skip to Main Content

The Relevance of Political Philosophy and Political Science

The Relevance Of Political Philosophy And Political Science

Unlike other disciplines in the humanities, American political science since the 1950s has been concerned with establishing a scientific identity, drawing from the philosophy of logical positivism to establish empirical models to explain political behavior.[1] This “behavioral revolution” in the discipline reconceived science as a process of building definitions and taxonomies upon observed experience and moving from description to eventual deductive theory, which then must be related back to observed facts to gain meaning and validity. Scholars such as Easton and Dahl revolutionized political science by imitating the natural sciences as the standard of knowledge and the model by which to conduct inquiry, adopting Weber’s fact-value distinction that tried to banish normative theory from the discipline.[2]

Although there have been occasional backlashes against the predominance of behavioralism in political science–the post-behavioral revolution of the 1970ss, the rise of rational choice theory in the 1990s, the perestroika movement at the turn of the millennium–political science still is largely defined by empirical models as influenced by logical positivism.[3] This is evident in the number of positions available, the types of articles in the discipline’s flagship journals, and grants awarded.[4] As the discipline continues to adhere to behavioralism, political scientists see liberal education – the study of subjects for their own sake apart from any utilitarian consideration – as not relevant to their profession and instead replace it with civic education: the preparation and training of students to become engaged, informed, democratic citizens.[5]

In spite of the success of the behavioralist revolution, political science still is drawn to philosophy for validation.[6] While most political scientists are preoccupied with questions of techniques of observation and verification, they unreflectingly adopt the authority of philosophical claims without sorting out the differences between methodologies, procedures, and applications. For instance, political science’s orientation towards civic rather than liberal education assumes that liberal democracy is the preferable, if not outright best, type of regime. Most political scientists focus on questions of the “facts” of political literacy, civic participation, or voter mobilization without investigating the “value” of liberal democracy itself. This division between “facts” and “values” corresponds to questions of “how” and “why,” with the majority of political scientists trying to answer the former and neglecting the latter.

However, the discipline still preserve a space for normative theory to address questions of “why” in the subfield of political philosophy.[7] But what can political philosophers contribute to politics and liberal education; or, are these two ends at odd with each other? On the one hand, political philosophers can speak directly about political matters, such as economic inequality from a Rawlsian perspective or how Kant would evaluate a state’s refugee policy; on the other hand, such conversations suggest that students should study political philosophy for not its own sake but for the political action. Thus, liberal education becomes the handmaiden to politics for the political philosopher.

Unlike philosophy, literature, foreign languages, or history, political science can explain its significance to the public because of the importance of politics in our lives; but, by doing so, it devalues liberal education for a civic one. The challenges confronting political scientists, and particularly political philosophers, therefore are somewhat different from practitioners in the other disciplines of the humanities. First, political philosophers must demonstrate their relevance to the discipline of political science itself as dominated by behavioralism; second, political scientists must illuminate how the study of political science is related to liberal education; and third, they must show how political science is relevant to the public. By addressing these concerns, political scientists will be able to validate the value of their discipline to a public to which arguments of tradition, critical skills, and vulgarization of knowledge no longer appeal.

The Discipline of Political Science

While political scientists cite Plato and Aristotle as the starting of their discipline, it was in the early nineteenth-century that the discipline that we now recognize as political science came into existence. Francis Lieber, whose theory of the state and concerns about democracy, made political science a distinctive endeavor of intellectual inquiry from political economy, history, or philosophy. Although Lieber participated in politics, such as drafting the legal guidelines for the Union army during the Civil War, he was primary an academic, a professor of history at first at South Carolina College (1835-56) and later a professor history and political science at Columbia College (1856-65).[8] In his teachings and writing, Lieber adopted Kantian and Heglian philosophies to his study of political science, adapting these philosophies to the circumstances and traditions of the United States of liberal nationalism and republican constitutionalism.

When graduate programs in political science began to appear in the 1880s at Columbia and John Hopkins Universities, the theory of the state, as advanced by Lieber and others, became the central organizing paradigm for the discipline.[9] Soon after political theory emerged as a separate subfield. It was established by William Archibald Dunning and Westel Woodbury Willoughby.[10] Political theory was understood as the product of the thoughts, intentions, and circumstances of people past while, at the same time, influence the course of political history. It was logically connected with metaphysics and ethics but was focused on how people realized principles in political life.

The establishment of political theory led to debates among academics and universities about its methodologies, which subjects to be studied, and whether it should be considered to be part of political science.[11] Despite these debates, political theory became part of political science curriculum in American higher education and scholarship. For example, James Garner’s 1910 political science textbook traces the development of a science of politics from Aristotle to the present, noting that political science is more than a study of public law.[12] But World War I led to a neglect of political theory in the discipline, confining it to graduate school and small groups of scholars, due to the need to focus on practical issues of domestic and international politics.[13] Furthermore, the rejection of German philosophy led to political scientists to abandon their studies of the state, on which most of political theory had been based. [14]

At the University of Chicago, Charles Merriam revived political theory in the service of systemizing vast amount of information produced to understand democratic pluralism: the diversity of interests, convictions, and lifestyles that peacefully coexist in a political body. Although Merriam himself did not see a conflict between political theory and “a science of political behavior,” theory ultimately was valued for its instrumental use in the organizing of data from the scientific inquiry of empirical political reality.[15] Merriam’s view of political theory provoked a backlash among theorists, such as Harold Lasswell. By distinguishing political philosophy from political science, Lasswell saw political science in service of the distinct set of values of liberal democracy, which was the realm of political theory.[16]

It was in the 1930s that the history of political theory became formalized in the United States from Plato to the present, with attention to ideas and texts. This approach was best exemplified in George Sabine’s textbook, A History of Political Theory, which became the paradigmatic work of the period, establishing the curriculum of political theory in undergraduate and graduate political science programs.[17] Adopting a positivist (e.g., this is a form of philosophical relativism) approach to political ideas, Sabine was interested in what these ideas could teach us about liberal democracy, which he believed was the highest stage of human development, and not whether they had any lasting truth in themselves. Sabine’s support of liberal democracy, science, and relativism set the agenda for political theorist in the next decade of the 1940s with attacks of positivism (scientism) and a search for a transcendental foundation for liberalism, democracy, and political ideas themselves.[18] The influx of European émigrés–Leo Strauss, Eric Voegelin, Hannah Arendt, Theodor Adorno, Hebert Marcuse, and others–also contributed to the changing the nature and direction of political theory in the United States with a revival of metaphysics, an indictment of relativism, and an attempt to re-found liberalism on transcendent grounds.[19] The emphasis on metaphysics divided political theorists with those who favored its inclusion and those opposed. The former saw political theory as normative in nature while the latter viewed theory primary as a positivist inquiry.

Those who defended a positivist or scientist account of political science would ultimately emerge victorious in the behavioral revolution of the 1960s. Although behavioralism significantly changed research programs in the discipline, its philosophical beliefs were a return to Merriam’s, Lasswell’s, and Sabine’s ideas with theory’s primary purpose to define political concepts and organize data in the service of liberal democracy. It is also worth noting that the behavioral revolution, which today is seen as a rejection of political theory, was actually started and sustained by political theorists: Robert Dahl, Karl Deutsch, David Easton, Gabriel Almond, and others.[20] Thus, the conflict between political scientists and political theorists was actually a debate within political theory itself about the nature and direction of political science.

Political scientists’ embracement of positivism in the 1950s saw political theory that dealt with teleological, normative, or moral concerns as non-scientific: science was phenomena that could be observed. It was this period the distinction between political theory and political philosophy began to emerge: the former was focused on producing scientific statements about the phenomena of observable politics while the latter was concerned with normative, ethical, and moral considerations. Easton’s The Political System (1953) was the paradigmatic book of political theory, with politics defined as “the authoritative allocation of values.” This positivist view of politics, where facts and values were separate and political science should only focus on the former, contradicted the normative accounts of such political philosophers like Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), Voegelin’s The New Science of Politics (1952), and Strauss’ Natural Right and History (1953).

The success of the behavioralism in political science in the 1960s was a result of behavioralists institutionalizing their approach within the discipline, their refusal to engage in a genuine dialogue with political philosophers about the nature and direction of political science, and the polemical tone that some political philosophers (e.g., Straussians) adopted in their critique of behavioralism.[21] The discipline of economics was often cited as the model to which political theory should aspire in order to provide a universal conceptual scheme for political analysis. Empirical methods, particularly quantitative analysis, was employed to understand political behavior rather ideas, ideology, or philosophy. The purpose of theory, if it had one at all, was to help political scientist clarify their concepts, definitions, and systems in the organization of data collected.

It was the perceived conservatism of behavioralism, particularly prominent political scientists’ close relationship with government (e.g., Henry Kissinger, Jean Kirkpatrick, Talcott Parsons), as well as the discipline’s perceived public irrelevance that led to the Caucus for a New Political Science, which was formed in 1967.[22] Sheldon Wolin was one of the Caucus’ prominent members, who understood political philosophy as a form of political education to address contemporary concerns.[23] This post-behavioral revolution advocated that political theory should be tied to public policy and politics, if political theory, and political science more broadly, wish to remain penitent to the public. The result at the end of the 1970s was a tolerance of political philosophy in its different forms (e.g., Straussians, Voegelinians, the Berkeley School, the Frankfurt School) and different methodologies and approaches to the study of politics.

Although initially it may be seen as a victory for political philosophy within political science, it was a pyrrhic one. Behavioralism had become so well established and dominant in the discipline that it could afford to be tolerant of political philosophers. In exchange, political philosophers stop criticizing political scientists for their positivist or scientist methodologies, although neither group would converse with one another. A modus vivendi had been established where political philosophers and political scientists would live under the same roof but not speak with each other about politics.

This tolerance of political philosophy within political science would remain until the 1990s when rational choice theorists claimed to have the paradigm to unify the entire discipline. Although choice theorists were part of the behavioralists in the 1950s and early 1960s (e.g., Kenneth Arrow, Anthony Downs, James M. Buchanan and Gordon Tullock), rational choice theorists employed formal models with advanced mathematics to investigate empirical political reality.[24] Like the behavioralists before them, rational choice theorists tried to institutionalize their ideas but were met with resistance that culminated into the Perestroika Movement in 2000.[25] These scholars argued that the hegemony of quantitative and mathematical methodologies in the discipline led to academic isolation, poor scholarship, and public irrelevance. The discipline should embrace methodological pluralism in order to make political science more relevant and publicly accessible.

Perestroika was successful in that methodological pluralism was preserved, although the discipline still is dominated by quantitative and mathematical methodologies. The American Political Science Association (APSA) also created a second flagship journal, Perspectives on Politics, that would publish articles that did not employ quantitative and mathematical methodologies and would be open to political theory and philosophy of all types.[26] Whether this and other initiatives (e.g., new academic sections within APSA) will led to collaboration or continual isolation between political philosophy and political science remains to be seen.

Political Philosophy Within Political Science

From its history within the discipline, political philosophers have been successful in preserving their status but unsuccessful in articulating why they should remain other than institutional inertia. The positivist approach of Merriam, Lasswell, and Sabine is a closed path for political philosophers to follow because these thinkers made assumptions about the desirability of liberal democracy that are not evident to scholars and the public today, not to mention that it devalues theory in the service of behavioralism. A more profitable route is those political philosophers who engaged with behavioralists in the 1950s about what constitutes science: its standards of knowledge, its methodologies, the relevance of its results. But where these political philosophers err was their neglect of contemporary political issues, something which post-behavioralist political philosophers addressed. But by the time they had organized themselves, behavioralists had firmly entrenched themselves into the profession and dominated the discipline.

Let me suggest three possible ways that political philosophy can make itself relevant to political science. First, political philosophy must focus on empirical political reality and concerns but not, as positivists would want, in service of organizing data collected from it but rather to clarify and better account for our ideas, concepts, and theories. Such a task would require us to devise alternative methodologies to behavioralist ones in order to take into account empirical political reality. Furthermore, political philosophers need to demonstrate how their inquiries are relevant to contemporary political reality. It is only this way that political philosophers will be able to have a conversation with political scientists about methods, standards of knowledge, and the nature and direction of the discipline. Methodological pluralism and collaboration instead of a modus vivendi will make the discipline of political science a genuine rather than tolerable one.[27]

Second, political philosophers must continue to devise answers rather than assume why liberal democracy and other such concepts are more acceptable than others. Whereas positivists like Sabine assume the superiority of liberal democracy and émigrés such as Strauss were suspicious of it, political philosophers today should seek to account why certain regimes, institutions, and practices are preferable than others. Although this work has been done by political philosophers, like John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice, it needs to be continued and in a way that educates the public of their findings.[28] In this sense, I am returning to Wolin’s call for a political education of our findings for the public.[29] Political philosophers should serve as public educators, whether as public intellectuals, advisors to political leaders, or paying more attention to the scholarship of teaching and learning. There is no reason why political scientists are the only ones allowed to comment in the public on elections, international disputes, or domestic policy: political philosophers have something important to say about these matters too.

Finally, political philosophers have an important role in defining, conceptualizing, and theorizing about politics in an age of globalization. As non-western civilizations play more of a role in global politics and states become more interdependent, political philosophers should examine whether the behavioralist techniques of data collection are the most appropriate or suitable way for non-western countries. To some extent, this already is happening with the emergence of comparative political theory, although these studies tend to focus on non-western ideas, institutions, and practices as opposed how one should study them and its compatibility (or lack thereof) with western empirical techniques.[30] By examining whether positivist techniques are universalist, as behavioralists claim, or civilizational-specific is one of the many ways political philosophers can cooperate with their political scientist counterparts.

Conceding that there may be other ways to work with political scientists and that the ones mentioned here might fail, I nevertheless think it is imperative for political philosophers to think about new ways to collaborate with political scientists if we want to have a discipline of political science; otherwise, we might as well belong to programs of philosophy, classics, or other disciplines in the humanities. Given the particular focus of our subject, politics, political philosophers should take advantage of the empirical resources available to us from our political science colleagues. Because behavioralism dominate our discipline, is incumbent upon political philosophers to demonstrate a relevance of their approach to politics to political scientists. If they fail to do so, if political philosophers continue to exist in their splendid isolation, then they have no one else to blame for their continual marginalization – and perhaps eventual banishment – from the discipline.

Political Science: Liberal and Civic Educations

A second problem for political scientist is forming and articulating a relationship to liberal education. Unlike civic education, which is the training and preparation of students to become fully engaged democratic citizens, liberal education is the study of subjects for their own sake, to be free of any utilitarian consideration as the primary motivation for study.[31] Political science has always played a role in civic education whether in service learning (students placed into political activities) or civic discourse (students debate public policy issues, such as in Moot Court or Model UN). However, its role in liberal education has been less clear, if existent at all.

This undefined or nonexistent relationship with liberal education is characteristic of the social sciences in general. Whereas the natural sciences and vocational training are utilitarian oriented and the humanities are traditionally not, the social sciences hold a hybrid position between these two areas of knowledge. Partly this is due to the relatively recent professionalization of the social sciences when compared to the natural sciences and the humanities and partly this is because of the ambiguous role that theory or philosophy plays in the social sciences themselves. But it is the uncertain – and at times equivocal – role that the social sciences, particularly political science, have with society’s politics that account for its unclear relationship to liberal education: should political scientist play an active role in social and political reform or should they stand apart and observe and record politics?

This debate has existed within political science since its inception as a professional organization. The question confronting political scientists, and more broadly all social scientists, at the beginning was as follows: were they scientists first and social and political reformers second or the other way around? For political scientists, the creation of the American Political Science Association (APSA) in 1903 resolved this dispute in favor of science.[32] APSA was formed from those who had defected from the American Social Science Association (ASSA) which had were more socially and politically oriented. APSA explicitly rejected this vision of social science playing an active role in social and political reform.

However, the favor of science over political action yielded a situation where the government did not seek out political scientists for advice and political scientists avoided government.[33] This nonintersecting parallel existence between the profession and politics was mirrored to a certain extent in the relationship between the university and society during this period.[34] Even Woodrow Wilson, political scientist at John Hopkins and Princeton Universities, president of APSA, governor of New Jersey, and president of the United States, believed that the purpose of political science was to provide scientific knowledge and not practical expertise.[35]

While there were debates about what constituted “science” within the discipline – was it positivism, formal theory, political philosophy? – political scientists understood themselves as scientists first and foremost. Even when political scientist had participated in government, it was in service of stated government objectives. It was only the post-behavioral revolution of the 1970s and the Perestroika Movement of the 2000s when there was a call for political scientists to be political actors rather than just scientists. The success of these movements were mixed. On the one hand, some political scientists did envision their role as political actors as well as scientists; on the other hand, the discipline itself did not fundamentally changed in orientation, with APSA still committed to its mission of scientific research and most of its members seeing themselves as scientist and only scientists.[36]

How political scientists envision their primary role reveals how they see their relationship to liberal education. For those political scientists who see themselves as scientists first, they are embarking on the study of politics for its own sake rather than for political action, an objective similar to that of liberal education. In contrast, those political scientists who understand their role as political actors first, they are partaking in non-liberal education, as what they study is subservient to political objectives. In this sense, political scientists who are scientists first participate in liberal education in both their scholarship and teaching, assuming they teach their courses with the same objectives as their research (i.e., science). Although it may be strange to think of liberal education as scientific, for political scientists it is as long as they refrain from the temptations of having their research and teaching participate in political action.

Interesting, both types of political scientists – whether scientist or activist first – also play a role in civic education: the scientist offers knowledge that others play use in the education of citizens, while the activist directly engages students in political activities and predetermined political goals. Although civic education is a secondary concern for the scientist and a primary one for the activist, both types of political scientists contribute to civic education. Political scientists consequently directly participate in liberal and civic education, with the former being the first priority of inquiry and the latter a secondary effect.

Political Science and the Public

Finally, political scientist must show its relevance to the public, especially during a time when both state and federal governments question the actual value of political science research. The 2013 cuts in the National Science Foundation’s funding for political science, and the general lowering of funding for the social sciences, is an example when the federal government expresses little faith in the scientific research of the discipline. It is a reflection of the lack of public support for these endeavors because its scholarship is not understood or perceived as politically biased.[37]

In addition to this criticisms, there have been pressure by state governments to increase the teaching responsibilities of faculty at their public flagship universities.  Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin proposed to cut $300 million to the university system unless faculty members taught more.[38] Legislatures in Iowa and Missouri require faculty to teach more; otherwise, they will withhold state funding. In this climate of declining budgetary support and faith in political science research, the discipline must be able to articulate a reason of its value that the public can comprehend. [39]

The 2004 APSA Task Force on Graduate Education recognizes that political science scholarship is at the core of the discipline in the creation and dissemination of knowledge; however, it also acknowledges that political scientists also need to be “teachers of political science.”[40] Societies will always need educators to transmit knowledge. This is not to criticize political science scholarship per se but to acknowledge the political reality in which the discipline exists: the lack of public and state support for its endeavors. Although scholarship is required to teach well, with new theories and findings being incorporated into pedagogy and teaching, it is not reason enough to demonstrate the discipline’s relevance to the public. A new rationale is required.

What political science could do is renew its emphasis on the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) in the discipline in order to demonstrate its value to skeptical politicians and the public.[41] The value of teaching – and the demand for faculty to do more at state’s public flagship universities – is notion that politicians and the public can understand and accept. Political scientists must frame their present research in the paradigm of teaching and learning but also undertake new research into SoTL itself. This approach to scholarship will make political scientists not only better teachers but also better communicators in showing the value of their research to the public.

APSA itself has recognized this challenge to the discipline and has encourage research in the SoTL. It has established the annual APSA Teaching and Learning Conference, which is devoted to SoTL in contrast to its annual APSA Conference and has recently promoted The Journal of Political Science Education as a flagship journal in the discipline. APSA also has substantial sections on SoTL, like the Political Science Education Section, and acknowledges prominent teachers at both the undergraduate and graduate institutions. Although restructuring of graduate programs is still required to encourage more support for SoTL in the discipline, APSA has taken several important steps to move the discipline into a conversation with the public about its value in a way that the public can easily comprehend.[42]

While promoting SoTL is a politically savvy maneuver to placate public criticisms of political science, it does have some potential pitfalls. First, there may be research which does not fit into the paradigm of SoTL, such as technical methodological matters like econometrics or Kantian epistemology. Although this type of research will continue, it does raise the possibility that it might be devalued within the discipline, particularly with respect to questions of promotion, tenure, and grant applications.

Alternatively, and perhaps more likely, SoTL becomes another paradigm within the discipline that already is filled with many others. The result would be the existing modus vivendi among the various paradigms, theories, and methodologies within the discipline. Instead of becoming an organizing paradigm for the discipline, SoTL just adds the confusion about what constitutes the core of political science and consequently sends mixed messages to the public about its value.

A final consideration is how SoTL would change the discipline’s relationship to liberal and civic educations. An SoTL political science would seem to favor civic over liberal education as the purpose of teaching it to make an informed and politically engaged citizenry. Liberal education would disappear in an SoTL political science. Whether this price should be paid to make political science relevant to the public is a question for those in the profession to think about how to answer.


Like other social sciences, political science faces unique challenges in trying to find a space for political philosophy within its discipline, show how it is related to liberal education, and demonstrate its value to the public. In this chapter, we have reviewed how behavioralism eventually became the dominant paradigm to organize the discipline and, in the process, marginalizing political philosophy. I have suggested a few ways of how political philosophy can recover its central role in the discipline by directly engaging with empirical political reality, by acting as public educators about the underlying assumptions and values of a liberal democratic society, and by embarking on a study of whether western methodologies of theorization and techniques of data collection are suitable in an age of globalization.

We also have seen how political science, for most of its history, have refrained from political action and have been content conducting scientific research. When political scientists have pursued knowledge for its own sake, they are partaking in a liberal education where one study a subject primarily apart from utilitarian considerations. Although the scientific findings could be used for civic education, they were discovered not that purpose but to satisfy intellectual curiosity.

The two exceptions to this approach were the post-behavioralists and the Perestroika Movement that wanted to make political action the prominent role for political scientists, valuing civic education over a liberal one. However, the inroads these movements have made within the discipline are minor. Today the discipline is dominated mostly by those who wish to continue to pursue scientific knowledge first and foremost, valuing liberal education in a scientific manner, while a minority reject this approach and favor political action.

Finally, one of the trends in political science is to adopt the paradigm of SoTL to demonstrate its value to the public. Although there are several benefits to such an approach, there are also drawbacks as whether it will work, the status of non-SoTL research, and the rejection of liberal education. It remains to be seen whether SoTL will make political science relevant to the public as a discipline or just be another failed attempt to organize the discipline in a publicly-understandable way.



[1] Gunnell, John G. 1975. Philosophy, Science, and Political Inquiry. Morristown, NJ: Silver Burdett Company, 1-13.

[2] Ibid., 176-207, 231-67; also refer to Easton, David. 1953. The Political System: An Inquiry into the State of Political Science. New York: Alfred Knopf; Dahl, Robert A. 1961. “The Behavioral Approach in Political Science: Epitaph for a Monument to a Successful Protest.” American Political Science Review 55: 765-72. Probably the best contemporary example of behavioralism in political science is the work of Gary King. King Gary. 1989. Unifying Political Methodology: The Likelihood Theory of Statistical Inference. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989; King, Gary, Robert O. Keohane, and Sidney Verba. 1994. Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

[3] Gunnell, John G. 1993. The Descent of Political Theory: The Genealogy of an American Vocation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 199-250. For more about behavioralism, refer to Easton, David. 1953. The Political System; Easton, David. 1965. A Framework for Political Analysis. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall; Gunnell, John G. 2014. “Behavioralism” in The Encyclopedia of Political Thought. Gibbons, M.T. ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 272-77; for more the post-behavioralism, refer Wolin, Sheldon. 1969. “Political Theory as a Vocation,” American Political Science Review 63: 1051-61; Gunnell, John G. 2013. “The Reconstruction of Political Theory: David Easton, Behavioralism, and the Long Road to System.” Journal of the History of Behavioral Sciences 41: 190-210; for more about rational choice theory, refer to Bates, Robert H., Avner Greif, Margaret Levi, Jean-Laurent Rosenthal, Barry Weingast. 1998. Analytic Narratives. Princeton: Princeton University Press; Green, Donald P. and Ian Shapiro. Pathologies of Rational Choice: A Critique of Applications in Political Science. 1994. New Haven: Yale University; for the perestroika movement, refer to Monroe, Kristen Renwick, ed. 2005. Perestroika! The Raucous Rebellion in Political Science. New Haven: Yale University Press; Schram Sanford F. and Brian Caterino, ed. Making Political Science Matter: Debating Knowledge, Research, and Method. New York: New York University Press, 2006; Dryzek, John S. “Revolutions without Enemies: Key Transformations in Political Science.” American Political Science Review 100 (2006): 487-92.

[4] The American Political Science Review, the discipline’s flagship journal, annually releases the type of articles it publishes with behavioralist type articles usually constituting 75-80%. The dominance of behavioralism was such that the discipline created a second flagship journal in 2003, Perspectives on Politics, which is devoted to qualitative analyses and political theory. For more about the dominance of behavioralism in employment and grants in political science, refer to American Political Science Association. 2015. Six Years of Political Science Doctoral Student Placement, 2009-14. Available at (Accessed November 1, 2016); Craig, John. 2014. “What Have We Been Writing About? Patterns and Trends in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Political Science.” Journal of Political Science Education 10: 23-36; Trepanier, Lee. Forthcoming. “SoTL as a Subfield for Political Science Graduate Programs.” Journal of Political Science Education, forthcoming.

[5] PS: Political Science & Politics. 2015. “Let’s Be Heard! How to Better Communicate Political Science’s Public Value.” 48: Special Issue. Also refer to Levine, Peter. 2011. “Civic Knowledge” in The Oxford Handbook of Civil Society. Edwards, Michael ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press; MacMullen, Ian. 2015. Civics Beyond Critics: Character Education in a Liberal Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[6] For more about the contentious relationship between a behavioralist political science and political theory, refer to Flax, Jane. 1981. “Why Epistemology Matters.” The Journal of Politics. 43: 1006-24; Gunnell, The Descent of Political Theory; Flyvbjerg, Bent. 2001. Making Social Science Matter. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Barry, Brian. 2002. “Why Political Science Needs Political Theory.” Scandinavian Political Studies 25: 107-15; Kelly, Paul. 2006. “Political Theory – The State of Art.” Politics 26: 57-53; Rehfeld, Andrew. 2010. “Offensive Political Theory.” Perspectives on Politics 8: 465-86; Sebell, Dustin. 2016. The Socratic Turn: Knowledge of Good and Evil in an Age of Science. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

[7] The terms political “theory” and political “philosophy” are often used interchangeably among political scientists because in the past they were seen as the same type of inquiry until the behavioralist revolution, when theory became associated with positivism and philosophy with normative inquiry. In this chapter, I adhere to this distinction.

[8] Farr, James. 1990. “Francis Lieber and the Interpretation of American Political Science.” Journal of Politics 52: 1027-49; Lieber, Francis. 1993. “History and Political Science, Necessary Studies in Free Countries” in Discipline and History: Political Science in the United States. Farr, James and Raymond Seidelman ed. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 21-32; Gunnell, John G. 1993. The Descent of Political Theory, 24-36; Adcock, Robert. 2014. Liberalism and the Emergence of American Political Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 67-104.

[9] Theodore Woolsey and Johann Caspar Bluntschli also argued that a theory of the state should be at the core of political science. Woolsey, Theodore. 1878. Political Science or the State Theoretically and Practically Considered. New York: Scribner, Armstrong; Bluntschli, Johann Caspar. 1885. The Theory of the State. Oxford: Clarendon. Also refer to Lieber, Francis. 1853. Civil Liberty and Self-Government. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott; Lieber, Francis. 1881. Miscellaneous Writings. Philadelphia: J.B. Lipincott.

[10] Gunnell, John G. 1993. The Descent of Political Theory, 60-79; also refer to Willoughby, Westel Woodbury. 1896. An Examination of the State. New York: Macmillan; de Roulhac, J.G. ed. 1937. Truth in History and Other Essays by William A. Dunning. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Garner, James. W. 1910. Introduction to Political Science. New York: American Book Company, 11.

[13] Gunnell, The Descent of Political Theory, 79-81.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 86-100; Merriam, Charles. 1993. “The Progress of Political Research” in Discipline and History: Political Science in the United States. Farr, James and Raymond Seidelman ed. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 129-46; also refer to Gunnell, John G. 2005. “Political Science on the Cusp: Recovering a Discipline’s Past.” American Political Science Review 99: 597-609.

[16] Lasswell, Harold D. 1993. “Specialists on Intelligence” in Discipline and History: Political Science in the United States. Farr, James and Raymond Seidelman ed. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 159-64.

[17] Sabine, George. 1937. A History of Political Theory. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

[18] Gunnell, The Descent of Political Theory, 128-29, 139-40. For more about the relationship between political theory and liberalism, refer to the classic work: Hallowell, John H. 1943. The Decline of Liberalism as an Ideology. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press; also refer to Gunell, John G. 1988. “American Political Science, Liberalism, and the Invention of Political Theory.” American Political Science Review 82: 71-87; Gunell, John G. 2004. Imagining the American Polity: Political Science and the Discourse of Democracy. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press; Adcock, Liberalism and the Emergence of American Political Science.

[19] Gunnell, The Descent of Political Theory, 175-98; Boyers, Robert ed. 1972. The Legacy of the German Refugee Intellectuals. New York: Schocken; Coser, Lewis A. 1984. Refugee Scholars in America. New Haven: Yale University Press. For representative works of specific German émigrés, refer to Arendt, Hannah. 1951. The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Schocken; Voegelin, Eric. 1952. The New Science of Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; Strauss, Leo. 1953. Natural Right and History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; Marcuse, Hebert. 1955. Eros and Civilization. Boston: Beacon Press; Adorno, Theodor. 1974. Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life. London: NLB; Trepanier, Lee. 2015. “Eric Voegelin’s Contribution to Political Science.” VoegelinView. (Accessed November 1, 2016).

[20] Gunnell, The Descent of Political Theory, 199-260; Gunnell, John G. 2004. “The Real Revolution in Political Science.” PS: Political Science and Politics 37: 57-50. For representative works of specific authors, refer to Easton, The Political System; Dahl, “The Behavioral Approach in Political Science; Almond, Gabriel A. 1966. “Political Theory and Political Science.” American Political Science Review 60: 869-79; Deutsch, Karl. 1968. The Analysis of International Relations. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid., 261-78; also refer to Ehrenberg, John. 1999. “History of the Caucus for a New Political Science.” New Political Science 21: 501-7; Barrow, Clyde W. 2008. “The Intellectual Origins of New Political Science.” New Political Science 30: 215-244.

[23] Ibid., 247-61; also refer to Wolin, “Political Theory as a Vocation” and Gunnell, “The Reconstruction of Political Theory.”

[24] Arrow, Kenneth. 1951. Social Choice and Individual Values. New York: Wiley; Downs, Anthony. 1957. An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York: Harper; Buchanan, James M. and Gordon Tullock. 1962. The Calculus of Consent. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press; Bates, Analytic Narratives; Riker, William H. 1993. “The Two-Party System and Duverger’s Law: An Essay on the History of Political Science” in Discipline and History: Political Science in the United States. Farr, James and Raymond Seidelman ed. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 345-62; Shepsle, Kenneth A., Torun Dewan, Keith Dowding ed. 2009. Rational Choice. London: Sage; Green, Pathologies of Rational Choice: A Critique of Applications in Political Science.

[25] Monroe, Perestroika!; Schram Making Political Science Matter; Dryzek, John S. “Revolutions without Enemies.”

[26] Hochschild, Jennifer L. 2003. “Introduction and Observations.” Perspectives on Politics 1: 1-4.

[27] In fairness, Perspectives on Politics have somewhat addressed this concern by publishing several articles where political philosophy analyzes contemporary political problems, issues, and policies.

[28] Rawls, John. 1971. A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Belknap.

[29] Wolin, “Political Theory as a Vocation.”

[30] Dallayr, Fred. 2004. “Beyond Monologue: For a Comparative Political Theory.” Perspectives on Politics 2: 249-57; March, Andrew. 2009. “What is Comparative Political Theory?” Review of Politics 71: 531-65; El Amine, Loubna. 2016. “Beyond East and West: Reorienting Political Theory Through the Prism of Modernity.” Perspectives on Politics 14: 102-20.

[31] For the definition of liberal education, I use Pieper’s and Klein’s understanding of the term. Pieper, Josef. 1999. Leisure as the Basis of Culture. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund; Klein, Jacob. 1985. “History and the Liberal Arts” in Lectures and Essays. Annapolis, MD: St. John’s College Press, 127-38; Klein, Jacob. 1985. “The Idea of Liberal Education” in Lectures and Essays. Annapolis, MD: St. John’s College Press, 157-70. For the definition of civic education, I draw from Levine, “Civic Knowledge” and MacMullen, Civics Beyond Critics.

[32] Gunnell, The Descent of Political Theory, 42-45; also refer to Gunnell, John G. 2006. “The Founding of the American Political Science Association: Discipline, Profession, Political Theory, and Politics.” American Political Science Review 100: 479-86.

[33] Ibid., 82-83.

[34] Gunnell, The Descent of Political Theory, 82-90.

[35] Ibid.; Wilson, Woodrow. 1993. “The Study of Administration” in Discipline and History: Political Science in the United States. Farr, James and Raymond Seidelman ed. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 33-48.

[36] APSA’s recent reorganization in its bylaws prompted the debate whether the association should be more politically active and publicly engaged as opposed to its traditional mission of scientific research. This debate was resolved in favor of scientific research. For more about this, refer to American Political Science Association. 2015. “Ad Hoc Committee on Governance Reform requests member feedback on new draft of APSA bylaws.” PS Now. Available at (Accessed November 5, 2016).

[37] Jaschik, Scott. August 3, 2015. “New Ways to Hinder Social Science Grants.” Insider Higher Ed. Available at (Accessed December 5, 2015); Jaschik, Scott. September 3, 2013. “What to do about Congress.” Inside Higher Ed. Available at (Accessed December 5, 2015).

[38] January 29, 2015. “Wisconsin Governor: Faculty Should Teach More Classes.” Inside Higher Ed. Available at (Accessed December 5, 2015).

[39] March 3, 2014. “25 Years of Declining State Support for Public Colleges.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. Available at (Accessed December 15, 2015); Lupia, Arthur. 2014. “What is the Value of Social Science? Challenges for Researchers and Government Funders.” PS: Political Science & Politics 47: 1-7; Brown-Dean, Khalilah. 2015. “Emphasizing the Scholar in Public Scholarship.” PS: Political Science & Politics 48: Special Issue; Trepanier, “SoTL as a Subfield for Political Science Graduate Programs”; also refer to Trepanier, Lee. 2013. “A Philosophy of Prudence and the Purpose of Higher Education Today” in The Relevance of Higher Education. Simpson, Timothy ed. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 1-23.

[40] American Political Science Association. 2015. The 2014-15 Graduate Placement Survey: Preliminary Results. Available at (Accessed December 7, 2015).

[41] Trepanier, “SoTL as a Subfield for Political Science Graduate Programs.”

[42] For these activities of APSA, refer to its website at


This is from Why the Humanities Matter: In Defense of Liberal Education. Also available is Lee Trepanier’s “Why the Humanities Matter” and Kirk Fitzpatrick’s “The Third Era of Education.” Our review of the book is available here.

Lee TrepanierLee Trepanier

Lee Trepanier

Lee Trepanier is a Professor of Political Science at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He is author and editor of several books and also is the editor of VoegelinView (2016-present) and editor of Lexington Books series Politics, Literature, and Film (2013-present).

Back To Top