Decline of Democracy and “Demise” of Political Science

The status of political science in modern Russia has initially been ambiguous. It caused cleavages among political scientists and debates on what political science is and what it is not1 See, for instance,the so called “debate on political science” on the websiteof Agenstvo politicheskih novostey in 2006—2007.1. Some create a rather obscure image of the so called “genuine” political science that produces objective knowledge and uses methods that are close to those used in exact sciences and not humanitarian ones, seeks to be impartial in terms of values and is similar to social and political engineering. This is, of course, true for political science of the West, and according to one of the academics who considers himself to be a genuine political scientist, Russian political science is still far behind:

“For quality expert magazines to exist, the ruling class (by this term here I imply both political and economic elites) should have some independent players who are concerned with elaborating their own political strategy. These players should be in touch with some organized segments of the civil society. In other words, we should have the configuration of the social and political forces similar to ones existing in Western countries and modern Russia totally lacks”2 Politicheskayanauka 2006.2.

This point is echoed by another “true” political scientist claiming that “it is no wonder that instead of scientific discussions there is often fruitless practice in rhetoric among laymen of political science who appear to be just lost when facing analysis of the political processes’ content (for example, Russian party system transformation or CIS political regimes’ changes)”3 Gel’man, s.a.3.

Is it appropriate at all to talk about the existence of political science in Russia? According to V.Pastukhov, “for political science to exist there should be its subject — politics. There is no politics in Russia in the Western sense of the term. We still live in a “pre-political” state, in which there is no division to state and civil society, and state is not totally free from its society yet. Therefore, power relations are not yet political. These are clan, family, any other relations but not political in a narrow sense of the word. Thus there’s no sign of political science in Russia... I think that Russian political science does not exist. However, there is interesting and distinctive Russian political philosophy that is, by the way, deeply rooted”4 Pastukhov, s.a.4.

All in all, modern Russian political science is viewed as a bizarre conglomerate of public figures and practices, sciences and pseudosciences, which is a peculiar feature of Russia and alien to the West (some state West doesn’t even have a “politology” word). The political science mentioned above is dominated by journalists, political technologists, laymen, at best, political philosophers etc. rather than academic scientists, which does not add political science any authority.

However, if the predominating role in the Russian political science would suddenly move, on the one hand, to academic scholars and, on the other hand, to practicing political consultants, many will still remain unsatisfied:

“Modern political science answers the question how to grasp, maintain and wield power instead of clarifying why the power should be actually grabbed. Today Russian political science is lacking its own ideas and has to live by begging them from other sciences, seeking to compensate its own emptiness by the plethora of the borrowed methods. To get out of the situation, Russian political science has to recognize itself as a self-sufficient form of the scientific thought. Its first step should be giving up self-identification through the reference to the western political tradition. Our political science should detect the Russian ethos, and based on the latter elaborate an adequate ideological construction”5 Golotsan, s.a.5.

In other words, content and ideology should go first, before the science. Otherwise, one can find himself in a sad condition as G.Golosov quoted above who frankly admits that “Doing this (political science — L.F.) in Russia makes little sense. From the professional standpoint, my staying in Russia is rather coincidental. My main target audience is abroad. And the audience itself is not that big. There are only few people who read expert magazines, and most of them are those who themselves conduct scientific research”6 Politicheskaya nauka 2006.6.

The sad plight of Russian political science is most often explained by the relatively instable and insufficiently democratic Russian political regime as well as the “bad legacy” of scientific staff left from the USSR. So there is no “genuine” political science in Russia, because there is no “genuine” democracy and “genuine” political scientists (who apparently can not derive from the former historians, scientific communists, sociologists, psychologists etc.). If so, it turns out that the less political regime corresponds to the modern Western democratic standards, the less scientific the country’s political science is. Thus, for example, the ancient political science is not a science at all, and the American political science of the beginning of the 20th century is far less scientific than the modern one, but still more scientific than that in the Kaiser Germany... classics of which, to be fair, Americans were willingly learning from.

However, based on the above, one may conclude that with time when Russia will be able to grow to the West in terms of democratic institutions development or will clarify its own unique political-cultural basics, a “genuine” political science will arise (and will be needed). At last it will stand out from the conglomerate of the contiguous disciplines. Now this science is at best undergoing its formation stage if not demising because of overall political life, and democratic institutions in particular, decline.

The author of these lines is questioning 2 postulates underpinning the conclusions drawn above, namely (1) a deeply rooted conception that political science emergence and development is strongly connected to the development of democracy, and (2) a tacit assumption that thanks to such a development one day political science will become an entirely self-sufficient discipline (that will obviously be studied by “pure political scientists”).

First of all, what basically should be considered a political science as it is?

As everybody knows the specific character of political science is that originally it has its specific subject (the sphere of “the political”), but almost lacks its own methods. Power, power relations, political institutions, processes and other objects of political science can be easily studied by many other disciplines that emerged about the same time with the political science (sociology, culturology, psychology etc.). Moreover, these sciences provide political science with the majority of its present research tools. (Radical continuation of this thought leads to the conclusion that political science is just “superfluous”. This conclusion is supported by some other considerations as well. In particular, some contend that since political science is an art, scientific categories are inapplicable; that political situations are single-shot and unique and thus history is sufficient to study them; that political science deals with various forms of control that is within the domain of common state law etc.)

Already the political science of antiquity (a lot of esteemed authors such as, for example, G.Almond, trace the origins of the European political science back to this historic period) has already been part of the broader philosophical studies. Starting with Plato, Aristotle, sophists and cynics political science has been no more (and no less) than an application point of generally valid philosophical conclusions and methods derived from philosophy itself, which at that time was replacing the complex of sciences about society, human being, the world in general etc.

My first major point comes to the fact that similarly to the above there is no sense to view modern political science as something separate: it is a part of a greater complex of social and humanitarian sciences that has obtained its modern features in the last 100–150 years. Political science is if not “the top” of the social sciences then the point of their joint application aimed at reaching some socio-political changes, which is directly proven by its strong conceptual and methodological dependence on these sciences. In particular, this point of view was shared by S.M.Lipset.

He claimed that “political science and government actually were disciplines with the same dependent variable. One might have had religion, politics or alliances. But political science has never possessed its own theory”. In order to explain politics, one had to borrow theories and methods from other disciplines7 Pavlov, s.a.7. (However, some evil tongues, in the person of Kazantsev, state that “we do not have a sustainable tradition of “social sciences”, where according to the worldwide accepted classification political scientists belong”8 Kazantsev, s.a.8. So before criticizing political scientists for the “non-scientific” character of their discipline, one should turn to the Russian representatives of those sciences that political science is “on top of” such as historians, sociologists, psychologists etc. Everything might be easier than we think: if these sciences face serious problems, then what would one expect from their “application point”?

My second principal point lies in the fact that it is the emergence of this particular “application point” that is a major launching mechanism for the development of political science. As E.Moshchelkov reasonably points out, “the changes that occur in the development of political knowledge in the 19th century and are usually connected with its transition from the non-scientific sphere to the scientific one, are rather of external than internal character visà-vis this knowledge. At that time political science was indeed becoming an independent scientific and academic discipline with more complicated structure and a lot of newly emerging exploration directions and subfields. But these changes do not qualitatively alter the subject and heuristic function of this knowledge as well as its fundamental principles in studying the nature of political phenomena and processes.

Thus it seems more accurate and productive to apply the political knowledge “scientific character” to the early stages of its development”9 Moshchelkov, s.a.9.

In other words, the emergence of a certain “research object” provokes the whole current complex of social sciences to mobilize its resources, thereby providing an impulse to the formation of political science itself. In general, this “research object” can be described as a sphere of public politics emerging simultaneously with the types of political regimes that require a mobilization of broad population masses in order to function efficiently and legitimize themselves. It is no accident that it was Greece, with its democracies, tyrannies, aristocracies and other regimes that could not be sustained without the masses’ support, where political science was born. And also natural that Europe and the USA of the modern epoch became motherland of the modern political science.

In Europe and the USA of the 19th century, according to S.Moscovici, “the stable world of family, neighbor relations, and villages has cracked and began to collapse. It has entailed dissolution of traditional religious, political and spiritual values. People who were pulled out of their native homes and gathered into the instable urban conglomerates became a mass. With the transition from traditions towards the modern epoch there appeared a lot of individuals, or social atoms, with no ties between them”10 Moscovici 1996.10. No wonder that the modern epoch that brought masses into the area of political struggle was marked by the emergence of democratic, fascist, communist and other regimes with all of them legitimizing themselves through mobilization of masses upon receiving a public consent. Even if the legitimacy of political regimes was based on the traditional institutions of the past such as monarchy, its main source was public consent. S.M.Lipset states that within that epoch legitimacy meant that “society as a whole considers the existing political institutions the most appropriate regardless of their opinions of the particular people in power”11 Lipset 2005.11. The same epoch saw the emergence and rise of the modern political science aimed at comprehending the problem of the based on masses’ support political regimes stable functioning and legitimacy.

It is only nowadays that political science (especially by those who closely connect it with democracy) can be regarded as an attribute of relatively stable existing conditions for representative governmental institutions, freedom of speech and conscience etc. Political science supports this stability with the latter being the truth of this political science. “We should be the guards of the constitution, professional community of people who pays their attention exclusively to the structure of what is called a state”12 Lowi 1999: 109.12. That is why political science itself in the West takes its modern shape only when democratic practices and institutions become stable, when strategic programs are elaborated, and when leaders’ goals and activities become clear and changes get predictable, that is when the specific paradigm is formed within which political changes can take place. G.Almond is certainly right claiming that “the progress of political science in Europe has been associated with democratization, for obvious reasons, and with the emergence of the welfare state, because an activist, open, penetrative state requires large amounts of information about political processes and political performance”13 Almond 1998: 76.13. However, all of this by no means suggests that the emergence of political science and even its rapid development requires stable and “true” democracy that lives up to the modern Western standards. The same author who urges political science to be the constitution guardian speaks about the connection between political science and democracy with caution: “The regime that allows political science to exist already possesses a lot of qualities necessary for the democracy... However, the difficulty lies in the fact that being in need of democratization, we have no idea about the principles and conditions for this, beneficial from standpoint of the political science, type of a state to exist”14 Lowi 1999: 108.14. There is even an impression that it is the “epochs of changes” that fall heavily behind all those standards give an impulse for political science development. (Was it not this kind of epoch that the Russian political science was born in?) Anyway, by no means all of those who are now viewed as classics of political science were creating their masterpieces under the comfortable democratic conditions.

When institutions and practices which represent the “application points” of social sciences are only undergoing the process of development, the prototypes of the modern political disciplines in turn being the results of the above inevitably resemble something else. Firstly, they resemble those sciences and forms of intellectual activity (for instance, journalism) that they borrow methods and tactics from. Here, by the way, one can obviously draw a parallel between the history of sociology including political sociology (since classics of sociology are those of political science as well): sociology as a science of stable conditions was also formed only in the first third (if not half) of the 20th century, whereas before it had been seeking its own niche somewhere in between social philosophy and history. Turning to even earlier epoch — Comte’s times — one will notice a strong religious and ideological underlying basis. Is it really surprising that political science is developing in the same direction?

Finally, the third fundamental point is that political science itself is inevitably being part of its own object. Regardless of any philosophers and scientists’ will, it either supports the functioning of political regimes providing them with technologies of maintaining power and methods of legitimizing themselves in the eyes of masses, or supplies these regimes’ opponents with technologies of overturning, changing, discrediting it etc. Even such attitudes as “our works are demanded only in the West and not here as Russia lacks this and that” constitute a political position that reflects ideological preferences. Political science is always an application point of social sciences with a specific political and undisguised ideological aim. In a country with a democratic political regime as, for example, in the US, the goal is to find frame conditions for its functioning. It happens in the following way.

There is a sustainable alloy of liberal democratic doctrines, capitalism and market, which is as a whole universally accepted and is embodied into the constitutionally determined political institutions. This is a type of situation, as B. Kapustin would say, that is characterized by the predominance of the “operationalized ideology” of liberalism. However, any “operationalized ideology” seeks for a robust value consensus that makes the ideological discussion itself superfluous”; its desirable condition would be the one “when some values reflected in the specific mechanisms of power and property” would function “automatically”15 Kapustin 1997: 155.15. But it turns out that democratic political system is not in line with expectations. It is always “hampered” and distorted by the struggle between interest groups, political parties, corruption etc.

This is what G.Almond wrote on this topic:

“In the latter half of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th, the rapid growth and concentration of industry and the proliferation of large cities in the United States, populated in considerable part by immigrants from the countryside or from foreign countries, created a situation prone to corruption on a major scale. It took political entrepreneurs with resources to organize and discipline the largely ignorant electorates that swarmed into such urban centers as New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City and the like. The “boss” and the “machine” and intermittent reform movements were the most visible American political phenomena of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Reform movements inspired by an ideology of efficiency and integrity, and supported by urban business and professional élites, drew on the talents of journalists of the quality media and academic communities. The corruption of politics by business corporations seeking contracts, franchises and protection from governmental regulation became the subject of a journalistic “muck-raking” literature, which brought to public view a political infrastructure and process — “pressure groups” and the “lobby,” deeply penetrative and corrupting of local, state and national political processes”16 Almond 1998: 64—65.16.

So there appeared a necessity in some discipline that would promptly point out deviations from the “automatic functioning” of power and property mechanisms, unmask them, reveal the reasons etc. And since there are lots of deviations’ explanations as well as deviating subjects which are multiple and vary to a great extent, this discipline will unavoidably employ any scientific arsenal (and any shadow of scientific prestige) that it is able “reach”, which reasonably attracts criticism of being insufficient and methodologically dependent on other sciences.

Being closely tied to the necessity of mobilizing masses, political science inevitably intersects with another phenomenon of the Modernity — ideology. Ideologies also always turn to the authority of science in order to legitimize political régimes and their proponents’ efforts. Therefore, under the certain circumstances (change of political environment) political science partly turns into ideology with this transit serving as a backup for political science that all in all does not contradict its nature.

The debates that “curtailment of democracy will entail decline of political science”, which are more often used lately to scare people, are not justified. Political science does not emerge as a consequence of democratic institutions development (although they beneficially contribute to its formation), but rather as a result of broad masses appearance on the arena of public politics after which no political regime is able to legitimize itself through any other methods but reference to the popular sovereignty. In this case it is of no importance in which ideological framework — liberal or not much — the notion of popular sovereignty is perceived.

From now on, independently of ruling elites will, the mechanism of permanent comparison of a real political regime with the one being so brightly described by ideology and propaganda has been launched. Even if there is yet no political science as such, like it didn’t exist in the USSR, deviations of the created images from reality are recorded by the whole accessible arsenal of social sciences, which prepared conditions for the emergence or “return” of political science. In other words, the specificity of the political science allows it if necessary to mimic its original components. The plethora of paradigms borrowed by political science from other sciences being their application point, always leaves an opportunity to turn to the spheres of research that at the moment do not pose any danger to the political regime, but continue to be potential suppliers of conceptions and methods for political science as such. These conceptions and methods have a chance to become popular in the future. At the individual level, it means that a political scientist for some reason might hide under a sociologist, a historian, a political philosopher, or a theorist of literature mask without betraying his vocation. Even if the political regime does not encourage the development of a “genuine” political science, there are still power relations analysis of which might serve a source of inspiration for political scientists.

Once it has emerged, political science can not disappear as there exists a historical tradition that forces any regime to legitimize itself through the reference towards the popular sovereignty. Nor will the procedure (once emerged) of comparing ideological pattern with reality disappear. Ultimately, it is natural for political science to monitor deviations in the functioning of the political regime with the “operationalized ideology” underpinned by the masses’ consent — only ideology itself changes.

On the contrary, if the reality does not satisfy a political scientist, he can easily as it is happening now play the role of an ideologist, constructing or offering the construction of some “project”:

“I would label this type of a political scientist who is neither “a missionary” nor “a magician” with the term “Druid”... There’s a need of a cohort of experts rooted in the Russian reality. Those who, to put it figuratively, if necessary will be able to shoot a bow as well as run a horse. Also of those who will be united by something more serious than just a prospect of being published in a foreign newspaper.

Russia needs a political science of a great national project. The content is not important anymore. Possibly, there will be even several big projects. As soon as the society elaborating them is shaped, one might state that Russian political science is only one step away from becoming a science”17 Nifontov, s.a.17.

Under the conditions, when studying political science does not make practical sense for political scientists anymore, it still makes sense for those who interpret it differently. If currently political science supports orthodoxdemocratic regimes, this does not mean that it has appeared for this purpose and that other not entirely democratic regimes do not need it, or that political science is obliged to deal with any regime at all.

Stepping back to the above alarming attitudes to the future of Russian political science, let us ask ourselves a question: is there any tendency in modern Russia that is strong enough to make our authorities and society give up a strategy of legitimizing political regime through appealing to the popular will? What if we replace it with some religious-political doctrine that has the voice of God in it, but lacks the “vox populi”? The ideologists who advocate such doctrines, to put it mildly, are not very influential. Nor there is such an intention from the authoritative side, it is quite the opposite; otherwise, why would we have the conception of sovereign democracy?

Being surely a challenge to the political community, the decline of democratic public politics under the modern conditions does not pose a threat to the political science itself. There is no reason to say that “it is a bed of roses”, but it is even less justified to shout that “everything is lost”.



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