persistent pattern of human relationship that involves to a significant extent power, rule or authority.”
David Easton in his A Frame-Work of Political Analysis has said that, “A political system is a set of interaction, abstracted from the totality of the social behaviour through which values are authoritatively allocated for a society.” He thus believes that political system is just a part of wider social systems. In every society there are certain profitable and useful services.
It is the desire of every person that he should take maximum advantage from these services. Since these are not adequate and everybody cannot take advantage of these, it is, therefore, essential that he should himself do something.
Usually the people accept such decisions of political leaders and individuals which benefit the whole society or at least quite a large section of the society. The decisions which adversely affect majority of people are resisted.
Like social system, political system also functions under certain limitations. But it is difficult to demarcate these limits because these closely get mixed up with other systems. David Easton is of the view that. The political system is the most inclusive system of behaviour in a society for the authoritative allocation of values.
Today, e.g., opinions are very much divided about the relationship of religion with politics. A person who is deeply involved in politics, it is expected of him to follow a particular code of conduct which he may not otherwise follow as a member of any other institution including family.
According to David Easton a political system can be distinguished from other systems by finding out the extent to which political leaders integrate and keep themselves separate from the society.
In other words, how far they are near each-other and try to promote spirit and feelings of brotherhood. Though he has also suggested few other tests yet this remains his basic feature. A political system includes all social and physical environments in which the whole system functions.
There are thus intra-societal and extra-societal social factors and are also those social and geographical elements which are outside the political system. But these are an integral part of the whole political system. Extra-societal factors are linked with international system, which are in a way outside the national system.
A political system includes both intra-societal and extra-societal elements. The former include ecological and physical resources, topography and factors connected with food supply. Then come biological factors which are concerned with such biological traits which influence political behaviour of the people.
Personality of political leaders and those who participate in political process are also included in it. Intra-societal also covers whole social system. Thus, a political system is very much surrounded by economic, cultural and social structural systems.
As regards extra-societal environment, these are the factors which influence a political system from outside the national boundaries. In this we study political systems of other countries, international political organisations, e.g., UNO, SEATO, CENTO, etc. In this are also included international economic, cultural social and similar other organisations.
These very much and very deeply influence political system of a country, particularly these days when means of transportation and communication have become very easy and the world has become short. Inter-dependence of nations has so much increased that the influence of extra-societal environments cannot be under-estimated in the political system of any country.
Stresses and Strains on the System:
From stresses we mean challenges which do not allow a system to proceed smoothly but create hindrances on its way. Sometimes, these hindrances are so strong that these change the very course of the system itself. Internal sources of stresses arise because goods and services are always available in a limited quantity and numbers.
Since everybody wants to enjoy political power and make its maximum use, therefore, in every society whether that is less or more developed there is a race to control political power. On account of this at times there are social imbalances and political system is forced to interfere to set the system in order and to see that imbalances are removed. It is then said that the system is under heavy strains.
Sometimes stresses and pressures are also put on account of external factors. In India e.g., every citizen wants to have same facilities, comforts and enjoyments which the people in the west already enjoy.
Though these concern primarily with economic system, yet simultaneously these very much stress the whole political system of the country, because both cannot be separated from each-other. Similarly when a neighbouring country procures or manufactures deadly war weapons, the whole political system comes under strains and stresses and national policies get changed.
In addition, whole budgetary system gets disturbed. Our political system is bound to come under strains when there is an upheaval and change in economic and political system of any big foreign power or programme of world body or when international monetary system radically or basically changes.
When political system is said to have failed or bowed before stresses, by this we mean to say that under internal or external pressures it has either completely broken down or that in that certain basic and fundamental changes have come. These days it is very difficult to think of complete elimination of a system.
When there is great stress on the system certain basic changes come in that but the system on the whole continues, hi 1970-71 certain basic changes came in political system, in Bangladesh, which was then East Pakistan. Political system in Iran came under strain when Shah of that country had to leave it and power slipped in the hands of a religious leader, but system as such continued in both the cases.
In this connection it may be remembered that there is nothing like absolute stability in any political system every system always comes under strains. Sometimes there are more stresses and strains whereas at other times these are less but strains are bound to be there.
These are unavoidable. It is just possible that the stresses may be brought under control by those who are in authority but even then these also bring certain changes.
This happens with every system. Even the most stable and lasting U.S. political system is not absolutely stable and these days that is coming under heavy strains. A good system will, however, resist such changes which are created by such serious situations as civil war, depression and unexpected rapid changes in political, economic or social aspirations of the people.
Efforts are made to neutralise such changes by way of constitutional amendments, new legislative measures and by way of introducing changes in domestic and foreign policies. Now another problem which arises is as to how to find out whether a political system is under strains or not. Stress can be found out at two levels and at each level strain tries to change the system to some extent.
Strain on democratic system can be found from the extent of freedom of speech and expression and popular participation in decision-making process. Changes in a system can also be circumstantial and result in many far-reaching and sometimes in dangerous climaxes.
Sometimes even under heavy strains a system can take some decisions but it is just possible that it may not be possible to implement these due to circumstances prevailing at that time.
In other words, a good system is one which is not only capable of taking decisions, but should also be capable of getting these implemented. When the system cannot get the decision implemented it can be said that is under heavy strains.
When a system is under strains it can better be regulated by another system rather than by a single individual, because a system has more alternatives to regulate than the individual. A political system has inter-links with social system.
When a system influences another in a way that both act as inputs and outputs for each-other, it can be said that each system has a conversion process. There is continuous system of feedbacks.
When there is modernisation in any society cultural, social and economic systems basically change. Similarly when there are changes in agrarian and industrial economy these are bound to bring with themselves urbanisation, industrialisation, spread of education, improvement in knowledge of the masses-and ultimately these result in rapid social changes.
On account of this the demands of the people on political system also increase. They want to have more share in all walks of life and also in the judicial system which was of no use till then, all of a sudden becomes useful and purposeful for the common masses. Demands of the people also increase and in case these are not accepted, the system comes under strain.
There is both specific as well as fused support for these demands. When a particular step is taken by the authorities and that is given warm, unhesitant and spontaneous support that is called specific support, as against defused support which is not very definite and clear.
There are certain means by which demands reach a system e.g., in semi-developed societies the sources can be heads of the tribes, leaders of the societies or religious leaders. In developed societies such a function is performed by pressure groups, political parties and with the help of mass communication system.
According to David Easton these are gate-keepers of a system Once the demands have reached the system these are analysed and turned into output, which again can be of several types e.g., administrative decisions, orders, ordinances, laws, etc. These give value allocations an authoritative shape.
Then comes the next question, namely, how to find out whether and to which extent decisions taken in the form of output have helped in solving problems and what support the decisions have got from the people and also what still remains to be done to meet such demands which have remained un-met or are likely to be put on the system.
Such finding is very essential for the system as a whole because that alone enables the system to take precautionary measures well in advance. With the help of far-sightedness it becomes possible to successfully deal with the situation. Success of a political leader very much depends on his far-sightedness in this regard.
In order to protect their own interests members of political system try to put forth their demands. The way in which these are put and presented are known as ‘interest articulation’. This is usually done in several ways e.g., Institutional Interest Groups like political executives, bureaucracies, armies, etc.
Then come non-Associational Groups like castes, religious and regional groups. Anomie Interest Groups come next which include violence, riots, agitations. Lastly, then come Associational Interest Groups, which include trade unions, chamber of commerce, Kisan Sabhas, etc.
Interest articulation can be both definite as well as indefinite. When the demands are put in a clear and specific manner it is called definite articulation.
But when the people make slogans without any clear and concrete programmes then the interest articulation is indefinite. Sometimes, however, the demands made by different groups clash with each-other and it becomes essential, first of all collect and place these before party workers in the form of two alternatives.
This task is usually accomplished by political leaders and authorities. This is essential because if that is not done then there is every possibility that whole central political system and structure may bow.
One important function of political system is to enact laws. In our present democratic set up and system law making task is completed at different levels. Quite often even bureaucracy initiates steps which ultimately lead to law making. In fact, law making process has become so difficult and complex that initiative can come from any source.
Then another function of the government is that of enforcement of laws enacted and this function is very much increasing these days. It is also becoming very difficult and complex. For this, of course, several causes are responsible. The government also performs rule adjudication function, which was for some time not given its due place.
In this way a system is a very complex and complicated one and it is very difficult to change it. It can sometimes be very much overhauled while at other times the changes brought about are not very far-reaching. But it is difficult to imagine of a system, which altogether gets changed and replaced by a new one.