Self-Interest and Public Interest
Is it self-interest or public interest that predominates in public life? Does political man try primarily to fulfil personal desires and needs, or does he act with the intent to further what he believes to be best for society as a whole?
This is a question discussed by specialists in the fields of rational choice, political philosophy, and electoral research; however, since each field has adopted its own terminology and deals with these questions at different levels of abstraction, it cannot be said that there exists much dialogue between them. To establish cross-fertilization is the aim of this book. What is taken as a postulate for one field is dealt with as a problem in a second; what is deduced theoretically in one area is examined with empirical methods in some other; phenomena that are immediately elucidated with large amounts of data in one research tradition are subjected to thorough conceptual analysis in a second. Without letting on that their neighbour possesses the missing link in the chain of argument, the rational-choice theorists (or 'rationalists' for short), philosophers, and electoral researchers, with all too few exceptions, thus continue to talk at cross-purposes about how the common good can be achieved in politics.
'Doesn't one get the best explanation of the political game if one regards ideologies as mere beacons for selfish electors and billboards for vote-maximizing politicians?' wonder some rationalists, while others point to the difficulties in aggregating private preferences as rational, collective decisions. 'Is it really possible to distinguish the individual's self-interest from what he believes to be in the public interest?' wonder the philosophers. And the electoral researchers try to determine in their broad studies if the voters are mainly guided by