Modern Political Science Is a Farce
by Mark R. Crovelli
by Mark R. Crovelli
The most unenviable task confronting the student of political science lies in attempting to define and explain the discipline of political science to those who are unfamiliar with it. For, people who unfamiliar with the discipline are often mislead by the grandiose-sounding title of "political science," and thus often assume that the discipline consists of the fascinating search for truth and meaning in the political world. It is altogether disheartening and embarrassing to have to explain that the "scientific" portion of the discipline does not, in the main, actually ever even attempt to tackle difficult political questions — nor does it produce answers to the timeless questions of politics. It is, for example, less than impressive to explain to the uninitiated listener that the discipline has been bickering about parliamentary versus presidential democratic systems for over one hundred years, (even the political scientist Woodrow Wilson participated in this asinine debate), with absolutely no consensus emerging. As another example, the political science student is not likely to impress his mother or father if he explains to them that a good chunk of the scholarship in the discipline he's chosen to study, (often with their money), is devoted to the mind-numbing and worthless task of defining the word "institution."
The shocking uselessness and banality of most political science scholarship today ought to be readily apparent even to the student of political science himself. Indeed, the uselessness of political science is almost glaringly obvious to anyone who has any sense of the political history of the last hundred years. The political history of the last hundred years is rife with violence, world war, the growth of state power and discretion, genocide, and socialism. These processes of de-civilization were unfolding precisely during the time that political science was rapidly growing and proclaiming itself to be a "scientific" discipline that can help our understanding of these phenomena. And yet, political science has yet to offer much that is useful for man in his quest to reverse these processes of de-civilization. Instead, the empirical political science literature is absolutely chock-filled with pointless and boring analyses of "civic culture," "disenfranchisement," "coalition-building," et cetera ad nauseam. The only reason why these studies continue to pour forth — by now a veritable flood of insipid and useless theories and empirics — is that the funding for these studies typically comes from the state. Hence, the funding has no relationship whatsoever to the preferences of the poor taxpayers who are forced to pay for them. I doubt very highly, for example, that your average tax-paying waitress would be willing to voluntarily hand over even a penny of her money for a political science research project to find out whether the voting rules of the Italian parliament lead to more or less coalition building. (I, for one, don't give a damn what the outcome of the study would be — and I've spent eight years studying political science!)
This refusal to tackle the consequential and difficult questions of politics is typically not made, however, by the students of political philosophy. These students seek answers to timeless questions, like "is there a moral duty for rich states to help poor states with direct aid?" However, while the students of political philosophy often do seek answers to timeless questions of politics, they, like their empirical brethren, almost universally neglect the paramount question of politics. It is by their neglect of this vital question that both empirical political "scientists" and political philosophers make their most fateful and inexcusable mistake — a mistake that has heretofore led political science to become a totally farcical and insidious discipline. The paramount question of politics is:
Is taxation morally justifiable?
What makes this question of paramount political and ethical importance, (and the neglect of this question so inexcusable in political science in particular), is the fact that the entire moral justification for the modern state rests upon the answer. If taxation is nothing more than the forceful expropriation of man's justly-earned property, (i.e., robbery), then this calls into question the entire moral justification of the state and all of its myriad functions that are so uselessly (yet profitably) studied in political science today. The adoption of this position would force us into what Robert Paul Wolff and A. John Simmons have called "philosophical anarchism."
What is even more striking about the neglect of this question by political "scientists" and political philosophers is the fact that the argument that taxation is synonymous with robbery is about as simple and airtight as arguments ever get in the political realm. In fact, the argument can be stated with simple syllogistic precision:
- Robbery is defined as seizing another man's justly-owned property without his consent.
- In taxation, the representatives of the state seize their subjects' justly-owned property without their subjects' consent — always under the threat of severe penalties if they refuse to obey.
- Therefore, taxation is definitionally and morally synonymous with robbery.
This argument was given perhaps the best and most forceful articulation by the nineteenth century American lawyer Lysander Spooner, who wrote:
"Not knowing who the particular individuals are, who call themselves 'the government,' the taxpayer does not know whom he pays his taxes to. All he knows is that a man comes to him, representing himself to be the agent of 'the government' — that is, the agent of a secret band of robbers and murderers, who have taken to themselves the title of 'the government,' and have determined to kill everybody who refuses to give to them whatever money they demand. To save his life, he gives up his money to this agent. But as the agent does not make his principles individually known to the taxpayer, the latter, after he gives up his money, knows no more who 'the government' — that is, who were the robbers — than he did before. To say, therefore, that by giving up his money to the agent, he entered into a voluntary contract with them, that he pledges himself to obey them, to support them, and to give them whatever money they should demand of him in the future, is simply ridiculous." (No Treason, No. 6)
You will search in vain, however, through the stacks and stacks of political science journals and numberless political science books to find more than a handful of political philosophers, (and virtually no political "scientists") who have ever even considered this argument. Instead, almost every practitioner in the discipline takes as given that the subject of their study and the piggy-bank for their never-ending and otiose research, (i.e., the state), is both necessary and inevitable. Having blithely assumed that both taxation and the state are morally justifiable, they then proceed to analyze the myriad functions and procedures of the state as though the matter was settled for once and for all. They seem completely oblivious to the possibility that the tax money that funds their research (e.g., to come up with the newest and most fashionable theory of gender identity in Peruvian politics), might simply be fresh loot from the state's most recent depredation on the productive members of society who are forced to fund the political scientists' research whether they want to or not.
These facts about the discipline of political science would be embarrassing enough taken alone, but it is even more embarrassing that the moral question of taxation has quite frequently been taken up and analyzed by economists. Scores of economists (such as Murray Rothbard, Jean-Baptiste Say, David Ricardo, Ludwig von Mises, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Joseph Schumpeter, James Buchanan, and Gordon Tullock, to name just a few), have broached the moral question of taxation. In other words, while political scientists have been ignoring or are completely oblivious to the paramount question of their discipline, economists have been tackling the problem for decades.
In conclusion, allow me to sum up my criticism of the discipline of political science with a challenge. I challenge any political scientist in the United States, (or any other country, for that matter), to demonstrate to me and to the rest of the taxpaying publics around the world that taxation is not morally and definitionally synonymous with robbery. If you can accomplish this task, you will concomitantly justify the state — and by justifying the state, you will justify the tax money you receive from the state to undertake your otiose research.
In order to do this, however, you will have to bear in mind that there are people in this country and around the world who have the same attitude as I do about your research, and who, if given the option, would not give a penny of our hard-earned money to fund your research. They, like me, pay for your research simply because the agents of the state tell them that if they do not pay, they will rot in prison for years. So, by all means, I welcome any and all attempts to prove that people like me are not robbed to fund your research.
January 23, 2008
Mark R. Crovelli [send him mail] writes from Denver, Colorado.
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