Thursday, August 26, 2010

Drezner on Political "Science"

Take a moment to read Dan Drezner's superb National Interest piece on how we got into the finance's a useful review of four new books, but it is also a good, crisp, if brief, outline of the big picture.  Top marks for all this, but listen carefully as he tell us that
All intellectual movements start with trenchant ways of understanding the world. As these ideas gain currency, they are used to explain more and more disparate phenomena, until the explanation starts to lose its predictive power.
Emphasis added.  The first sentence is just fine, but when anyone uses the phrase "predictive power" in the same paragraph with a discussion of political or social theory, I put my hand on my wallet.  I risk nihilism here; I readily coincide that we look for "ways of understanding the world," and find ways that appear more or less  satisfying.  But "predictive power" suggests hard science and the attendant doomed efforts to turn political or social theory into a hard science.  We've always failed in that effort up to now, and the very attempt makes us less likely to accomplish any more modest and realistic goal.

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