The Limits of Political Science

The Limits of Political Science

The Limits of Political Science

The Limits of Political Science

Synopsis

How should political life and organization be studied? In this book Johnson takes a critical look at what is offered at British universities as politics, political science, or government. He identifies two principal idioms of political study: politics as current affairs and the activity of politicians, and politics as political science, and concludes that political study as now conceived and practiced fails to provide the intellectual rigor called for in higher education. This study will be of interest to all students and scholars involved in the social sciences.

Excerpt

After spending some time in Whitehall as an administrator I returned in 1962 to the academic study of politics. For nearly twenty years now I have had the benefit of belonging to an institution specializing in the social sciences and set within a university where the discipline of politics has many followers. As the years have passed I have, from this vantage point, become increasingly sceptical about the claims made on behalf of politics as a mode of study in universities and as something in the nature of a discipline or distinctive body of knowledge. In a nutshell, it seems to me that politics, as the subject is now generally conceived and pursued, falls between two stools: on the one hand it is insufficiently austere in defining its own province and the kinds of reasoning and evidence to be employed for it to offer the sure prospect of a real intellectual challenge to those who seek that from higher education rather than useful knowledge, whilst on the other it is too impressionistic in content and method to be applied with any confidence in practical affairs.

The reflections which follow explore the questions suggested by these doubts about the credentials of politics or political science as it is now established in British academic life and elsewhere. Because politics belongs to the wider field of the social sciences, an effort has been made to set the arguments about it into that context. But it should be emphasized that such discussion as there is of the wider theoretical and practical issues arising in connection with the social sciences as a whole is highly selective: my aim has been simply to provide to a modest extent a necessary measure of support for my discussion of the current idioms of politics.

The arguments presented here are mainly critical in intent, bearing on the difficulties of a discipline now well represented in academic institutions. As a constructive response to them alternative ideas of political science are then sketched out. But I do not claim to elaborate in any detail the conception of political life and relationships on which these would have to . . .

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