公 法 评 论 惟愿公平如大水滚滚,使公义如江河滔滔!


Return to the Classics--No, Not Those!
John P. Mccormick

Political philosophy as we know it blossomed with the arrival of European immigrants like Hannah Arendt, Leo Strauss, and Eric Vogelin after World War IL. These refugee scholars challenged their American colleagues in at least three important ways. They dared political scientists to be more morally conscientious, to focus on matters of real importance, and to develop a more refined historical sensibility.

These authors suggested that the fact/value distinction at the center of the social scientific enterprise was indicative of a moral decay at the center of Western civilization. This decay paved the way for Nazism in the twenties and thirties, and possibly would contribute to Soviet victory in the Cold War if changes were not made. Less Cassandra-like was their charge that political scientists were primarily interested in refining the study of the insignificant. What they could measure through their dominant methods--public opinion, voting patterns, etc.--was trivial in comparison to the classical analysis of regime types, or the nature of man, or the purpose of the common life.

As a result, these philosophers offered history, unabashedly Western history, as a resource for studying these timeless questions of political inquiry. To their minds, questioning the nature of tyranny, or the status of authority, was still worthwhile; fundamental, in fact. They encouraged other political scientists to incorporate these themes into their practice. Indeed, Steven Smith's contribution to this colloquy represents a renewed effort in this vein. It is a call for the application of insights derived from traditional political philosophy to contemporary debates concerning civil society, cultural conflict, and democratic peace.

I wouldn't know precisely how to measure Strauss's, Arendt's, or Vogelin's impact on the general practice of political science, or that of colleagues like Sheldon Wolin and Judith Shklar (see Gunnell 1993). I do know that they successfully established political philosophy as a legitimate, if sometimes shunned, member of the family of political science subdisciplines (see Kateb 1968). These scholars certainly made it possible for someone like me to earn a living, at least partially, by teaching, talking about, and writing on "old books."

But what about today? Now that the shadow of fascism has supposedly receded, and state socialism has withered away, does political philosophy still offer anything to political scientists? While I reject much of the substance of what members of that first generation offered to mainstream political science, I sympathize with their spirit. This is still a powerful resource for the profession. I leave aside the question of importance: It should be taken for granted that the apprehension of social reality in its most minute specificities is crucial and indispensable, as is the attempt to draw the most general conclusions about politics on that basis. I'm heartened that David Mayhew attributes to political philosophy a significant and productive role in setting out, constructing, and choosing objects of analysis. If that's the case, then political theory has made peace with political science on the issue of importance.

That question aside then, I will focus on the moral, or what I would term the normative, imperative and the historical imperative, which I understand in relationship to social science methodology. I would not be as quick as Professor Mayhew to question the potential or influence of normative illumination. Political philosophy has (and can) encourage political scientists to take the normative dimensions of their work more seriously. A basic familiarity with Rawls's A Theory of Justice (1971), for instance, has enabled political scientists studying cases dealing with issues of redistribution, civil rights, and gender equity to think clearly about their own works' relationship to justice. They have a sense of better or worse, effective or ineffective, and right or wrong, because general intuitions about justice--if not the formal principles of it--derived from Rawls and a kind of constant hum of Rawls-speak echo throughout the professional literature. In less mainstream parts of the profession, books like Fouca ult's Discipline and Punish (1987) or Gilligan's In a Different Voice (1989), to choose just two examples, have served something of the same function. Note, however, that all three of the books named have a somewhat distant connection with the history of political thought, traditionally conceived.

This brings me to the issue of history. The history of political thought is invaluable to political scientists, if only because it demonstrates how politics was studied at different times and because it allows political scientists to figure out how they got to where they are. Until the science of politics is perfected, there is insight to he gained by observing how those who came before analyzed political phenomena--on both the merits of the efforts themselves and the way these efforts reflect and interact with their age. Asking what is generalizable and what is contextual about the work of earlier political scientists such as Machiavelli, Hobbes, or Montesquieu leads to asking the same questions about contemporary and personal work.

But I think that studying history is even more directly helpful to political scientists than that. I respectfully disagree with Steven Smith's characterization of political science's superior sense of its own history. In particular, the ignorance of earlier methodological debates among contemporary political scientists is, to my mind, unconscionable. This neglect is detrimental to cohesiveness within the profession and inhibitive of better informed and theorized empirical work. An inattention to earlier methodological controversies is, in fact, less characteristic of practitioners of disciplines like sociology and anthropology. By the end of their first year, sociology graduate students will have read a thousand pages of Marx, a thousand pages of Durkheim, and a thousand pages of Weber. Political science graduate students do not undergo the same immersion in recent classics.

Exposure to this kind of "canon" gives members of other disciplines a common language, no matter what methodology individual scholars eventually adopt or what field they eventually pursue. Moreover, it gives researchers a sense of the real difficulty of accurately apprehending social reality. As a result, the almost arrogant "I just invented the wheel" disposition that serves as a license for all kinds of bad behavior in political science seems not nearly so prevalent in its sister disciplines. This may be a "grass is greener" observation. Nevertheless, it is not uncommon to hear political scientists trained at the best departments in the country proudly pronounce that they have never read Weber. If they do admit having done so, they will quickly note that Weber did a poor job of framing rigorous cause-and-effect arguments. Only rarely will one hear an appreciation of how Weber's career exemplified that of someone devoted to the social scientific mission or of how his empirical work reflects his grappling with basic observer! object dynamics

If all political scientists were trained more extensively in turn-of-the-century social science, both political philosophers and empirical researchers would benefit. Students of political philosophy could link the kind of empirical analyses that, say, Machiavelli and Hobbes conducted with those of, say, Neustadt and Keynes, by tracing common themes as developed in Nietzsche and Marx. Because the common ground for exchange and interaction will be significantly broadened, students of political theory will not be so marginalized--either as a result of their own behavior or through dismissal by others.

On the other hand, empiricists would be reminded that the history of the social sciences is not identical to the history of the natural sciences. The history of the natural sciences is still, even post-Kuhn, the history of mistakes corrected. The history of the social sciences, on the contrary, seems to be the history of mistakes repeated.

If, for instance, rational choice scholars were to explore the problems of preference formation and preference change through the lenses of Weber or Troeltsch, they might be inspired to think about their own methodological apparatus and objects of investigation in new and productive ways. But doing so would require the admission that they did not spring newly and fully formed and informed from the god-head of social science-at least not in the sense of having decisively overcome the problem of reconciling formal models and correcte objects of inquiry.

Likewise, a better grounding in the classic debates of social scientific methodology might encourage so-called constructivists (a.k.a. "inter-pretivists," "poststructuralists") within the profession to interact more intimately with the generalists and formalists. It is difficult for me to criticize constructivists because, in my experience, they are more accommodating to theory and more willing to interact and exchange ideas with students of political philosophy than are formalists. But this is why I put the responsibility on members of the former group to engage, for example, rational choice research in a way that permits them to do more than rejoice in the latter's obvious deficiencies and limitations. Too often, the response to exaggerated claims of universal explanatory power is a listing of what is not explainable. Approaching collegial critique in this way sometimes makes contemporary students of politics look more like theologians than scientists. So-called constructivists must contribute to setting th e terms of the debates over subjective and objective, particular and universal, historically specific and temporally general, and so forth. In short, they need to respond in the way empirically oriented positivists have; they need to produce their own version of Green and Shapiro's Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory (1996).

Better familiarity with late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century social science is one key to increasing interaction among political philosophers and political scientists, rational choice theorists and post-structuralists, and normativists and prositivists. Large doses of Marx, Weber, and Durkheim maybe deemed to be indigestible as a common curriculum in graduate political science training. In that instance, I would suggest that Weber's "Science as a Vocation" ([1919] 1958a) and "Politisc as Vociation" ([1919] 1958b) become the occasions of annual debate and discussion in political science departments, especially large research-oriented departments.
Department chairs might go so far as to organize yearly lectures on one or both of these essays by different members of the department chosen from among all subfields and methodological camps. This would promote understanding of different perspectives on and generate public discussion about fundamental questions like "What is politics?" "Why do we study it?" and "What are the pitfalls and rewards of devoting one's life to studying it?" Such an annual event would not serve to canonize" Weber. On the contrary, his answers to the questions listed above may, under such close scrutiny, be found woefully inadequate. But Weber invoked both Plato and contemporary state-of-the-art scientific research in his discussions of scholarship and politics. Consequently, his essays may provide the best catalyst for interaction, dialogue, and debate over what constitutes and who comprises "political science."

Postwar political philosophers adopted as a starting point the failure of classical social science in predicting and preventing the collapse of Europe. (The unforeseen demise of the Soviet Union gives more recent, if also more felicitous, evidence of this kind of predictive shortcoming.) Since neither contemporary political philosophy nor empirical research seem to encourage any better forecasting or engagement with the real world, I submit that past mistakes are worth revisiting.

John P. McCormick is assistant professor of political science, Yale University. His publications include Carl Schmitt's Critique of Liberalism (Cambridge University Press, 1997) and articles in the American Political Science Review and Political Theory. He is the editor of and a contributor to Confronting Mass Democracy and Mass Technology: Essays in Twentieth Century German Political and Social Thought (Duke University Press, forthcoming).


Foucault, Michel. 1987. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage.

Gilligan, Carol. 1989. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Green, Donald P., and Ian Shapiro. 1996. Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory: A Critique of Applications in Political Science. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Gunnell, John. 1993. The Descent of Political Theory: The Genealogy of an American Vocation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kateb, George. 1968. Political Theory: Its Nature and Uses. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Rawls, John. 1971. A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

_____.[1919] 1958b. "Politics as a Vocation." In From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, ed. and trans. HR. Gerth and C. Wright Mills. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Weber, Max. [1919] 1958a. "Science as a Vocation." In From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, ed. and trans. H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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