Political Science: The State of the Discipline II

By Ada W. Finifter | Go to book overview

resurgence of interest in Nietzsche seems likely to have a salutary effect on our understanding of phenomena such as fear, anger, and resentment ( Connolly 1990); so too efforts to explore the political significance of psychologists such as Melanie Klein ( Alford 1989, 1990). In general, today's political theorists would do well to remember that many of the most enduringly important theorists of the past achieved their impact in no small measure by bringing stunning visions of human desires and passions to center stage.

Another issue that must be more fully joined in the 1990s is the relation between group identity and liberal democracy. This issue arises both on the Right, with the claims of tradition and fundamentalist communities, and on the Left, with claims based on (inter alia) race, gender, and ethnicity. Specific controversies from multicultural education to affirmative action to free exercise of religion are at stake; so too is the adequacy of a mode of political theorizing that restricts itself to individuals and public structures as core elements. A range of materials could well be brought to bear on these questions -- among others, constitutional conflicts, classic discussions of civil society, feminist arguments, and forms of comunitarianism that abandon the identification of cultural community with political community. Most fundamentally, theorists will have to debate the extent to which the public principles of a liberal democratic order should be extended to, and if necessary imposed upon, the inner workings of its multiple and diverse subcommunities (for an important start see Kukathas 1992; Kymlicka 1992).

The final item in this informal agenda for the 1990s is the nature and limits of political authority. This is an issue that arises in the context of American political culture, historically torn between mistrust of, and need for, central authority. And it is an issue woven in various ways through the fabric of contemporary political theory, in the work of libertarians, liberal skeptics such as Michael Oakeshott, Isaiah Berlin, and Richard Flathman, liberal proceduralists such as Stuart Hampshire and H. L. A. Hart, and democratic dissenters such as George Kateb (drawing on the Emersonian tradition) and William Connolly (drawing on Foucault). The problem, as Flathman puts it, is that while we cannot possibly do without authority altogether, we must never lose sight of the ways in which it (necessarily) restricts the processes of free reflection and judgment ( Flathman 1989). The challenge, which is both moral and institutional, is to find ways of chastening authority, of maximizing spaces for unforced individuality and commonality, that do not render authority incompetent to perform its essential tasks -- in particular, the necessarily institutional protection of the very space for freedom that can seem, but is not, wholly independent of the practice of authority (for a provocative effort to meet this challenge, see Flathman 1992).

As I have stressed throughout this essay, the 1980s have witnessed both a continued gap between political theory and political science and an enormous proliferation of theoretical agendas and styles. To some considerable extent these trends are inevitable. Still, I cannot avoid the suspicion that the ratio of synthesis to analysis in contemporary theory is far too low. Parallel to developments within separate theoretical arenas, we need more discussion about how they might fit together into a more systematic theory of politics. This amounts to a plea for something less than Kantian architectonic but more than postmodernist bricolage, perhaps along the lines of the medieval "order of the sciences."

I referred earlier to Brian Barry's proposal a generation ago that welfare economics, game theory, and rational choice should be used to clarify traditional questions of political value. No doubt some today would wish to amend this proposal, and others to reject it outright. It would surely have to be broadened to include the significant theoretical developments of the past thirty years. But it is at least headed in the right direction. In our theory as well as our politics, we should devote as much attention to the "unum" in the 1990s as we gave to the "pluribus" in the 1980s.


I want to express my gratitude to the readers of previous drafts of this essay, whose extensive comments helped me produce a final draft more nearly representative of the full range of political theory during the 1980s. These readers include William Connolly, James Farr, Richard Flathman, Michael Lacey, Jane Mansbridge, Henry Richardson, and Nancy Rosenblum. I am especially grateful to Ada Finifter, whose firm but gentle editorial hand helped make the essay far more user-friendly than it would otherwise have been. The remaining omissions and infelicities are mine alone.


Alford, C. Fred. 1989. Melainie Klein and Critical Social Theory: An Account of Politics, Art, and Reason Based on Her Psychoanalytic Theory. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Alford, C. Fred. 1990. The Self in Social Theory: A Psychoanalytic Account of Its Construction in Plato, Hobbes, Locke, Rawls, and Rousseau. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Almond, Gabriel A. 1988. "The Return to the State." American Political Science Review 82:854-74.

Anderson, Charles W. 1990. Pragmatic Liberalism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Anderson, Charles W. 1991. "Pragmatism & Liberalism, Rationalism, and Irrationalism: A Response to Richard Rorty." Polity 23:357-371.

Ball, Terence. 1988. Transforming Political Discourse. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.


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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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