Readings in Modern Political Analysis

Readings in Modern Political Analysis

Readings in Modern Political Analysis

Readings in Modern Political Analysis


From time to time political analysts take stock of their trade by seeking to define for themselves and for others the nature of the enterprise in which they are engaged. Although the attempt can be as sterile as the most decadent work by medieval scholastics or as obscure as grand quests for the "meaning of meaning," when they are well done appraisals of this kind perform a valuable function: they focus on central aspects of the discipline and often provide insight into problems hitherto unexamined.

One particular concern of political analysts has been the application of scientific methods to the study of politics and political behavior. Far rom being new, as is sometimes supposed, this is a very old concern among political analysts. One explicit purpose of Aristotle was the scientific classification of governments. Machiavelli attempted, among other things, to make a scientific study of the costs and gains of different techniques of leadership (what Sheldon Wolin has termed the "economy of violence").

The essay by the eighteenth century Scot, David Hume, "That Politics may be Reduced to a Science," is a statement of the scientific tradition in a form that might best be termed "casual empiricism." Because his essay is a mixture of normative or "ought" statements and empirical or "is" statements, a contemporary reader might easily miss the fact that Hume helped to revolutionize modern thought by distinguishing sharply between value, fact, and logic. In this essay, however, Hume examines a number of explicit propositions about the causes of good and bad administration in government. The form of Hume's generalizations is of particular interest. He typically states a generalization that he believes to be true (often calling it a law), deduces from that generalization a number of more specific propositions, and then introduces evidence which supports his generalization or the specific propositions.

Although in his search for evidence he may have been somewhat onesided and not overly likely to turn up counter examples, Hume's method places him among the political analysts who have tried to systematize the study of political behavior, institutions, and systems.

In "Political Science as Science," a contemporary political scientist, Arthur Goldberg, treats many of the problems raised by Hume. Goldberg makes a distinction between empiricism, the use of facts to support nonscientific explanations, and science, which, he argues, is distinguished from simple empiricism in at least two ways: scientific propositions can be refuted by contradictory evidence, and scientific facts are part of a broader explanatory theory. Goldberg argues that scientific political research must adhere to general criteria applicable to all scientific research: e.g., criteria for specifying causal relationships, explanation, verification, and falsification. In insisting that political theory should be formulated so as to be susceptible of falsification, Goldberg sheds considerable light on a frequent source of controversy between political philosophers and historians of political ideas on the one side, and on the other, those who are often named or misnamed behavioralists.

If, as Goldberg's essay indicates, students of politics often disagree on the methods of political analysis, they also disagree on its substance. "Politics in Everyday Life", by Lewis A. Froman, Jr., suggests that much everyday behavior is political in nature. After defining politics as "the distribution of advantages and disadvantages among people with different resources," Froman contends that in order to satisfy their intensely held preferences individuals and groups attempt to control and manipulate decisions not only in public institutions but also in private life. From Froman's point of view, differences between formal politics and informal politics are not so much differences of kind as of degree. Hence, he holds, many aspects . . .

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