Political Theory in the 1980s: Perplexity Amidst Diversity
The topic of this survey, even narrowly defined, encompasses an unmanageably large literature, and I must begin by announcing what I have been allowed, or compelled, to exclude. Unlike its predecessor, this volume contains a separate chapter dealing with, inter alia, specific interpretations of historical figures in the "tradition" and general theories as to the nature of the interpretive activity; I will therefore touch on such matters only briefly and in passing. Nor (for reasons that I hope sections I and II will make clear) will I spend much time on the kinds of theorizing explicitly directed toward empirical research programs (which is not to say that political theory and political science can afford to proceed in isolation from one another -- or so I shall argue).
Nor, finally, can I do justice to the dramatic flowering of scholarship focused on American political thought during the past generation. I can hazard a few generalizations: As compared to the once-dominant Hartzian view, many current interpretations are more inclined to consider civic republican and theological supplements to Lockean liberalism, to advance revisionist views of the content of America's Locke, to revive and extol what might be called the transcendentalist/pragmatist tradition, and to bring to the fore the voices of all- but-forgotten dissenting movements. And as Judith Shklar suggested in her APSA presidential address, we are on the whole increasingly likely to see connections between American political thought and an American political science embodying in its empirico-statistical methods the democratic principle that the lives of ordinary people are intrinsically significant ( Shklar 1991, 4). These manifestly inadequate remarks will have to stand in place of the fuller treatment this topic deserves (see also Kloppenberg 1987; Hirshman 1990; Pangle 1988).
Even within the circumscribed area I do try to cover, no brief survey can possibly do justice to the full variety of interesting and important work. As an alternative to silent or inadvertent omission, I have constructed a topically organized bibliography that, while necessarily less than comprehensive, is considerably fuller than a simple list of textual citations. Readers wishing to go farther than I could in a particular direction may find it useful to refer to the appropriate section of the bibliography with which this chapter ends.
The story of political theory during the past decade can be told from many different points of view, and the selection of any one is bound to prove in some measure arbitrary. Setting to one side, for the moment, substantive disagreements that inevitably affect the choice of plot line, there are at least three basic narrative strategies, not mutually exclusive, that might be employed. The trajectory of political theory can be seen as shaped by the shifting contours and imperatives of its disciplinary locations, by the political problems and conflicts on which it reflects (or, alternatively, of which it serves as ideological representation), and by the inner logic of its theoretical development and disputation. While observers of political theory disagree as to which should be given pride of place, most would agree that each has played a significant role. At the risk of getting ahead of my story, but in the hope of giving the reader some preliminary orientation, let me offer a brief characterization of political theory during the past decade under the three headings just enumerated.
With regard to disciplinary location, the 1980s began with political theorists divided between departments of political science and philosophy, in fitful communication across the border but largely cut off from other members of their respective disciplines. These conditions persisted through the 1980s, with the added