Political Sociology: A Reader

By S. N. Eisenstadt | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I

General Introduction: The Scope
and Development of Political Sociology

Part One

I

The concern with political power, organization, and authority has been of paramount importance in the history of the reflection on the nature of the cosmos and of society alike. 1 This reflection tended to focus on political organization and institutions, on power and authority, and on the behavior of rulers and subjects as the major forces of organized social human activity. Traditions of folk- and ritual‐ symbolic thought and imagery dealt with the nature of human destiny as manifest in the cosmic and social orders. These traditions have already shown a tendency in their magical and ritual expressions to focus on political authority and the community as crucial aspects of social life and of human existence.

Both the general orientations and the concrete particulars of such reflection differed, as we shall see in greater detail later, especially in the extent to which they emphasized the political sphere as the most important dimension of human existence in relation to other types of human associations, particularly family and kin groups, with the interpersonal relations and primordial ties. 2 Yet they all had in common the vision of the political community as a focal point of organized social life and of political relations—relations between rulers and subjects, or relations among co-citizens—as the focus at least of earthly social relations. Within this common tradition of viewing the political as the focus of earthly social life or as encompassing it, three major substreams of reflections can be discerned.

One such substream—that of Greek philosophy and of the Hebrew prophets—is that of the quest for the best political order in terms of moral values, or, in other words, in the evaluation of political systems according to moral criteria. This is best known and most fully evident in "Western" tradition. 3

A second such substream, to be found in almost all civilizations and especially elaborated and most fully articulated in the great empires, is one which is best illustrated by various "mirrors for princes"—compendiums which were composed to guide the rulers in the conduct of affairs of state. Some, probably most, of these compendiums were but manuals for the manipulation of court intrigues or of administration. But others, fewer probably in number but most outstanding in their impact on subsequent political thought, focused on what today we would call some central aspects of political sociology—the problem of the bases of cohesion of different political systems, the bases of obedience and compliance of subjects, the proper political behavior of rulers, and above all, proper administrative organization and behavior as one of the central aims or mainstays of any polity. 4 Even the most outstanding among these more sophisticated treatises—as, for instance, the Arthashastra of Kautilya—never attempted a systematic analysis of the bases of political-social life or of its great variety, as can be found in Aristotle. But in many ways, by being less bound to the tradition of a city-state and less limited by viewing the political and ethical systems as almost closed systems, we find in these treatises more insight into the focal points of cohesion and continuity of great political (usual imperial) systems in which the relations between the ruler and the subject, and not between co-citizens, were the most crucial ones. But for them also—per—

-3-

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