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Science, Democracy, and the American University: From the Civil War to the Cold War. Andrew Jewett. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. xii + 402 pp. $32.99 paper.

Intellectual historian Andrew Jewett sets an enormous task for himself: to trace the history and context of science and values relations over the course of some hundred-odd years of U.S. history. He does this to further an argument that science was once explicitly connected to the study of human values, and that the story that explains how science became value neutral is a contingent one. It could have happened differently, he argues, and it should have. Furthermore, because that history is contingent, we are free to still change our academic habits and to allow the social sciences to be sciences alongside the natural and physical sciences.

The reason this would be worth doing, according to Jewett, is that human sciences could then return to the role of serving as doctors for a democracy, applying sound political and social knowledge to descriptions of healthy democratic social life and offering diagnoses and cures for its ailments when they arise. [End Page 194] “Science,” Jewett explains, “embodied and inculcated a set of personal virtues, skills, beliefs, and values that could ground a modern, democratic public culture” (2).

More than the products and goals of scientific endeavor, Jewett points to the community of scientists and its processes and practices, though he often does not make the distinction clear. There should be a distinction made between the goals of science—universal consensual knowledge—decidedly not pluralist and probably incompatible with participatory democracy, on the one hand, and the social practices of scientists on the other. What these scientists valued: willingness to engage competing views, openness to hearing counterevidence for their claims, and excellence in mutual persuasion using evidence and reason; these were all necessary for a virtuous democratic citizenry. John Dewey, his exemplar par excellence, was what he terms a “scientific democrat,” as were many others involved in social studies during the period between WWI and WWII. The sciences inherited from liberal Protestantism not its natural theology, but rather its ethics. The story he tells is of the emergence and decline of scientific democrats from the end of the Civil War to the end of the Cold War.

This story is 374 pages long, and frankly, a tough read when one is proceeding with criticism in mind. Jewett’s writing style is full of broad claims about what abstract entities thought when. The footnote style is not a lot of help when trying to verify his claims; the problem is too much, not too little information in them. Most of the citations read as miniature annotated bibliographies.

Difficulties aside, Jewett’s claims are a worthy plea for scholars to attend to the particulars of democratic culture in the U.S. in light of the political malaise of the country. Jewett longs for the days when Dewey, Croly, Parks, Ely, Mead, Tufts, and Veblen wrote as full-blooded social scientists, aimed at furthering American democracy in sickness and in health. Frankly, so do I. His story is about the rise and fall of “scientific democrats” who believed “that science found its highest purpose in changing the normative commitments of the American people” (8).

What happened, according to Jewett, was a move away from a spiritualized understanding of democracy to a naturalized version of the same, which was then vulnerable during the World Wars to the forces of professionalization in the academy and the economic interests of the military. Instead of educating children for democratic citizenship and showing the general public the social consequences of their actions undertaken in the name of self-interest, social scientists lost their rapport with an American public and ceased being public intellectuals. They also abandoned their role of instructing government how to match up public values with public policy, becoming instead beholden to their funding sources and vulnerable to new notions of science as a value-free [End Page 195] enterprise that left precious little intellectual space between the humanities and the physical sciences for scholars of human relationships to function.

What Jewett says has merit, but at...


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