The presuppositions of David Easton's systems analytical approach to political science
Brouwer, Piebe (Philip)
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David Easton's systems analytical approach to political life as developed since the publication of his first main volume, The Political System, in 1953, has drawn much attention from colleagues in the field of political science as a possible means, which, if put to use, could pull the discipline of political science out of its doldrums, those of, mainly, fragmentation and general unreliability as means of controllover the social process. Easton 's work wants to be in the mainstream of American political science tradition. An understanding of that tradition goes far towards an understanding of Easton. Easton's assessment of that tradition is examined in Chapter One. According to him the discipline of political science has been groping towards the kind of scientific approach that he himself advances. Political science is showing the first signs of becoming mature. Easton devotes himself to one aspect of the two-pronged task that faces the discipline as he sees it: the development of value and causal theory. He devotes himself to the latter but admits and stresses that it is founded on value theoretical suppositions that also need elaboration urgently. These two types of theory need to be developed as they have not been due to the prevalence of reformative theory in the discipline, a prevalence that is to be explained in terms of a neglect of the requirements of scientific method which calls for general causal theory as well as value theory. These three kinds of theory are explained in Chapter Two. Easton develops the notion of system, which had been proper to the discipline of political science for some time into a full-fledged analytical framework of thought, his well-known flow-model, as discussed in Chapter Four. This model has often been seized upon by students of political science as if it is presuppositionless methodology, applicable to any concrete political system. That is not true to Easton's aims which are to link political science to the other social disciplines in order to move towards the realization of the unified science ideal by way of general systems theory. His theory intends to focus on no political systems in particular but upon the life-functions of any political system at all. For application to any particular system the model would have to be adapted, modified. Easton is keen not to be categorized as a status quo thinker along with so many equilibrium oriented systems thinkers as may be clear from the contents of Chapter Three. That this has not always been sufficiently recognized, and that value oriented reconstruction, purposive intelligence, is Eastonls concern becomes plain from his position vis a vis the behavioralist/post-behavioralist controversy as discussed in Chapter Five. That Easton's argument and the presuppositions on which it is founded leave themselves open to critical questioning may be clear from the explanatory and commentary notes at the end of the chapters. That Christian conviction requires a stance critical of this kind of thinking is my contention throughout. It follows that I am not gladdened by the appearance of similar ideas from which to expect the solution to the difficulties besetting the South African political scene. That such thinking does attract support also here is evident from the President Council's Constitutional Committee's first report as I argue in Chapter Six. The recommendations made by the Committee could well have been linked to a different argumentation, hence their merit is not directly at issue here. Should these recommendations be followed on the basis of this argumentation it would mean a marked deviation from Christian political conviction to that extent. I say so as a matter of conviction and creed.