Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

Presidential Studies, Behavioralism, and Public Law

Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

Presidential Studies, Behavioralism, and Public Law

Article excerpt

Since the founding of the political science discipline in the early twentieth century there has routinely been calls for change. One of the latest examples occurred at the dawn of the twentieth-first century when an anonymous scholar sent the "Perestroika" e-mail to the editors of the American Political Science Review asking for a number of reforms to the American Political Science Association (APSA). Among them were a call for greater diversity of membership on the APSA governing committees and its journals along with a need for the discipline to become more accepting of a greater number of methodologies (PS 2000).

The Perestroika movement largely touched on old discipline identity struggles. For example, the postbehavioral era emerged in the mid to late 1960s as some of the leading behavioralists began to question their own way of studying political science. The 1969 APSA presidential address by David Easton directly confronted the behavioral orthodoxy: "Only on the assumption that behavioral political science has said the last word about what makes for adequate research and an appropriate discipline can we automatically read out of court any proposals for change" (Easton 1969a, 1053). In particular, Easton took on the inability of behavioralism to predict some of the great changes that had occurred through the 1960s and he pleaded for "more relevant research" that will "improve political life" (Easton 1969a, 1053).

Appearing in between those two "movements" Gabriel Almond, a well-known behavioral scholar, published the classic article "Separate Tables" in which he noted that there was an "uneasiness in the political science profession" (1988, 829). He suggested that political scientists might be eating in the same dining room but were now at different tables with the most significant separation between the "hard" (quantitative) and "soft" (descriptive) scholars (Almond 1988, 829). Almond explained that the "mood and reputation" of the political science discipline was "heavily influenced by these extreme views" (1988, 830).

One of the results of the behavioralist revolution that has received little attention is the decline in public law analysis within political science. As far back as the 1920s--a period when Charles Merriam delivered his APSA presidential address titled, "Progress in Political Research"--there have been calls to move away from public law analysis (Merriam 1926). Although the term "public law" is not as well known today, in its more traditional form it is a mode of inquiry that analyzes the Constitution and laws so as to better understand the institutional operations of government and/or the behavior of elected and unelected officials. It involves the study of not only constitutional and statutory text along with judicial opinions, but also the actions of the executive and legislative branches of government. In the area of presidential studies, the work of Edward Corwin (1929, 1932, 1957) best represents this form of analysis.

The main objective of this article is to highlight the importance of public law analysis in the presidential studies field. First, a brief summary of the behavioralist movement and its weaknesses is presented. Next, the article addresses the impact behavioralism has had on presidential studies by focusing on the work of presidential scholars Edward Corwin (1929, 1932, 1957) and Richard Neustadt (1960, 1990). An emphasis is placed on the decline of normative types of public law analysis. The article concludes with a call for greater encouragement and acceptance of public law analysis.

Behavioralism and Political Science

Before addressing the impact of behavioralism on presidency studies, it is useful to briefly describe the movement. First, behavioralists contend that political science scholars should focus on the behavior of individuals, groups, and systems in order to explain how politics operates in practice. They reject--or at least greatly downplay--the so-called traditional understandings of studying politics that focus on theory (e. …

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