I returned to college 20 years after dropping out in the late 1960s. After a couple of weeks in the political science class I was taking, I challenged the instructor by asking: “Where are the Marxists and anarchists in your presentation of political science?”
Here is what I was told. “Marxists and anarchists are political ideologies and not scientific. In political science we have no ideologies. It’s strictly science. We measure and count. We are objective. You should take a class in political theory if you want to discuss those subjects.”
This article is about how “objective” political science actually is.
Assumptions of political science
The image political science presents to students and to anyone who cares to listen is the following:
- It is an objective science that investigates politics, yet somehow remains outside of politics
- Its most basic concepts have nothing to do the national interest of Yankeedom
- Since it is a science, it can be applied to any society rather than a distinctive Yankee view of politics
The historical relativity of “liberalism and democracy”
American political scientists automatically associate political science with liberalism and democracy as if these terms were the foundations of all types of human societies from hunter-gatherers, horticulturalists, agricultural states, herding societies to maritime states. In fact, both liberalism and representative democracy are relativity recent. In spite of this, political scientists categorically support liberal democracy while ignoring their absence in different types of societies and even most of the history of Yankeedom itself. Yet the rah, rah touting of liberalism and democracy is presented as a self-evident objective science.
Political centrism as the norm
Even within modern contemporary societies liberal democracy occupies a relatively small slice of the political spectrum. The spectrum of politics, if measured by the actual interest and support by the world’s peoples stretches from anarcho-communists on the left to right-wing libertarians or fascists on the right. Liberal democracy is a point on the centralist spectrum, yet it is treated as the default normative position. What kind of objective science is this?
The Anti-Communist nature of political science
The field of political science has never supported an oppositional movement against capitalism which was entrenched since its founding around the 1880s.
The field of political science has never supported an oppositional movement against capitalism which was entrenched since its founding around the 1880s. There has never been an objective attempt to evaluate the viability of socialism using scientific instruments. During the Cold War political science was so “objective” that it changed its name from “social science” to “behaviorism” because social science sounded too much like socialism for the foundations that supported it. This term behaviorism was a desperate attempt to call it something, anything but “social” even though the new label had nothing to do with behaviorism that was the psychological discipline founded by Pavlov, Watson or Skinner.
Cross-national insensitivity of political science: we’ve got it all figured out
Neither has there been an objective attempt to weigh Yankee political science against how other states evaluate politics in order to develop a real cross-national political science. Perhaps other states have different concepts which might explain a greater range of political phenomenon. For most political scientists, US institutions are robust and require no learning from other countries. This triumphant form has little to gain from states. In the form of modernization theory, political scientists actively insisted that the rest of the world has much to learn from the US. Other political scientists claim that the Yankee political institutions should not be the model for other states because the circumstances of Yankeedom are so exceptional that no society could measure up to Yankee political institutions. In fact, the central thesis of Dorothy Ross’s TheOrigins of American Social science is that her subject owes its distinctive character to its involvement with the national ideology of American exceptionalism. No matter how you roll the dice, Yankee liberal democracy comes up seven. Political scientist Ido Oren claims that the welfare of America is the master value of the discipline.
In short, as Oren claims, political science uses the term ideology for human thought that avoids reflection on the circumstances in which it is embedded or the interests it serves. But they almost never apply this concept to their own discipline.
The claim in this article is that political science is not a science but a promoter of anti-communist extreme centralist Yankee foreign policy. This can be seen in that:
- Its concepts of the state, bureaucracy, fascism, communism and democracy do not stand the test of time but change historically with the triumphs and defeats of the Yankee state.
- The major practitioners of political science were deeply enmeshed with
national security agencies, the State Department and even counter-insurgency movements. To make these claims I will be referring to the terrific book by Ido Oren called Our Enemies and US: America’s Rivalries and the Making of Political Science.
Political Science Concepts Do Not Stand the Test of Time, but Change According to the Triumphs or Defeats of the Yankee State
Rise and fall of the concept of the state
After the Civil War, the pioneers in political science located their state roots in an American Teutonic heritage. A Teutonic theory claimed most western state societies, including the English, French, Lombards, Scandinavians, Germans and North Americans were part of an Aryan civilization with German origins. These countries had an obligation to uplift the dark races including Native Americans, Asiatics and Africans, who were viewed as having no political civilization to contribute. John Burgess, a Civil War veteran who viewed states’ rights and non-Teutonic immigration as threats to America’s political stability, regarded Germany as a model of centralized political order. From the 1880s to the 1930s, generations of public administration scholars looked to Germany’s
efficient bureaucratic state in their quest to energize the American state. But after fighting Germany in World War I, the American state no longer identified Germany as part of its political roots. Now, political scientists make fun of it as a theory of the state.
The United States admired the 2nd German Reich as a model bureaucracy to learn from. Even at the end of the 19th century when Germany became a major economic powerhouse with whom it had to compete, the United States still admired the Prussian bureaucracy. Political scientist William F. Willoughby thought there were advantages of the unitary over the multiple forms of the state. He saw centralization of power in Germany as a potential model for shifting the balance of power in American from the states towards a political center in Washington. However, as a result of two world wars, the once the efficient Prussian state was now named a bureaucratic authoritarian regime.
As far back as the 1920s, in the hands of political pluralists the whole concept of the state became suspect and was replaced in political science by the word “government”. After two world wars with Germany pluralism became even stronger. Pluralism’s weak state, pluralistic interest group politics and racial diversity came to be seen as sources of political strength. Germany’s strong state and Teutonic identity became fatal flaws. Imperial Germany was now far from being an impressive model of bureaucratic efficiency. Instead, the German state was seen as a precursor to Nazism as opposed to the new Anglo-American and French political development. Funny how times change.
In fact, as Oren points out, there seems to be an inverse relationship between the importance of the state as a category of political science and the actual involvement of political scientists with the state. For example, during the early Cold War the pluralists stopped using the state as a concept in political science the very moment that many political scientists were recruited into the state to fill government and national security posts.
The same thing happened earlier. Before World War I, when the state was the centerpiece in political science, there were few direct contacts between the political scientists and the existing Yankee state. Then in the post-Vietnam era, radical political theoreticians like Theda Skocpol called to “bring the state back” into political analysis, and the profession’s actual ties to the state were becoming strained. This is a way of saying that when political scientists become actually involved in the state, they stop using it as a political concept. If they didn’t stop using it, it might lead to some awkward moments being caught crossing boundaries, like foxes caught in the henhouse!
Bureaucracy as part of the state
According to Oren, before the World Wars began German administration was the envy of the United States. The German model had poverty relief, insurance, saving banks, as well as the maintenance and supervision of railways. These bureaucratic techniques seemed to be a separate undertaking from politics. But after 1917 Woodrow Wilson changed his tune. In 1917 he declared Germany to be an autocracy. Still, even as late as the 1930s, the Nazi administration was still seen as better than the spoils system in US.
At first, Woodrow Wilson commended Japan’s leaders for their wisdom in modeling their constitution on Prussia. But as the Japanese became more aggressive internationally and allied with Germany against the Yankees, its former wisdom turned into something else. In the eyes of those who claimed to track world political development, both Germany and Japan were thrown off the train of “progress” and they became “special cases” as happened with the Soviet Union. My, how times change!
Even up until the end of World War II the United States still thought it was possible to separate administrations from politics. It was only after the horrid efficiency of what the Nazi doctors did to the Jews that the administration became inseparable from politics. In fact, the world “administration” lost all credibility as a political science term. It was only then that American political scientists discovered Max Weber’s pessimistic view of bureaucracy. At that point the whole public administration field fell into a prolonged identity crisis soon after the war.
The evolution of fascism in the minds of political scientists
No political scientist today would argue that Nazi Germany had anything positive to offer political scientists. After all, they were totalitarians. But things haven’t always been so. Mainstream political scientists in the 1930s were far from hostile to Nazism. For one thing, Oren points out that anti-Semitism and admiration of Nazi Germany were widespread in the interwar years. Anti-Semitism in the field of political science made it easier not to come down too hard on the Nazis. Some American eugenic scientists and social work experts regarded Nazi Germany as an interesting experimental laboratory for their ideas.
Some celebrated new immigrations statutes which “preserved the Northern European elements in our community. The laws cut out the influx of inferior Eastern people which brought about decay of ancient civilizations.” (53) Publicist Ivy Lee worked to upgrade Mussolini’s image among Yankee business leaders and later became a paid Nazi propagandist. In his book Political Power, published in 1934, Merriam portrayed Hitler as an underdog and compared him to Gandhi.
When political scientists were worried about urban “instabilities”, they talked to officials in German cities to see how the Nazis did it. When Albert Lepawsky visited Germany, he wrote “Goebbels would make an interesting professor of propaganda at the University of Chicago”. After all, the press, the posters, the radio and the movies were all coordinated. Political scientist James Pollock in 1934 avoided dealing the morality of Nazism: “The German experiments were admirable – for example the camaraderie, the discipline and the goodwill fostered by German labor camps” (77). Roger Wells regarded Hitler as no more than a German conservative who could do Germany some good by stabilizing the economy. He commended Hitler for rescuing the German municipal government from the multi-party system of the Weimar Republic
Willoughby urged Americans to examine carefully the institutions of the Germans for the purpose of the possible integration of popular government with the advantages of autocracy. Carl Friedrich who wrote Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy in 1956, which saw Nazi Germany as one of three totalitarian systems, was not raising alarm bells 20 to 30 years earlier. It wasn’t until 1936 that political scientists changed their tune.
Communism: from interesting experiment to the devil incarnate
Mainstream political science in any period was always against socialism, let alone communism. However, during the insecurity of the late 1920s and early 1930s, they couldn’t help noticing how little the USSR was being affected economically compared to their own capitalist economy. As early as 1926 Russian expert Samuel Harper was opposed to calling the Soviet Union totalitarian.
Some political scientists ignored the suppression of their precious civil rights in the Soviet Union. I would think for liberal democrats that might be the first thing they noticed. Merle Fainsod, great scholar of the Soviet Union, looked favorably upon Russian, state-guided industrial rationalizing. The examination of socialist farming ignored mass starvation and liquidation the Soviet Union was later accused of. Frederic Schuman pointed out that Soviet constitution included the right to employment, free medical care, material security in sickness and in old age. Charles Merriam, probably the most famous political scientist of the 1930s, writes that the Soviet Union was a “most interesting experiment in civic education”. While the Stalin-Hitler pact was the Rubicon for most political scientists, a few said that the pact with Hitler was a defensive maneuver imposed on Stalin after the West refused to form a pact with Stalin against Hitler. What is vital to understand is that none of these political scientists were socialists, let alone communists.
After the pact of between Stalin and Hitler “totalitarianism” became a term that was applied to both Germany and Russia. After the War, America’s flaws in political participation were recast as virtues and the former virtues of the Soviet Union were seen as flaws. Political scientists once again reversed their fields in the concepts for both fascism and communism.
Democracy from economic stability to voting
Before the Cold War, political scientists tended to define democracy in ways that played down the importance of the electoral process. In the 19th century, John Burgess opposed universal suffrage and was reluctant to endorse elections as the best method for selecting the nation’s top leaders. Woodrow Wilson wanted to make the world safe for democracy – but he wanted to entrust it to a professional managerial class. He thought a civil service examination was an eminently democratic method for leadership selection.
After WWI, the managerial view of democracy was rearticulated in the political science of Charles Merriam. Under the banner of democratic social control, Merriam and Harold Lasswell envisioned American as a state in which the American would be guided towards progressive democratic ends by an enlightened elite of social planners. On the left, Merle Fainsod believed that democracy should be economic. It should be concerned with the eradication of poverty with the guarantee of a living wage and with the alleviation of unemployment. He was less concerned with universal suffrage.
After World War II, economic and managerial visions of democracy fell into disfavor because they made US appear too similar to our enemies. For example, Burgess’ vision of democracy via constitutionalism became a casualty of the first German-American conflict because, measured against its standards, England, which did not have a constitution, appeared less democratic than Germany. We couldn’t have that since England was on our side. David Truman The Governmental Process and Dahl’s A Preface to Democratic Theory emphasized voting as the ultimate criteria for democracy as did Seymour Martin Lipset in his book Political Man and Gabriel Almond in The Civic Culture.
Political Scientists Have Been Enmeshed with Yankee Foreign Policy for over 100 Years
- Charles Merriam: Towards the end of World War I in 1917 and 1918, political scientists participated in the massive campaign to promote the war. Led by publicist Edward Bernays they attempted to persuade a reluctant American pubic to rally around Wilson’s decision to enter the war. Charles Merriam was the most important political scientist of the time, but objectivity did not stop him from taking charge of psychological warfare division in Italy.
- Harold Lasswell: Political scientist Harold Lasswell received a sizable grant from Rockefeller Foundation in 1930s to study immigrants’ susceptibility to Soviet propaganda. He consulted with the Office of Strategic Services, the US Office of War Information and the War Department’s Psychological Warfare branch.
- Evron and Jeane Kirkpatrick: When the OSS was disbanded in late 1945, its research and analysis staff was transferred to the State Department, and Evron Kirkpatrick remained with the intelligence section of the state department for eight years. He played a central role in a covert effort to recruit Eastern European refugees and scholars, including Nazi collaborators. He also worked with Hubert Humphrey and the liberal anticommunist camp of the Democratic Party. He became active in Humphrey’s political campaign along with Brzezinski. His wife Jeane Kirkpatrick promoted the liberal anti-communist wing of the Democratic Party. She had covert ties to US intelligence agencies.
- Clyde Kluckhohn, Margaret Mead, Geoffrey Gorer: These anthropologists were all involved in consulting with the secret service psychological warfare operations against Japan in World War II.
- Gabriel Almond: Gabriel Almond was among the most famous of all political scientists. He held teaching posts at Yale, Princeton and Stanford Universities. In his books, he depicted Anglo-American culture as a model for the world. He consulted with the Air University, the State Department, the Office of Naval Research and the RAND corporation from 1948 -1955. His book The Civic Culture was designed to steer third world countries away from communism. His book Appeals of Communism addressed the power of the French and Italian communist parties. Both books were funded by the Carnegie Corporation.
- Lucian Pye and Samuel Popkin: Pye worked for MIT’s Center for International Studies. His book Guerrilla Communism in Malaya portrayed colonial authorities favorably. He expanded his studies to Asia to the investigation of the appeals of communism. He did a report for the Office of Naval Research which urged the government to award contracts to social scientist for counterinsurgency research. He taught courses in counterinsurgency for the State Department. Samuel Popkin also did counter-insurgency research.
- Edward Shils: Shils was central activist for CIA sponsored Congress for Cultural Freedom. This organization covertly recruited Trotskyists and non-communist leftists to the cause of cultural freedom in an attempt to divide left the will forces against communism.
- Seymour Martin Lipset: Lipset received two sizable grants from the US Air Force in the late 1960s to examine the implication of comparative national development for military training and to study emerging leaders in developing nations.
- Daniel Lerner: His research was used by CIA in designing the Phoenix program which sought to “neutralize Vietcong.
- Samuel P. Huntington: Famous political scientist Samuel Huntington was a busy man. Not only did he work with national security and foreign policy agencies, but he advised Lyndon Johnson on the Vietnam War. He lectured and consulted at war colleges and some of his published research was funded by the CIA. Is Huntington’s scholarly career independent of his foreign policy career? Is Huntington’s scholarship unaffected by the politics of US foreign policy in which he took an active part?
- Juan Linz and AmosPerlmutter: Confirmed anti-communist from Franco’s Spain, Linz they developed a typology of differences between authoritarian and totalitarian typology. Amos Perlmutter was part of the Operations and Policy research on how to improve understanding of the role of foreign military forces in “stabilization” of the Middle East.
Whatever the intentions of these comparative political scientists, one effect of their research was to give theoretical support for the United States to overthrow regimes not to its liking and installing right-wing military dictatorships. Up to now, political scientists had the world divided up into “traditional” societies “democratic societies” and “totalitarian societies”. When Linz and Perlmutter inserted “authoritarian” regimes and developed the typological differences between them and totalitarian states, it provided the ruling-class with a wedge for US foreign intervention. In order to control rebelling masses in third world countries, the US all too often picked a military dictator to restore “law and order” while doing the bidding of foreign capitalists. But what do we call the military dictatorship? They must be characterized as authoritarian rather than totalitarianism to spare the State Department the embarrassment of overthrowing a government while installing a totalitarian regime. At the same time, socialist governments, no matter how democratically elected would always be called “totalitarian”. The regimes of Chavez and Maduro are examples.
Every political scientist named was no marginal right wing-nut. Every one of these political scientists were the biggest names in the field. I haven’t even mentioned Arthur Schlesinger, Walt Rostow, Talcott Parsons and Daniel Bell, all of whom are discussed in my article Dictatorship and Democracy as Loaded Language. In fact, before Michael Parenti in the 1960s, I doubt there were more than a handful of political scientists, at best, in the entire field of political science who were communists. I doubt the same is true in the fields of sociology, political sociology or history.
I hope to have convinced you that political science in the United States has little, if anything, to do with objectivity. Firstly, its concepts of the state, bureaucracy, fascism, communism and democracy are not stable political concepts that have stood the test of time over decades. Rather, these terms have changed dramatically based on the triumphs or defeats of US foreign policy. Secondly, the most famous political scientists between 1914 and 1964 served as advisors or promoters of US foreign policy, as you can see in Table A. In Ido Oren’s summary he writes “Political scientists were on balance, more supportive of the administration’s policy than were other American intellectuals.” (153)
In the 1960s there was a rebellion within political science against professional involvement with the deep state. What has happened since? Oren concludes:
Collaboration with the national security agencies did not stop after Vietnam. To site one example: Soviet specialist Myron Rush openly accepted a scholar-in-residence position at the CIA. Oren closes with a recent investigation of the state and political science relations in international studies which found that the line between political scientists and the state has pretty much vanished. “According to H. Bradford Westerfield, a Yale University political scientist with ties to the CIA.
Cooperation between university professors and US intelligence agencies is now very much to the fore…There is a great deal of actually open consultation, and there’s a lot more semi-open, broadly acknowledge consultation” (170-171)