Samuel Huntington – Political Order in Changing Societies

Every true student of political science will find their way to Political Order in Changing Societies. It is possible to escape an undergraduate program without reading this seminal text. I know I did. But I was introduced to some of his earlier articles which formed the basis to the first few chapters. It wasn’t until recently when I really began a serious course of reading into political science when I came across Huntington again. But once I became serious about understanding some of the critical concepts of political science, it did not take long for me to find this work.

Look over the footnotes of other works and this work will repeatedly come up. It helps to scan footnotes for new titles. Sometimes the referenced works were important to a single author or a very specific research topic. But a few works will be repeatedly referenced. These are the books and articles which are necessary to read to participate or simply understand the wider conversation. Huntington’s Political Order in Changing Societies is among the key works necessary to participate within academic conversations on politics.

The key takeaway is political modernization is different from economic modernization. It’s easy to diminish the significance of this idea, but it has dramatic consequences. For starters, it is an attack against Lipset’s famous insight that democracy is highly correlated with economic development. Yet Huntington explains how the modernization of the economy may not lead to political modernization because they are two distinct phenomena. Indeed, economists like Amartya Sen have made the case that economic modernization may rely on successful political modernization. The influence from Huntington is obvious within his theories.

Political modernization for Huntington departs even further from Lipset because it does not require democratization. Huntington saw the Soviet Union as a modern political state. Moreover, he saw the prevalence of military coups in the developing world as a consequence of political modernization rather than an obstacle to its fulfillment. Huntington viewed political modernization as the emergence of key institutions to channel participation and establish professionalization. In this manner, the military and political parties are both symbols of political modernization.

It is important to recognize Huntington is among the most conservative of political scientists. His ideas seem to justify authoritarian rule as a necessary step toward modernization. And he certainly prefers political authoritarian order to a democratic chaos. Yet it is difficult to imagine the circumstances where democratization makes sense. This is the problem for all conservative political thinkers. They may recognize there are fundamental problems, but they believe the current political order is a necessary, but temporary evil. But their solution relies on the passage of time. There is some truth to the conservative logic. Rapid, persistent change is not desirable when it produces nothing but chaos and disruption. Nonetheless, the calculus for change rarely changes as time passes.

It is not necessary to agree with Huntington’s conclusions to gain important insights from this work. Political science is truly the study of institutions because power is centralized within their frameworks. Huntington forces the reader to recognize how the introduction of new institutions transforms political systems. Students begin to recognize the role of institutions within an organic political system which extends beyond their early introduction to the American reliance on a written constitution. The reality of politics around the world has not been constrained by mere words written upon parchment. The enforcement of a constitutional form of government requires reinforcement from key institutions within a political system.

The earlier a student reads this book, the earlier they begin a real study of political science. It is impossible to engage within the larger conversations within political science without an understanding of Political Order in Changing Societies. It is not necessary to simply accept Huntington’s ideas but so many insights are extensions of this work which was published fifty years ago. Professors know this work and expect anyone with new ideas to either acknowledge or refute its key insights.

jmk, carmel, indiana,

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