There is a presidential election going on in the USA. One has paid attention to what the candidates for the two political parties are saying regarding why they want to be given the opportunity to become the next United States President. Their ideas are usually shaped by what their political consultants tell them. Political scientists are missing in all these activities. Political scientists, apparently, stay in the Ivory Tower and write the history of what politicians do but do not participate in the discourse on how to govern society. This piece asks whether that is all that political scientists can do.
Is This All That Political Science Can Be?
Ozodi Thomas Osuji
At present political science is a descriptive science; it is not interpretive or prescriptive; the practitioners in the field merely describe the activities of political actors and do not inject their opinions as to how they should behave or how society ought to be governed (that would be called political idealism, normative not descriptive behavior).
So, is all there is to political science for political scientists, supposedly adult human beings, to sit around describing the behaviors of other adult human beings, even when those behaviors are patently stupid and leave it at that and not say anything regarding how they should behave lest they are seen as engaging in prescriptive recommendations hence no longer acting as impersonal scientists. If this is all political science is the question then is: how different is political science from journalism; how different are political scientists from reporters who report the activities of political actors in newspapers?
Political scientists, journalists and historians are reporters of politicians’ activities. In my opinion only impotent men, eunuchs can become political scientists for they have to accept their powerlessness to affect political life to do what they do. Those who distance themselves from expressing their opinions as to how their society should be governed are socially powerless. They are so impotent that they might as well be mere animals who have no impact on their society. They are living dead persons. No wonder they tend to be alcoholics and drug addicts and eventually die young; they are doing nothing to make a man want to live long. What are political scientists living for anyway, to document the activities of men in power? This is no real reason to live long, so they might as well die young!
Real men express opinions as to how their societies ought to be governed and sometimes go into politics and participate in governing their societies and not detach and let others decide what to do. For example, if there is slavery and discrimination against certain people you do not just write about it, you participate in politics to change the situation and make society respect all people and in doing so feel like you are doing something worthwhile hence truly alive.
Political scientists and historians cannot feel alive; they live vicariously by talking about the activities of other men; they are living dead persons.
Indeed, they are so useless that they can only interact with young students but not with adult politicians, for the later do not find their views and writings useful and do not even bother reading their books or seeking them out to listen to their views.
Political scientists have totally marginalized themselves; apparently, they did so in the foolish belief that you can make the study of politics a science. Man studying man cannot be totally objective and one might as well give the desire to be totally objective up and go do what needs to be done in one’s world.
Was Plato (Republic) Aristotle (Politics), Machiavelli (The Prince), Thomas Hobbes (Leviathan), Hobbes (Second Treaty on Government), and Jean Jacque Rousseau (Social Contract), Montesquieu (The Spirit of Laws), Madison, Hamilton and Jay (Federalist Papers), John Stuart Mill (On Representative Government)…the so-called founders of political science objective in their writings about the human polity?
Allowing the king and all the king’s men, that is, politicians to rule and make a mess of society while you detach and write about their activities is unmanly. One must man-up by wading into the political fray and do the right things by our fellow human beings.
Political scientists claim to do what they do because they are scientists of politics but not politicians. So, what exactly is science?
The scientific method is a methodological approach to phenomena that attempts to understand things as they are without injecting human wishes as to how they should be into the study(especially if our wishes are not in accord with how they are in nature).
In the physical sciences this translates into observing things, describing them as they are in fact, trying to understand them, and positing hypotheses (conjectures) as to why they are the way they are; trying to verify those hypotheses (through experiments); accepting only conjectures that can be verified and discarding others.
An idea is accepted as scientific if it has not been refuted (falsified) but the moment it is shown to not be verifiable it is discarded. Francis Bacon and Karl Popper are recognized as authorities on delineating the scientific method.
Clearly, the scientific method has enabled physical scientists to study nature as it is and device technologies to exploit its working and in the process improve human living. We are all beneficiaries of the scientific method. One is therefore not knocking the scientific method.
The real question is whether the scientific method applies to the study of human behaviors? Perhaps, up to a point we can detach from our feelings and dispassionately study ourselves. That been said can we really totally separate our preconceptions about who we are in studying us?
Sigmund Freud said that he studied people’s psychology scientifically. Did he? Was his writing not in line with his Jewish folks approach to knowledge? Could any non-Jew take Freud’s conjectures as the study of him? Freud, Alfred Adler, Otto Rank, Erich Fromm and the other Jews who initiated psychoanalysis were continuing the Jewish scholastic tradition. That is fine but the point is that they were exhibiting a methodological approach to phenomena that was in accord with their people’s particular manner of seeing reality; they were by no means being impersonal social scientists.
Watson and Skinner and other Behaviorists said that they were studying human behavior. They described how people learn and retain behaviors (via operant and classical learning). There is some truth to their views but is that all there is to people? All we are is learned, really? We do not think? Behaviorists approach to knowledge is in line with British empiricism; in line with Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, George Berkeley, David Hume, Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and John Stuart Mill etc. Of course empiricism is useful but it is hardly the only correct epistemology. Is German idealism, such as Leibnitz, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Feuerbach, Nietzsche etc. not useful approach to knowledge?
Cognitive psychology tried to rectify the excesses of behaviorism by concentrating on thinking, cognitions. People do think and sometimes their thinking can be screwed up so you show them how to think properly. But who decides what constitutes proper thinking, man or god? Albert Ellis, a famous cognitive behavior therapist, quoting Epictetus, a Roman slave stoic philosopher, said that it is not what happens out there that makes one sad, or angry or anxious etc. but how one thinks about it, how one processes it. In his therapy he tried to show people how they can overlook other peoples intended psychological attacks and not let them bother them and retain mental equanimity. Good for him. But the fact remains that if a Hitler came along and decided that he did not like Albert the Jew, arrested him and sent him to a gas chamber, Albert would be gassed to death. What happens out there, after all does affect the individual and he had better pay attention to them rather than try to be happy by ignoring environmental dangers to his life.
Neuroscience studies the behavior of neurons and how messages are sent from one neuron to another via neurotransmitters and electrical ions and then concludes that thinking is purely biological in nature. Where is the evidence for this epiphenomenalism? In surgery the individual is given anesthetics and he is knuckled out and does not know what the surgeons are doing to his body, does not feel pain or fear so his brain must be purely biological and there is nothing else to him. Really? Biology asked me to write this paper? There is no consciousness, no independent will in people?