A New Handbook of Political Science

By Robert E. Goodin; Hans-Dieter Klingemann | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
Political Institutions: Legal Perspectives

Gavin Drewry

IT is a truism, though sadly one that both political scientists and lawyers sometimes seem to forget, that law and politics--in both their theoretical and their practical aspects--are very dosely interconnected. In a lecture published in 1882 entitled "The History of English Law as a Branch of Politics" the English jurist Sir Frederick Pollock wrote that "law is to political institutions as the bones to the body" ( Pollock 1882: 200-1).

Pollock's metaphor (taken perhaps rather misleadingly out of its context: see below) seems at least as apt today as it was then, for a wide variety of interrelated reasons. Consequently, it is not surprising to discover that the literature of political science is peppered with legal concepts and terminology, and that some of it addresses more or less directly and explicitly the relationships between law and politics and between legal and political actors and institutions. Constitutional issues, in particular, are frequently addressed from a hybrid legal and political science perspective, the balance depending on whether the writer is primarily a lawyer or a political scientist. Public law is woven tightly into the fabric of public administration, albeit more tightly in some countries than in others. The rise of "new institutionalism" within political science promises to strengthen all these ties ( Smith 1988).

To date, however, the quantum of legal peppering found in political science has not been nearly as abundant as it might be. This in part because there has also been a countervailing tendency among some political scientists to reject legal approaches to their discipline as unpalatably formalistic and old-fashioned. The famous "behavioral revolution" in American political science was substantially a reaction to this; and behaviorists, having

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