Evolution of Political Theory

The Evolution of Political theory has become common in our day-to-day life. Nowadays, Every individual is using political theory in their life. So the evolution of political theory started in the ancient age in Greece and still, it is evolving. Many philosophers and leaders provided their ideas to shape it. Political theory also shaped by history, philosophy, and social movements, has evolved over the countries. Ancient thinkers like Plato, Aristotle and Niccolo Machiavelli, John Locke are the modern thinkers who have provided their ideas to provide a new direction to political theory. Due to this, Political theory has evolved with different types of concepts like justice, equality, freedom, etc. The political theory focuses on the development of the humanity and betterment of the governance system.

Political Theory: Meaning and Definition

Political theory is a combination of two words, Political and theory. Both words are derived from Greek words. Political word is derived from the Greek word “polis”, the Greek word polis means city-state. The word Theory is derived from the Greek word “theoria” and the Greek word theoria means contemplation or speculation.” In modern times, the word theoria is defined as a systematic explanation or framework used to understand a phenomenon or set of phenomena based on observation, experimentation, and reasoning.


According to Coker – ‘When political governance, its form, and its activities are studied or compared not as mere elements, but to understand and evaluate events in the context of people’s needs, desires, and their opinions. , then we name it a political theory.

According to Germino – ‘Political theory is the critical study of the principles of proper arrangement of human social existence.’

According to Andrew Hecker, “Political theory includes both facts and values.” They complement each other. That is, the political theorist plays the role of both a scientist and a philosopher.

The Multi-faceted Nature of Political Science

Political theory is not a static object, but a colorful fabric that integrates threads of history, philosophy, and science.

1.Political Theory as History

  • History serves as the foundation for political theories.
  • History is both the past politics and the politics of the present.
  • If politics were to sever its ties with history, it would become very brutal.
  • If history were to forget its relationship with politics, it would merely remain literature.
  • By learning from history, we can provide a new direction to politics.
  • History works as a teacher for political principles.
  • It also works alongside a guide for politics and its laboratory.
  • Entire history is not politics.

2. Political theory as Philosophy

  • Political philosophy talks about ideals.
  • Philosophy serves as a guide for political theories.
  • Philosophy talks about ideal situations, hence not practical in contemporary scenarios.
  • Political philosophy discusses the entirety of an era.
  • Political theories are a small part of political philosophy.

3. Political Theory as Science

  • Political theories descend to the level of scientificity.
  • Theories can be proven through discernment.
  • Without scientific methods, political theories remain merely repositories of emotional and imaginary beliefs.
  • Science makes political theories logical.
  • Absolute purity like science is futile for political theories because there can be no tool to test social sciences.

The Evolution of Political Theory

The growth and evolution of political theory is a little bit deeper and deeper. the growth and evolution of political theory should be understood in the context of, how it began and how the focus has been shifting of the political theory. The growth and evolution of political theory is broadly divided into three phases- classical political theory, modern political theory, and contemporary political theory.

I) Classical Political theory
II) Modern Political theory, and
III) Contemporary political theory

(I) classical political theory
It was developed during the ancient Greek period. In the ancient Greek period, there used to be many city-states. the city-state was known as in the Greek language polis. The Greek word Polis means ancient Greek city-state. The study of ancient city-states was known as politics, and that is how the political theory began during the ancient period in Greek cities, during the 6th and 5th centuries BC. The great political thinkers of that era were Plato and Aristotle. In his book ‘Republic’, Plato said that the ultimate aim of political inquiry was to have an ideal state and a philosopher king and how justice should prevail. He speculated on the concept of justice and his ambition. Plato aimed to establish an ideal state where justice would prevail and his disciple Aristotle is known as the father of political science because he was the person who systematically started the study of so many Greek city-states. He studied almost 158 and above city-states. He compared one system of government of one Greek city-state with another Greek city-state and he said that the state is created to look after the needs of the man not only to look after the needs of the man but also to make the man the best citizen, an ideal citizen and that is how he said in his book, the famous book Politics. So Plato and Aristotle their emphasis was on ethics because human beings after all are ethical animals. so, therefore, their emphasis was on ethical aspects values, and ideals and Aristotle compared the different systems of government that were there in ancient Greek city-states. The ancient Greek culture was very restless during that time. There were many disorders and he also speculated on revolution. The reason for the revolution was, how to face the revolution. Aristotle compared different systems of government, democracy, polity, and monarchy. He favoured neither democracy nor monarchy but he favoured polity which combined the main important characteristic features of democracy and more monarchy. So this was how the classical political theory began. The main emphasis was on ideals and ethics and their orientation was philosophical until the 15th century. The emphasis of political inquiry the emphasize of political theory was on what ought to be and the philosophical orientation.

(II) Modern political theory
Modern political theory began in the 15th century with the publication of the great work of Niccolo Machiavelli, the Prince. This Period was called as Modern Era because it the apart from emphasizing on values and signed ethics. for the first time Niccolo Machiavelli,
in his book The Prince emphasized on separation of ethics and religion from political activity. He advised the king, the ways the means and the way science means and different strategies to protect the state and expand the state, and also the values are the morals and ethics, and also religion can be exploited for the sake of the state. That is how he emphasized on a purely political aspects and he separated politics from values and religion. that is how the modern state started. The Modern means it is something a kind of rational inquiry. Humanity was the main emphasis and also rationality was the main emphasis, without having any favour towards the ethics and philosophy early modern phase. This modern political theory can also be broadly divided into different phases.

1. Early modern phase
2. Behavioural phase
3. Post behavioural phase and
4. Marxist political theory

1. Early modern phase
The early modern period was between 1580 to 1789-80 that is 16th century to the 18th century. In the early modern period, key thinkers are Noccollo Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Montesquieu, Rousseau, etc. The Book of Machiavelli the Prince highlights a brief discourse on the art of attaining authority, establishing a governing body, and preserving its dominion. Thinkers like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, they were the social contract philosophers. They emphasized on how the state is created by the contract being entered into by the people. Montesquieu and Rousseau are liberal political intellectuals. Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau are known as contractualists. Contractualism are those philosophers who speculated on how people enter into a contract and create the state so that is why they are called as contractualis. The common themes were sovereignty, the state, natural rights, political obligation, republicanism, and constitutionalism. During the early modern period, prominent philosophers like Thomas Hobbes said that the State should have absolute sovereignty. John Locke looked at natural rights and the obligation of citizens to obey the state. He proposed that people should consent to governmental authority, and emphasized the importance of protecting individual liberties. These philosophers also emphasized on republican type of government, which is different from hereditary kingship and constitutionalism. John Locke is famously known for constitutionalism. constitutionalism here means the state and the government should be governed by certain fixed rules and regulations enshrined in the Constitution. The constitution ensures limited sovereignty and also protection for the rights of the people so these are the main themes during the early modern phase and

— Modern phase after 1789
modern phase after 1789, It is the year of the French Revolution. During the French Revolution, The common themes were liberty, equality, nationalism, capitalism, socialism, and democracy. The main thinkers of this era were Edmund Burke, Karl Marx, and John Stuart Mill. During This period, Nationalism emerged after the decline of feudalism and capitalism. Capitalism means that the means of production, like factories and land, are in the hands of the wealthy. Under capitalism, only a few can earn as much profit and accumulate property as they want. Many people benefited from capitalism, but it also led to widespread discontent due to its limitations, gaps, and inequalities. This dissatisfaction sparked a demand for socialism, which advocates for the nationalization of the means of production. By spreading ownership more evenly, socialism aims to achieve greater equality and democracy. These developments occurred after the Industrial Revolution, alongside the rise of democratic movements following events like the French Revolution. These were the main aspects that political theory focused on.

2. Behaviouralism
Behaviouralism emerged in political inquiry around the late 1920s, shifting focus away from traditional normative approaches that emphasized what ought to be, particularly regarding the state and government institutions. Dissatisfaction with this approach arose due to its failure to address what is. Influenced by the natural sciences, behaviouralism, notably highlighted in David Easton’s “The Political System” published in 1953, redirected attention toward activities, processes, and behaviour rather than solely on state and government structures. This perspective emphasizes the behaviour of individuals involved in power dynamics, both as leaders and citizens. It emphasizes how values are allocated and legitimized within society, as well as the exercise of power and authority, as articulated by scholars like Robert Dahl, Graham Wallas, and Bentley. This shift from institutional structures to activities, processes, and behaviour prioritizes factual data and the observation of regularities in human behaviour to formulate generalizations.

3. Post-Behaviouralism
David Easton, a prominent behaviouralist, made significant contributions to political theory with his book in 1953. Later, in 1969, he introduced the post-behavioural view, a type of Behaviouralism. Post-behaviouralism, unlike traditional behaviouralism, places less emphasis on scientific methods and facts, and more on public responsibilities, which are considered important priorities. It combines values with empirical evidence. Unlike Behaviouralism, which focuses heavily on methodologies, post-behaviouralism shifts its attention to responsibilities and methodological concerns.

4. Marxist Political theory
• It is a method of interpreting the past, understanding the present, and projecting the future.
• It emphasizes on change through class struggle and seeks transformation from capitalistic to socialistic and from socialistic to communistic mode of production.
— According to Marxist point of view, politics is not a fundamental activity of human beings.
• The political system is not an autonomous structure as it cannot be studied in isolation from the rest of the society.

(III) Contemporary Political Theory
• In existence since 1970s
• According to David Held, contemporary political theory in totality involves four distinct tasks:
1. It is philosophical
2. It is empirical
3. It is historical
4. It is strategic
• Nation-state to trans-nationalism’
–To think globally in terms of global justice and global citizenship and also the trends against them.
• The main thinkers of this period included John Rawls, Robert Nozick, Michel Foucault, Jurgen Habermas, etc.
• The common themes are free market, gender, culture, identity, diversity, and global justice.
• Rawls’ theory of Justice (1971) represents a convergence of libertarianism, egalitarianism, and Justice.
• The emergence of new concerns like feminism, environmentalism, ethnicity, racial identity, equality, and diversity has led to a general loss of central focus regarding the subject matter and consensus methodologies.


If we observe our surroundings, we witness constant movement, progress, and evolution. However, upon closer inspection, we also perceive underlying values and principles that have motivated individuals and influenced policies. Concepts such as democracy, freedom, and equality serve as examples.


Indirectly, it still matters to us today as students since we could decide to pursue careers in media, law, bureaucracy, etc. in the future. Secondly, everyone of us will have the right to vote and make other decisions as citizens. A rudimentary understanding of the political ideologies and institutions that influence our society is beneficial for acting responsibly. As citizens, we resemble the patrons of a musical performance. Thirdly, in our daily existence, problems like freedom, equality, and secularism are not theoretical. Every day, we come against the prejudice of all kinds in our homes, schools, universities, shopping centres, and other settings. Lastly, we students take pleasure in participating in elocution contests and discussions. Regarding what is good or bad, we each have our own perspectives.

Significance of Political Theory:
  • It gives us the opportunity to understand how the social and economic system works, the problems associated with it such as poverty, violence, corruption, ethnicity, and so on.
  • Besides comprehending and revealing the social phenomenon, political theory is itself an instrument of social change. Political theory is a tool that helps us to find ways to reform or revolutionize society.
  • Political theory is a way of creating a good society and setting politics in an ethical way.
  • Strikingly beneficial in the application of public policies. Political theory is like a compass as it is really very useful in finding out the direction in which things are going to happen in the future.
  • Political theory instructs mankind that the society is the place where men find the meaning and purpose of life.
  • It is the source of mutual respect and the toleration among us and the motivator for us to find solutions to our disagreements.
  • The main role of political theory, as a discipline, is to offer explanations for political occurrences as well as justifications for the political choices we may make (like democracy over dictatorship, or vice versa).
  • For political theory, it is nothing but an endless conversation. Politics will never cease to be a subject of discussion since it’s a matter of life and death, to say the least.
  • The aim of theory is to expand our comprehension of the social existence and therefore produce a framework for good life. In this context, the two theories (classical and empirical) must be synthesized.