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The central role of political development in the debates over Vietnam in the late 1960s led me to question the definition of development. It seemed that our society needed, but apparently had not been able to find, a normatively grounded, practically useful, analytic framework for the study and practice of political development. Applying the theoretical approaches of political development, political psychology, and political power analysis to the Vietnam war gradually led me to focus on certain abstract, theoretical problems as central to the debate over political development: fundamental conceptual challenges that, even if difficult to meet, were nevertheless guides to the heart of the issue.

The first of these problems was how to ground a theory of development normatively. U.S. justifications of its Vietnam policy explicitly relied on the normative claims of democracy. Opponents of the war derided those claims as false, as a blind, or as ethnocentric, but, even while opposing the war myself, I felt that reliance on normative arguments was at least apposite. Public policy had to rely on some normative vision; the problem was to find solid moral ground.

The second problem was to assess the relative importance and interconnections of institutional and individual change in political development. This challenge was raised by the status of democracy in Vietnam. U.S. attempts to create the outward forms and rituals of democracy had not affected the "hearts and minds" of the Vietnamese people, and it became increasingly apparent that they simply practiced their political business as usual while preserving a democratic facade for foreign consumption. Cultural relativists of the time claimed that democracy was not relevant to the Vietnamese culture, but that seemed too easy an answer. Doctrinaire cultural relativism represents an abandonment of our common humanity, not to mention an abandonment of meaningful research into cultural variation, and I was reluctant to accept such an answer. In addition, democratic principles simply did not seem ethnocentric to me: a feeble reason when spoken by a Westerner, I suppose, but there it was. Finally, I had become aware, from Lucian Pye's (1966b) essay "Democracy and Political Development," that democracy required not just institutions and rituals but also particular citizen competencies. Pye also insisted that individual behavior, not just institutional form, was important. What I had encountered was, of course, the challenge of making the micro-macro connection: to create a theory of development in which individual change and institutional change appear as coordinate elements.

Later, I discovered Lawrence Kohlberg's Piagetian theory of moral reasoning and realized that in this developmental approach lay the answer to the problem of normative grounding: in its concentration on reasoning, on cognitive structure, and on cognitive ambiguity as the source of development. These virtues were not dependent on Kohlberg's specific empirical methods. I took for granted the general validity of his research, though I am grateful for his creation of an accurate scoring instrument.

Kohlberg's theory concerned individuals, however, and the micro-macro connection was not yet made. I eventually ran across symbolic interactionism and Talcott Parsons' trichotomy of systems, and wove them into my concept of political culture. All that remained was to clarify, to explain, and to spin out the implications of the resulting logical structure. Among those implications were the answers to the remaining theoretical challenges I had seen as necessary for any adequate definition of the concept. In addition, general knowledge about genetic epistemology and the exercise of social power in symbolic systems provided a good deal of "near-empirical" information about how change actually comes to occur.

The result is an analytic work that addresses two theoretical questions: "What is political development?" and "How should we approach its study?" It seeks to relate the central elements of political development in a way that guides specific theories toward answers which, taken together, address the five fundamental theoretical challenges in conceptualizing political development. The concepts of individual, cultural, and social system; the role played by reasoning, and especially moral reasoning, in maintaining institutions; the concept of cognitive ambiguity and its consequences for cognitive development; and the concepts of public commonness and of hegemonic control over its production - these are the central elements of the analytic framework.

The work presents neither a theory of political development nor an empirical analysis of developing societies. It does not (in any immediate way) provide answers to specific questions like: "What is the role of the military in development?" or "What are the prospects for the political development of the Seychelles?" It is not an empirical work at all except insofar as it illuminates and reinforces old results by drawing them together in its theoretical framework.

It is important to note that in this work the "political" in "political development" broadly denotes any way in which people relate to one another: through governmental institutions, the traditional meaning of politics (e.g., bureaucracies and other regimes); through economic institutions (such as the open market); or through social institutions (such as the nuclear family or specific religions). These areas of study are deliberately not distinguished here, because a reconstruction of development theory must begin with only those distinctions necessary to it. As Bloch (1961:59) argues: "For though the artificial conception of man's activities which prompts us to carve up the creature of flesh and blood into the phantoms homo oeconomicus, philosophicus, juridicus is doubtless necessary, it is tolerable only if we refuse to be deceived by it." (Compare Lukacs, 1971.) The academic, disciplinary distinctions among these areas of society may eventually be found to stem from true differences in their objects of study; but even if so, these true differences must emerge only as necessary consequences of the analysis. One of the intellectual tragedies of the last century was the separation of "political economy" into "political science" and "economics." The forms of analysis thereafter possible were greatly restricted, and the capacity of either discipline for critical analysis was severely weakened. To predicate this essay on unnecessary intellectual divisions could permit an equally fatal result. In this work, then, the terms political development, development, economic development, and social development are synonymous, even though as a political scientist I tend to use political development most often.


Political development is important to social science because it poses hard theoretical problems. Any discussion of development implicitly presupposes answers to two fundamental theoretical challenges: making the micro-macro connection between individuals and institutions in development; and providing normative justification of the sequence. These challenges are both extremely difficult to solve and extremely important: Elder and Cobb (1983:144-145) term the micro-macro problem one of "the most basic and perennial questions in political analysis," and, as will be seen later, the difficulty of providing normative justification for the concept of development has led at least two analysts to recommend abandoning it. Development thus serves as a laboratory for social theorists, and social theorists as diverse as Marx, Parsons, Weber and Durkheim have all worked there.

Political development is also important as a guide to the origins of social institutions, and thereby to a better understanding of those institutions' current meaning. To paraphrase Piaget's (1970:4) statement about scientific knowledge, we cannot say that on the one hand there is the history of political institutions, and on the other political institutions as they are today; there is simply a continual transformation and reorganization. This fact implies that knowledge of the historical and psychological origins of these changes helps us understand the nature of the resulting institutions.

Political development is also important for practical reasons. Our theoretical concern with the origins of institutions parallels our practical concerns: only in the reality of practical concerns can we validate our theoretical discoveries of the active principle of development.(1) Furthermore, our most important political issues involve political development. Though the term is rarely applied in domestic politics, questions about the proper relationship of the state and the economy are developmental in that they contemplate the restructuring of social institutions. In international politics, development affects what regimes will be in power, and for how long; what the relationships among countries will be; what policies toward us different countries will adopt; and thus ultimately, what our policies toward them should be.

Despite its importance, the concept of political development has long been in a state of confusion. The term came to political science from a sense that there must be a political analogue to the widely used concept of economic development (Eckstein, 1982). Political science thus acquired a label for the concept and a sense of its potential significance, but not much else. Many "political development" works give little attention to conceptualization. For example, despite its title, the recent Understanding Political Development (Weiner and Huntington, 1987) contains no index entry for the term,(2) even though the work begins with an acknowledgment of the variety of definitions of political development (p. xiii). Richard Bensel's (1984) Sectionalism and American Political Development 1880-1980 discusses political development only in the sense of "historical changes in the American political system," i.e., political developments. Other examples could be mentioned.(3) The resulting Tower of Babel in political development - innumerable, ad hoc definitions and theories - led Huntington (1971:304) to conclude that the concept should be abandoned. He argued that the concept neither integrated a body of related concepts nor distinguished one aspect of political reality from another.(4) Riggs (1981) goes even further by arguing that the term is not a concept but only a "power-word" that offers not analytical virtue but political power to those who can control it. Even Eckstein (1982:454), who seeks to refurbish the concept, admits that "the present literature on political development simply does not represent 'developmental' inquiry properly." Given this feeling even on the part of some of political development's best-known analysts, the concept appears to have fallen into disrepute or at least neglect.

Riggs' and Huntington's conclusions seem to be counsels of despair rather than measured responses to the problem. Riggs is certainly correct that political development is a power-word, but it does not follow that it is therefore incapable of definition. The term is a power-word because (as argued later) any conception of it must be normatively grounded. Definitions of development simultaneously assert a normative position. This normative aspect of the term has two consequences: (a) It gives political development its status as a power-word, since control over the definition is control over the social vision others must pursue; and (b) It creates its own difficulty of definition, since disputes over normative positions are notoriously numerous and hard to solve, and the covert nature of these disputes keeps them from being conducted rationally. Huntington is certainly correct when he notes the confusion of definitions, but it does not follow that the term should be abandoned.(5) Huntington's suggestion, "change," differs from "political development" in the former's absence of a normative position. Huntington might consider this absence an asset rather than a liability, but his "alternative" is illusory: a complete theory of change requires both a theory of normative judgments and, further, a normative position. In any event, the difficulties Huntington points out - the diversity of definitions and the scattered nature of the resulting research - do not require abandonment of "political development."

The question is, of course, how to define the term. Given the apparent importance of the concept and the widespread sense that it does exist, whatever the current diversity of its definitions, a more measured response would be to assess whether the concept might be defined in a way that overcomes the theoretical challenges from which our difficulties arise.(6)


Political development clearly arises from and affects individuals, cultural-institutional forms, and objective, regularized patterns of social interaction. This wide domain of interest raises three related problems: first, specifying what it is that develops; second, distinguishing political development from its constituents, correlates, causes and consequences; and third, establishing what relationship exists in development between the individual and institutionalized behavior? These problems are here termed "the locus of development," "exact specification," and "the micro-macro connection," respectively.

To begin with, what is it that develops, exactly - individuals or cultural-institutional forms? We require a definition of political development that, while allowing for political development's operation in many areas, nonetheless locates it precisely as the development of some certain thing.(7) Are we seeking, with Hagen (1962), McClelland (1976), or Almond and Verba (1963), to locate development in an aggregation of innovators, achievers, or civic-minded actors whose advanced behavior constitutes development? Are we seeking, with Fitzgibbon (1956) or Smith (1969), to locate development in certain cultural-institutional forms, whose structure constitutes development? Or, as Pye (1966a) argues, is political development a "syndrome," somehow embracing both individual and institutional behavior?

The choice of any of these basic approaches reveals further complexities. If we say that development is a matter of individual development, then what is it about individuals that develops? Their support for democratic norms? Their reasoning? Their empathy? Their need for achievement? Their sense of efficacy? If we say that development is a matter of institutional development, then what is it about institutions that develops? Their complexity? Their ascriptive norms? Their rationality? And in what institutions do we locate development? The institution of secret, free elections? Party competition? Freedom of the press? Representative democracy? Economic productivity? If we say that development is a syndrome, then what coherence does this syndrome have beyond the merely statistical correlation of its elements? Are all elements equally indicators of development?

Theorists have a natural impulse to finesse this problem through an eclectic approach. For example, Pye (1966a) lists a variety of definitions of political development, concluding that all are aspects of an underlying "development syndrome." Huntington (1987) notes the existence of many separate development goals. Such analyses have the virtue of pointing consciously to its many aspects, but they have the weakness of indiscriminately mixing development itself with its many associated aspects. These aspects may provide the raw material for useful operational definitions of development, but conceptualization must precede operationalization.

This raises the second of the challenges mentioned earlier - the problem of "exact specification." Political development must not be confused with its constituents, correlates, causes, or consequences. A precise concept must define development fully and must distinguish it from all related concepts.

Consider the confusion between political development and its constituents. If development researchers are interested in some constituent aspect (XYZ) of the development process, they say "political development is XYZ," thereby unconsciously implying that the concept is solely XYZ. For example, Huntington (1965:387) says that political development is "the institutionalization of political organizations and procedures," surely a somewhat limited vision of what political systems might become.(8) Karl Deutsch (1961:102) says that political development "is the process in which major clusters of old social, economic, and psychological concomitants are eroded or broken and people become available for new patterns of socialization and behavior." Again, this is surely an incomplete definition; a nuclear war would create a similar result without being considered a developmental process.

Researchers interested in the consequences of political development say "political development leads to XYZ," thus either leaving the concept undefined or, worse, implying that political development is XYZ. For example, David Apter (1968:2) defines political development as "a process which affects choice. The modernization focus helps to make sense of the choices likely to be at our disposal." But here Apter is speaking of a consequence of development (limitations on choice), surely not of development itself. Denis Goulet (1968:299) says that political development is "a crucial means of obtaining a good life." Even if true, this is not a definition of development.(9)

Researchers interested in causes or correlates may create corresponding definitional confusions.(10) Thus John Dorsey (1963:320) defines political development in terms of "the changes in power structure and processes that occur concomitantly with changes in energy conversion levels in the social system, whether such conversion levels change primarily in their political, social, and economic manifestations or in various combinations of the three." Such a formulation helps researchers identify when the process of political development is occurring, but it does not tell them what it is.(11)

The position that the conception of political development is fairly arbitrary, so that fine distinctions in its definition are of little analytical importance, is not correct. It might be valid if we were concerned only with naming phenomena, but there are two arguments against it. First, if the definition of political development is to allow us to study development's causes and consequences, development must be defined as distinct from them. Second, imprecise definitions of political development prevent seeing the total picture and throw off our analyses by misdirecting our attention to phenomena not properly part of development at all. In addition, if the development process has some coherence, then we will be able to understand it clearly only if we can examine all of it. Third, because the definition of political development must be normatively grounded - an issue to be raised shortly - we must take care in our definition to use only those elements whose normative implications we can support. For example, suppose "withdrawal of status respect" (Hagen, 1962) produces development. We would not want to define it carelessly as a constituent of development, because we would find ourselves defending withdrawal of status respect as a virtue in and of itself. Whatever the virtues of its consequences, withdrawal of status respect is clearly not a social condition one seeks for its own sake.

Political development cannot be defined solely in terms of either individual or institutional change. A concept of political development must show how both individuals and institutions change in the process of development. Institutional development clearly cannot take place without some associated change in individuals, nor can a theory of individual development without associated institutional change be regarded as political development. The easiest way to see this is to argue by contradiction - that is, by looking at how absurd consequences follow from defining development in terms of one of these aspects without the other. Consider, for example, the consequence of defining political development as a change in individuals alone. Such a position would require us to consider developed a society in which an overwhelming majority of highly developed (however defined) people were ruled in some brutal manner by a despotic, hereditary elite. The virtue of the people would not compensate for, or even much affect, the noxious effects of the brutal institutions.(12) Development is thus not solely a matter of individuals, even aggregated individuals.

Consider, on the other hand, the consequence of defining political development as a change in institutions alone. U.S. experience in Vietnam would lead us to reject this possibility. In Vietnam we attempted to impose our government's view of developed institutions on a people for whom they had no special meaning. The immediate subversion of the institutions resulted: elections were rigged, local strongmen continued to hold sway, and for the most part Vietnamese business went on as usual behind the institutional facade. A similar tale is told about the original election of the Russian Duma: "Comprehension of party programmes and identities was extremely rudimentary. Villages sometimes made their choice collectively, or demanded instructions from the authorities to this effect. `Why weren't we, dark and ignorant people, told for whom to vote?', ran one such complaint; and even in the towns a reaction of this kind was not unknown."(13) The virtue of institutions thus does not automatically and alone overcome contrary preferences of the people.

So if there is such a thing as development, then clearly it must consider both individuals and institutions and identify how the two are connected. (The unsupported assumption that one will follow from the other is inadequate.) An institution does not make individuals, nor do individuals (at least considered in isolation) make institutions. Although interdependent, they are in no sense identical to one another. Thus when one conceptualizes development, one must solve the problem of the micro-macro connection: through what linkage does development result in both different individuals and different institutions?


A concept of political development must include the possible states of development. As Payne (1984:35) puts it, "when we transfer the term [development from biology] to 'political development', the phrase is meaningless unless we supply the pictures [i.e., the states] the word 'development' requires as part of its operational definition." The "state of development" variable can take either continuous values, like GNP, or discontinuous values, like Maslow's need levels. This challenge requires only that its possible values be specified by the theorist.(14)

We should not press this requirement too far. In particular, we must not feel bound to specify levels of development beyond the highest level reached. It is entirely possible that, far from knowing what our developmental goal is, we construct our sense of development step by step, with each new vision built on its predecessor. Analogues of this exist in other fields. In Piaget's theory of cognitive development, the child constructs new cognitive stages in interaction with the environment, not from being taught the right way (the social learning model) or from "wired-in" physical changes (the maturation model). No "goal" exists, or to the extent one does, it is itself restructured in the developmental process. Again analogously, Marxian social theory believes itself to undergo successive refinement from interaction with the social world - the process of praxis. The assumption that we can foresee future development seems both ill-founded and theoretically unnecessary.

On the other hand, we should not fall into the opposing trap of believing that the highest level of development we have attained is the highest level possible. Theories of "modernity" seem particularly subject to this error in their implication that development is becoming "modern" and nothing further. (Adherents of such theories may not in fact maintain this implication, of course.) This mistake is disguised to some extent because "modernity" is a moving target. Without debating here the extent to which "modern" societies are in fact developed, we can at least agree not to assume that any current social arrangements are the terminus of development.(15)


Finally, a concept of political development must show that a "more developed" society is a better society. Development carries a normative connotation. This connotation is so strong that we use the very different term "change" to mean development absent normative implications. To discuss development rather than change requires some extra effort.

Why add to our burdens, however? Why should social scientists enter the morass of normative argumentation when, as Huntington (1971) points out, the study of "change" offers a firm, alternative path to the same issues? Furthermore, given the current disagreements over the very definition of development, how can its use be of any scientific value? And the problem is not merely that social scientists disagree over what development is, but, more to the point, that the supposed subjects of this concept - Third World societies - differ among themselves over the term's meaning. Even if social scientists were able to agree on what development means, what possible consequence would our agreement have for the real world? Would we not be guilty of the "idealistic fallacy" in assuming that our ideas and ideals have real consequences not just for us but also, ethnocentrically, for completely different cultures?(16) These questions thus raise two basic issues: whether normative questions have any significance in the material world and thus add nothing to the study of change; and whether our particular normative conceptions will be significant to others.

First, the alternative of a nonnormative study of change is illusory. People choose how they wish to relate to one another, at least in part and at certain times, according to what they believe is right. Certainly there are impersonal forces in the world that act upon us (e.g., gravity), but social forces come from people, who may act in response to their ethical perspectives. People explain their own behavior by reference to what they felt was right given the situation. Political leaders justify their actions through explicitly ideological argument. People believe that moral reasons can and often do govern their behavior. We need not assume that ideas (e.g. a conception of what development is) are all-powerful to admit that they can make a difference in the real world. Granted, their impact can often be minimal or distorted; as Marx said, men make their history, but not just as they please. But from time to time, ideas can affect the course of society. It may be true that impersonal or accidental historical forces open and close windows of opportunity for ideas, but at those opportune times, humans act on the basis of the ideas, not the forces. To say that one form of society is better than another is to say that if its members recognize the difference, they will try to create the better and not the worse. We need not assume that ideas are all-powerful; the normative aspect of development can be significant even if it operates only some of the time.(17) A theory of change must, therefore, incorporate a theory of normative choice.

Such a theory cannot itself be nonnormative, however, because it must apply to our own choices as well as others'. It is all very well for us to explain others' moral choices in terms of their greed, their reptilian hindbrain, or their mothers' having dropped them on their heads at birth, but we would not accept that as an explanation of our own behavior. Even if we saw, retrospectively, that such nonnormative factors had been governing our moral choices, we would still be free to ask the open question: "But is it right that I make reptilian moral decisions?" The question demands either a change of moral choice (and a consequent falsification of the reptile theory) or a change in the justification to a normative one. In short, if we are to treat our subjects as respectfully as ourselves, a theory of normative choice must capture the normativeness of their choices, not just the choices themselves. As Habermas puts it:

Since the days of Max Weber [the value neutrality of the researcher] has been regarded as a virtue; however, even if one adopts this interpretation, the suspicion remains that legitimacy, the belief in legitimacy, and the willingness to comply with a legitimate order have something to do with motivation through 'good reasons.' But whether reasons are 'good reasons' can be ascertained only in the performative attitude of a participant in argumentation, and not through the neutral observation of what this or that participant in a discourse holds to be good reasons. . . . [One] might well want to know whether a certain party renounces obedience because the legitimacy of the state is empty, or whether other causes are at work (Habermas, 1979e:200).

Because people evaluate moral reasons in a performative attitude, even a scientific description of their choices (made in what Habermas terms the "objectivating attitude") must meet the moral reasons of the performative attitude on an equal footing.(18) The distinctive criteria of moral value must be approached on their own terms, not terms of scientific, objective validity.

Political development has always been a moral concept as well as an empirical one. Early work in this area was shamelessly explicit in its identification of "development" with "good." Early advocates of "civilization" and "progress" reflected what still continues as a basic desideratum of change - that it be to something better. Currently, the ethnocentric and even imperialistic excesses of our intellectual ancestors induce us to disguise our shameful normative ambitions behind the fig leaves of "modernization," "Westernization," and "change." No longer do societies develop - they only change, or become modern, or become like the West. But one can still just hear the collective murmur that it's a good thing they're doing it.

We may as well face the normative issues, because, like the Victorians before us, we find that "not talking about it" just makes it emerge in more bizarre forms. Because political development is inherently a normative concept, attempts to circumvent, suppress, or disguise its normative aspects cannot succeed. In any case, the citizens of the developing world don't want a nonnormative theory of development; rather, they want a normatively grounded theory that speaks to their normative concerns. (The "developing world," of course, includes the potentially still-developing Western and Eastern worlds.) Political development "only" requires a normative theory that embraces these many, seemingly disparate ethical perspectives. This, then, is the challenge of normative grounding. Rather than avoid it, I propose we recognize its solution as a desideratum of development conceptions and see where this demand leads us.


The remaining chapters lay out a conception of political development that overcomes these theoretical challenges. This conception defines political development in terms of changes in political culture, not in terms of changes either in the political attitudes of individuals or in the empirical regularities of social interaction, although culture is closely related to both. As discussed in Chilton (1987), political culture consists of all publicly common ways of relating. These ways of relating, dealing with the same problems faced by systems of moral reasoning - how people are to relate to one another - are structured in the same manner as Kohlberg has found moral reasoning to be structured. (See Colby et al. 1983.) Thus political cultures may also be arranged in a sequence in which "higher" in the sequence means both "psychologically more integrated and differentiated" and "philosophically and morally more adequate." Development refers to the cognitive structure underlying the culture, however, not to the specific cultural content. A variety of cultures can exist at the same developmental stage. Locating political development in the cultural system admits several sources of change: changes due to cognitive-developmental forces; changes due to social inertia; and changes due to hegemonic control over available cultural alternatives.


General fields of intellectual inquiry can be divided into four theoretical levels along a continuum ranging from the most to the least theoretical issues. At the most abstract level are the general questions, problems, and/or theoretical desiderata that constrain the general field of discourse. At the second level are general approaches to answering these questions, meeting these problems, or satisfying these desiderata. Within such approaches lies the third level: theories attempting to explain or analyze particular elements of the general field of discourse. At the most specific level lie empirical tests of these theories, and exploratory case studies. These various levels are listed in Table 1 for three different fields of discourse: the field of social justice, and specifically John Rawls' (1971) approach; the field of genetic epistemology, specifically Jean Piaget's approach; and the field of political development, specifically the approach taken in this and several related works.

[Table 1 about here]

For political development, the first level consists of the five fundamental theoretical challenges posed in this chapter, particularly the questions of normative grounding and the micro-macro connection. These challenges stand as the basic task of theoretical discourse, constraining the field of political development to approaches which meet them - or are at least capable of meeting them. Negatively, these challenges appear before development theorists as problems. Again and again, development theories are judged by, and fail because of, how they answer these questions. It is in this sense that I refer to them as "constituting the field of discourse." Development theories are those for which such questions are appropriate. Even if they are hard questions, we are still forced to consider them when we wish to evaluate what we have done. Positively, however, these challenges appear to us as guides to fruitful lines of analysis. By taking them seriously, we are directed to the core of theoretical difficulties. A proper understanding of the organization of the deep, central concepts of any field permits sure and flexible production of specific theories and interpretation of data. Once central theoretical problems are solved, applications are straightforward. Asking the right theoretical questions and insisting on their answers is, for that reason, a positive guide to fruitful research.(19)

The second level of this work is the way it engages these challenges. It does so by integrating the two approaches of genetic epistemology and symbolic interactionism. From genetic epistemology this work takes the general focus upon reasoning structures as an explanation of human behavior. "Normative grounding" and its consequence, "development," arise from the parallelism between the psychological equilibration of reasoning structures and the philosophical justification of reasons. From symbolic interactionism this work takes the general perspective of the social order as constructed and potentially mutual, although this mutuality may be coerced. A basically Parsonian trichotomy of personality system, cultural system, and social system is necessary to house the mutual construction properly, but once done, the micro-macro connection is apparent.(20) This work connects genetic epistemology and symbolic interactionism by emphasizing prescriptivity as a criterion of moral reasoning: by recognizing that morality cannot be simply a universalizable philosophy but must ultimately be carried into action.(21)

The third level is where specific theories are advanced to deal with specific problems in the general field of development. This work employs Kohlberg's theory of moral development - in my judgment the best-executed (and certainly the best-elaborated) genetic-epistemological theory of moral reasoning. I use this theory's sequence of moral reasoning stages to generate in Chapter 4 a developmental theory of cultures and institutional/social forms. Chapter 5 advances various theories about the nature of developmental dynamics, employing a variety of earlier analyses of how public commonness is created or inhibited.

The fourth level of this work consists of the examples advanced to validate the theories. The present work treats theoretical issues more than case studies, so the fourth level is not much in evidence here. There are, however, a surprising number of case studies that illustrate the use of moral development to explain political development. The most famous is Hobhouse's (1906) classic, Morals in Evolution. Though Hobhouse is weak theoretically, having had to ground his work on the inadequate Social Darwinism of his time, his basic outline of the moral codes in different civilizations has never been refuted (Kohlberg, 1981a:129). Other examples include: Radding's (1978, 1979, and 1985) extensive studies of reasoning in medieval society; Stokes's (1974) related study of the origins of nationalism; Hallpike's (1979) analysis of the effects of reasoning structures on various aspects of primitive society; Wynn's (1980) study of the necessity of certain cognitive structures for the production of certain tools by early hominids; and Döbert's (1981) complex analysis of the cultural regression represented by the medieval European witch craze.(22)

Because the four theoretical levels both support and discipline one another, the evaluation of the overall analytic framework is complex. Empirical evidence cannot by itself disprove a theory, because the evidence itself may not have been gathered properly.(23) At a higher level, the ultimate rejection of a theory cannot in and of itself force the abandonment of a general approach, as Kuhn (1970a) points out.(24) At a still higher level, even the abandonment of a general perspective will not necessarily make the basic questions of a field less relevant.(25)Research is thus incapable of proving or disproving in any categorical fashion the claims of any of these four levels. Research should serve, instead, to examine and reexamine the different claims made at the four levels until they reach what Rawls (1971) calls "reflective equilibrium," a state in which each level supports and is supported by its neighbors.

This work concentrates primarily on levels one and two of Table 1. Its specific images of developmental stages and its specific theories of developmental dynamics are speculative - plausible to me, and certainly seriously intended, but still speculative. No case studies or empirical data are offered in support of these speculations, except a general claim of support from those works (Hobhouse et al.) cited.

Evaluation of the present work accordingly requires not a determination of its empirical accuracy but of its theoretical usefulness, where utility is judged not just by empirical accuracy but also by plausibility, suggestiveness, and theoretical coherence.(26) To anticipate the analysis, the issue is not whether political development is located in the cultural system, but whether it is useful to see it thus. The issue is not whether feudal Europe was a Stage 2 society, but whether specialists in the period (e.g., Radding) find cognitive commonalities helpful in understanding medieval society. The issue is not whether public commonness exists, but whether useful theories of developmental dynamics naturally derive from this perspective. Theories are judged by their ability to predict and explain empirical phenomena; general perspectives are judged by their usefulness in suggesting theories.

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1. Conversely, only in the theoretical labor of clarifying that principle can we overcome our blind reactions to our own historical circumstance. 

2. The work gives no definition of political development. Subject index entries do appear for "development, definition of," "developmentalist model," and "development goals," but the last two do not refer to definitions, and the first refers to a simple definition of development (not political development) as the growth in GNP per capita. 

3. The terms "development" and "political development" appear neither in Bensel's index nor his table of contents. Some articles with political development in their titles subsequently use the term not at all (e.g., Sollie, 1984; Dobelstein, 1985) or almost not at all (e.g., it is mentioned only once in Khalilzad, 1984-5, and Hope, 1985). 

4. In his more recent work, Huntington (1987) appears to have reconciled himself to use of the term. 

5. To draw a parallel with another field, psychologists have long battled over the concept of "self," finding these battles theoretically enlightening, not cause to abandon the term. 

6. As I have argued in another context (Chilton, 1987), there are three general ways social scientists can obtain agreement (and, we hope, clarity) on theoretically central concepts:  by consensus, by fiat, and by analysis.

Consensus, if it existed, would be the simplest method, but as the works cited in the text have repeatedly demonstrated, it doesn't exist.  Furthermore, even if consensus were to exist, it still might not provide either conceptual clarity or empirical utility. In the same way as the camel is said to be a horse designed by a committee, consensus might only yield a concept awkward of result and/or incoherent with other, related concepts.

Fiat is not possible either, because we have no philosophical Leviathan to impose order on our conceptions.  The normative connotations of political development are especially relevant here, because our professional search for a Leviathan of analytic frameworks is thus equivalent to a normative search, a la Hobbes, for a Leviathan of morality.  (This connection between analytic frameworks and normative positions is lifted from Sheldon Wolin's, 1960:Chapter 8, fine analysis of Hobbes.)  And, as in the case of consensus, agreement by fiat would not guarantee either the resulting concept's coherence within a larger theoretical framework or its utility in scientific explanation.

Agreement by analysis might be possible, however. "Analysis" here means a process of specifying generally accepted challenges to / demands on potential conceptions of political development. If such challenges exist, then candidate conceptions of political development can be assessed against them. The challenges can be used to discard some conceptions, to direct our attention to more promising conceptions, and - if political development is as central an organizing concept as it appears - to discover a uniquely satisfactory conception possessing both conceptual and empirical clarity. If the theoretical questions are indeed fundamental ones, this approach will provide theoretical coherence as well as agreement. This is the approach taken in this work. 

7. The term "thing" connotes conceptual specificity, not physical existence. 

8. I do not claim that this statement represents the limits of Huntington's vision - merely that the partial vision has been taken for the whole. 

9. Goulet (1971) does present a fully elaborated conception of development. 

10. Payne (1984:35-37) nicely characterizes such confusions as "allow[ing] hypotheses to become embedded in definitions." 

11. The examples above are all cited in Park (1984:54-55). 

12. Contrast Park's (1984:46-48, 51-52, points 3 and 5) consciously "methodological individualist" argument that individuals should be the locus of development. Park does not, however, exclude the possibility that what develops is an emergent property of individuals not definable merely by aggregating them. 

13. Stephen White (1977:31) citing Radkey (1950:57-63) and Levin (1973:89). 

14. (a) I avoid here the term "stages" of development, which connotes finite and discontinuous values. Though the concept of development proposed here is indeed a stage concept, that result should flow from the empirical nature of development, not from an imposed theoretical demand.

(b) Park (1984:43-44, 51, point 2) pushes for an ideal-type definition of political development (thus entailing the specification of the various states of development) as a reaction to those nonideal-type definitions which derive the nature of development empirically by contrasting what one thinks are developed societies to those one thinks are not. 

15. Park (1984:52) makes this very point. His discussion is flawed in two respects, however. First, he apparently assumes that the so-called developed countries are "inappropriately termed 'developed'" (ibid.) While he may be correct, he goes too far; the unsupported assumption does not belong in a list of conceptual desiderata. (Without arguing for this point, one can entertain the hypothetical possibility that Western society is the most developed, be it ever so flawed.) Second, Park excludes the possibility of "linear sequential" theories of development, preferring cyclical theories. Once again, his recognition of a possibility becomes, without support, a conceptual criterion. 

16. Park (1984:45, 52, point 4) makes the related demand that any conception of development must be universally applicable. 

17. I am indebted to Philip Abrams' Historical Sociology (1982) for clarifying my thinking in this area. 

18. Habermas (1983:256): "interpreters sacrifice the superiority of observers' privileged positions, since they are involved in the negotiation about validity claims. By taking part in communicative actions they accept an equal standing with those whose utterances they want to understand. . . . Within a communicative process, . . . there is no a priori decision as to who has to learn from whom in order to reach a common understanding." Also see Habermas' (1983) discussion of the evaluation of Kohlberg's theory through the "complementarity" between the performative and objectivating attitudes. 

19. The fruitfulness of Newtonian physics, for example, was based on Newton's clear analysis of the concepts of space, time, mass, inertia, and acceleration. 

20. See Chilton (1984b).  [This was later published as "Culture Is the Locus of Development", Chapter 7 of Grounding Political Development.] The trichotomy parallels Habermas' "universal pragmatics" trichotomy of validity claims (1979a), which parallelism lends support to the basic naturalness of the approach. Habermas (1979c) sketches a general theory of development similar to the present one. 

21. Kohlberg's writings tend to emphasize the universality criterion, although such works as Kohlberg and Candee (1984) do argue that higher-stage moral reasoning is associated with greater behavioral execution. 

22. These studies (except Hobhouse's) use Piaget's theory of moral development, not Kohlberg's. 

23. The physicist who postulated the existence of the "weak force" saw eight experimental projects fail to find evidence for it before the ninth project did. "Never believe an experimental finding until it is confirmed by theory," was his theorist's dig at experimenters. 

24. Theorists continued to attempt to explain the famous Michelson-Morley experiment in Newtonian terms until Einstein's relativistic perspective showed them a simpler way. 

25. The basic philosophical questions about the nature of space and time were not changed by the shift from Newtonian to relativistic physics. It was the theoretical perspective that changed. 

26. This discussion obviously leads us into the thickets of the philosophy of science, where debate continues about the criteria by which we may judge one theory or perspective or paradigm as better than another.

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Author:  Stephen Chilton [email]  |  Last Modified:  2004-11-30
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