Political Science: The State of the Discipline II

By Ada W. Finifter | Go to book overview

appeal of a too comfortable isolation between the two major approaches to political theory -- the first, in which commentary fails to acknowledge that the lessons of any text will be bound up in the language and conceptual framework of particular times, and the second, in which history will diminish texts to mere historical data lacking the powerful educative role they have played in the past. While we may leave the Cambridge School to debate the methodological possibilities of recovering the "illocutionary force" or "meaning," we ignore to our detriment their guidance about language.

For sure, to read and spend our time reflecting on and writing commentaries about a Plato or a Thucydides or a Nietzsche or a Simone Weil represents a leap of faith that these works will repay our efforts. At times we may be disappointed. But to deny the possibility that we may learn is to lose an opportunity to rethink our opinions and to forget what scholarship and education is all about.


Thanks for help on this essay are owed to a number of people. John E. Jackson's skepticism about texts helped me define the initial structure of this essay and his comments on an early draft helped me refine it. Don Herzog, Tim Fuller, and an anonymous reviewer gave sage advice about some inaccuracies and made me excruciatingly aware of all that I have had to leave out. Shanetta Paskel provided invaluable bibliographic help.

Gunnell introduces his contribution to the first edition of Political Science: The State of the Discipline by distinguishing between PT (political theory as a subfield of the discipline of political science) and pt (political theory as a more general interdisciplinary body of literature, activity, and intellectual community) (1983, 3). If anything, the interdisciplinary nature of political theory has expanded enormously in the last decade.
There are two chapters in this volume dealing with political theory. The subfield does not divide itself easily -- or indeed at all. The artificial line drawn between the two chapters is contemporary and perennial issues. Clearly the political theory confronting the contemporary political world draws on the traditions articulated in the history of political thought and the way in which we read that history depends on our contemporary concerns. Attempts not to overstep the artificial boundaries should not be construed as avoidance of the issues with which the other chapter is dealing.
See Skinner ( 1974, 283-4) for an acknowledgement of his debt to the thought of R. G. Collingwood.
Condren ( 1985) takes this history of the study of political thought back to an 1855 volume by a Robert Blakey entitled A Brief History of Political Literature from the Earliest Times and a 1902 book by W. Donning, A History of Political Theories. Nevertheless, for American political theorists it was Sabine's volume that defined the field and especially located the texts studied as epiphenomena of the age in which they were written.
Strauss is certainly aware of the problems inherent in such an injunction. In his essay on Heidegger, he comments: "The only question of importance, of course, is the question whether Heidegger's teaching is true or not. But the very question is silent about the question of competence -- of who is competent to judge" (1989a, 29).
In this construction I have not focused on the role of Sheldon Wolin influential volume, Politics and Vision ( 1960). Wolin adopts, as he puts it, an historical approach, though one far more limited than we find in Sabine or the Strauss and Cropsey History of Political Philosophy, but he does so with the "conviction that an historical perspective is more effective than any other in exposing the nature of our present predicaments" (1960, v). Though Wolin's perception of those "predicaments" contradicts Strauss's version on almost every point, the study of texts for both is the means to address their determination to aid in the recovery of meaning for political life.
A constant stream of republications of Strauss's work and new collections of his lectures and essays, sympathetically introduced by Pangle ( Strauss 1983 and 1989a) and Gildin ( Strauss 1989c) attests to the continued impact of Strauss on a whole generation of political theorists in America, though clearly not in Europe. This is not the place to explore the divisions within that generation, east coast and west coast Straussians, etc., who while debating the reading even of Strauss himself do not deny the power of Strauss or the texts he studied. Meanwhile, Strauss has been the object of a particularly hostile reading by Drury ( 1988), but see Timothy Fuller's review of Drury's book for a telling and moderate response ( 1991).
In no way is the following meant to suggest a direct link between Strauss and the authors who see political theory as instrumental or Sabine and those who engage in the historical pursuit of political theory. Indeed, many of the scholars would be horrified to see themselves identified with one or the other. My point is simply that there is a common intellectual drive that motivates scholars who may appear to have significantly different orientations.
I have structured this essay in terms of the debate between the approaches of Strauss and the Cambridge School. To do so, as the anonymous reviewer pointed out, I have not engaged some of the more serious threats to the text and our capacity to read them whether instrumentally or historically that have come from Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Foucault. My failure to address these challenges is not to diminish their importance -- only to admit the limits of an essay of this sort, as well as its author's level of comfort with and competence in the works of these thinkers.
Compare here Shklar's colloquy with Montaigne in Ordinary Vices ( 1984) in which she makes clear the moral purpose of her work; despite a self-effacing description of the work as "a ramble through a moral minefield, not a march toward a destination" (1984, 6) and her comments at the end of the "ramble" that "I have contributed nothing to homiletic literature, and I have not harangued "modern man,'" there lies behind these disclaimers the deep concern that citizens of a liberal society understand that they must "put cruelty first."
The survey of works presented here can in no way pretend to be comprehensive. It is not. The list of books and articles published in the area of the history of political theory and political thought is vast. Reflection on the last ten years can only allow for reference to a smell number of works as exemplars of trends rather than offer a comprehensive statement of what has been done. Thus, the larger corpus of writing about Hume, Hegel, Oakeshott, Voegelin, and many others will not be addressed -- not because such work is any less important to the understanding of the trends in political theory, but because of limits of time, space, and my own expertise.
It should not surprise us, though, that many of the first and second generation of students of Strauss continue to write on the classical authors whose insights into things political Strauss repeatedly favored, e.g., Nichols two books ( 1987, 1992) or Coby ( 1987), but in response to Strauss's broad interests we find other favored periods or authors as well. For just a beginning, see Weinberger ( 1985); Melzer ( 1990); Kelly ( 1987); Schwartz ( 1984); Gildin ( 1983) on Rousseau,


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Political Science: The State of the Discipline II
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Table of Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Theory and Method 1
  • 1: Texts and Canons: The Status of the "Great Books" in Political Theory 3
  • Conclusion 21
  • Notes 22
  • Bibliography 23
  • 2: Political Theory in the 1980s: Perplexity Amidst Diversity 27
  • Notes 43
  • Bibliography 43
  • Additional Bibliography 46
  • 3: Feminist Challenges to Political Science 55
  • Notes 72
  • Bibliography 73
  • 4: Formal Rational Choice Theory: A Cumulative Science of Politics 77
  • Concluding Comments 97
  • Notes 98
  • Bibliography 101
  • 5: The Comparative Method 105
  • Conclusion 116
  • Notes 117
  • Bibliography 117
  • 6: The State of Quantitative Political Methodology 121
  • Conclusion 148
  • Notes 148
  • Bibliography 150
  • Political Processes and Individual Political Behavior 161
  • 7: Comparative Political Parties: Research and Theory 163
  • Conclusion 183
  • Notes 184
  • Bibliography 185
  • 8: The Not So Simple Act of Voting 193
  • Notes 213
  • Bibliography 214
  • 9: The New Look in Public Opinion Research 219
  • Notes 240
  • Bibliography 240
  • 10: Expanding Disciplinary Boundaries 247
  • Conclusion 269
  • Notes 271
  • Bibliography 271
  • 11: Citizens, Contexts, and Politics 281
  • Conclusion: Putting the Puzzle Back Together 299
  • Bibliography 300
  • 12: Political Communication 305
  • Conclusions 323
  • Bibliography 324
  • Political Institutions of the State 333
  • 13: Legislatures: Individual Purpose and Institutional Performance 335
  • Conclusions: Behavior, Institutions, and Theory 354
  • Notes 357
  • Bibliography 357
  • 14: Public Law and Judicial Politics 365
  • 15: Political Executives and Their Officials 383
  • Conclusion 402
  • Bibliography 403
  • 16: Public Administration: The State of the Field 407
  • Notes 423
  • Bibliography 424
  • Nations and Their Relationships 429
  • 17: Comparative Politics 431
  • Conclusion 443
  • Notes 444
  • Bibliography 446
  • 18: Global Political Economy 451
  • Conclusion 474
  • Notes 476
  • Bibliography 477
  • Conclusions 483
  • Conclusions 503
  • Notes 504
  • Bibliography 505
  • Appendix 511
  • Contributors 513
  • Index of Cited Authors 517


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