When I think of great achievements of modern sciences, I can point to things like nuclear energy for physicists, the internet for computer scientists, etc. however for political science I am unsure what their major modern achievements are.

For modern democracy has been pretty stable since the 18th century, it can't be claimed to be a great achievement of modern political science.

What are the great, real-life achievements of political science (say from the 1900s onwards)? I mean things that have changed the world, not just theory.

Politicians change the world but political scientists describe politics, is that fair or no?

  • Thanks for the question. There is now a meta discussion about this here. Mar 6 '19 at 18:04
  • Please clarify whether the epithet "great" is mean to signify achievements that are large, impressive, world-changing, and good, or merely large, impressive, and world-changing. If a PS achievement needn't be good, it seems that various infamous totalitarian states employed PS to do many great (but bad) things; more neutrally (or rather less consciously) there's the arms race, and anthropogenic climate change.
    – agc
    Mar 27 '19 at 13:54

Whenever there is a law or a political treaty which affects the lives of millions of people, you can assume that political scientists contributed to it.

One recent example of an achievement of political science one could point to would be the European Union. It is a political invention which improves the lives of a half billion people in ways many of them don't even realize. I am not claiming the EU is perfect, but it certainly was an innovation. Never before was there a political union between countries which allowed them to cooperate that closely while sacrificing that little of their sovereignty.

The two main heads behind the Maastricht Treaty were Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand. Kohl had a doctor's degree in political science and Mitterand a diploma. Now these two were of course also career politicians (at that time the heads of governments of Germany and France respectively). But many career politicians have an academic background in political science. Those who do not do usually have aides with a PolSci background who help them with drafting laws and treaties and advise them on the political effects of them. But these aides are people you usually don't read about, because it's the politicians who get the spotlight.

  • 2
    But one could point to the United States and the Swiss confederation (and other historical examples such as the Hanseatic League) as similar achievements which had no involvement from political scientists.
    – jamesqf
    Mar 3 '19 at 17:30
  • 4
    @jamesqf the question asked specifically for political achievements since 1900. Back then political science as an independent science didn't really exist.
    – Philipp
    Mar 3 '19 at 18:34
  • 2
    @PhilippL Yes, that was my point. If similar results can be achieved with or without the assistance of political science, then political science has a null effect. Occam's Razor, IOW :-)
    – jamesqf
    Mar 4 '19 at 1:59
  • Helmut Kohl is normally considered a historian - not a political scientist. Initially he studied Law and History, then he switched to "Staatswissenschaften" (which includes political sciences). His doctoral thesis was about "The political development of the Palatinate and the re-creation of political parties after 1945".
    – user23205
    Mar 4 '19 at 15:51
  • @FrankfromFrankfurt Can you elaborate on what that term means? If it includes political science, why is he not a political scientist? Mar 6 '19 at 17:51

1) It is highly arguable whether political science is in fact a science.

2) The achievements of modern science that you mention or allude to are not really achievements of science, they're achievements of engineers who used the the science. We don't have effective political engineering.

  • 5
    "We don't have effective political engineering." - of course, if there was effective political engineering, it would be unnoticed. If it was noticed it wouldn't be as effective.
    – user253751
    Mar 4 '19 at 2:41
  • It is not just engineers as you refer to. Without the theoretical aspects of something like a nuclear physics, the engineers would not have had a basis for their calculations.
    – spmoose
    Mar 4 '19 at 16:41
  • 3
    I find your second point undervalues science quite a bit. It is not an achievement by science alone (but also takes engineering, and organisation, and perhaps business), but it is certainly an achievement of science if humanity uses scientific results to change the world.
    – gerrit
    Mar 5 '19 at 17:13
  • 1
    Can you back-up this answer? Are there experts in what constitutes a science that say that "political science" is not one? Otherwise, this is just opinion. Mar 6 '19 at 17:41
  • 1
    @indigochild: Of course it's a matter of opinion - it can't be anything else :-) But consider the definition of science: "Science... is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe." (From Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science ) Political science doesn't (and really can't) do that, so it's not actually a science.
    – jamesqf
    Mar 6 '19 at 19:01


The data back to 1400 show that, globally, the last hundred years have been the most peaceful.

There is some controversy, of course, but it's fair to say that many experts who have studied this topic have arrived at this conclusion.

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    Is there any evidence that political science is the cause of this peace? Mar 6 '19 at 17:45
  • The last 50 years have been fairly peaceful, if you don't consider genocide. The last 100 years have seen the two most destructive wars in history. If you do consider genocide, the last 50 years don't look so good - major acts of genocide in China, Cambodia, Rwanda, Uganda, and the Balkans.
    – tj1000
    Mar 10 '19 at 4:59

I'd say Democracy and the Parliamentary system are two of the main great achievements. But how can these be claimed to be modern inventions when they have been around since antiquity?

The concept an "engine" -- a machines that consumes fuel and produces work -- has been around for millennia so how can modern science be credited for the combustion engine? It is the same thing with the concept of Democracy. The ancient Greek city states had some form of Democracy, just like they had engines, but it was flawed and eventually overrun by usurpators.

During the late Renaissance and Enlightenment philosophers started to question prevailing forms of government in which one ruler was supreme. This led to parliaments being formed and power shared between entities. One prominent example was the 1688 overthrow of the King of England and the declaration of the supremacy of the English parliament.

This led to other parliamentary systems being created, such as the American one in 1776 which heavily drew upon European enlightenment philosophy and the lessons of earlier revolutions. I think this period was the beginning of modern Political science. Not only did philosophers espouse various maxims about "natural and inalienable rights", but they also began thinking about how these rights could be implemented in practice.

In doing so, they had to draw upon lessons on what had worked well in the past and what had not worked so well. This meant the endeavor became scientific. For example, the American colonialists borrowed good ideas from the English Bill of Rights, then the French revolutionaries borrowed ideas from the American Declaration of Independence and so on.

Each of these upheavals led (for the most part) to the establishment of better and better systems. They are more safe from usurpators, more democratic and more stable than they have been in the past. For example, Donald Trump is the president of the United States and the most powerful person on earth but not even he has unlimited power to do whatever he wants. That this kind of "power sharing" for the most part works, is a great achievement.

  • 2
    The parlimentary system, and even the US Constitution, pre-dates political science by centuries. And since the US Constitution draws heavily on Greek and Roman examples, you might make that a couple of millenia :-)
    – jamesqf
    Mar 4 '19 at 18:24
  • FWIW, deciding not to hear a case until it goes through the process is not the same as overruling.
    – Dunk
    Mar 5 '19 at 0:19
  • Political science existed in antiquity too. Plato's Academy was one early example of organized study of political science (philosophy). Clearly, the US Constitution drew some inspiration from Greek philosophy but much more so from the English Bill of Rights and the Enlightenment. The "unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" comes directly from Locke, Rousseau and Voltaire. Mar 5 '19 at 0:31
  • @BjörnLindqvist It really depends on what you mean by "science". By many accounts, science didn't exist until modern times. Science is more than just intellectual inquiry. Mar 6 '19 at 17:46
  • @indigochild Indeed, you can argue that but then for consistency have to admit that Aristotle wasn't a natural scientist, merely a natural philosopher. But that is really beyond the point of my answer which is that the evolution of parliamentary systems have been driven by scientific processes based on empirical evidence. Mar 6 '19 at 19:12

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