Writing in the Age of Jackson, Alexis de Tocqueville found politics was central to American society. It found its way into nearly every part of American culture whether it was religion, education or business. Tocqueville felt this infatuation with politics was endemic to democracy. Today the divide between civic and political society remains difficult to distinguish. The sermon about personal morality can easily stray into a condemnation of public policy. And yet the strength of democratic governance depends on its symbiotic relationship with civic society.
Political science is technically a subfield of sociology. It involves a small subsection of social behavior while sociology examines the entirety of social behavior. Yet the line between sociology and political science is no less clear than civic and political society. The work of sociologists becomes an examination of political systems. The great sociologists Weber and Durkheim continue to provide enormous influence on the work of political scientists today. Yet this is not simply the influence of sociology upon political science. There work deals directly with the political so much it is difficult to classify them as sociologists rather than include them among the earliest political scientists.
Moreover, there is a necessary separation between the study of politics and the actual participation within politics. The commentaries of different ideological perspectives do not influence the study of politics as a science. Rather they become primary documents within the study of different perspectives for the scientist who looks for universal principles. But political science as a discipline has never been able to completely differentiate between principles and values. There is a political dimension within the science which is difficult to escape.
I believe political science requires an interdisciplinary approach to make any sense. I have already included works from Durkheim, Aristotle and Piketty in my index. But I recognize these are not works of political science per se. Yet they help round out some of the edges which a pure study of political scientists will leave out. Nonetheless, it is necessary to recognize there is a difference in the approach of political science. The emphasis on statistical analysis reflects a desire to understand the world as it exists rather than the world as it ought to become. Of course, it has become impossible to entirely divorce idealism from political theory and analysis. Sheri Berman is an accomplished political scientist who has worked to incorporate historical context back into democratic theory. But she is also a passionate defender of the political left. She has written frequently on the political left and does not try to disguise her sympathies.
Still there is an unmistakable difference between the work of political scientists like Lipset and Huntington and political philosophers like Rawls and Nozik. The questions the political scientist examines reflects a different approach to the study of politics. Yet the development of political science as an academic discipline has given rise to gaps in historical context and philosophical breadth. There is a myopia endemic within the discipline where every new generation struggles to look beyond the experience of their own lifetimes. And their ideas are restricted to specializations within specializations. Despite the proliferation of political scientists there is a lack of the grand theories which were once the hallmark of political thought.
My list will inevitably leave off many names. I hope to correct these lapses over time. Yet it is meant to provide a starting point for those who want some direction for where to start among the vast numbers of political thinkers. It is my intention to include many recent titles because it is difficult to sort out whose works deserve greater attention. Each blog post is not intended to become a summary but rather an explanation for the work’s importance. And an explanation for its inclusion. I encourage new students to use these posts to determine the works which will help them answer questions or perhaps drive their curiosity to pursue new questions which remain unanswered. Finally, I hope to offer a guide for those who really want to study politics rather than simply the latest spin.
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