The Dynamics of American Politics: Approaches and Interpretations

By Lawrence C. Dodd; Calvin Jillson | Go to book overview

Foreword

THEODORE J. LOWI


POLITICAL HISTORY AND POLITICAL SCIENCE

In setting the tone for this volume, I aim to be provocative about political history and its relation to political science. Politial history can actually cover a very large part of the entire field of political science, because history means sequence, and there can be no conception of causation and explanation without sequence, even if the time elapsed is only a few seconds. Empirical political science is replete with association, interaction, and correlation -- yet the authors of such empirical studies obviously have to assume their independent variables come prior in time to dependent variables. Political history only insists that the time frame be extended, not only to do justice to the dependent variables but also to pick up the, let us say, intervening variables, such as institutions, policies, and social structures that could never be gotten directly from cross-sectional data themselves.1

When we are not doing history for its own sake but rather for a purpose, history means evolution, or development. The terms are almost synonymous, and in any case there is no point quibbling over the difference. Evolution refers to the emergence or "unrolling" to full maturity of something that already exists in rudimentary form, that is, where all the parts of the eventual thing are already present and await pronouncement ( Williams, 1976:103-105). We in the social sciences are developmental by instinct. We speak of developed and underdeveloped societies and economies. We refer to the development of bureaucratic states, the evolution of the constitution or of human rights. Our vocabulary includes a large number of "-tion" words that imply development; "-tion" as a suffix means "in the process of" or "a condition of being or becoming," as in bureaucratization, centralization, or nationalization.

I favor an historical as well as a developmental political science because it requires, above all else, the skill and craft of description. The evolution of a party system, the institutionalization of the House of Representatives, or the concentration of modern presidential power need not

-ix-

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