As a political science graduate student, I studied how governments work and how citizens behave. I’ve been thinking a lot about some of the “big ideas” from my grad school years, with particular reference to last week’s election.
As a discipline, poli sci is pretty pessimistic. Its scholars think a lot about interests, power, and the often-unintended outcomes that emerge from the interplay of various interest groups and actors. Cooperative outcomes that increase human welfare aren’t impossible, but they aren’t terribly common, either.
Some of the thoughts on my mind, then, most of them worrisome:
- Political science has rarely predicted inflection points.
- Ethnic/identity salience is more easily triggered than un-triggered.
- Institutions rely at least as much on norms as they do on written/formalized rules.
- Social norms that restrain individual behavior take a long time to build and we know more about how they are broken than built.
- Virtuous and vicious cycles of behavior are an empirical reality.
- National/regional political movements provide cover for local score-settling.
And the abstracts of some articles that have stuck in my mind, some directly related to the thoughts above and some not.
(Photo: Gortyn Law Code, in public domain)