Who Said Political Science Is The Science Of Power?

The insightful definition of political science as ‘the science of power’ has become a fundamental concept in the field. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The famous quote ‘political science is the science of power’ originated from prominent 20th century political scientist Harold Lasswell in his seminal work Politics: Who Gets What, When, How.

In this comprehensive article, we trace the full history and context behind Lasswell’s enduring definition of politics as power. We explore Lasswell’s background and some of his most important contributions to political science.

We analyze what he meant by conceptualizing politics as the study of power and how this view diverged from prior notions. We also examine the influence and legacy of Lasswell’s ‘science of power’ quote on later political scientists and theories.

Introducing Harold Lasswell

Harold Dwight Lasswell, an American political scientist, was born on February 13, 1902, in Donnellson, Illinois. He is widely recognized as one of the pioneers in the field of political science, specifically in the study of politics and power.

Lasswell’s extensive contributions have significantly shaped the way we understand and analyze political systems and behavior.

Biographical Background

Lasswell’s academic journey began at the University of Chicago, where he pursued a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and a Ph.D. in Political Science. Throughout his career, he held various prestigious positions, including serving as a professor at Yale University, the University of Chicago, and Columbia University.

Lasswell also worked as a consultant for numerous government agencies, including the Office of Strategic Services during World War II.

His upbringing in a small rural town exposed him to the struggles and challenges faced by ordinary people. This early experience sparked his interest in understanding power dynamics and the impact of politics on society.

Lasswell’s background influenced his research approach, focusing on the relationship between politics, power, and social welfare.

Major Works and Achievements

Lasswell’s most notable work, “Politics: Who Gets What, When, How,” published in 1936, revolutionized the field of political science. In this book, he introduced the concept of the “governing formula” as a way to understand the distribution of power in society.

Lasswell argued that politics is essentially about decision-making, and power is the key factor that determines who gets what, when, and how.

In addition to his groundbreaking book, Lasswell made significant contributions to the study of propaganda, communication, and political psychology. His research on the role of communication in shaping public opinion and political behavior laid the groundwork for the field of political communication.

Throughout his career, Lasswell received numerous honors and awards for his contributions to the field of political science. His work continues to be influential today, shaping our understanding of power dynamics and the role of politics in society.

For more information about Harold Lasswell’s life and work, you can visit https://www.apsa.org/member-spotlight-harold-dwight-lasswell.

Politics: Who Gets What, When, How

In the realm of politics, the question of “who gets what, when, how” has long been a subject of fascination. This phrase was popularized by the political scientist Harold Lasswell, who believed that understanding the distribution of power was essential to comprehending political systems.

Lasswell’s influential book, “Politics: Who Gets What, When, How,” published in 1936, delves into the intricate dynamics of power and how it shapes political outcomes.

Lasswell’s work emerged during a time of great political turmoil, with the rise of fascism in Europe and the Great Depression in the United States. His book aimed to shed light on the underlying mechanisms that determine who holds power and how they use it to shape society.

By studying the allocation of resources, political decisions, and the exercise of authority, Lasswell sought to provide a comprehensive understanding of the intricate web of politics.

Lasswell’s book is filled with thought-provoking arguments and important takeaways about the nature of politics. One of his key arguments is that politics is ultimately about power and the distribution of resources.

He asserts that those in power determine who benefits from political decisions and policies, and this allocation of resources is a fundamental aspect of politics.

Another significant takeaway from Lasswell’s work is the idea that political power is not solely held by elected officials or formal institutions. He highlights the role of interest groups, lobbyists, and other non-state actors in shaping political outcomes.

Lasswell’s analysis goes beyond the traditional understanding of politics, emphasizing the influence that various actors have on decision-making processes.

Lasswell also explores the concept of legitimacy and the ways in which those in power maintain their authority. He argues that legitimacy is crucial in sustaining political systems and that governments must effectively communicate and justify their actions to maintain public support.

Lasswell’s book has had a profound impact on the field of political science. It laid the foundation for the study of power and its effects on political systems. His work paved the way for future scholars to delve deeper into the complexities of politics, examining not only formal institutions but also the informal networks and dynamics that shape political outcomes.

Additionally, Lasswell’s emphasis on the distribution of resources and the role of non-state actors has broadened the scope of political science research. It has encouraged scholars to explore the influence of interest groups, corporations, and other powerful entities on political decision-making processes.

Defining Politics as Power

When it comes to understanding politics, the traditional view has often revolved around the idea of governance, public policy, and decision-making processes. However, a growing perspective within political science is challenging this conventional understanding by emphasizing the inherent connection between politics and power.

Divergence from Previous Perspectives

Historically, politics has been understood as the study of governance and the allocation of resources within society. While this approach has provided valuable insights into how governments function and how policies are formulated, it has often ignored the underlying power dynamics that shape political processes.

By diverging from this traditional perspective, the “science of power” view acknowledges that politics is not just about the formal structures and procedures of government, but also about the distribution and exercise of power in society.

This shift in focus allows for a more comprehensive understanding of how political systems operate and how decisions are made.

Linking Politics and Power

The link between politics and power is undeniable. Power, in its simplest form, refers to the ability to influence others and control resources. In a political context, power is crucial for individuals and groups to achieve their objectives and shape the direction of society.

Political scientists argue that power is not limited to those in formal positions of authority. It can also be exerted through informal networks, social movements, and other non-traditional channels. Understanding these power dynamics is essential for comprehending how political decisions are made, who holds influence, and how policies are shaped.

Implications of the ‘Science of Power’ View

Viewing politics as the science of power has significant implications for our understanding of political systems and processes. It highlights the importance of studying power dynamics, both within formal institutions and in broader society.

By doing so, political scientists can gain insights into how power is accumulated, exercised, and potentially challenged.

This perspective also opens up avenues for analyzing the impact of power imbalances on policy outcomes, social inequalities, and democratic processes. By examining who has power and how it is distributed, researchers can better understand the underlying forces that shape our political landscape.

While the science of power view may be a departure from traditional approaches, it offers a more nuanced understanding of politics by recognizing the central role that power plays in shaping societal outcomes.

By acknowledging the intricate relationship between politics and power, we can gain new insights into the dynamics of governance and work towards creating more equitable and just societies.

Influence on Later Political Scientists

The field of political science has evolved significantly over time, with various scholars and thinkers making significant contributions. One of the most influential figures in the development of political science as a discipline was Niccolò Machiavelli.

Machiavelli’s seminal work, “The Prince,” laid the foundation for understanding the intricate relationship between power and politics.

Adoption by Behavioralists

Machiavelli’s theories on power and governance were later adopted by behavioralists in the field of political science. These scholars focused on the study of human behavior and its impact on political decision-making.

By incorporating Machiavellian principles into their research, behavioralists aimed to provide a more comprehensive understanding of political phenomena.

The adoption of Machiavelli’s ideas by behavioralists led to a shift in the field’s focus, as scholars began to explore the psychological and social factors that influence political behavior. This approach revolutionized the study of political science, as it moved away from a purely theoretical perspective to a more empirical and data-driven approach.

Role in Development of Realpolitik

Machiavelli’s ideas also played a crucial role in the development of Realpolitik, a political philosophy that emphasizes practicality and pragmatism over moral and ethical considerations. Realpolitik advocates for the pursuit of national interests and the use of power to achieve political goals.

Realpolitik gained prominence in the 19th century, particularly in the context of international relations. Machiavelli’s emphasis on the importance of power and the willingness to use it resonated with political leaders who sought to advance their countries’ interests in a rapidly changing world.

Lasting Impact on the Field

Machiavelli’s ideas continue to have a lasting impact on the field of political science. His emphasis on power and the strategic use of it remains relevant in contemporary political discourse. Scholars and researchers still refer to Machiavelli’s concepts when analyzing and understanding political phenomena.

Moreover, Machiavelli’s work serves as a reminder that political science is not just the study of power, but also the study of how power is acquired, maintained, and wielded. By examining the intricate dynamics of power, political scientists are better equipped to understand the complexities of governance and decision-making.


Harold Lasswell’s famous articulation of political science as ‘the science of power’ marked a pivotal moment in the evolution of political theory. By shifting focus directly onto the workings of power and away from formal legal structures, Lasswell paved the way for more realistic, grounded analyses of actual political behavior.

His influence reshaped 20th century political science towards questions of who gets what, when, and how – the essence of politics as the science of power. Eight decades later, Lasswell’s brilliant insight remains foundational to how we conceptualize and study the diverse manifestations of power in civic life.

Similar Posts