Friday, May 27, 2011

Is American Political Science Ignored?

. Friday, May 27, 2011

In American academic circles, there is often much weeping and gnashing of teeth about how government and academic political science are separated. Few policymakers read academic research, complain academics. Few academics do anything substantively important or intellectually accessible, complain policymakers. So I found it interesting to read this, from a profile of Joe Nye in the UK Independent:

The advantages of the revolving door between academia and government, as it works in the United States, however, are indisputable. It gives academics an opportunity to test their ideas in practice and it gives politicians the benefit of specialist advice. Mid-career, Joseph Nye spent two years as a security official specialising in nuclear non-proliferation in the administration of Jimmy Carter. Fifteen years later, he joined the Clinton administration as assistant secretary for defence, and then became chairman of the National Intelligence Council, a body that coordinates intelligence estimates for the President. Had John Kerry won the 2004 election, Nye was seen as the natural choice to be National Security Adviser. When the Republicans were in power, Nye returned to Harvard.

Such a career would be unusual, not to say impossible, in Britain. Despite hints by Tony Blair, among others, that he would favour academics, business people and others moving in and out of government, the structures are not there and no-one – not the professional politicians, not the civil servants – has a real interest in fostering change. When it does happen, it is the exception and the beneficiaries – Admiral Lord West, for example – have tended to be more accident-prone than other ministers. Sharing a platform with Nye during his sojourn in London, Mark Malloch-Brown – former Deputy General Secretary of the UN and Foreign Office minister under Labour – lamented Britain's single track with more than a touch of envy. At very least, serving in government can be said to lend a practical aspect to the various branches of political science at America's leading universities.

Nye's direct experience of academia and politics – two worlds which in Britain tend to be seen as alien to each other, if not inimical – is the rule rather than the exception for senior US scholars and it ensures that their ideas are given a hearing on both sides of the fence. It allows the two worlds to feed off each other to mutual benefit and those who excel in both become a particular kind of superstar, guaranteed a global audience and needing to feel beholden to no-one.


Clearly Nye is an exceptional case, but the article makes a more general argument. I don't know much about the reporter, Mary Dejevsky, so I'm not sure what cred she's got. I just found it interesting that for all the hand-wringing American academics do over the fact that policymakers don't pay enough attention to us, one view from across the Pond is very different.

4 comments:

Greg Weeks said...

Also interesting is that for Latin America, it's not really true. Major political appointees related to Latin America have often come from academia.

Latinamericanist said...

Don't have time to read the article atm but my sense has always been that political scientists are very well represented in the foreign affairs community - Kissinger, Nye, Rice, Slaughter, McFaul - I'm sure there are more.
But I can't come up with a prominent political scientist in any other area of government in the last couple of administrations.

Kindred Winecoff said...

Greg, I had the impression that academics enter politics via election or appointment more commonly in LA than other places, but I wasn't sure about it. It is interesting. Any ideas as to why?

Greg Weeks said...

I don't really know. One possibility is that Latin America is pretty low profile so not sought after by non-academics.

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