Liberty Round Table Essay

Liberty Round Table Essay-50
t may be useful to mark the addition of Security Studies to the H-Diplo list by discussing some of the differences in the way historians and political scientists typically approach our common subject matter.[2] Is it too much to say that our relations are symbiotic or even that we are doomed to a marriage?Although we have significant differences and often squabble, we not only need to stay together for the sake of the kids (i.e., our students), but while we sometimes do not want to acknowledge it, we draw great sustenance and even pleasure from each other.

t may be useful to mark the addition of Security Studies to the H-Diplo list by discussing some of the differences in the way historians and political scientists typically approach our common subject matter.[2] Is it too much to say that our relations are symbiotic or even that we are doomed to a marriage?Although we have significant differences and often squabble, we not only need to stay together for the sake of the kids (i.e., our students), but while we sometimes do not want to acknowledge it, we draw great sustenance and even pleasure from each other.

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In this way, political scientists have something in common with postmodernists in our willingness to draw on interpretations that we know are partial and contested. Taylor was a political scientist in this regard, much as he would be horrified by the thought.

Indeed, in some cases we can be happy to take contested facts and interpretations as hypotheticals. As I read his marvelous books, they appear to resemble political science in being heavily thesis-driven and even theory-driven.

But a minor point may be worth making at the start.

It seems to many of us in political science that historians are gluttons for punishment, and we marvel at their linguistic competence and ability to penetrate and synthesize enormous amounts of material.

History is a story, and although we sometimes tell stories out of chronological order to achieve various effects, most of them have a beginning, a middle, and an end, even if the choice of starting and stopping points is not easy and is consequential, as I will note below.

To the extent that historians are explicitly concerned with causation, the underlying rationale for this approach is clear: the events, attitudes, and structures existing at one point in time influence if not determine those that come later.There is a perhaps associated difference between the scholars in their stance toward facts.I do not want to get into the difficult and important question of what exactly we mean by facts, whether they can exist independently of our interpretations, and related issues of epistemology and ontology.The basic epistemology follows John Stuart Mill in trying to determine the effect of a variable (a term that puts most historians’ teeth on edge) by comparing cases (another term that historians dislike—they are studying people, processes, and events in themselves, not as cases) in which it is present or has assumed one value with cases in which it is absent or different.The treatment of cases themselves may be chronological, but the exercise is in service of comparisons to other cases.Statistical fixes can be deployed, there is quite a bit of work on learning, and some political scientists have stressed the importance of “path-dependence”—the way in which choices and events can set enduring patterns.But it is nevertheless the case that the comparative method is drilled into them in graduate school (or perhaps it is an affinity with this approach that has drawn them to the discipline), and chronology is rarely the backbone of their analysis.Both share the assumptions that the cases are independent of one another. But when we are dealing with a series of interactions between to countries, or instances in which countries have been observing what others are doing, this may not be the case.Later interactions may turn out as they did not because of the variables political scientists are focusing on, but because citizens or decision-makers observed the course of previous interactions and adjusted their behavior accordingly.I do not entirely disagree, but would reply that although we have differences in our stance towards facts and generalizations, political scientists want to develop theories that are not only parsimonious and rooted in general social science, but that shed light on (i.e., explain at least in part) events and patterns in international history.There are important differences in style, aesthetics, and approaches, and my brief remarks can hardly do justice to all of them.

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