4 Important Stages Involved in the “Evolution of Political Sociology”

In the medieval period, St. Augustine also argued that society was guided by the divine principles. The greatest thinker of this period, Saint Thomas Aquinas observed that state was a natural institution which worked for serving the earthly needs of the people of each society. He classified laws into four classes: eternal, divine, natural and human, and explained their hierarchical relationships.

All these thinkers believed that “human identity” and destiny were directly tied to the state or the church rather than to the evolutionary process of society.” While in the ancient period society and state were held to be one, in the medieval period the Church fathers held that state was a natural divine institution working for serving the material needs of the people.

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They gave importance to the Church and explained the supremacy of Church over the state. Church, State and Society were studied in an interrelated manner, but Church was held to be superior most divine institution.

(ii) The Great Debate:

We can refer to the great debate of the 16th and 17th centuries as the second stage in the evolution of Political Sociology. This stage was marked by a great debate between two sets of thinkers.

One group of philosophers, which included great thinkers like John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau and August Comte, made and projected a distinction between the state and society. They gave primacy to society and general will of the people over the state.

Against it the second group of philosophers, which included equally great thinkers like Hobbes, Burke and Hegel, did not make and accept any distinction between the state and society and advocated the supreme and total control of the state over all aspects of life of the people. The issue of relationship between society and state and between individual and state came in sharp focus.

(iii) The Strong Role of Elites in Society:

The 17th century witnessed a decline in the institution of monarchy and rise of powerful class of landlords. The feudal lords became very powerful. They began using the political power in the state. Monarchy started getting replaced by Aristocracy.

The Royal Family, the class of major landlords, the landed aristocracy, and the class of the rich became very powerful classes. The society witnessed the rise of elites each of which came to denote standards of excellence.

Some elites, which got the popular name of Traditional Elites, viewed government as a closed, self-perpetuating political organization exercising the power of the state over the people.

Against these, some other elites, which got the popular name of democratic elites, came forward to espouse the idea of a more open-ended and humanitarian view of government and politics. The role of social classes in the exercise of the power of the state came to an important issue of discussion and debate.

In the 18th century, the American War of Independence leading to the rise of the USA as a sovereign independent republic and the French Revolution reflecting the rise of common people as the real power-holders, brought into prominence the issue of role of the people in the exercise of power in each society.

In the 19th century the process of democratisation of politics in Britain and some other European states got underway and this development greatly strengthened the focus on the issue of exercise of power in society.

(iv) The Contemporary Period:

The 20th century opened as the age of democracy and development but came to develop a violent conflict between democratic and dictatorship states. The end of Second World War highlighted the victory of Democracy over Dictatorship. Post-1945 years witnessed the rapid march of Behavioural Revolution in the study of Politics.

It strongly projected the need for making the study of politics comprehensive, realistic, precise, scientific, and an empirical science of human political behaviour in society.

Political theory-building through the study of individual and group behaviour by use of scientific-empirical methods and following the interdisciplinary focus came to be immensely popular. Several political scientists and sociologists got involved in the study of the social context of political relations.

For this purpose political scientists began using concepts, theories and approaches drawn from Sociology and other disciplines. All this created the environment in which Political Sociology emerged as an important and productive field of Politics.

To begin with the field of Political Sociology developed from the works of Max Weber, Barrington Moore, Jr., and Moisey Ostrogorsky. Latter on Robert A. Dahl, Seymour Martin Lipset, Theda Skocpol, Luc Boltanski, Nicos Poulantzas, Stein Rokkan, Apter, Crick, Bendix, Greer, Orleans and several others became known as major Political Sociologists. They successfully demonstrated to the social scientists as to how political study could be advanced by studying politics in the social context.

In contemporary times Political Sociology continues to develop as a popular, productive and immensely interesting sub-field of study and research.