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The Key to Understanding Political Development Analytical Essay

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Updated: Aug 26th, 2019


The phrase ‘political development’ lacks a universal form of definition due to its versatility in terms of the elements that it encompasses.

In essence, political development comprises institutional changes in a society’s system of governance, society’s attitude towards such changes, and the political culture of a country or state.

Other elements that aid in the definition of the term include social and cultural adaptability to change, economic progress, policy development, state sovereignty, and constitutional order.

The key to understanding all the individual elements lies in comparative analyses of a specific political entity or a comparison among several entities with significant similarities or differences.

This paper conducts such analyses by taking into account various states for case studies, viz., England, Rwanda, and Russia.

This analysis views political development as an independent component, and thus, it explores the possibility of its connection to other components such as economic development and social culture.

This paper also highlights the influence of political development in terms of advancements or lack thereof.

Assessment through state sovereignty and changes in political culture

When describing countries or nations, sovereignty refers to the state of being a separate entity independent of all others in terms of laws, methods of governance, and the source of power for the ruling institutions (Biersteker & Weber 1996).

Several theories describe the formation of states and reasons for sovereignty, with the most prominent being the social contract theory. The theory states that a country derives its independence from the people through their choice of leadership and following form of government.

In essence, the will of the people is sovereign (Kreijen 2002). Although the theory’s central aspect is the presence of a social contract between the ruling individuals or institutions and their subjects, different scholars have developed variations of the theory to highlight certain elements.

According to Thomas Hobbes, in a state or nature, the only rule that governs human interaction is self-preservation (Krasner 2001). As such, the strong overlook the needs of the weak and lack of order makes life short and brutish.

Hobbes explains that in order for everyone to survive, people formed societies where they agreed to surrender their power to an individual or a group of individuals who exercise it for the good of everyone.

In Hobbes’ version of the theory, when people surrender their power to their leader of choice, the leader has the right to utilise it in whatever manner in the achievement of society’s development (Boucher & Kelly 1994). Hobbes adds that such power is irrevocable.

This theory describes the concept of absolutism, whereby a leader reigns supreme over the subjects, thus exercising unquestionable authority.

Hierarchical systems of governance embody this theory best, with a good example being England in the early years of the twelfth century after the death of King Henry I all through to the twentieth century during the reign of King Edward VII.

During this period, kings and queens wielded absolute power over every aspect of the society, including the economy and even religion. King Edward VII denounced the Roman Catholic Church’s supervisory power by declaring himself the absolute ruler in all matters, including religious aspects.

The wellbeing of the rulers came first, which sometimes coincided with the will of the people.

For instance, for a king to appear powerful to leaders in neighbouring countries, s/he had to secure economic prosperity for his or her country, thus coinciding with the need of the people to have a strong economy.

However, to some extent, such form of leadership was necessary given the nation’s turbulent history, especially during the Anarchy period between 1135 and 1154.

Certain aspects of the England’s system of governance have changed since then, thus forming part of its political development.

The main notable change in the England’s form of government is its characteristic devolution of power and inclusion of other institutions to form part of the government. Currently, the government of England has three branches, namely the executive, legislature, and the judiciary.

Unlike in the early twentieth century where the monarch had all the powers, each of the branches possesses a share of the government’s collective power of governance.

Although the Queen still possesses the most significant share of the power, the Prime Minister runs most government affairs in the government for the executive branch on behalf of the Queen.

The Prime Minister assumes the responsibility of appointing cabinet ministers and making policies with the aid of the cabinet of which he is the chair.

The legislature comprises two houses, viz. the House of Lords and the House of Commons, and this aspect ensures objectivity in policy development and guarantees representation of the people’s needs during the policy-making process.

The judiciary, “as the third arm of the government, is independent of both the executive and the legislature” (Blaug & Schwarzmantle 2001, p.83). The importance of such independence is to ensure that the judiciary provides checks and balances over the executive and the legislature.

The fact that England’s laws are unwritten emphasises the need for such judicial independence, which ensures that the other arms of the government avoid the misuse of power to the detriment of the people.

A comparative analysis between England and the international political scene displays the advancements that England has made as a nation through the years, especially in relation to its consideration of the people’s will during the policy-making process.

Judicial independence ensures that courts have the ability to express the will of the people through the protection of political, social, and cultural traditions that they hold dear.

For instance, although divorce is legal in both England and Wales, the courts ensure the protection of the institution of marriage as one of the moral values that the people treasure by providing a process that requires a married couple to work on the marriage before resorting to divorce.

The courts usually grant divorces in cases of an irretrievable breakdown in marriages and provide an option for judicial separation.

John Locke presents another version of the social contract theory with significant differences to Hobbes’. In Locke’s version, human beings are inherently social and moral in their state of nature.

However, some people choose to make decisions that adversely affect others, especially in relation to property ownership, thus creating the need for an institution that equally protects every person’s interest.

Locke explains that people relinquish a portion of their power to govern their dealings with other individuals to a leader or institution of the people’s choice, but they keep a significant portion to themselves (Boucher & Kelly 1994).

The leader or institution holds such power in trust of the people and applies it for their best interest while the people retain the option to choose another leader in case of misappropriation. This version of the theory matches a democratic system, to which most countries prescribe.

A democratic system is a form of government that allows its citizens to participate in the law-making process by electing leaders of their choice as their representatives in government. One of the most dominant elements in a democratic state is the provision for a multiparty system.

Apart from providing citizens with a variety of leaders with different visions for leadership to choose from, multiparty systems provide individuals with an idea for development with the opportunity to realise their goals for the good of society (Blaug & Schwarzmantle 2001).

The concept bares international acceptance as most of its elements support development in society, politically, socially, and economically, not to mention fostering international relations.

In the furtherance of democracy, countries have the option to choose countries to associate with depending on a country’s national goals and the balance between the merits and demerits of such association.

Developing countries in Africa and Asia form some of the best examples of political development involving democratic systems.

Numerous countries in Africa have developed politically from dictatorships to democracies with significant gains, both socially and economically. A case study of Uganda best explains this dynamic.

In the period between 1971 and 1979, Uganda was under the presidency of Idi Amin, as a dictator who declared himself president for life until his deposition.

The declaration-limited choice of leadership for Uganda’s people at the time, as there could only be one leader with the law on his side to support it.

One of the main disadvantages of a dictatorship is that it provides the dictator with a leeway to do whatever he or she deems fit without regard to the welfare of the people or consequences of his or her actions from the international community (Gandhi 2008).

Idi Amin, for instance, committed human rights violations that made him infamous in the international community, thus resulting in negative feedback economically to the detriment of the Ugandan citizens.

No institutions existed to provide checks and balances for the president’s exercise of power, which created room for its misappropriation, hence leading to the oppression of the people (Hansen & Twaddle 1998).

Although the president understood the needs of his people in all aspects, his corrupt nature made sure that he concentrated on his own needs, including amassing wealth and ignoring the plight of the people.

A change in the political system in Uganda is one of the indicators of the presence and level of political development in the country.

Under a democratically elected president, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, Uganda’s exercise of democracy has facilitated its economic and social growth, thus creating a different perspective of it in the international scene.

Devolution of power through the creation of government institutions such as the judiciary and the legislature has ensured balance in the exercise of power by creating limitations that prevent its misuse.

Also, the multiparty system provides people with a chance to choose leaders that best represent their interests in the government (Hansen & Twaddle 1998). Unlike the western countries, most African countries are ethnically diverse.

Therefore, a democratic system ensures the representation of every individual’s unique needs in the government during the policy-making process by the legislature.

By providing people with a chance to choose their representatives from various ethnic backgrounds, a democratic system creates an avenue for the unification of people through the formations of laws that serve everyone equally through fair distribution of resources.

Changes in attitude

Change in attitude on political ideology is part of the definition of political development. Mostly, international attitudes towards various political aspects form the integral basis of political attitudes in individual nations regarding the same (Markell 2003).

For instance, the international community regards the issue of human rights observation as an indicator of political development. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Freedoms is one of the primary documents in the application for human rights regulation.

The rules set out in the international statute act as guides for countries when setting out their national laws on human rights regulation. The statute sets out “some of the most basic human rights, including the right to life, health, and education” (Harris et al. 2010, p.77).

Although it is not mandatory for any country to apply such international rules, the attitude around it is that countries that fail to do so indicate a lack in the political arena, which may cause certain sanctions that usually affect economic progress.

For instance, the international community frowned upon North Korea’s policies on human rights issues during the reign of President Kim Jong Il.

Although the North Korean government at the time provided free healthcare and education, the quality of both amenities was poor, thus leading to a high mortality rate in the country.

In addition, the government greatly restricted its citizens’ freedom of movement and association, hence resulting in limited political development and subsequently denying its citizens a chance to experience other cultures or share ideas due to the fear of emancipation (Demick 2009).

Such restrictive ideology resulted in limited trade opportunities for the country internationally.

Another country that forms an excellent example of how the international community applies political attitude as a test and indicator of political development is Saudi Arabia. Islam forms the main foundation of Saudi Arabia’s laws, which has been the case for many years.

However, during the reign of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, between 1966 and 2004, the leadership’s attitude towards acceptance of other religions changed resulting in a more tolerant nation that accepts the practice of Christianity as long as it does not interfere with the nation’s fundamental Islamic cultural practices.

Incorporation of this attitude into law has enabled expatriates to works harmoniously with the local Muslim community resulting in a thriving nation.

The international attitude regarding freedom of religions forms a huge part of influence leading to such a decision, even though the necessity to attract workforce from outside the country’s borders was the main reason for the decision.

The international effect of the decision was mainly the expansion of Saudi Arabia’s market and improvement of its foreign relations with other countries that may not necessarily share Islamic foundations (House 2012).

Therefore, although the decision to include acceptance of other religions into the country was an indication of attitude change, it also indicated political development of the country.

Process of analysis

During an analysis to establish the status of a nation’s political development, it is vital to consider cultural backgrounds and political histories. These aspects result in a difference in choices in policy-making that culminates either in progressive or retrogressive political development.

For instance, England and Saudi Arabia exhibit significant differences culturally, economically, and politically, which may inform the choice of policies that govern the two states (Heywood 2012).

Leadership succession

Leadership succession involves passing power from one leader or government institution to another. As a component of political development, transition of leadership should be effective and systematic without creating power vacuums that may lead to civil warfare.

In any politically developed nation, terms of leadership are clear and they form part of the country’s constitutional laws.

Such terms include the period of leadership, circumstances that may result in shorter or longer terms of office, and measures that take care of situations whereby a leader’s term in office ends abruptly.

An excellent example of how lack of proper policies may cause political instability is the period of civil warfare in England between the years 1135 and 1154 following the death of King Henry I (Scott 2000).

Power struggle engulfed the region, which resulted in a war that lasted years due to the lack of a legitimate heir to the crown.


Although the term political development lacks a universal definition, various elements constitute its main characteristics. Some of the main elements include state sovereignty, reliable succession procedures, political culture, and attitude towards policies.

Several methods exist for the establishment of the presence or absence of political development, including an analysis of a country’s political history and a comparative analysis between different political ideologies internationally.

However, in conducting such analysis, it is essential to consider that different states subscribe to different rules, and thus one may need to consider aspects such as culture, as is the case with Saudi Arabia and the East African country of Uganda.

A government’s policy-making mechanism forms the determining factor in deciding the impact such policies have on its people and its relation with other nations in the international community.

Most people-based policies have the effect of fostering political development by creating a ripple effect on the social and economic development of the nation.

Reference List

Biersteker, T & Weber, C 1996, State Sovereignty as Social Construct, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Blaug, R & Schwarzmantle, J 2001, Democracy: A Reader, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh.

Boucher, D & Kelly, P 1994, The Social Contract from Hobbes to Rawls, Routledge, New York.

Demick, B 2009, Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea, Granta Publications, London.

Gandhi, J 2008, Political Institutions Under Dictatorship, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Hansen, H & Twaddle, M 1998, Developing Uganda (Eastern African Studies), Ohio University Press, Athens.

Harris, D, Moeckli, D, Shah, S & Suvakumaran, S 2010, International Human Rights Law, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Heywood, A 2012, Political Ideologies: An Introduction, Palgrave, Basingstoke.

House, E 2012, On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines and Future, Knopf Publishing, New York.

Krasner, D 2001, Problematic Sovereignty, Columbia University Press, New York.

Kreijen, G 2002, State, Sovereignty, and International Governance, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Markell, P 2003, Bound by Recognition, Princeton, New Jersey.

Scott, J 2000, England’s Troubles: Seventeenth Century English Political Instability in European Context, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

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