Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Typical Americanist Hegemony

My pal, little Steve, posted about 10 Things Political Scientists Know, from an article on that topic.  It includes:
  • Parties matter.
  • Independents aren't as independent as one would think.
  • Elections are mostly about the economy and other basic stuff, not so much campaigns.
  • The will of the people does not exist nor are there really mandates.
While there is some generic poli sci stuff here, the only real comparative stuff is on Duverger's law: the type of electoral system largely influences the number of parties.  My big complaint--the framing of the paper as it is not about what Political Scientists know but what Americanists know.  That is, it is about what scholars of American politics "know".  Not scholars of International Relations, Political Theory or Comparative Politics (or Public Admin or Public Policy, who we often exclude from our definition of Political Science).  This is not uncommon since Americanists tend to see themselves as The Discipline with everyone else as hangers on.  Of course, it is really the reverse.  The US is just a single case in the study of comparative politics, and the US is just one country in IR, even it is the most important one due to its relative power. 

I grew up (that is, went to grad school) where the Americanists were particularly imperialistic in attitude--that their theories and approaches should and will be applied everywhere.  While their smugness made life uncomfortable at times, it was actually productive, as their tools tended to be quite handy for understanding a variety of comparative and IR questions.  I find myself know regretting not taking American Politics at UCSD as I am now applying principal-agency theory to NATO.  Ok, not regretting that much, but it could have helped.

Anyway, we could come up with a top ten list for each subfield.  Since I do IR, what are ten things that IR types know? Hmmmn.  In no special order:
  1. War is not rational except when it is.  That is, war is costly so losers should give in before they lose.  So, we need to focus on incentives to misrepresent, the difficulty of credible commitments, and whether the stakes are divisible or not.
  2. War is about territory.  Mostly about the ethnic/linguistic/identity content of such territory, but territorial disputes are at the heart of wars.
  3. There is no world government.  That is really important.  We disagree on the implications, but anarchy is key.
  4. Alliances are far more problematic than people think.  Allies are not always so helpful.
  5. Cooperation is really hard, as temptations to cheat are everywhere.  Yet it happens all the time.  Is life just one big prisoner's dilemma?  Maybe.
  6. Power matters.  Scholars disagree if power determines the national interest, but outcomes are largely shaped by power differentials.
  7. But war is not always won by the side with the biggest and mostest.  Asymmetries in power are often overwhelmed by asymmetries of interest.
  8. Democracies do not fight much with each other.  There is discrimination in IR as democracies tend to resolve their disputes amongst themselves.
  9. All politics is local--politicians' destinies are mostly determined at home.  Domestic politics matters a great deal, and the politics really does not stop at the water's edge.
  10. IR scholars are easily annoyed by Americanists.

1 comment:

Steve Greene said...

1) Americanists are Political Scientists, so it still is 10 Things Political Scientists Know.
2) I could be wrong, but this may have been in the context of a series of articles about the election.
3) You need to write a piece on your 10 points.