Broadly, the development of the institutions, attitudes, and values that form the political power system of a society. Political development has been defined in many ways that reflect the passage of societies' and analysts' preoccupations.
One formulation dwells on the emergence of national sovereignty and the integrity of the state, demanding respect and upholding commitments in the international system. Others identify the domestic attributes of constitutional order and political stability, attained through the formation of a settled framework of government, reliable procedures for leadership succession, and a consolidation of the territorial administrative reach of government institutions. This conspectus owes to the fascination exerted by nation‐building and state‐building in new states of Africa and Asia. It also relates to earlier studies of legal‐rational authority: an endowment of coercive powers and the ability to command obedience. The establishment of bureaucracy, displaying characteristics like division of labour and functional specialization, hierarchy and chain of command, and merit‐based recruitment, is connected.
Political development enhances the state's capacity to mobilize and allocate resources, to process policy inputs into implementable outputs. This assists with problem‐solving and adaptation to environmental changes and goal realization. The contemporary notion of good governance also dwells on efficient, effective, and non‐corrupt public administration.
Many Marxists define political development in advanced industrial societies in terms of the growth of the class consciousness and political organization of the proletariat, leading, ultimately, to the overthrow of capitalism and the approach of communism. A more common (though ethnocentric) and currently very fashionable view is progress towards liberal democracy, involving accountable government, and opportunities for participation (also seen by some as an aspect of modernization, rather than development), through the exercise of such freedoms as association and expression.
Linkages between economic progress and political development are much debated. The former has traditionally been seen as a begetter or facilitator of the latter, through the agency of intervening variables like the spread of literacy and rise of plural interest groups, the accumulation of independent financial power and economic strength in society. Cross‐cutting cleavages created by economic specialization and differentiation moderate social conflict.
More recently democratization and good governance have been portrayed both as constitutive of political development and as conditions for sustained economic development in developing areas and post‐communist societies. The rule of law (and thus respect for property rights) and the development of civil society are also included although the relationships with democratization are not well understood. For example, there is a debate over sequencing, that is to say over whether the rule of law and some amount of associational life must exist before movement towards liberal democracy becomes truly possible. The embedding of human rights is another central plank.
The enduring problem of political development for some divided societies, as in former Yugoslavia and especially in what the World Bank calls low income countries under stress, remains how to combine political stability with political liberalization and democratization. Another challenge is safeguarding democratic transition and consolidation in the midst of drastic economic restructuring (see structural adjustment), where that engenders popular dissatisfaction and threatens a rise in political extremism. Political development touches not just on formal constitutional and organizational arrangements but also on such informal institutions as actual political relationships, for example patron clientelism. Thus changes in attitudes and the political culture are relevant too. All this places limits on how far political development can be imported or imposed from without.