The American Science of Politics: Its Origins and Conditions

By Bernard Crick | Go to book overview

VI
THE GROWTH OF POLITICAL SCIENCE

Colleges all too frequently confine attention . . . to a consideration of abstract notions and principles which find scant place in the actual operation of governmental affairs. . . . Political science, in some quarters at least, has been too strictly confined to theories about civil society and too little concerned with political affairs as they are. American Political Science Association, The Teaching of Government (New York: 1916)

We do not nowadays refute our predecessors, we pleasantly bid them goodbye. Even if all our principles are unwittingly traditional we do not like to bow openly to authority. GEORGE SANTAYANA, Character and Opinion in the United States


1. The Inadequacy of the Old Order

IF WE HAVE taken so long and circuitous a journey towards American political science itself, it is because none of those things that predisposed it towards the 'scientific method' arose from within itself. If political science has not been a necessary condition for american life--as Washington had thought-yet its concern for 'science' is a consequence of American life, though not, as both the extreme critic of America and the American social scientist often maintain, a necessary consequence. The effect of 'the new realism' and of pragmatism are dramatically evident when we now compare the leading political scientists of the Progressive Era with the previous generation. When the temper of mind of John W. Burgess, W. W. Willoughby and Theodore Woolsey gives way to that of Charles Beard, A. B. Hart, Frank Goodnow, A. L. Lowell and Arthur Fisher Bentley, a profound change in academic political thought has taken place. Bentley, indeed, was to synthesize the thought of the social sciences of the Progressive Era in his The Process of Government ( 1908), and was to anticipate the transition from pragmatism to positivism of the 'twenties and 'thirties.1

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1
The Process of Government is best examined separately in the last and following chapter of this section.

-95-

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