What Are Intellectuals Good For?
By Daniel Bessner, University of Washington
Political scientists who specialize in international relations (IR) are undergoing a crisis. The more that global politics shapes modern life, the less their discipline resonates with nonspecialists. Decision makers, for example, rank other disciplines—history, area studies, international affairs, public policy, and economics —as more useful. Ordinary Americans, for their part, agree: as a recent report issued by the American Political Science Association averred, “The wider public does not seem to view political science as a useful resource for a better understanding of politics or as an aid to solving public problems.” This situation, encouraged and bolstered by scholars’ embrace of increasingly impenetrable
quantitative methodologies, has raised crucial questions about the very purpose of the discipline.