26 September 2012

I'm Happy To Bash Woodrow Wilson

America's worst postbellum president.
From Will Riker, Liberalism against populism:

"In a sense, political science and political events have passed the adherents of 'responsible parties' by. It may seem foolish to waste time now on their mistake of expecting a clear binary choice. Still, we can understand their mistake a little better today. It is not simply an empirical matter--as Dahl, for example, argued--that the American (or any other) system does not work in the neat way the Wilsonians wanted. More important is the fact that what they wanted was itself morally wrong from a liberal democratic view, because to get binary choice one must enforce some method of reducing options. This is precisely the coercion involved in populist liberty. The populist expectation of a coherent program is not attainable by weaving together individual judgments, either for a small group or for a large nation. To attribute human coherence to any group is an anthropomorphic delusion. Worse, however, the populists expected to calcify politics on their own issues, progressivism or the New Deal. That is fundamentally unfair. Winning politicians are, of course, happy to stick with the issues on which they are winning. Losing politicians are not so entranced with that future. The losers of the last election become the winners of the next by changing issues, revealing new dimensions of choice, and uncovering covert values in the electorate."

Will Riker was not only a damn fine first officer, he was a damn fine political scientist. And passages such as this one should both refute the quantoid delusion that our work is value-free and the normativist's delusion that he may be uninformed about the work his formalist colleagues engage in.

1 comment:

  1. I have a feeling that if I knew the surrounding context for this quote I might not agree with (all of) it. In fact I'm pretty sure I wouldn't.