Political Science: The State of the Discipline II

By Ada W. Finifter | Go to book overview

conditions leading to the initiation, escalation, diffusion, and termination of war. A search to approach sufficiency is afoot in different directions.

Can we say that there is progress in the study of war and peace? The answer is a tentative yes. As part of this exercise, I randomly read articles on international war in leading journals, starting with the end of World War II. 21 In journals from the 1940s and 1950s, I found much precise description but only limited attempts to go beyond the case under scrutiny. It is not surprising that few academics refer to that work today. In the 1960s and 1970s, journal articles remain largely descriptive, but a change is noticeable. 22 Published empirical results seldom supported widely held propositions. Instead, they legitimized radically different theories from the accepted norm. In the 1980s and 1990s the development of alternative perspectives on the causes of war exploded. The legacy of the last two decades shows a growing commitment to theoretical specification and an increasing link to empirical evaluations. The study of war and peace is poised at the verge of generating a consistent paradigm that may guide work in the next decade.

It is my belief that the next generation of scholars will be far more dependent on their own cohorts than on their ancient ancestors. The massive improvements in specification and extensive empirical developments permit rejection of some plausible propositions, while others are preserved because they survive initial tests. As we move into the future, and larger, well-documented data sets become increasingly available to students of politics, one expects that current work will be dramatically revised and superseded. Improvements in formal structures and statistical developments that have started to appear in the last decade will undoubtedly expand and integrate larger sections of the field. This generation can take credit for being the first to face the scientific challenge and explore, admittedly very incompletely, the propositions generated by generations of students of war and peace. The next generation faces the urgent challenge of controlling war that now can escalate to unthinkable levels. That task is challenging and urgent.


Notes

*With special thanks to James Caporaso, James Morrow, Gretchen Hower, Randolph Siverson, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, Frank Zagare, Claudio Cioffi-Revilla, John Vasquez and Suzanne Werner for their insightful suggestions and to Douglas Lemke and Doris Fuchs, who labored long and hard improving and editing the manuscript and putting together the bibliography. David Hopson and Joel Smith were instrumental in constructing graphics. Sandra Seymour is responsible for the final typing.

1.
I use this particular definition of war as a means to narrow my subject area and not because it has more validity than other definitions of war. A most comprehensive, all-inclusive definition is provided bby Cioffi-Revilla ( 1991b), who wishes to catalog all possible conflicts. "War is an occurrence of purpose, collective violence among two or more social groups pursuing conflicting political goals that result in fatalities, with at least one belligerent group being organized under the command of authoritative leadership."
2.
Thomas Kuhn ( 1970) proposed the notion of a paradigm but conceded that it has been used in various ways. In later work he argues that a paradigm "...stands for the entire constellation of beliefs, values, techniques, and so on shared by the members of a given community. On the other, it denotes one sort of element in that constellation, the concrete puzzle-solutions which, employed as models or examples, can replace explicit rules as a basis for the solution of the remaining puzzles of normal science" ( Kuhn 1970, 175) Here I employ paradigm in the first sense defined by Kuhn. For an enlightening discussion with world politics applications see Vasquez ( 1983, 1-12).
3.
For a particularly heated discussion of data and paradigm testing in the context of deterrence, see Richard Ned Lebow and Janice Gross Stein ( 1990) and Paul Huth and Bruce Russett ( 1990).
4.
For a practical review of epistemological problems in political science, see Tilly 1985 and Collier 1991.
5.
The more advanced the field, the stronger is the consensus on rules of falsification. Note that Stephen Hawking, despite the enormous complexity of his ideas on time and space, accepts with little discussion Lakatos' criteria and through their application is able to reject complex theoretical alternatives ( Stephen W. Hawking, 1988. A Brief History of Time. Bantam, 9-13 and 47-49).
6.
In no area is the difficulty of establishing a paradigm more apparent than in the study of human evolution. Paleontologists organized their discipline around Darwin's insight that the current expressions of a species, despite differences in size and appearance, evolved from a common extinct ancestor that was less adapted to survival than those still among us. Darwin's notions were and still are in sharp contrast to the theory of human creation held by the Western church. The debate on the evidence is being fought to this day. For example, "scientific" creationists challenge bone dating techniques and attempt to show that species were concurrently created. The modern study of genetics, however, has independently confirmed the validity of species transformation, lending further credence to Darwin's insight.
7.
The difference between "hegemon," that is omnipotent over all its allies and foes and "dominant," which is simply the largest among the major powers is important. A dominant power is large, indeed the largest among large, but it is not large enough to impose its preferences on the whole coalition or the rest of the world. Thus, a dominant nation at the top of a hierarchy needs allies to preserve a regime. A "hegemon" is autarchic, requiring no allies to exercise influence over the regime or the world. Empirically, dominance is frequent but hegemony is very rare in the international system, appearing for less than 20 years over the last 200, and usually after devastating wars ( Keohane 1984; Strange 1985; Russett 1985; Kugler and Organski 1989).
8.
Recent extensive work on Japan and the elaborate evaluation of the interactions among European nations during World War I suggest that this avenue is promising ( Choucri and North 1975, 1989).
9.
This is a critical difference between power transition and hegemonic theory. Power transition contends that a dominant nation is the largest among major powers but not preponderant over all. Hegemonic theory, on the other hand, suggests that stability is maintained only when the largest power is preponderant, a condition not found in the international system in the last 200 years, with the exception of the brief interlude after World War II when the United States was preponderant mainly because the competition was exhausted by war. This unfortunate specification has detracted from the central

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