Political Science pimps

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Sep 4 06:47:14 MDT 2002

Chronicles of Higher Education, September 6, 2002

How America's Foreign Policy Affects Its Political Science

American political scientists seldom reflect upon the identity of their
discipline. They instinctively associate political science with freedom and
democracy even as their texts represent the discipline as an objective
science. Thus, the self-image of American political science is
paradoxically that of detached scholarship attached to particular ideals.

The linkage between political science and democracy is so taken for granted
in the profession that it requires little explicit affirmation except, from
time to time, in rituals such as the annual address of the president of the
American Political Science Association. So it was that, in his 1987 APSA
presidential address, Samuel P. Huntington of Harvard stressed that "the
connection between democracy and political science has been a close and
continuing one. ... Where democracy is strong, political science is strong."

But a careful reading of the same text raises some doubt about the firmness
of that alleged bond. The main theme of Huntington's talk was that
democratic reforms must be carried out very cautiously. Dictatorships must
not be pushed too hard because "however bad a given evil may be, a worse
one is always possible and often likely: Witness the unhappy recent
experiences of Cuba, Vietnam, Cambodia. ... The political scientist,
consequently, can only be skeptical of a claim that, as one Chilean
dissident [Ariel Dorfman] put it, 'there is no way in which we are going to
see anything worse than General Pinochet' or the argument of an opponent of
apartheid that 'the first African government of South Africa ... could
scarcely be any worse' than the current regime."

Huntington's mention of South Africa was not accidental; several years
earlier, he had traveled to Johannesburg to meet with South African
officials and deliver a scholarly paper on political reform. The context of
his trip was the apartheid regime's attempt to engineer limited
constitutional change that would extend some political rights to the
country's mixed-race and Asian population, but none to the black majority.

In the paper Huntington delivered in South Africa he questioned "the
relevance to South African needs" of the "liberal belief that each person
deserves equal political and civic rights." He argued that "the
centralization of power may also be necessary for the government to
maintain the control over violence that is essential to carry through major
reforms." Joseph Lelyveld, then the South Africa correspondent for The New
York Times, observed that regardless of what Huntington actually meant by
such abstractions, South African officials used the "Huntington thesis," as
Johan Coetzee, the national police chief, called it, to legitimate their
repressive actions.

Lelyveld's commentary suggests that, although political scientists as
private persons may be committed to democracy, political-scientific
concepts and political science as a profession are not inherently
incompatible with nondemocratic regimes.

full: http://chronicle.com/weekly/v49/i02/02b01301.htm

Louis Proyect

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