Our Enemies and Us: America's Rivalries and the Making of Political Science

Our Enemies and Us: America's Rivalries and the Making of Political Science

Our Enemies and Us: America's Rivalries and the Making of Political Science

Our Enemies and Us: America's Rivalries and the Making of Political Science


Ido Oren challenges American political science's definition of itself as an objective science attached to democracy. The material Oren unearthed in his research into the discipline's ideological nature may discomfit many: Woodrow Wilson's admiration of Prussia's efficient bureaucracy; the favorable review of Mein Kampf published in the American Political Science Review; the involvement of political scientists in village pacification and interrogation of Viet Cong prisoners during the Vietnam War. Oren reveals the fervently pro-German views of the founder of the discipline, John W. Burgess, who stated that the Teutonic race was politically superior to all others, and he presents evidence of a long-term, intimate relationship between the discipline and the national security agencies of the U.S. government.

Oren documents a systematic pattern of historical change in the discipline's characterization of America and America's chief enemies (Imperial Germany, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Stalin's Russia). These characterizations, he finds, swing from pre-conflict ideological "accommodationism" to post-conflict "nationalism." Substantial traces of this historical process, in which politics and scholarship intertwine, still remain in the supposedly objective concepts and data sets of contemporary political science. Our Enemies and US is more than an expose, however. Oren urges academics to be more sensitive to the moral ramifications of their work and to reflect on issues fundamental to the identity of political science. The discipline, he says, must take into account the historical position of its own scholarship."


A decade ago I was working on a mathematical and statistical study of arms races that fell well within the substantive and epistemological bounds of mainstream political science. I published the results in professional journals, and I remain proud of the work’s quality. But even a cursory glance at this book will show that my intellectual horizon has shifted considerably. This book questions the very presuppositions of the science of politics into which I had been socialized. How did this reorientation come about?

After the end of the Cold War, scholarly interest in the previously popular subject of the arms race waned. With the collapse of communism and the apparent spread of democracy, many scholars were intrigued by the prospect of a “democratic peace.” By the mid-1990s, the proposition that democracies do not fight one another, which had had little resonance just a few years earlier, was gaining widespread acceptance. It received support from numerous statistical analyses, and the Clinton administration invoked it as a rationale for its foreign policy of “democratization.” I was skeptical of the notion that peace between states was enhanced by the shared democratic character of their regimes, but had to admit that the statistical studies of the relationship seemed technically sound. To be effective, a critique of these studies would have to rest on a foundation other than their own scientific grounding.

In this context, a question crossed my mind: How did Woodrow Wilson perceive Imperial Germany — not in 1917, when he declared war “to make the world safe for democracy,” but twenty to thirty years earlier? Wilson’s legacy was consciously embraced by proponents of the democratic peace thesis, and I thought that the thesis might be undermined if it turned out that Wilson’s characterization of Germany as “autocratic” followed, rather than preceded, the German–American conflict. I vaguely knew that Wilson was a political scientist before he entered politics, but I knew little else about the history of political science. At that point, I was extremely fortunate to be able to turn to a wise colleague, Jim Farr, for indispensable tutoring in disciplinary history. Jim suggested, among other things, that my investigation might be profitably expanded to include John Burgess, an ardent Germanophile who founded the first graduate school of political science in the United States.

In my research on arms races, I had come to appreciate the power of mathematical models to generate insights that might not have been readily apparent otherwise. As I immersed myself in the academic writings of . . .

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