American Political Thought and the Study of Politics: Comment on McCloskey

"American Political Thought and the Study of Politics:  Comment on McCloskey." American Political Science Review 51.1 (March 1957): 130-34.


McCloskey’s essay offers a justification for and an approach to the study of American political thought. Justification is needed, as he puts it bluntly and persuasively, because American political thought is second-rate. His proposed approach to its study constitutes a solution to the problem posed by that second-rateness. That is, he offers not just one possible valuable way to consider American political thought but, rather, the way which justifies the study.

The justification for studying second-rate thought, he tells us, cannot be the same as that for first-rate political thought. To use his example, the study of Plato can be defended on the ground that it is somehow “intrinsically self-warranting.” He distinguishes another major justification for the study of first-rate thought, namely, its relevance to the understanding of politics, that is, presumably, to the understanding of politics regardless of time or place. But the study of American political thought, because it is second-rate, cannot be justified on the first ground; the student of American political thought “must stand on the leg of relevance if he is to stand at all.”