The intellectual roots of the concept of modernisation could be traced to the Behavioural Political Science of the American social science scholarship. These Anglo-American Social Scientists, who are theoretically and methodologically motivated by the thoughts of Max Weber and August Comte, felt that it is their responsibility to evolve a political strategy for continuing modernisation process in the post-colonial nations. Modernisation theory, thus understood, is the response of Western intellectuals to many challenges faced by the Third World countries regarding their development in the immediate post-Second World War period. Consequently, interest towards modernisation in the Third World nationalist leadership, as said above, led to the export of development models, technology, capital, personnel by the developed to the developing countries. Important among these modernisation scholars are Talcott Parsons, Almond, Powell, and Huntington.
In relation to the theories of development, modernisation theorists supplemented and reinforced economic growth theorists in analysing the Third World problems of development. They emphasised on the ‘totality’ of change and viewed modernisation as a process, often called ‘diffusion’ that spread throughout the society effecting economic aspects, the type of government, social structure, values, religion and family structure. The entire edifice of modernisation theory rested on a homogeneous image of the ‘Third World’ destined to follow the North American and West European path.
Modernisation theorists viewed underdevelopment in the Third World as the result of internal shortcomings specific to the underdeveloped societies. They saw underdevelopment as a result of their (developing countries) pre-colonial rather than colonial history. They viewed the underdeveloped societies as ‘traditional’ societies, which in the process of modernisation should shed traditional aspects of its society by taking up the new value orientations that characterise the West European countries.
As noted earlier, the intellectual roots of the Theory of Liberal Democratic Modernisation could be traced to the Social Organisation Theory of Talcott Parsons. According to him, the major criterion for the development is the structural differentiation throughout society. In his typology of the structural and cultural characteristics of societies at different stages of evolution, Parson found greater structural differentiation and integration in the developed or modern societies than in the primitive or traditional societies. Accordingly, Third World society’s modernisation was interpreted as the process of transition from tradition to modernity, along the lines of what happened at an earlier stage in Europe under the current of liberalism.
This approach has been applied by several Anglo-American Social Scientists to the analysis of the politics of the developing areas. Almond and Powell viewed the transformation of developing countries as cultural diffusion from the Western metropolis. They opined that the impact of Western countries in the formulation of transformative agendas of the Third World societies aimed at aiding the modernising elite of the developing areas in transforming their rigid, diffuse, and ascriptive pattern of tradition.
The very implication of this modernisation scholarship was that they viewed capitalist development as the only desirable path to the Third World countries and believed that Liberal democracy is the final stage of development. While tracing the roots of modernisation theories, A.R.Desai observed that “these theories had USA and West Europe as models for indicating specific ingredients of modernisation which meant to describe processes and system of transformation taking place with in the broad framework of capitalist mode of production”.
Though the efforts of modernisation in the Third World along Western lines has not succeeded for a long time, by the early seventies, the intellectuals and masses of the Third World started of discrediting and delegitimising of state-sponsored nationalism and modernisation. This was largely the result of its failure to assure substantive democracy and equitable development for significant sections of civil society. Among the most dramatic manifestations of this have been conflicts along lines of caste, class and community as well as claims to sovereign national status, put forward by a variety of disenchanted social groups at the regional and sub-regional levels”.