The crisis of positivist and “factual” political science in the United States



From birth to 18e century, the United States of America has emerged as one of the most advanced countries, if not the most advanced in terms of government organization and state-building ideology. The newly independent British colony was fortunate enough to shed the past and start from scratch, and the Founding Fathers, as they are called in the United States, used that chance to the fullest, erecting the three pillars of the political order. American – the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which set out the most progressive ideas of their time: human rights, democratic procedures, separation of powers, jury trial, broad autonomy state, social contract, freedom of expression and many others.

The period of rapid development of these ideas, akin to the French Enlightenment, has since been known in America as the “Age of Reason”. This period, like the ideas and principles it generated, is closely associated with empiricism and positivism – the two dominant philosophical currents of this time, which denied philosophy as such and favored scientific fact, an observed phenomenon, an experiment, the logic, and ignored the theoretical philosophical constructions, the complex models and the assumptions not supported by scientific data. At the time, this new philosophy was the philosophy of science and was conceived as something that would replace the outdated classical philosophy with its interweaving of worldview, morality and faith, and remove ethics from the speculative structure of society, with its characteristic contempt for experience as a method of knowledge.

Today, nearly 250 years after the adoption of the American Constitution, many elements of the American state system have not only lost their original progressive meaning, but even appear downright archaic. The most striking examples of this are the life appointment of Supreme Court justices, who hold office for decades, the electoral system of voting, under which members of state constituencies are not obliged to vote as they wish. of the people of this state and decentralized legal system, where precedents are superimposed on precedents, and the adoption of a new law does not entail a revision of the old one.

While this archaism is evident to any impartial observer, not only are there no active discussions on constitutional reform or at least new amendments to the country’s basic law, but there are heated discussions going on in Congress. , in the media and in universities on how to interpret the provisions of the old document so as to better reflect the ideas of the founding fathers.

All liberal arts education in the United States, beginning at the high school level, includes a detailed study, not critical, but apologetic, of the history of the founding of the United States, the passage of the Constitution, and the first period of the United States as a country. The personalities of the Founding Fathers and their philosophical views are prominent in most of these courses, and the higher the prestige of the educational institution, the greater the knowledge of the “essential foundations” of the American state. implanted in students. spirits.

As a result, the overwhelming majority of the American intellectual elite leave their universities with a deep faith in the sanctity of the American Constitution and the principles that are anchored in it. They are also imbued with the very spirit of empiricism and the positivism of the age of reason. These are exactly the philosophical doctrines that shaped the development of the humanitarian sciences in the United States and continue to do so today, even though they were long considered in Europe to be limited to say the least.

This is also why scientific psychology has been reduced to behaviorism and the theory of historical stages has been discarded, replaced by a civilizational approach and the so-called “factual” or “factual” political science, which is the centerpiece of this article.

The seeds of political science and sociology, which fell into the fertile American soil in the first half of the 20e century, were drenched in the juice of the developed political class, their young shoots bathed in the rays of a fleeting electoral cycle and ubiquitous electoral system, and their flowers were brighter than anywhere else. Election managers never ran out of money and resources, and experts, who were able to predict voters’ reaction, expected universal respect and cushy jobs.

Now, as the 21st in the year of the new century America has a whole army of sociologists and political scientists, with regiments and divisions “deployed” in every state and in every district of every state. This army is large enough to simultaneously serve the electoral campaigns of two presidential candidates, dozens of candidates for state governor, hundreds of candidates for Congress and the Senate, and thousands of candidates for elected positions in the local governments. This 300,000-strong army has its own soldiers – street agitators, and its generals – campaign directors. It also has its own intelligence – sociological institutions and political image specialists, trying to analyze voter preferences and come up with the best strategy and tactics.

It would appear that this whole multitude of people, with almost limitless resources, should have long since studied the political landscape in every corner of America and provided an accurate forecast of how locals will react to a politician’s statements or to actions taken. . by his opponent. This is not happening, however, and the predictions made by political scientists are belied by reality. The biggest flop ever was Donald Trump’s victory in the November 2016 presidential election.

This gap between the human and economic resources spent and the results obtained has a lot to do with the culture of science and positivism that still prevails in American science. The positivist approach to science focuses on the search for objective truth, which can almost exclusively be achieved with the help of empirical facts and formal logic. This logic has prevailed for centuries in physics, but even there it has come under scathing criticism as it ultimately turns out that the research method can affect the result of research, and only one and the same object can have mutually exclusive properties, depending on how it is measured. This means that the fact obtained with so much effort is no longer absolute, and that formal logic is simply insufficient in its toolbox.

These are the conclusions reached by physicists who study laws that are not subject to rapid change and are independent of human culture – a finding that seems to have been completely ignored by American political scientists, who continue to conduct public opinion polls. opinion as if the question never predetermines. the answer, although this is almost always the case. They avoid making assumptions, because they don’t know all the facts, and try to objectively measure the immeasurable – the constantly changing moods of the mass of people divided into thousands of groups based on geography, sex, age. , education, professionals and others. . And each of the millions of respondents represents a mix of cultures, religions and ideologies and may change their mind on a given issue every day, or even a dozen times a day.

Such a voter survey system and the associated forecasting method are doomed to failure. Even if the combined strengths of sociologists and political scientists were a hundred times greater and could at one point collect data on the preferences of people who would meet the strictest scientific criteria, the next day that information would no longer be relevant, and all. the work would have to be redone … In real life, however, that doesn’t happen either.

Thus, American political scientists, who have always learned not to invent theories, but only to generalize the available facts, pursue these facts and use them indiscriminately. Can an ordinary Biden campaign expert perform scientific verification and compare multi-page descriptions of investigative methods, when dozens of surveys are conducted every week, and sometimes every day? Of course not, and the experts therefore rely on the authority and decency of the organization providing the “facts”. At best, they summarize the results of multiple polls, and at worst, they use the one that works best for them.

This is the case at the level of data synthesis and forecasting, from this generalization, but things are even worth it when it comes to research and data collection. In a constantly changing environment, when valuable “facts” become unnecessary within hours, research teams must rely on the speed of the research rather than its coverage, representativeness or accuracy. This constant race leads to the emergence of sociological Frankenstein monsters such as a poll, where the difference in candidate scores is less than the margin of error allowed by the researcher, or a methodologically flawed survey, deliberately presented as an All poll. -American in which less than 1,000 people participated.

And yet, American sociologists and political scientists still stick to positivism, because positivism is the true American way. Never mind that these principles and methods, invented to study the eternal laws of nature, are now used to “study” the ever-changing mood of the crowd.

The more important the process that the American public opinion research system tries to study or predict, the worse the outcome: while it works almost flawlessly in local elections, at the level of congressional elections it begins to fail, and in the presidential elections, things get complicated. really bad. Positivist analysis is impossible where you do not have positivist facts, which means that the winner will be the one who best applies the different methods of analysis. However, such methods are not found in the American universe, and those who apply them successfully would have “guessed”.

According to the American elite, in 2016 Trump “guessed” exactly what the Conservative voter wanted. He’s “guessing” again this year, as Democrats, also forced to guess, use their favorite “identity politics” tactics: they name those they think most relate to their typical supporter in terms of demographic indicators – an elderly white man. middle aged man and African American woman.

Which of them guessed best, the whole world will know very soon.

From our partner International Affairs

Source link


Leave A Reply