The American Science of Politics: Its Origins and Conditions

By Bernard Crick | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

Americans respect technology and science: political scientists envy
authority that can be based on experiment, not argument.

HAROLD LASSWELL

THE STUDY OF politics in the United States today is something in size, content and method unique in Western intellectual history.

Professor Pendleton Herring has told the American Political Science Association that: 'Political Science as a subject of systematic enquiry started with Aristotle but as a profession it has won its greatest recognition in the United States and within our generation. One fact is clear: no other country in the world has so large, so well trained, so competent a profession dedicated to the teaching and analysis of government. . . .' And he adds: 'This profession is now part of our national strength.'1 And not merely has the size of 'the profession' grown so much since Aristotle's day,2 but a distinctively modern belief has come to be shared by many of its members. In a recent and a judicious stocktaking Professor Dwight Waldo wrote:

The most consistent and significant trend in American political science
for more than two generations has been toward 'science', and this trend
is the one most easily distinguished today. So far as can be discerned its
force is not spent, but rather, while always challenged--and divided
within itself--it is still growing in momentum and penetration.

By 'science' is meant what are understood by students of politics to be
the conceptions and techniques of the physical and biological sciences.3

Whether or not the main force of the movement is spent, certainly the idea of a science of politics has dominated the imagination of American students of politics in this century. Thirty years ago we

____________________
1
"On the Study of Government" ( Presidential Address to the American Political Science Association, Sept. 10th, 1953), American Political Science Review (hereafter referred to as APSR], XLVII ( Dec. 1953) 961. Professor Herring is Chairman of the Social Science Research Council.
2
An idea of the vast size can be gained from the tables in Professor W. A. Robson's The University Teaching of Political Science ( UNESCO, Paris: 1954), see pp. 147-8. Probably about one-fifth of all students take one or more courses in political science in any one year, in a country where nearly 30 per cent of the population between 18 and 21 are enrolled in some form of Higher Education; and the number of teachers of Political Science is around 5,000.
3
Political Science in the United States of America (UNESCO, Paris: 1956), p. 20.

-xi-

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