Who are the Elder Gods of Political Science?

Eric’s list of the Elder Gods of Economics got me thinking about a similar list of Political Scientists. Given that I study Political Science, I should probably have an opinion on this. It’s much harder to come up with a list of truly great Political Scientists. Frankly, there just hasn’t been the same calibre of thought that there has in Economics. It’s a younger discipline, I guess, and many contributions to the field have been made by Economists, Sociologists, and Psychologists. I have very little knowledge of or interest in International Relations, so haven’t considered IR scholars (though this looks like a decent enough list to me). These are the only political scientists (in no particular order) I think have anything close to the intellectual firepower of the Economists on Eric’s list:

Murray Edelman

Robert A. Dahl.

Karl Deutsch

Seymour Martin Lipset

Robert Axelrod

Philip Converse

This list reflects my particular preferences and biases, and I’m not meaning to list the most influential Political Scientists. These are, in my opinion, the most smartifying. Have I unfairly left anyone off? I find it much easier to think of great Sociologists and Political Theorists/Philosophers. Perhaps I’ll try list of them sometime.

7 Responses

  1. What about Peter C. Ordeshook and William H. Riker?

    • I’m not sure either should be Elder Gods. Both did a lot of great work on hammering out the details of positive political science, but I’m not sure either were as genuinely great thinkers as those I’ve listed. A lot of the stuff they did was all there in Downs (1957). I’d exclude them as Elder Gods on grounds similar to those on which Eric excluded Mancur Olson from the Econ Pantheon. I haven’t read much of either, so I may be underestimating their value.

      Game Theory is clearly important, but it seems to me Ordeshook mainly just put in some hard methodological work rather than having any deep insights. I may have a bias against those whose contributions are mainly methodological. As an aside, I think Game Theory has done much more harm than good in International Relations. Treating a country like a rational actor is normally just daft.

      Downs would be there if he weren’t an Economist. I was tempted to put him in anyway, since he’s a Professor of Public Policy.

  2. So I’m guessing Duncan Black is out of contention as well?

  3. I’d say so. If we’re including Economists who made a significant contribution to Political Science, I think you’d need to have at least Arrow, Tullock, Sen, North, Olson, Buchanan.

    Although Lipset was trained as a Sociologist, I’m more comfortable including him, given that he was once President of APSA.

  4. To me, an obvious omission: Theodore J. Lowi. Or do you worship only at the church of ratchoice?

    • I haven’t read any Lowi. I’ve been meaning to read The End of Liberalism for some time: I’ll have to get onto it. My impression is that he’s much more influential in the States than elsewhere in the Anglosphere.

      I’m generally not too enamoured with rational choice when it comes to politics, though I do think it’s incredibly useful as a way to start thinking. I don’t think my list is overwhelmingly ratchoice. Dahl is; Edelman and Converse aren’t; Deutsch, Lipset and Axelrod are more complicated. I think Dahl did great work despite his ratchoice perspective.

  5. I guess Ronald Inglehart should be there too. I think his ‘postmaterial values’ idea has alot of empirical validity, but I don’t think he has the explanation quite right. Very important and interesting thinker in any case.

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