On Political Theory, the Humanities, and the Social Sciences
by Joshua Foa Dienstag, University of California—Los Angeles
Sometimes political theorists like to imagine that they are lonely humanists misplaced in social science departments. In fact, political theory was created as part of a political science composed of both humanistic and social-scientific elements. Rather than trying to locate political theory somewhere between the humanities and the social sciences, we should instead dismantle the boundary between the two and create a unified discipline of questioning that embraces both kinds of inquiry.
Sheldon Wolin, who did so much to give the field of political theory its modern shape, had a distinctive account of its task. Political science in the 1950s was dominated by pluralism and behavioralism and these movements, he believed, had a fissiparous effect on our view of politics. They focused on parts at the expense of the whole. The last page of the first edition of Politics and Vision leaves his readers with an exhortation in the opposite direction: “Citizenship provides … an integrative experience which brings together the multiple role activities of the contemporary person. … [therefore] Political theory must once again be viewed as that form of knowledge which deals with what is general and integrative to men, a life of common involvements.” 1 What sense can we make of this perspective today, at a time when political theory itself has become increasingly pluralistic and when its relation to political science is very different—closer in some respects, with political theorists increasingly involved with contemporary, empirical projects, yet further away in others?