Saturday, February 26, 2011

Stranger and Stranger

Robert Putman, one of the most prominent political scientists, has a piece in the Wall Street Journal documenting his interaction with Qaddafi.  He had the chance to have a conversation back in 2007.  This was, I guess, when Qaddafi was appearing to be more reasonable, less of a support of terrorism and all around good guy.  Ok, that is a bit much. 

Should we criticize Putnam for conversing with a dictator?  No, I think not.  Putnam was doing what all scholars do most of their lives--engaging their curiosity.  Putnam had a chance to meet one of the most, ahem, interesting politicians of the last forty years.  And he took his wife.  What a date!?  I don't think my wife would join me on such a trip, but I guess I would go as long as it didn't look too much like I was approving of the guy's rule. 

Of course, today such a meeting is anathema as the blood on Qaddafi's hands is far more visible than it was four years ago (not that he didn't have it then).  But I guess Putnam thought he might be able to convince Qaddaffi to let some voluntary associations develop.  Qaddafi didn't yet we see social mobilization and some pretty decent organization around Libya.  Perhaps Putnam was wrong twice--to think that a conversation with Qaddafi might be anything more than just a curiosity moment; and that one needs social capital in the form of voluntary organizations to foster social mobilization (of course, I am being unfair.  If I remember Putnam correctly, you don't need social capital of the kind he discusses for rebellion, just for democracy).

Anyhow, it is a well-written piece about a political scientist dancing with the devil.

1 comment:

Erin Jenne said...

I think this just goes to show that many academics are fame whores who are flattered to be noticed by important political figures, no matter how vile.