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What is Political Science?

Updated on November 4, 2021

Political Science is the systematic analysis of government, its processes, forms of organization, institutions, and purposes. It is the oldest social science and has many points of contact with history, law, economics, and philosophy. In its birthplace, ancient Greece, political science began as a discipline operating with essentially philosophical concepts and methods of analysis, inquiring primarily into problems of value like justice, and examining how the state ought to be organized for the attainment ot the good life. In more modern times, the historical approach to the study of politics has yielded significant results. In continental Europe and Latin America, the juridical method in political science has been the predominant, although by no means the exclusive, one. With that method, notable contributions have been made to public, constitutional, and administrative law, whereas the actual operation of political institutions has received relatively less attention. In the English-speaking countries, on the other hand, and also in China and India, political science has been concerned with the realistic examination of political processes and institutions rather than with legal problems or formal structures of government.

More recently, attempts have been made to apply psychological methods and concepts to determining the motivations behind individual and social behavior in politics. Quantitative and statistical methods have been employed, with varying degrees of success, to public-opinion polls, election studies, and population problems. Sociological and anthropological research has also been utilized to broaden the scope of political science. No method can claim exclusive validity. The nature of the subject matter to be examined determines which method or methods will be most fruitful.

While the Greeks only partly succeeded, particularly in Athens, in building a political system based on consent (apart from slaves who were considered incapable of active citizenship), their speculative genius was the first in human history to apply systematic reasoning and critical inquiry to political ideas and institutions. The Greeks were not the first to think about the problem of a well-ordered society. But pre-Greek political thought had been a mixture of legend, myth, theology, and allegory, with an element of independent reasoning as a means to a higher end, usually to be found in the tenets of a nonrational or supernatural system, such as religion. The contribution of Jewish civilization to the political heritage of the world has been immense: the idea of the brotherhood of man, of "one world," is deeply rooted in the Jewish conception of monotheism as transmitted through the Bible. By contrast, polytheism made it difficult for the Greeks to see the basic oneness of mankind, and their religious pluralism contributed to their continued disunity among themselves. From a social viewpoint, the Bible was opposed to slavery on principle (a unique phenomenon in antiquity), established the revolutionary institution of a  weekly day of rest (still unknown in some parts of the earth), and contains a mass of protective rules in favor of workers, debtors, women and children. The concept of the "covenant" (first appearing in the agreement between God and Abraham) is a recurrent theme of the Bible, whenever momentous decisions are to be made, and becomes an inspiration again centuries later when the Puritans attempt to build a new religious and civil society, or, later still, when President Wilson, a profoundly believing Presbyterian, names the constitution of the League of Nations a "Covenant." Imperishable as these Jewish contributions to Western civilization have been, and as much as the political conceptions of the modern world go back to the Bible, they were never, nor were they meant to be, political science. They were political and social ethics rather than science, and as such constitute one of the three main sources which have gone into the making of the Western world and given it its distinctive character, the other two being the Christian principle of love and the Greek principle of rationalism.

The first work that deserves to be called "political science" is Plato's Republic, and after twenty-three hundred years it is still matchless as an introduction into the basic issues that confront human beings in their capacity as members of society and as citizens. No writer on politics after Plato has equaled him in that fascinating combination of penetrating and dialectical reasoning with poetic imagery which suffuses every page of the Republic. One of the main, and revolutionary, assumptions of the Republic is unstated: that the right kind of government and politics can be the legitimate object of systematic and rigorously scientific thinking, rather than the product of muddling through fear, faith, or other modes of irrational behavior. This Platonic assumption of the applicability of reason to social relations is still as hotly disputed in the 20th century as in Plato's own time and is one of the basic factors in determining one's whole political outlook. To the extent that we believe in the possibility of applying reason and critical inquiry to the solution of political and social issues we are all Plato's spiritual heirs, although we may heartily disagree with any or all of his specific teachings. By seeking to disprove Plato on a point of political doctrine or institution, the anti-Platonist has already conceded to Plato the most important single point: that political and social issues are decided by the process of reasoning rather than by concentration camps and gas chambers. Socrates, the chief figure of the Republic, was called "the first Social Democrat" by Alfred Rosenberg, the official Nazi custodian of philosophy and religion. What Rosenberg hated above all in Socrates, Plato's teacher, was the irritating habit of endlessly searching, through argument, for the reasons that lay behind any social idea or institution. Although lesser Nazis and Fascists usurped Plato as their first intellectual ancestor because of much in the Republic that is un- or antidemocratic, Rosenberg saw more deeply when he expressed his contempt and hatred_ for Socratic rationalism with the same intensity with which he attacked Judaism and Christianity, the other two roots of the Western tradition.

In one respect, modern political science would gain in human insight and understanding if it followed Plato more closely: Plato never started with the hypothesis of a homo politicus, an abstract "political man" unrelated to the richness and complexity of individual selves or of society as a whole. Plato's psychology may seem naïve in its analogies as in its presumed facts, but what is of timeless significance in his approach to political problems is his conviction that no theory, of politics can be sound unless based on the study of man. Modern psychology has taught us enough about neurotic individuals to know that a healthy society cannot be composed of men and women who are haunted by fear and insecurity.

Plato's political thought also introduced, for the first time, the concept of the "public" as distinct from the "private." As a Greek, Plato was never as sharply aware of that contrast as the modern world has been in the last three or four hundred years, yet there is no doubt that the first conscious experience, and theoretical analysis, of the res publica, the "common thing," occurred in Greece. Before then, the only major dichotomy known to man consciously or unconsciously, was that between the "sacred" and the "profane." The evolution of that contrast into that of "public" and "private" is a part of Western secularism which goes back directly to Greek political life and thought. Medieval feudalism abandoned the distinction between private and public relations in political and economic institutions, which was only revived with the growth of constitutional government in the modern age. In Fascist and Nazi regimes, rulers tend again to mingle inextricably the domains of'the public and private, "borrowing" castles and picture galleries belonging to the state, "acquiring" vast industrial empires for their brothers and nephews, and building up private, and often personal, militias and armed forces competing with those of the state. The growth of corruption in Fascist and Nazi regimes is the price paid for the dissolution of the clear-cut distinction between the public and private domains.

One of the hallmarks of genius is that it can fructify each generation anew. Plato's concept of a high administrative and political class dedicated to public service without consideration to personal gain or financial advantages exercised little appeal when society was assumed to be an automatic and self-regulating piece of machinery. As long as political philosophy could be summarized in the maxim of "the less government the better," Plato's conception of government as the highest task to which men of knowledge and virtue ought to devote themselves seemed out of date. The force of circumstances produced by wars and depressions has inevitably enlarged, in recent times, the scope and function of government, and in Plato we rediscover the ideal of public service as being second to none. Democrats must reject Plato's own solution of that problem, the rule of those who know over the rest of the citizens independently of their consent, but will have to grasp, if democracy is to survive in a tough and dangerous world of competing skills, that there is no substitute for high-minded and efficient government. We also increasingly practice Plato's teaching that the road to government and public service is through education. Plato believed that the selection of rulers, too,  could best be made through prolonged training. Democrats reject such a scheme and insist that political rulers must be selected through popular voting. This democratic theory is supremely valid as long as the people have enough judgment and discrimination to elect the best to public office. Where the people freely choose to put knaves and fools into public office, the democratic theory of selecting rulers is quickly swept away by demagogues and dictators. While democracy will continue to reject Plato's scheme of training political rulers, it increasingly adopts his ideas on the possibility of training administrators and civil servants. In that area of public life we are more and more abandoning the older doctrine that the spoils system combined with the freshness of ignorance will produce honest or efficient government.

Plato's strength and weakness lay in his gift of confronting social reality with what ought to be. If that is Utopian, then every critic and reformer is a Utopian. Still, it cannot be denied that Plato often over-stepped the bounds, not only of what does happen, but also of what is likely to happen or reasonably ought to happen. Plato found the corrective to his thinking in his own student, Aristotle. All social and political speculation emphasizes either the present and past, or the future. In the first case, it generally ends up by not only understanding political reality, but also accepting it on the ground, as Hegel put it, that what is rational is actual, and what is actual is rational. In the second case, the political writer is more attracted by what is possible in the future rather than by what has actually happened in the past. Greek political genius was so rich as to encompass both principal orientations, as well as a number of varieties and transitions between those two modes of political thinking, which rarely appear in pure and extreme form. By studying virtually all then known constitutions and political systems Aristotle laid the foundations of an important branch of political science, comparative government. The study of comparative political institutions is of interest not only to the observer of the political scene, but also, as Aristotle suggested, to the statesman who must know, in addition to what is best in the abstract, "that which is relatively best to circumstances" (Politics). By relating forms of political organization to the social milieu which conditions them, Aristotle may be said to have anticipated some of the main doctrines of Montesquieu and, more recently still, the contemporary sociological approach to the study of politics. Aristotle saw the danger of any principle singly and exclusively dominating the constitution and therefore advocated, for reasons of stability and practicability, mixed constitutions. However, he realized that a mixed political system could exist in the long run only if backed by a stable society without extremes of wealth and poverty. While many people in the 20th century still find the cause of revolution in conspiracies of evil men and its remedy in their repression by means of the secret police, anti-revolutionary legislation, or intimidation through investigatory committees, Aristotle stated in his Politics that "poverty is the parent of revolution and crime." Because Aristotle realized that political stability depends on an equitable social and economic order, he was opposed to selfish class rule by either the plutocracy or the prop-ertyless proletariat. A political system in which the middle classes had preponderant influence seemed to him the best governed and the most stable, because he could see no political stability without the solid foundations of social and economic balance and equilibrium.

Unlike Plato who searched for perfect justice, Aristotle realized that the basic issue was that between the rule of law and the rule of men. Conceding that man-made law could never attain perfect justice, Aristotle nevertheless stressed that "the rule of the law is preferable to that of any individual." While human law could not be perfectly just, it could at least be the lesser evil, as contrasted with the arbitrariness and passion of the system in which men, rather than the law, ruled supreme. The Aristotelian idea of the rule of law later became the dominant idea of the Middle Ages in which political relations were very largely based on law and custom. In modern times, the doctrine of the rule of law has become one of the supporting pillars of the American constitutional edifice, and is considered by many as the essence of constitutional government anywhere.

In one vital point both Plato and Aristotle failed: neither of them clearly perceived that the division of Greece into independent, sovereign city-states would finally lead to its end. Both took the city-state of their age as much for granted as most 20th century political philosophers take the national state to be the ultima ratio of political wisdom. When the Greeks were singly subjugated, first by Alexander and later by Rome, having failed to unite in time, the teachings of Plato and Aristotle, the products of the Greek city-state that had deemed itself superior to the outside "barbarians," seemed inadequate for the new age of empires. The worldwide economic, social and political institutions of the Hellenistic and the Roman periods were reflected in the political ideas of Stoicism. Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, was a Hellenized Phoenician from Cyprus; Epictetus, another important figure in the Stoic school, was a Greek, originally a slave, living in Rome and Greece; at the other end of the social scale stands Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor and a leading exponent of Stoic doctrines—one of the most remarkable rulers in history and one of the rare approximations to Plato's ideal of the philosopher-king. Although the Stoics were by no means united on every point of doctrine, they shared some basic beliefs. First, and most important as a creative contribution to the Western heritage, they thought in large terms. Where Plato and Aristotle stopped at the boundaries of the small city-state, the Stoics thought of mankind, of the whole world rather than of cities or states. The most human quality of man was his faculty to reason—and that was shared by all mankind. The laws of reason prevail independently of, and are above, legal and political rules which owe their validity to convenience and expediency rather than to inherent truth. Stressing what unites human beings rather than what separates them, the Stoics not only attacked the narrow views of nationalism and .chauvinism, but also pleaded for greater equality in behalf of slaves and free women—both revolutionary doctrines at the time, and far from complete realization even at present. Once the Stoics clearly understood the unity of mankind, differences based on sex, social status or political constitutions seemed relatively insignificant. The unity of man was in itself part of a larger world, order held together by the law of nature, a law whose validity rested on its intrinsic rationality rather than on the fiats of kings and emperors. The Stoic concept of natural law found its practical application not only in the Roman philosophical idea of ius naturale (natural law), but also in the Roman system of ills gentium (law of nations), thus laying the foundations of international law. When St. Paul stated that for him there was "neither Greek nor Jew . . . Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free," he expressed the essence of Stoicism. By proclaiming its unbounded faith in reason, by establishing liberty, equality and fraternity for all, by abolishing distinctions of class and religion, the makers of the French Revolution translated Stoic doctrines into political reality. Finally, the Stoic idea of a "law above the law" became the fundamental principle of the American constitutional system, jealously guarded by the judiciary and profoundly revered by the American people who have been unwilling to accept the positivist view that laws made by fallible men, often exposed to the temptations of passion and interest, are binding under all circumstances. Every revolution appeals to natural law for justification. Every country, therefore, which has experienced revolutions, has incorporated some part of the law of nature into its heritage. Unlike most other countries, the United States does not remember its major revolution as one of its many historical phases, but owes it its very existence. As a result the tradition of natural law thinking in the United States is particularly strong.

Because Roman political thought was not expressed in systematic treatises, it has been wrongly assumed by many not to have existed at all. Law and administration were the two great contributions of Rome to the theory and practice of government and politics, and it is therefore in legal sources that the most significant reflection of Roman political ideas and principles will be found. The Oxford Legacy series has a chapter on "Political Thought" in the volume on The Legacy of Greece; the volume on The Legacy of Rome, on the other hand, has no chapter on political thought, but has, instead, two chapters dealing with "Administration" and "The Science of Law" respectively. This is perhaps not quite as unique as it appears at first sight. If one were to look for the most lasting expressions of American political thought in the first five decades of the 20th century, say, one would probably do better examining the judicial opinions of jurists like Holmes, Hughes, Sutherland, Brandeis and Cardozo, than peruse formal statements of professional political thinkers. The legal system of Rome spread over a goodly portion of the globe, and its existence to this day as the predominant system on the European Continent, in Latin America and other parts of the world, is proof of a vitality which is nourished by sources more spiritual than could be supplied by mere armed conquest. The flexibility of Roman law, its capacity to adjust itself to changing social and economic conditions, its ability to grow from the law of a city into a world empire, its willingness to admit the stranger different in speech and religion from the Roman into the worldwide community in which the Pax Romano reigned supreme—all that could hardly be the result of "muddling through" and was, in fact, the reflection of political concepts of the highest order. Rome willingly accepted the uni-versalistic heritage of Hellenic civilization and passed it on to the Western world through institutions rather than through ideas. The marriage between Greek speculative and Roman institutional genius has brought forth much that has become imperishable in the political inheritance of the world.

Just as it is difficult to penetrate into the essence of Roman political thought without some knowledge of law, so it is by no means easy to grasp medieval political ideas without some familiarity with theology, the master science of the Middle Ages. The decline of the scientific study of politics in the Middle Ages was one of the many symptoms of the general relapse of serious scientific work of any kind in a period of history in which faith, and often fanaticism, predominated. The mark of the scientific temper is the unwillingness to accept truth on the basis of authority, combined with the eager insistence on checking and rechecking any hypothesis and proposition on the basis of firsthand experience. Medieval political speculation is easily distinguishable from ancient and modem political thought, because the medieval political writer is more anxious to attack or defend an a priori position (such as the supremacy of the pope or that of the emperor) rather than pursue an argument to its logical conclusion regardless of its practical consequences. Also, the medieval political writer proves his arguments preferably by citing authoritative statements from Aristotle (the most widely quoted author during the Middle Ages), the Bible, the Church Fathers, and, less often, ancient Roman and Greek poets and chroniclers. Despite these limitations, medieval political doctrine has contributed to Western civilization values and concepts which have proved to be vital to the survival of liberty. First, medieval political thought, inspired by Christianity, created the concept of an individual which was at once more complex and more spiritual than the Greek or Roman concepts. The Greek city-state had been a state and a church, and even when Rome grew into a world empire it never managed to rid itself of the same idea. By demanding of man to "render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's" Christianity introduced a moral revolution. This doctrine meant that there was a sphere of conscience in each man which was exempt from the claims of political authority. Christianity thus endowed man with more moral responsibility toward himself and toward God than he had possessed before, and in his resistance to tyranny the citizen could henceforth draw on a new kind of human dignity, a new appreciation of spiritual selfhood which was unknown to the pagans of antiquity to whom the city was at once a family writ large, church, state, and community in which they could completely immerse themselves. Similarly, the conception of the state was bound to change in the Middle Ages under Christian inspiration. Whereas the inhabitant of the Greek or Roman city-state naively accepted the existence of the state, virtually identifying state and morality, medieval political thought challenged that assumed identity. Without justice, as St. Augustine put it, "kingdoms are but great robberies." The purely legal and formal claim for obedience which the state is only too wont to make, in any period of history, was rejected by medieval writers on politics, who insisted that the state must justify its demand to be obeyed by ethical considerations which are superior to positive, man-made law. This revival of natural law is found in Thomas Aquinas, the most systematic and authoritative Christian philosopher of the Middle Ages, its leading protagonist.

Modern political science starts with Machiavelli, because he was the first modern student of politics who completely broke with the medieval tradition of treating politics and ethics as being inseparably linked together. In The Prince, Machiavelli set out to describe and analyze, not how rulers ought to act, but how they do act in the everyday practice of statecraft and diplomacy. Machiavelli does not advocate, as the popular legend which has turned him into the bete noire of political philosophy has it, immoral political conduct for its own sake, nor does he claim that immoral princely behavior is preferable to a moral one. Machiavelli merely asserted that politics and morality are two different spheres of human activity which are governed by different standards and laws. Public conduct, according to this Machiavellian conception, is most truly political when adhering to the principles of politics; whether such conduct is also in harmony with morality is of secondary importance. By the same logic, Machiavelli would also be willing to concede to the moralist to be guided solely by the tenets of morality regardless of whether they were at the same time also in accord with political expediency or interest. By thus separating politics from ethics, without any sense of guilt or apology, Machiavelli undoubtedly contributed to the development of a science of politics, empirically oriented and conscious of the difference of the "is" and the "ought," but he also helped to establish a tradition in politics which not only accepted immoral public conduct as a fact of social reality, but finally put guile, craftiness and force above trust, confidence and consent in dealings between states. Machiavelli himself never went as far as many of his followers, but, like every teacher, he bears some responsibility for the way in which his disciples have turned out.

The rise of the national state in Western Europe is best reflected in the works of the French lawyer Jean Bodin, and of Thomas Hpbbes, one of the founders of English political science. Bodin's Six Books on the State contain the first formulation of the theory of sovereignty in history. The modern national state in France and England was born in anguish, travail, strife, and civil war. In size and function, the national state represented a new, and larger principle of unity, as compared with the older historic forces, such as the communes, the nobility, the church, which disputed the supremacy of the state. Bodin defined sovereignty as the "supreme power over citizens and subjects, unrestrained by laws." While Bodin recognized the need for a strong, effective, unified state power which no factional element of the people—geographical, economic, religious or social—could challenge, he was no nihilist or worshiper of statism, and repeatedly stressed the point that rulers, too, were bound by divine and natural law. It is a weakness in Bodin's analysis of political obligation that he fails to examine the implications of a situation, all too common in history, in which the sovereign ruler violates divine or natural law. In the 16th century, when Bodin developed the concept of sovereignty, the state as the focus of political thinking represented progress, if an end was to be put to a condition of periodic warfare and civil strife within nations which had raged until that time. The birth of the national state and the emergence of the concept of sovereignty did not take place in a timeless vacuum claiming abstract timeless validity, but were concrete responses to specific historical circumstances, such as an expanding economy for which feudal political organization was totally inadequate, the need for public safety, highways, legal uniformity, the dangers of competing rivalries between nobility, communes, the church—in relation to all those disruptive forces the national state with its claim to sovereignty represented a more advanced principle of political organization. What some later bitter-end adherents of the doctrine of sovereignty often forget is that Bodin's political ideas were part of the autobiography of the 16th, and not of the 20th century.

Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan, published in the early part of Cromwell's stern rule, is the product of a mind searching for a theory of the state that could guarantee peace and security for its members. Living in an age of religious fanaticism and civil war, Hpbbes assumed a state of nature in which man lived in constant fear and strife. By joint compact they set up a sovereign government and surrender to it their freedoms- except the right of self-defense, because security was the end of the social contract. The sovereign power in the Hobbesian state is "incommunicable and inseparable." Hobbes attacked any institution that could weaken the omnipotence of the state, such as the division of power, the principle of mixed government, liberty of the subject, or the right of the individual to challenge the wisdom or legality of the sovereign's actions. Hobbes has remained a rather lonely figure in the development of Anglo-American political science. The conservatives who believed in legitimate monarchy abhorred the fact that Hobbes was little interested in the divine right of monarchs and was solely concerned with the pragmatic issue of effective government, regardless of the source of authority. Conservatives of strong religious convictions charged Hobbes with atheism, because he subordinated the churches, like other associations, to the sovereign state. Finally, Hobbes has consistently encountered opposition among the advocates of parliamentary government and limited governmental authority. Yet Hobbes must be protected against the attempt to claim him as one of the intellectual ancestors of Fascism or Nazism. While no democrat, Hobbes was no totalitarian, but authoritarian in his political outlook, tempered by reasonableness and moderation, abhorring fanaticism, and preferring the bourgeois style of "commodious living" to the Nazi-Fascist doctrine of "living dangerously."

No writer has influenced modern political ideas and institutions as much as John Locke, particularly in the English-speaking world. His Two Treatises of Government, published in 1690, shortly after the Revolution of 1688-1689, is still the most incisive and authoritative discussion of political liberalism and constitutional government. Like Hobbes, Locke starts from the conception of a state of nature. Very much unlike Hobbes, Locke assumes that in the state of nature, too, men are living according to reason and law. What makes, however, such a mode of living inconvenient and ultimately unbearable is the fact that, in the state of nature, everybody is judge in his own case whenever he believes his rights to be invaded by someone else. The purpose of setting up a civil government through a social contract is to attain the advantages of impartiality and justice implied in third-party judicial settlements, and of security and calculability flowing from general laws passed by a legislature representing the will of the electorate. Locke thus attributed to men a high degree of goodwill and reasonable decency in their dealings with each other, who would normally not need the compulsory machinery of the state. The purpose of the state is not to produce the good life or mold good men, but to protect those who spontaneously act with reason and decency against those who do not. Since the purpose of the social contract is to defend liberties existing prior to the establishment of civil government, there can be no legitimate government without consent of the governed, men being, as Locke put it, "by nature all free, equal and independent." According to the Lockian doctrine of political obligation, those who rebel and exterminate a tyrant, not only do not violate the law by doing so, but act in its defense, because absolute government is "no form of civil government at all." Thus an English political philosopher supplied the American revolutionaries a century later with the most powerful argument for American independence based on government by consent. After the American Revolution had triumphed, the task of making a new constitution challenged the best minds of the nation. The Federalist, written by Hamilton, Madison and Jay, is still the foundation of American political thought, and constitutes a notable contribution to the universal body of political science.

Although a friend of the cause of American liberties, Edmund Burke vehemently opposed the ideals and practices of the French Revolution. His Reflections on the Revolution in France is probably the most forceful statement of the conservative creed ever written. Burke denied the pivotal tenet of democracy: that only the governed have the right to determine who is to govern, and, secondly, that all votes are politically equal. He opposed this democratic method as an "arithmetic" devoid of practical meaning and thought of representation in terms of historic interests, such as the Lords, the Commons, the Monarchy, the Established Church, rather than in terms of the individual. "Prescription" and "inheritance" are two key words that appear often in Burke's writings. Despite such limitations of outlook, Burke has remained unsurpassed in his understanding of the complex nature of man and society. His fear of revolution did not stem from a desire to prevent change under any circumstances, but from the realization that the price of revolution is often higher than the evil which it seeks to remedy by force.

If freedom be deemed the central concern of political speculation, John Stuart Mill's On Liberty (1859) is the most important contribution to political science in the 19th century. Democracies are not immune from the danger of witch-hunting and oppressing freedom of opinion. This is why Mill's warning is always timely that no society is "completely free" in which "absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment on all subjects, practical or speculative, scientific, moral or theological" does not exist "absolute and unqualified." Since some democrats believe that, while absolute rulers have no right to persecute minorities, majorities may do so, Mill reminds us, and history is full of evidence for that reminder, that "ages are no more infallible than individuals," and that, "if all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."

Lack of perspective to one's own age makes it difficult to predict what of 20th century literature will enter into the body of classical political science. In the United States, the judicial opinions of Mr. Justice Holmes, especially his dissenting opinions, are likely to retain their appeal to future generations as long as civilized skepticism, brilliant wit, and the acceptance of life as an experiment rather than dogma will be appreciated. In Britain, Harold J. Laski's A Grammar of Politics (1925) stands out as the most impressive systematic statement of political science achieved in this century. It is written in the tradition of humanist liberalism, but does not politely skirt the burning social and economic issues of the 20th century. Laski rejects the view of two outstanding liberals of the 19th century, de Tocqueville and Lord Acton, that liberty and equality are "antithetic," and ascribes their "drastic conclusion" to the mistaken conception of equality as "identity of treatment." Absence of special privileges and adequate opportunities open to all are the two primary conditions of equality. In the context of modern civilization, Laski argues, social and economic inequality is the most serious obstacle to freedom: "There are men in every community whose power is built upon not what they are or do, but upon the possessions they embody." Unlike most political philosophers, Laski also examines the international aspects of the concepts of liberty and equality. He rejects the view that a stable international order can be built upon purely legal foundations, and strongly advocates the development of international social and economic institutions on a functional basis. The reality of democratic socialism in Scandinavia, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand has given weight to Laski's thesis that political liberty flourishes best where it is supplemented by social and economic equality, because only then can the "life of spiritual enrichment," undaunted by fear and want, be realized.


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