Methodological Pluralism and Philosophical Moderation in the Study of America’s Constitutional Politics: The Enduring Relevance of Herbert Storing

Paul Carrese, APSA 2012 Annual Meeting Paper.


It is fifty years since Herbert Storing edited Essays on the Scientific Study of Politics, a collection of analyses that criticized the behavioralist and positivist revolution in social science and particularly political science. Two preliminary observations about this book and its legacy are fairly obvious a half-century later. First, while it was among the earliest critiques of behavioralism and a narrow, putatively value-neutral scientism in political science, it has received little credit for anticipating more widely-noted critiques. These include Theodore Lowi’s call for a reformed approach in The End of Liberalism (1969) and, since 2000, the Perestroika movement and its call for methodological pluralism as against the dominance of rational choice and mathematical methods or models.  A second observation helps to explain why the latter critiques and debates were more favorably received in the discipline while so little credit has been given by political scientists to Storing and the fellow protégés of Leo Strauss who in 1962 criticized the behavioralism and scientism evident in Herbert Simon, Arthur Bentley, Harold Laswell, and various studies of voter behavior. The enduring reaction by prominent political scientists to this Straussian critique of scientism has been either denunciation or silence, with denunciation immediately embodied in the excoriating review essay by political theorists John Schaar and Sheldon Wolin in The American Political Science Review in 1963. Inter alia, Schaar and Wolin condemn the Storing collection as “fanatical,” informed by a darkly medieval Manichaeism of “stark dualisms and doctrinal zeal,” as polemical and passionate rather than philosophical, as implicitly calling for the “auto-da-fé” treatment for behavioralists, as the work of a small fanatical sect of extremists, and as marked by invective, innuendo, bald pronouncement, and tautology rather than reasoned argument. Other than that, apparently they liked the volume. It escaped Schaar and Wolin that – as Storing noted in his published reply in the ASPR — their hyperbolic, ranting condemnation evinced most of the fanatical qualities they claimed to denounce. Moreover, the review did nothing to further a serious discussion in political science of the scientistic revolution occurring in the discipline, although the reviewers in fact had admitted in the very opening of their polemic that such a revolution was a problem.

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