- Our Enemies and US: America’s Rivalries and the Making of Political Science
The blurb on the jacket of this book begins: "Ido Oren challenges American political science's definition of itself as an objective science." No kidding! Who any longer believes it is "objective"? Even the most positivist members of our profession recognize the limits to their objectivity. Even the most post-positivist members insist that their perceptions are not totally subjective. What Oren actually does is show that many political scientists' perceptions of other countries reflect their own societies' dominant perceptions of those countries and that the perceptions shift from positive to negative in response to changes in their governments' relations with those countries. He does so by examining the writings and careers of some influential political scientists of the past century and especially by documenting instances when they were especially close—socially and intellectually—to the establishment. He capably shows how their views of Germany and the Soviet Union often flowed with the political tides. Yet in showing the existence of scholars who follow the leader of the state, he uses evidence haphazardly and selectively. He fails to articulate—let alone apply—careful criteria either for calibrating those shifts or for answering the "so what" question. More generally, he falls into the trap of regarding scientific objectivity as requiring totally detached observation.
The problematic nature of his analysis can be illustrated with some examples from my own university, to which Oren devotes much attention. He exhumes from Harold Lasswell's private correspondence some very offensive anti-Semitic statements, which he attributes to wider anti-Semitic prejudices "latent in the milieu from which American political science drew its talent in the 1920s." He then speculates that those prejudices "may have played a significant role in permitting the expression of forgiving sentiments toward Germany" (p.50). Very possibly so. Yet Oren's subsequent analysis, though extensive, never shows how Lasswell's own lamentable sentiments about Jews made him sympathetic to Nazi Germany. Rather, Oren documents Lasswell's substantial role in propaganda analysis in support of the war against Germany. Evidence for Oren's subsequent portrayal of Lasswell as a servant to the state during the Cold War is largely confined to Lasswell's consulting work for the Rand Corporation. Oren claims that Lasswell "envisioned America as a state in which the demos would be guided toward progressive 'democratic' ends by an enlightened elite of social planners, counseled by social scientists" (p.174), but he never mentions what is probably Lasswell's most enduring legacy—namely, his alarum against turning the United States into a "garrison state."
Oren apparently believes that political scientists cannot be reasonably objective unless they avoid any association whatsoever with the state. Chapter 4 is devoted to "documenting [political scientists'] involvement in Cold War politics (p.126). He [End Page 147] certainly includes some juicy bits here, but much of it is pretty tame stuff. Oren's concept of the requirements of objectivity emerges as follows (pp.129-130):
How compatible was the vision of the discipline as a science of politics with the reality of Yale political scientists' actual involvement in politics? If we discover that a medical researcher became intimate with his patients, we tend to regard his claims to knowledge with suspicion. Should we not, by the same token, suspect claims about urban politics in Connecticut if the knower [Robert Dahl] was himself involved, however marginally, in such politics? Should we not suspect knowledge claims about the Soviet Union ifthe knower [Frederick Barghoorn] served for five years in the American embassy in Moscow?
Surely Dahl's and Barghoorn's analyses were challengeable, but neither made any secret of his participant-observation methods. In an era in which first-hand information on the Soviet Union was extremely sparse, Barghoorn was notable for his efforts to get out of the embassy and talk as directly as possible with Soviet citizens.
Oren also addresses my work, again illustrating his notion of objectivity and its limits. From my on...