Political Science pimps

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Sep 4 08:38:50 MDT 2002

>That's a subscription-only site -- any chance you could post the rest of the
>article or email it to me?

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.

Huntington's own biography also raises doubts about the other element of 
the discipline's paradoxical self-image: its presumption of objectivity. 
Throughout his career, Huntington wrote some of the most influential books 
of 20th-century political science. He was a consultant to numerous 
government agencies, including the State Department, the Defense 
Department, and the Central Intelligence Agency. He served on several 
government commissions and was coordinator of security planning at the 
National Security Council in 1977-78. Some of Huntington's published 
research was financed by the CIA.

My concern is not with the ethical propriety of scholars' working for the 
government, but rather with the connection between the politics of U.S. 
foreign policy and the substance of political-science scholarship. 
Huntington's career provokes important questions: What are the 
ramifications of political scientists' involvement in the politics they 
study for the claim of their profession to be a detached science? Is 
American political science in fact more attached to its homeland than to 

Max Weber, in his essay on objectivity in social science, stressed that 
"all knowledge of cultural reality ... is always from particular points of 
view." But although Weber has become a canonical figure in contemporary 
political science, his insistence on the perspective-bound nature of social 
science has had little resonance in the discipline. The postmodernist view 
that politics and scholarship constitute a single "nexus" has generated 
even less interest. Indeed, from books on the scope and method of political 
research, one would hardly guess that point of view is an important issue 
in social-science epistemology. By default, the image of political science 
that emerges from its discourse is one of an objective science that 
investigates yet remains outside politics, and whose constructs are not 
imbedded in any historical or national context. The notion that political 
science in the United States might reflect a distinctly American point of 
view receives almost no consideration.

That's a serious lapse, because America's foreign relations have been 
mirrored in its political science. The discipline has been transmuted again 
and again, depending on which of America's chief enemies it was 
confronting. Imperial Germany, Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and Stalin's 
Soviet Union maintained decent, sometimes even cordial, relations with the 
United States before they became its bitter rivals. And exploring the 
discipline's portrayals of those regimes before and after their conflicts 
with America affords a critical examination not only of the presumed 
objectivity of political science but also of its purported attachment to 

In all cases, the images of America's enemies presented by American 
political scientists became considerably darker after the conflict's onset. 
The current image of imperial Germany as an "autocratic" antithesis of 
American "democracy" was not shared by two of the most important political 
scientists of the late 19th century, John Burgess and Woodrow Wilson. 
Burgess, founder of the first graduate school of political science in 
America (at Columbia), regarded Germany's political system as second only 
to America's. Whereas political scientists today regard the kaiser's lack 
of parliamentary accountability as a serious flaw, Burgess saw that 
conservative feature of the Wilhelmine system as its virtue. Similarly, in 
the 1890s Wilson regarded imperial Germany as an advanced constitutional 
state whose efficient administration was a model for American 
administrative reform. Whereas present-day political scientists condemn the 
three-class electoral system of Prussia for its violation of equal 
suffrage, Wilson recommended that American cities adopt that very system 
because it rewarded the "better" elements in society.

Since World War II, political scientists have had nothing good to say about 
Fascist Italy, but in the 1920s and 1930s prominent scholars expressed 
rather uncritical views of Mussolini's regime. Some portrayed Mussolini's 
dictatorship as a vigorous modernizing force appropriate for a backward 
nation such as Italy. Henry Spencer of Ohio State University, the 
profession's leading authority on Italian politics, portrayed the Italians 
as "passive subjects" by nature and praised Mussolini for energizing 
Italian public life. Other scholars believed that certain aspects of 
fascism might be appropriate for modern America. Charles Merriam of the 
University of Chicago, for example, the most important political scientist 
of the interwar era, was intrigued by Mussolini's "striking experiment" in 
civic education. Merriam sponsored a study of the methods by which the 
Fascist regime fostered civic loyalty, characterized those methods as "full 
of meaning for the student of civic training," and was open to the 
possibility of adapting them to American conditions.

Hitler's Germany is now our paradigm of extraordinary evil. The attitude 
that Nazi Germany had its "good points" is taboo in current political 
science, but before World War II it was well within the bounds of 
legitimate discourse. A review of an abridged English edition of Mein Kampf 
in The American Political Science Review in February 1934 praised the 
translation's editor for selecting passages that present a "very fair 
picture of Hitler," including Hitler's "most enlightened comments on the 
theory of the state and the nature of government." This review was not an 
aberration. During the 1930s, some prominent political scientists 
maintained that the Nazi regime was not without positive achievements, 
especially in the area of public administration, and that Americans could 
learn from those achievements. James K. Pollock, for example, translated 
into English the Nazi Civil Service Act of 1937, describing it as "the most 
complete and thorough code of personnel matters to be found anywhere in the 
world." "Its value to students of personnel problems," he assured, "will be 
apparent even after a very cursory study." It was true, Pollock conceded, 
that Nazi enforcement of "political reliability" had created "some 
demoralization" among German civil servants, but, thankfully, "nothing 
approaching the American spoils system has been developed." Pollock chaired 
the University of Michigan's political-science department from 1947 to 1961 
and served as president of the APSA in 1950.

In the 1950s, political scientists, most notably Merle Fainsod and Carl 
Friedrich of Harvard, played a key role in elaborating the concept of 
totalitarianism and applying it to the Soviet Union. The concept entailed 
an analogy between the regimes of Stalin and Hitler, and connoted a form of 
tyranny far more "ghastly" than that of conventional autocracies. But 
during the 1930s it was not uncommon for American political scientists to 
portray Stalin's Soviet Union in far more positive terms. Merle Fainsod was 
intrigued in 1934 by the Soviet experiment in central planning and 
conspicuously refrained from identifying Stalin's regime as a dictatorship. 
The Harvard Sovietologist Bruce Hopper contended in 1937 that "the Soviet 
solution of Capitalist evils offers eventually greater freedom to the 
individual than any other successor to democracy." And the University of 
Chicago's leading Sovietologist, Samuel Harper, threatened to sue his 
publisher in November 1938 to prevent inclusion of Harper's book in a 
series entitled "European Dictatorships."

The image of Japan underwent the same process. That case has already been 
ably examined by Richard J. Samuels of MIT. "The intellectual history of 
Japanese studies in this country," he concluded, "reflects closely the 
changes in the foreign relations of the United States and Japan. The 
predominant images of Japan in U.S. scholarship have been positive when 
U.S.-Japanese relations have been friendly and have turned critical when 
the relationship has been more adversarial."

The history of America's international rivalries has impinged on the 
history of American political science in still more ways, occasioning broad 
theoretical changes that amounted to changes in the image of America 
itself. Such theoretical reimaginings were partly inspired by the active 
involvement of political scientists in America's war efforts.

Political science as an academic profession was born in the aftermath of 
the Civil War. The trauma of national rupture issued the compelling task of 
laying intellectual foundations for national cohesion. The pioneers of the 
profession located such foundations primarily in theories of America's 
Teutonic heritage and in the doctrine of the supreme sovereignty of "the 
state" to which their German mentors introduced them.

World War I shaped the discipline's theoretical trajectory in several ways. 
First, conflict with Germany shattered the image of America as an 
Aryan-Teutonic nation. Second, the war occasioned the precipitous decline 
of the doctrine of the state, a decline that had as much to do with its 
German accent as with its analytical shortcomings. Third, in 1917-18, 
political scientists participated in the massive campaign to propagate 
America's war aims throughout the nation and the world. The remarkable 
success of this campaign alerted political scientists to the significance 
of nonrational forces in human affairs, and suggested to them that mass 
opinion was fickle. This "lesson" contributed to the emergence of a "social 
control" vision of American democracy in influential circles within the 
profession. Charles Merriam, who served as chief U.S. propagandist in 
wartime Italy, came to believe that progressive reform could best be 
achieved by expert technocrats who would harness psychological, social, and 
eugenic science to the causes of national economic planning and the 
fostering of civic cohesion.

The second war against Germany wrecked another theoretical field with a 
marked German connection: public administration. From the late 1880s 
through World War II, public administration had been a central subfield of 
political science. It was unified by the conception of administration as a 
technical endeavor and celebrated bureaucracy's rationality and efficiency. 
The founders of the field sought to rescue wide areas of policy making from 
the corruption of partisan politics by entrusting them to the hands of a 
meritocratic civil service. Dismayed by the backwardness of American public 
administration, these scholars turned to foreign models for inspiration, 
and they especially admired the German bureaucracy for its efficiency. 
After World War I, public administration's distrust of mass politics and 
its focus on technique fitted neatly within the emergent vision of 
technocratic social control. Merriam facilitated the continued health of 
the field by establishing the Public Administration Clearing House -- a 
resource-rich adjunct to Chicago's political-science department whose 
function was to foster national and international networks of 
administrative experts.

The luster of German administrative efficiency survived the Great War, and 
even the Nazi takeover did not put an end to pilgrimages to Germany by 
American scholars of administration. These pilgrims did not endorse the 
aims of Nazism, but their tradition of conceptualizing administration as 
apolitical permitted them to study Nazi administrative reforms 
dispassionately. World War II and the Holocaust -- by illustrating how a 
long-admired bureaucracy could so rationally execute a horrible political 
program -- finally discredited the notion that administration was 
apolitical. The Nazi "lesson" helps explain why public administration fell 
into a prolonged identity crisis soon after the war and why it lost the 
status it had previously enjoyed in American political science.

The cold war distanced political science from ideals and concepts that were 
associated with socialism. Merriam's vision of "social control" was among 
the conflict's chief casualties. Notwithstanding the aging Merriam's 
sincere insistence that his cherished notion of a planned society was 
strictly democratic, in the charged anticommunist atmosphere of the early 
1950s anything that smacked of "planning" was deemed too Soviet to remain 
part of the conceptual vocabulary of political science.

Progressive definitions of "democracy" that had been common in the 1930s 
met a similar fate. During the Great Depression political scientists often 
defined democracy as much in economic as in political terms and as much in 
terms of substantive ideals as in terms of electoral process. Merle 
Fainsod, for example, believed in 1934 that "democracy is as much concerned 
with the eradication of poverty ... as it is with universal suffrage." 
Robert A. Dahl of Yale mounted a lucid defense of democratic socialism in 
his doctoral dissertation in 1940. Merriam defined democracy partly in 
terms of ideals such as "the perfectibility of mankind" and fair 
distribution of economic gains throughout society. But, in the 1950s, 
political scientists concluded that faith in human "perfectibility" was a 
pathology associated with "totalitarian" regimes, and they abandoned 
substantive visions of democracy in favor of procedural definitions 
inspired by the work of Joseph A. Schumpeter. Against the backdrop of the 
cold war, the vision of America as a state in which technocratic elites 
scientifically guided society toward progressive ends gave way to a vision 
of America as a strong pluralistic society whose politics no longer needed 
to be rescued by apolitical, public-minded administrators.

Paradoxically, at the very time that the apparatus of the state was being 
elided from political-science discourse, the profession was becoming 
increasingly enmeshed in the national-security state. The full story of 
this enmeshment remains to be written. A partial account of the ways in 
which political power and political science commingled during the Cold War 
includes, for one, the active participation of public-administration 
scholars in U.S. foreign-aid programs in Southeast Asia and Latin America, 
which led to a surge of scholarly interest in "comparative administration." 
Other instances of enmeshment involved the cold-war career of the Center 
for International Studies at MIT -- a CIA-supported think tank that evolved 
into MIT's department of political science -- and the story of Evron 
Kirkpatrick, who left the intelligence unit of the State Department in 1954 
to become the executive director of the APSA. Kirkpatrick assiduously 
promoted the discipline's identity as an objective science while engaging 
in the politics of the liberal anticommunist wing of the Democratic party 
and covertly maintaining ties with the government's intelligence agencies.

The Vietnam experience created on American campuses a climate in which 
cloak-gown collaboration was regarded as unethical, but this norm appears 
to have evaporated since the end of the cold war. As a Yale University 
political scientist with ties to the CIA put it recently, cooperation 
between professors and U.S. intelligence agencies "is now very much to the 
fore." The question persists whether political science can be an objective, 
disinterested science while it serves the interests of the American state.

Ido Oren is an assistant professor of political science at the University 
of Florida. This essay is adapted from his book, Our Enemies and US: 
America's Rivalries and the Making of Political Science, to be published in 
December by Cornell University Press. Copyright © by Cornell University Press.

Louis Proyect

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