David Easton Model of System Analysis | Political System Theory

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David Easton Model of System Analysis | Political System Theory



System theory is an important theory in comparative politics. A system is defined as a set of related units, which interact with each other on a continuous basis. 

The overall interactions within the units of the system allow the system to function and equilibrium is attained. 


David Easton is the first political thinker to use the system analysis to understand the political process. He has explained system theory in his bookA Framework for political analyses



David Easton deals with politics in explicit systemic terms.


Easton defines the political system as ‘a set of interaction as abstracted from the totality of the social behavior, through which values are authoritatively allocated for society. 

 David Easton argues that all political systems are closely connected with other social systems. In his analysis, there is a regular flow of influences from the environment to the system and system to the environment. 

The flow of influences from the environment to the system is called input, whereas the flow of influences from the system to the environment is called output.


Easton said that any political system has these two components - i. e


  1. Input
  2. Output

The input comprises of demand and support. Demand refers to a set of claims, desires, needs, and wants made by the general public or a particular group before the government. The demand can be in the form of appeals, agitations, elections, etc.


Easton defines demand as an expression of the opinion that "an authoritative allocation with regard to the particular subject matter should or. should not be made by those responsible for doing so".


People make demands upon the political decision-makers and it is the function of the system to convert the demands into decisions. Demands may be classified as follows 


i) Demands for the allocation of goods and services such as demands for wages and hour laws, educational opportunities, recreational facilities, roads and transportation. 


ii) Demands for the regulation of behavior such as provisions for public safety, controls over markets and rules pertaining to marriage, health and sanitation: 


iii) Demands for participation in the political system as the right to vote, hold office, petition government bodies and officials and to organize political associations. 


(iv) Demands for communication and information such as demands for the affirmation of norms, communication of policy intent from policy elites, or the display of majesty and power of the political system in periods of threat or on ceremonial occasions.




Like demands, there is also a support mechanism that sustains the system. Supports refer to political obedience or values or ideologies or belief system that people have towards the system. 


The support mechanism provides legitimacy to the system. It may be symbol symbolic like waving the flag or singing National Anthem or substantial like attending political meetings or voting regularly etc. 


Support can be both covert and overt. The support is covert when it· refers to supportive attitudes. The support is overt when the action is clear and manifest.

Supports can be classified as indicated-


i) Material supports such as payment of taxes or other levies and the prov1s1ons of services such as labor on public works or military service; 


ii) Obedience to rules and regulations; 


iii) Participatory supports, such as voting, political discussion and other forms of political activity; 


iv) Attention paid to governmental communication, and the manifestation of deference or respect to public authority symbols, and ceremonials.


The political support may lack due to the failure of the government to deliver the goods and services to the people. But if the government does not rectify it properly within a stipulated period of time, then the people withdraw support from the government, which may threaten the very existence of the system itself. 


The function of the political system depends partly on the structural· mechanism and partly, on the support, diffused or specific, which operates in society. 


But its main function depends on its performance. Here comes the output.  The output is nothing but the results or decisions taken by the government. 


In this regard, four processes are involved.


i) Extractions which may take the form of tribute, booty, taxes or personal services; 


ii) Regulations of behavior which may take a variety of forms and affect the whole gamut of human behavior and relations; 


iii) Allocation or distribution of goods and services, opportunities, honors, statuses and the like; 


iv) Symbolic outputs, including affirmation of values, displays of political symbols, statements of policy, and intents. 


The environment of the political system -


Easton argues, out of the political system there exists another system that constitutes the environment of the political system. 


This environment can be divided into two parts - intra societal and extra societal.


The intra societal system includes the economy, culture, social structure, or personalities. These segments are part of the society of which the political system itself is a part. They shape or influence the conditions under which a political system itself must operate. 


The extra societal system includes all the systems, which lie outside a given society. They are the component of emerging International society which may be called Supra society. 


The International political system and international economic systems would be in the category of extra societal system, which also shapes the political system of a society. 


Eastern argues the political system is separated from another system by means of boundaries. But these boundaries are difficult to identify as the political system interacts with other systems through means of exchange and interaction.


David Easton argues a political system begins functioning as a result of inputs receives from the environment. Once input is received by the system it begins processing the inputs which is known as the conversion process

The conversion process converts the input into output in the form of rules to be enforced and policies to be implemented. The output affects the environment and even modifies the input. 


Not all that goes as input, flow in the output unit. In every political system, there are certain gatekeepers’ mechanism that decides what valid and invalid demand is. 


In the democratic system political parties play the role of gatekeepers, they choose certain demands made by the public as valid and legitimate, and other demands gets rejected. 



Feedback Mechanism



Central to David Easton's system theory is his concept of feedback. This is basically a Communications process. It is a dynamic process through which information about the performance of the system is communicated back to it, which affect the subsequent behavior of the system. 



Feedback is an essential element of Easton's system theory. It functions in between the inputs and outputs. Outputs not only influence the events but in doing so, they determine each succeeding round of inputs.

This feedback loop completes the cycle of the political system and makes it a dynamic and regenerative operation. 


The feedback has two aspects viz. positive and negative. The negative aspect deals with the regulations of error and the positive aspect deals with the problems of purposive direction. Feedback belongs to the domain of control engineering.


Merits of David Easton's System Theory :


  1. First, David Easton's system theory offers a framework for scientific analysis of the political process.
  2. David Easton's system theory is dynamic and is able to explain the change that that place in politics.
  3. It has normative dimensions 
  4. David Easton's system theory is unified that can be used to study both national and international politics.

Criticism of David Easton's System Theory 


 System analysis suffers from several weaknesses and shortcomings-


  1. David Easton's system theory has been criticized for being too abstract. It said to be too far from empirical reality.
  2. It is not able to explain certain drastic political events like revolutions or ethnic conflict.
  3. David Easton's system theory  does not clearly articulate how conversions or feedback system work or function
  4. It is said that David Easton's system theory supports the status quo. It is status quoits and conservative in nature.
  5. The countries of the third world passionately seek change in all spheres of economic, social, and cultural life but systems model cannot comprehend the pace, scale, and nature of change in them.

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David Easton's views on systems analysis from a developmental point of view provide some theoretical information about the functions of political systems.

The operational mechanisms of any political system can be judged through input-output analysis. In addition, feedback also acts as an effective channel of communication between the system and the people and vice versa.

However, Easton's views cannot be considered completely correct. His ideas are very abstract and devoid of empirical examination. Afro-Asian nations that are undergoing changes in various fields will rarely accept the conservative nature of Easton's systems analysis in the process of political development.


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