Notes of Ch 1 Political Theory: An Introduction| Class 11th Political Science

An Introduction

Human beings are unique in two respects

• They possess reason.
• The ability to reflect on their actions.

Political Theory analyzes basic questions such as:
• How society should be organized?
• Why do we need government?
• Which is the best government?
• Does law limits our freedom?
• What does the state owe its citizens?
• What do we owe each other as citizens?

• Political theory also examines questions of this kind and systematically thinks about the values that inform political life — values such as freedom, equality and justice.

What is Politics?

• Politics is the study of power or the struggle for power.

• No society can exist without some form of political organisation and collective decision making.

• A number of social institutions such as the family, tribes and economic institutions, have emerged to help people fulfil their needs and aspirations.
→ Such institutions help us find ways of living together acknowledging our obligations to each other.

• How governments are formed and how they function is thus an important focus of politics.
→ But politics is not confined to the affairs of government.
→ In fact what governments do is relevant because it affects the lives of the people in many different ways like their economic policy, foreign policy and educational policy affects people's lives.

• Since the actions of the government affect us deeply, people take a lively interest in what governments do.

• When people disagree with the policies of the government, we protest and organise demonstrations to persuade the government to change the existing laws.

• So, finally, politics arises from the fact that we have different visions of what is just and desirable for us and our society.
→ It involves the multiple negotiations that go on in society through which collective decisions are made.

What do we study in Political Theory?

• There are certain values and principles that have inspired people and guided policies.
→ For example, Ideals like democracy, freedom or equality.

• Different countries may try to protect such values by enshrining them in their constitutions
as is the case with the American and Indian constitutions.

• These documents did not just emerge overnight; they are built upon the ideas and principles debated almost since the time of Kautilya, Aristotle to Jean Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.

• As far back as the fifth century B.C., Plato and Aristotle discussed with their students whether
monarchy or democracy was better.

• In modern times, Rousseau first argued for freedom as a fundamental right of humankind.

• Karl Marx argued that equality was as crucial as freedom.

• In India, Mahatma Gandhi discussed the meaning of genuine freedom or swaraj in his book Hind Swaraj.
→ Dr. Ambedkar vigorously argued that the scheduled castes must be considered a minority,
and as such, must receive special protection.

• Political theory deals with the ideas and principles that shape Constitutions, governments and social life in a systematic manner.

• It clarifies the meaning of concepts such as freedom, equality, justice, democracy, secularism and so on.

• It probes the significance of principles such as rule of law, separation of powers, judicial review,

Why this is relevant now?

• India is free and independent, questions regarding freedom and equality have not ceased to crop


• Because issues concerning freedom, equality, democracy, arise in many areas of social life and they are being implemented in different sectors at different paces.

• For example, although equality may exist in the political sphere in the form of equal rights, it may not exist to the same extent in the economic or social spheres.


• Though freedom is guaranteed in our Constitution, we encounter new interpretations all the time.

• For example, the right to life has been interpreted by the Courts to include the right to livelihood. The right to information has been granted through a new law.

• The fundamental rights guaranteed by our Constitution have been amended and expanded over time through judicial interpretations and government policies which are designed to address new problems.


• As our world changes, we may discover new dimensions of freedom as well as new threats to freedom.

• For example, global communications technology is making it easier for activists to network with one another across the world for protecting tribal cultures or forests. But it also enables terrorists and criminals to network.

• As a result, questions are raised regarding how much freedom should be given to people using the net.

Putting Political Theory to Practice

• In this textbook, we are focused on one aspect of political theory — that which deals with the origins, meaning and significance of political ideas that we are familiar with such as freedom, equality, citizenship, justice, development, nationalism, secularism and so on.

• Political theorists have asked what is freedom or equality and provided diverse definitions.

• Unlike in mathematics where there can be one definition of a triangle or square, we encounter many definitions of equality or freedom or justice.
→ This is because terms like equality concern our relationships with other human beings rather than with things.
→ Human beings, unlike things, have opinions on issues like equality.

• For example, people often jump the queue in shops or doctor’s waiting rooms or government offices.
→ But also many poor people cannot go to the shop or to a doctor because they have no money to pay for goods and services.

• Thus, our idea of equality is quite complex. The reason we have many definitions is because the meaning of equality is dependent on the context.

• Political theorists clarify the meaning of political concepts by looking at how they are understood and used in ordinary language.

• They also debate and examine the diverse meanings and opinions in a systematic manner.

• As in the case of equality, so also in the case of other concepts such as Freedom, Citizenship, Rights, Development, Justice, Equality, Nationalism and Secularism, political theorists engage with everyday opinions, debate possible meanings and thrash out policy options.

Why should we study Political Theory?

• Firstly, political theory is relevant for all the above target groups. As high school students, we may choose one of the above professions in the future and so indirectly it is relevant for us even now.

• Secondly, we are all going to be citizens entitled to vote and decide other issues. To act responsibly, it is helpful to have a basic knowledge of the political ideas and institutions that shape the world we live in.

• Thirdly, freedom, equality and secularism are not abstract issues in our lives. People daily encounter discrimination of various sorts in families, schools, colleges, shopping malls and so on.
→ Political theory encourages us to do is examine our ideas and feelings about political things.

• Finally, as students we enjoy debates and elocution competitions. We have opinions about what is right or wrong, just or unjust but do not know whether they are reasonable or not.
→ Political theory exposes us to systematic thinking on justice or equality so that we can polish our opinions and argue in an informed manner and for the sake of common interests.
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