H-Diplo, the H-Net listserv for Diplomatic History, has an outstanding set of essays by prominent historians and political scientists on the subject of “Politics and Scholarship” (hat tip to Bruce Kesler and the Warlord Loop):
NOTE TO READERS: I am having some difficulty fixing the links, notably to Jervis and Cumings, due to site problems at H-Diplo so I am going with Phil’s suggestion in the comments and posting a link to the PDF VERSION here.
Commissioned for H-Diplo/ISSF by Robert Jervis, Columbia University
- Introduction by Robert Jervis, Columbia University ( Currently the link is coming up File 404 – I will add an excerpt when it is working)
- Essay by Eliot A. Cohen, Johns Hopkins SAIS
….This is a slippery slope, and as academics we should worry about it. Perhaps the most important thing we can do is to remind ourselves that our policy judgment is likely to be considerably more fallible than our scholarly expertise. Most intelligent people know this, which is why mass letters to the editor by professors protesting or advocating some policy carry so little weight. By and large, the policy world does not think of professors as being any wiser than any other class, and they are correct to do so. The ancient distinction between theoretical and prudential wisdom holds as strongly as ever. Humility is not, alas, a common academic virtue, and someone involved in the hurly burly of political discourse should try to make a clear distinction, at least in his or her own mind, about what he knows as a professor, and what he thinks as a citizen or policymaker. The most troubling area of pseudo-scholarship is likely to be that kind which nominally deals with policy in a scholarly way, but is, in fact, nothing more than a polemic masquerading as something else.
….We are told by many people – for example by Nobel scientist E. O. Wilson in his best-selling book Consilience – that the hard sciences and the social sciences are coalescing in the use of mathematical modeling, computers, game theory, and various other methods to finally get to the bottom of what makes human beings tick. I would argue the exact opposite: both the hard and soft sciences are in crisis. From my point of view the social sciences should have seen this crisis coming long ago (in fact many did – long ago, but they did not redefine the disciplines), but much more significant is the turn toward uncertainty in the hard sciences, as Newtonian mechanics, empiricism, and the scientific method show themselves incapable of comprehending the complexities of the physical world.
Q: Does being in the minority ever annoy you?A: Yes, some aspects of this minority status are annoying. For instance, it is annoying that my peers presume that I “have an ideology” whereas they do not. It is very reminiscent of African-Americans in the academy several decades ago; they were presumed to have “race” and “racially tinged views” whereas Caucasians did not. For that matter, the racial analogy suggests another curious burden: being assigned the role of token on panels. Some of my peers believe that a balanced panel on foreign policy is one that has a critique of Democrats from the left along with two shades of Democratic perspective, say center-left and center. However, most recognize that it would be better if they could find just one person, me, to offer the “whacky conservative view” – here they hope I will represent not just my own actual views but also cover, or be held responsible for, everything to the right. And this leads to my biggest gripe: feeling obligated to defend, or at least explain, the position of anyone to the right of Joe Biden, because if I don’t then no one will. Because liberals do not have a monopoly on nonsense, there is plenty of bone-headedness from conservatives and Republicans for my colleagues to highlight and go after. Often the attacks are legitimate and fair, but when they cross over into caricature and canard I am left with a tough choice: do I inject a clarification or do I let it pass?
….Instead of this kind of variation, however, what we typically see is stability both across time and across issues that are at most loosely connected. For example, during the Cold War, hawks and doves rarely changed their assessment of Soviet motives, which had decisive impacts on their policy prescriptions, with hawks favoring many variations of competitive military and political policies and doves favoring none. Proponents and opponents of ballistic missile defense have rarely changed their assessments of the feasibility of effective defense: proponents have consistently found significantly greater prospects for technically feasible defenses, which they believe would provide substantial strategic advantages; in contrast, opponents have as regularly found that the prospects for effective defenses have been poor, and worried that these missile defenses would generate strategic dangers whether or not they were effective. And Cold War hawks were more likely than doves to believe the effective missile defense were feasible, even though their hawkishness stemmed primarily from assessments of Soviet motives, not technology. Scholars’ overall assessments of the danger posed by nuclear proliferation appear to be stubbornly constant in the face of evolving circumstances and possibilities, reinforcing their established preferences for adopting more or less costly policies in response.
….The scholarly critics’ stance is predicated on a crucial, often unacknowledged, assumption (shared by my American students and their parents): that they themselves are non-ideological, personally and in their analysis of events, though they may hold personal ideological beliefs. This is even true of many self-identified orthodox Marxists, liberals, socialists, political religionists, realists, and other believers with universalist truth claims or political goals: they personally are not ideologists because what they believe is true, not some metaphysical scheme that only the foolish or the dangerous could believe.
It is my contention that this assumption of non-ideological pragmatism, or presumed normative detachment, in the critics’ point of view is not sustainable upon examination. Scholars have found that even in the natural sciences certain beliefs can be held or supported largely because they are congruent with ideological norms, e.g., in liberal societies the assumed symmetrical, random distribution of human intelligence.
Presumably Niebuhr would have seen what so many fail to see still today, that by becoming a “science,” DPT-in conjunction with democratic transition theory and liberal international jurisprudence-blinded American policy makers to many dangers they might otherwise have perceived. In this respect we might recall how the “Washington Consensus,” the package of ideas behind economic globalization that included deregulation, privatization, and openness, contributed to the blindness that allowed the economic crash of 2008 to occur. In each case, the wounds have been self-inflicted; American hubris has been our own worst enemy. How united the American economics profession seemed at the time and indeed for the most part still today, just as political science seems unwilling to recognize the damage its theorizing underwrote. Democratic Peace Theory, like the Washington Consensus, reminds us of the famous words of John Maynard Keynes:The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.