Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Thoughts on a Recent Paper

In the course of writing a term paper for a state and local government class, for some reason I felt the urge to write an informal reflection on what I thought I was doing in the paper -- a kind of meta-essay, if you like that kind of terminology. I'd never done that for any of my papers before, and the writing flowed much more easily than any section of the actual paper. It was a strange experience... Here's what made it onto the page/(screen):

It is only fitting that in the course of writing a paper primarily concerned with theory and philosophy that I should be rudely interrupted by stubborn reality. While this paper was originally only intended to be a tentative or introductory exploration anyway, I feel it has turned into an exploration of the possibility of an exploration, etc. The feeling and image that pervaded my mind while writing this paper was that of a large mob of people all trying to fit through a very small door at once, with the result that almost no one actually made it through – and those who did were late for their appointments. Perhaps it is because of my deep fascination with and respect for political science, theory, and philosophy that I feel I did not nearly do it justice. It also might have to do with the fact that my introduction is quite frankly intellectually dishonest, or at least is forced. The inclusion of Key (1949) and Elazar (1972) and the relation of my inquiry into the nature and history of political science and theory to state and local government seems obviously tacked on – yet I present the paper as though my turn to historical and philosophical analysis emerged naturally out of reading their articles, as though the works of Key and Elazar were my real inspiration. The real origin of my interest is simply the general sense, as a student of politics, that political theory and philosophy (in the original and true sense) has faded from and been virtually rejected by the modern, mainstream practice of political science, yet I am unsure of the soundness of that rejection – indeed, it often seems as though no one even sees the need to justify that rejection. It is simply self-evident, or so it is implied, I feel. The textbook for my Logic, Scope, and Methodology class (Johnson and Reynolds 2008, Political Science Research Methods) is adamant that political science is a branch of science in general – simply the application of the methods of science (including natural science) to political phenomena – and that as such, political science ought to be (and cannot but be) “value-free” and “non-normative”. Just as logical positivism, by the adoption of the verification principle of meaning, banished theology, metaphysics, and ethics from the realm of rational (or even meaningful) discourse, modern political science seems to be consciously (and even gleefully) banishing all political thought prior to the 20th century to that same void – and through a definition that is itself neither value-free, non-normative, nor arrived at by means of the scientific method. If this banishment is political philosophy’s just fate, then so be it. But as the work of Strauss, Germino, Bakshi, and Wolin (to name a few) shows, that such a fate is justified is far from clear or demonstrated...