Where did our modern philosophies and systems of government take shape? All began as theoretical approaches, or a “set of assumptions about reality that inform the questions we ask and the kinds of answers we arrive at as a result.” Political science, the study of government at all levels, laws, and political thought, has provided centuries of debate in the form of myriad evolving theories.

The Influence of Historical Figures on Political Theory

Contemporary methods of governing have their foundation in ancient times, when philosophers such as Plato first put forth ideas regarding government structures. Plato’s work The Republic introduced the concept of a government composed of individuals who represent the interests of the greater populace and rule on their behalf. The United States, founded more than two millennia after Plato walked the earth, is considered a republic based on his definition of the word. Indeed, “republic” is right there in the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands …”

Aristotle, a fellow Greek philosopher and student of Plato, also espoused theories that were influential in the formulation of political science. Aristotle held respect for political structures such as monarchy and aristocracy but also felt that the potential for corruption and tyranny was great. His theory of “polity,” where all economic classes respect one another and the most capable individuals govern with the approval of the general populace, was his preferred form of government. Curiously, he considered democracy equivalent to anarchy. Aristotle ultimately refined Plato’s approach, incorporating observable facts into his political theories.

Niccolò Machiavelli was likewise considered one of the earliest political science theorists, though he trailed the great ancient Greek philosophers by some 2,000 years—an indication of the “work in progress” nature of political science. Machiavelli’s view eschewed religious beliefs in favor of reason in governance. This also meant disavowing morality in the pursuit of political goals, which centered on the acquisition and possession of power. His theories were the origin of the term “Machiavellian,” which is still used today to indicate an amoral willingness to achieve one’s ends by any means.

John Locke, a 17th century English philosopher, posited that people have “natural rights” and that government’s purpose is to protect those rights. Further, he held that overthrowing a government that did not protect such rights was a legitimate course of action. His belief that people have the right to “life, liberty, and property” was later echoed in the Declaration of Independence’s notable phrase, “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The Transitory Nature of Theory

As times change, theories naturally evolve. Communism, for example, is a political theory, but it was said to have ended with the destruction of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Clearly, political science theories aren’t necessarily made to last, even if that is the initial intention of their proponents. Time can prove any theory impractical or just plain wrong. This gravitation toward newer, more viable theories doesn’t mean that humanity will determine one “correct” theory for all time, but it’s clear from the examples listed above that some foundational political theories still exist in practice in the United States and elsewhere.

Build a Foundation for Your Own Career Through Political Science

UT Permian Basin’s online Bachelor of Arts in Political Science looks at theoretical approaches to the field in several disciplines, including international relations, political theory, and public policy. Our program includes courses covering each of these areas, including one course dedicated solely to theory:

If you’re looking to lay the groundwork for admission to law school and/or seek a career in one of many law and/or government roles, our program was designed for you. Our online BA in political science provides a broad foundation in essential areas including U.S. history, philosophy, math, and political science before shifting focus to judicial politics, the role of law and courts in the U.S., the structures and procedures of our judicial system, and judicial policymaking.

Potential Career Paths for You

A degree in political science is a pathway to many satisfying careers, such as:

  • Attorney
  • Journalist
  • Legislative Assistant
  • Market Research Analyst
  • Policy Analyst
  • Political Consultant
  • Public Relations Specialist
  • Public Servant

An Online Degree Program Marked by Quality and Convenience

Our BA in political science program is led by the same extensively published, doctoral-level political science experts who teach on campus and follows the same meticulously developed curriculum. The asynchronous, 100% online format of our program empowers you to complete coursework from practically anywhere in the world at your own pace, offering tremendous flexibility and convenience. If you have ongoing professional commitments and family responsibilities, you’ll find our online format allows you to earn your degree without interfering with those other important aspects of your life.

Discover the lasting influence of political science theory as you build career-critical knowledge and credentials in our bachelor’s degree program!