Positive Political Theory

Tag: Positive Political Theory

Back Off, Man, I’m a Scientist

Political Science
Say it aint so…

I picked up a recent New Yorker and was astonished to find a lengthy review article on the social science work measuring the polarization of American politics.

The piece features work by Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal, who (along with co-author Nolan McCarty) have created a cottage industry by using roll-call votes to map politician preferences (see the very cool VoteView page for many of the gory details).

I have been following this work since I read their chapter in Goldin & Libecap’s edited volume, The Regulated Economy: A Historical Approach to Political Economy, back in grad school, and I have Political Bubbles in the queue on my “to read” shelf.  Yum.

Of course, aside from the New Yorker piece, these are a bit heady for holiday reading, so perhaps just consult SMBC for your political economy needs.

Briggs 2nd: Riker’s Island?

We previously told you about The Chaney Tapes — a chronicle of emeritus Professor William A. Chaney’s time at Lawrence. Among the things of interest to us is his particular his affection for some of the LU economists, and today we give you a quote on William McConagha:

“I would say that, of all the faculty I have known in my half century here, Dr. McConagha was the most beloved. A very gentle but firm-minded man. A real gentleman and scholar — soft-spoken but a ramrod when it came to integrity. He made the first public denunciation of Senator Joseph McCarthy in Appleton, not exactly the popular thing to do. He gave a public lecture in which, among other things, he simply told the McCarthy record, how McCarthy had accepted Communist support when he was running in Milwaukee. He told the facts of McCarthy’s record and talked about principles, about integrity. He was the first person to do that on campus.”

McConagha won the University Teaching Award in 1960, two years before it went to legendary political economist, William Riker.   Wow.

In that same year, Riker published The Theory of Political Coalitions and left Lawrence (College) to become head of the political science department at the University of Rochester:

WILLIAM RIKER WAS A visionary scholar, institution builder, and intellect who developed methods for applying mathematical reasoning to the study of politics. By introducing the precepts of game theory and social choice theory to political science he constructed a theoretical base for political analysis. This theoretical foundation, which he called “positive political theory,” proved crucial in the development of political theories based on axiomatic logic and amenable to predictive tests and experimental, historical, and statistical verification. Through his research, writing, and teaching he transformed important parts of political studies from civics and wisdom to science. Positive political theory now is a mainstream approach to political science. In no small measure this is because of Riker’s research. It is also a consequence of his superb teaching–he trained and influenced many students and colleagues who, in turn, helped spread the approach to universities beyond his intellectual home at the University of Rochester.

You can check out Professor Riker’s photo and short bio in the Government Department’s display case.  I believe he has had some influence on at least one of our colleagues in Government (note where he earned his Ph.D.). My own dissertation advisor cites Riker as one of his intellectual heroes.

That’s quite a legacy.