A Few Words about Political Science
The study of political science is vital to a liberal arts education. It helps people learn how to identify and define important issues. It encourages them to think analytically. It teaches them how to develop and evaluate arguments. Finally, it exposes them to approaches different from their own, ranging from the philosophical ideas of the ancient Greeks to modern techniques of policy evaluation.
Yet political science can be puzzling. Many students conceive of political science as current events or contemporary political history. Others presume that the political world is so complex that it eludes general explanation. Taken together, these expectations produce a view of political science, which is limited to the accumulation of names, dates, places, and events and an analysis based on common sense and inside information.
However, political science is more than the contemporary history. Political science is a discipline, which applies theories, concepts, and methods to the study of political phenomena. It also uses historical and philosophical perspectives to understand political problems and policy issues. One must reach beyond common sense to enter the province of political science.
The field of political science poses exciting challenges to its students. For example, how does one develop a theory of revolution that accounts for the American and Russian cases together with those of France, Cuba, and Germany? What does the concept of revolution signify? Are these all examples of the same concept? In responding to these questions --- an intellectual challenge emerges. There are several approaches to revolution, such as the Marxist idea of property distribution, behavioral notions of rising citizen expectations, and cultural approaches to protest movements. They all emphasize different features. The task for students is to discover what is important and what may be ignored in the analysis and to determine what factors have the greatest explanatory power. Once one uncovers the underlying themes of crises and events, one goes beyond common sense to conclusions, which may not have been obvious at the onset.
For students, these challenges should be intriguing. They can question conventional interpretations of the political world. They can grapple with fundamental problems. And they can develop their own ideas about the forces that guide politics. In doing so, students can help produce systematic knowledge about political phenomena.