'Cultural and Historical Foundations of American Political Science: A Russian Perspective.' SENTENTIA. European Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences nbpublish.com
Eng During last 365 days Approved articles: 1891,   Articles in work: 357 Declined articles: 493 

Back to contents

SENTENTIA. European Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

Cultural and Historical Foundations of the American Political Science: Russian perspective.

Vernichenko Marat Aleksandrovich

PhD in History

Docent, the department of Government Administration and Political Technologies, State University of Management

109542, Russia, Moscow, Ryazanskiy Prospekt 99

Shevlyakova Ol'ga Nikolaevna

PhD in Philology

Docent, the department of English Language for Economic and Mathematical Disciplines, National Research University "Higher School of Economics"

101000, Russia, Moscow, Myasnitskaya Street 20




Review date:


Publish date:



The article is devoted to the study of historical, socio-cultural and national peculiarities conditioning the priorities and methods of American political science, its investigation paradigms. The major focus in the article is made on characteristic features of American political culture the most significant being the two-party system, the thesis of the exclusiveness of the American way that the nation lives by, the consensus political orientation in domestic life, which rests on the idea of self-reliance, a firm belief of the Americans in their mission of proliferating American values and the ensuing priorities in the international policy of the country. The questions of the Russian political science and prospects for its development are also being discussed. The research is based on methodological principles of the new institutionalism, political comparative study, historical analysis. No other science is so closely linked to actual politics, business and education as American political science, this fact securing its special place in the Western science. The most characteristic feature of this science is its pragmatism used to serve the tasks of political problem-solving and the ensuing bonds between the science and government organizations and funds of business structures. The singularity of the American political science comes from specific geopolitical, historical and cultural conditions. It is this science that has given rise to original theories and paradigms widely used in Europe. They could be useful for the Russian political science as well.

Keywords: political awareness, behaviorism, systemic functionalism, liberalism, consensus, two-party system,, political science, pragmatism, self-sufficiency, political culture

Theoretical conceptions and methods of political studies are delimited by conditions in which they are formed. Therefore, it is important to take into consideration, among others, the territorial, geographic factor. It has long been observed that in different geographic areas similar historic processes differ in speed and content.

The absence of a third party, the unacceptance of other parties by the majority of electors, very rare in Western Europe, is a typical feature of the American political consciousness. Commenting on this point the well-known historian and political scientist Clinton Rossiter wrote: “ …the whole American system of elections – electoral laws, campaign practices, social customs – is loaded heavily against the rise of minor parties to even secondary nationwide influence. The exorbitant cost of political campaigns, the statutory difficulties of getting on and staying on the ballot in many states, the legal status of the major parties as supervisors of elections – these are just a few of the roadblocks that lie in the path of any third party, no matter how strong its initial impetus or broad its purpose, that has a premonition of a majority status. Second, the two-party system has become a vital principle of the American tradition[1, p.10].

So much so that it is never subjected to doubt or questioning, it is taken for granted. The rare cases when the status quo might have been broken have proved fruitless, as indicated by the following: “Two-party politics in the US has remained strong since the rise of the Republican and Democratic Parties. In fact, there have been only a few instances in American political history in which the stability of the two-party system had been jeopardized. Ross Perot's entry into the 1992 presidential race posed a potential threat. However, Perot's withdrawal from the race on Jul 16, 1992 ensured the continued stability of the US political system.[2, p.117].

As an important factor facilitating “americanization”, and consequently weakness of political movement in the USA, researchers point out the so called “American Dream” which implies a social order “ in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.” [3, p.214-215] The Americans’ belief that achievement of success is presumably open to all of them has served as a factor neutralizing potential social conflicts and hampering proliferation of radical political views including the socialist doctrine. The American socio-political consciousness is dominated by “political religion” claiming that in the USA there is more equality and opportunity for attaining success than in any other country. The position of many immigrants too, though at the bottom of the social ladder, has been objectively better than in the European countries.

The focus on individual responsibility for success or failure has led the American worker to believe that his low social status can be accounted for solely by his personal limitations, not the shortcomings of the social order.

The above observations point to a unique character of conditions and factors that have formed the American political tradition. American historians and political scientists support the thesis of the exclusiveness of the American way, the specific historical conditions of the American nation formation which accounted for the singularity of the American political thought and social science.

The first scholar to fully cover the specific features of the American history was the French historian Alexis de Tocqueville who visited the USA in the 1830-ies and wrote his famous book “Democracy in America”[4]. He argued that the essence of the American system was characterized by the absence of the feudal past and the traditional social groups and classes who might be fighting to assert their dominance. The scholar was the first to stress the consensus character of the USA political development, and this thesis was further developed by many authors and gave rise to a whole trend in American historiography and political science.

The consensus political orientation means continuity of American history, absence of political ground for serious internal conflicts including a social revolution. The majority of the supporters of the consensus approach claim that the principles underlying the political system of the USA were laid down at its foundation. Thus, American history has been a row of political actions of various groups of the American society aimed at the achievement of compromises for settling practical problems.

Theoretically, the consensus approach was nourished by the structural, or systemic, functionalism and behavioralism – methodologies elaborated by the American sociologists and political scientists that after World War II became dominant in the American political science. It is the systemic functionalism that has so organically fit in with the basis of the bourgeois social order and can successfully explain it.

The systemic approach is basically a systemic worldview which denies any kind of spontaneous improvisation in social development and implies a rigidly organized society. The bourgeois society can definitely be referred to this type, though it does not exclude individual freedom and existence of opposition, which are even considered useful if they are not destructive by nature as they make the political system more flexible and adaptive. The latter is well illustrated by the two-, or multy-party systems typical for the western societies. But the political pluralism is over if there appears anti-systemic opposition threatening the existing regime. This situation can well be illustrated by Russia of the 90-ies of last century when it was passing through a painful process of system deterioration and birth of a new quality.

The dialectics of this process does not allow of extremes that could tell negatively on the development of a society.Herbert Marcuse, for example, in his famous book “One-Dimensional Man” stated that absence of qualitatively new historical and cultural forms of development leads to mechanical civilization and “one-dimensional man[5, p.14]. This extreme finds confirmation in the western way of life.

The second aspect of this principle – functionality – is connected with the notion of efficiency. The ability of an individual to function effectively, to execute all the functions one is vested with. In social practice this means apologia of the function, preference of neutral valuation mechanisms resulting in depreciation of man as subject of nature and culture. It is the systemic-functional organization of the western type that has rationalized man, deprived his inner world of high principles pursuit, of bias for self-reflection, turned him into a reliable entity serving to form a highly organized stable community of people – the western society.

The average western man, as defined by A. Zinoviev, is a simplified rational being having average intellectual abilities and controlled emotionality, leading a regular ordered life, caring for his health and comfort, working conscientiously and efficiently, practical, calculating, putting effort into providing for his old age, ideologically standardized but thinking himself to be superior to the rest of mankind ( that which is outside western civilization) [6, p.355].

American, and western political system as a whole, with its political science is basically a reflection and a derivative of this type of man.

Behaviouralism and psychoanalysis that entered the American political science in the 1930ies -50ies could be interpreted in the same way. Giving differing interpretations of social phenomena advocates of behaviouralism proceed from one common methodological assumption: political behavior of man is a manifestation of unavoidable subconscious instincts and inclinations. Consequently, socio-political phenomena are understood as a clash of various emotions in the psyche of an individual or a group. For the contemporary followers ofSigmund Freud social problems are nothing but a reflection of the dramatised personal problems. This psychoanalytical interpretation of reality is very often used to cover up political purposes.

This specific feature of the American socio-political tradition has inevitably influenced the political science. Differently from the European socio-political tradition dominated by abstract theories the American social science has had a highly pragmatic bias because it served practical purposes.

P.Ordeshook points out that the European student of Political Science cannot do without studying the works of Plato, Aristotle, Marx, Locke, Hegel, Rousseau, Nietzsche, Mill, Smith, Kant, while his American counterpart will readily forfeit these for the sake of such disciplines as statistical and economic methods, new analysis of electors’ behavior, formal mathematical modelling of political processes [7, p.25].

The European political thought has strongly affected the formation of the American political science, French and German university science serving as an ideal, especially at the turn of the 20-th century. However, the European ideas were not adopted mechanically, they got into the melting-pot of American culture, became adapted to local conditions and acquired purely American features. The best social and political scientists of Europe that moved to the USA in the1920-ies – 30-ies, such as H. Arendt, K. Deutsch, H. Morgenthau, F.L. Neumann, L. Strauss, with time stopped being Europeans and acquired the ideology of the New World.

American thinkers have given the world scholarship new ideas, approaches, paradigms explaining social life, but many of them have retained their purely American character failing to adapt to the European soil. For example, the philosophy of pragmatism indispensable for the American political thought developed by Ch. S. Pierce, W. James, J. Dewey played a very important part for practical life organization in America but never took root in Europe.

The typical feature of American mode of thinking is susceptibility to new ideas and their evaluation in accordance with the principles of “activism”, i.e. how suitable they are for practical purposes, for settlement of problematic life situations.

Naturally, it was the American political science that shifted from comparative historical description of political trends, widespread in Europe, to the study of real political processes and psychological motivation of people’s behavior. American political scientists, particularly the Chicago school (Ch.Merriam , H.D. Lasswell, H.Morgenthau) in their research focused not on abstract political and moral notions but on empirically supported facts of individuals’ political behaviour.

Unlike in Europe, the USA political science took shape in favourable conditions: absence of ideological and political contradictions, frequent election campaigns that gave a good chance of studying the electoral behaviour of small, medium and large groups thus facilitating the pragmatic bias of the science.

The contribution of American political science into the world science can hardly be overestimated. Elaboration of major theories and methodologies that are now widely represented across various national schools goes back to the American universities of the 1920-ies – 50-ies. Among these are such directions and paradigms as behavioralism, theory of social action, political hermeneutics, systemic analysis, theory of rational choice, etc.

There is an ideological constituent in the American political science. It is particularly noticeable in the interpretations of the USA international politics. This could be explained by the country’s geographic remoteness from the “Old World”, its political, economic, technological independence. This effected a sense of exclusiveness, moral obligation to perform a mission of spreading American values around. The national consciousness of the Americans rests on the assumption that they are carriers of a unique system of values and ideals that the rest of the world should borrow and live by.

This assumption could be traced as far back as 1890, when J.W. Burgess, founder of the American political science, made public his scholarly observations concerning the nations’ “talent for political organization”. He claimed: “The highest talent for political organization has been exhibited by the Aryan nations, and by these unequally. Those of them remaining in the Asiatic home have created no real states…It is therefore not to be assumed that every nation must become a state. The political subjection or attachment of the unpolitical nations to those possessing political endowment appears, if we may judge from history, to be as truly a part of the course of the world’s civilization as is the national organization of states. I do not think that Asia and Africa can ever receive political organization in any other way”. [8,p.4]

The scholar’s division of nations into “dominant” and “subject” ones, the USA naturally belonging to the first, held on and has become an established opinion among the American political elite justifying interference of “dominant” countries into the affairs of others, that we have seen in action in the last decades.

Among the factors defining the character and major features of the American political science is its dependence on political power. A lot has been written on this bias, the close links between the science and government and private organizations. These links, however, do not exclude an opportunity of free and objective expression of opinion for political scientists, a good example being the two well-known professors – Z.K. Brzeziński and S.F.Cohen, who both consulted the American presidents having diametrically opposite points of view on many issues relating for example to the USSR and post-Soviet Russia.

American universities have for a long time been connected with power and government structures – to a greater degree than the universities in Europe. For example, the Californian University was governed by members of famous families (Hurst, Chandler, Symon). Charity funds is a channel of influence of big business on the intellectual sphere. The famous Soros charity fund has a network of organizations. It includes research institutions related to political circles financed and staffed by personnel jointly by funds and corporations. One of such organizations is the Council on Foreign Relations with its influential quarterly magazine “ Foreign Affairs”. The Council is associated with such famous specialists of international relations as M.Bandi and H.Kissinger. “ The 20-th century” is financing university professors using the results of their findings in elaboration and practical application of foreign policy. There exist very close ties between American universities, government bodies and the US Defense Ministry. This involves about 250 universities and colleges. There are close relations between American universities and the CIA. Millions of dollars from the CIA funds have penetrated teaching and research organizations, journalists’ and layers’ organizations, trade unions in the USA and worldwide.

A significant step in further strengthening of ties among the government, business and university science was the so-called Trilateral Commission initiated in 1975. It included the banker D. Rockfeller, presidents J. Carter and G. Bush, vice president W. Mondale, state secretaries S. Vans and H. Kissinger, as well as advisor on national security Z.K. Brzeziński.

All this has led to creation of a “politico-academic complex” which has a considerable influence on social life in the USA. So, due to objective historical processes political science in the USA was in greater demand on the part of the state and political establishment than in other countries. The American political science has proved to be closely integrated into the mechanism of state political functioning, has become a natural part of the education system and culture of the country, its political thinking.

The above circumstances make the USA political science a complicated phenomenon that can cause contradictory reactions. Very often the science is mixed with ideology propagating advantages of Western civilization, or with ideas supported by a group of experts who consulted the first Russian president on the reformation of the country.

Advocates of western political science insist on its universal nature, for reasons which have to do with politics rather than science. Naturally, western political science reflects globalization processes which are connected with proliferation of western influence in the world in all spheres including business, education and science.

American political science on the Russian soil

American political science is a phenomenon which is worth studying. It was the western political science that first raised and studied all major social and political problems, such as: sovereignty of a nation, natural rights of people, division of power, and the like. It is worth studying because it allows to better understand western civilization, its political culture, the nature of this “socio-biological organism” (A. Zinoviev) which should not be copied, as it will be impossible, but should be studied with a view to understanding it in the best possible way. Without this understanding the dialogue between civilizations will be impossible.

The study of western political science does not threaten Russia’s national interests as it does not affect the country’s national identity. The course of events in a country does not depend on theoretical conceptions, but on other factors, mostly of internal nature, such as selfishness, or selflessness of the national elite.

It should be noted that over the last years there have been a lot of developments in the American political life, and the political science allowing for various interpretations. According to D. M. Ricci [9], the political science is in continuing tragedy because it cannot provide ethical standards for political wisdom and good political life, such notions as justice, virtue, ethics, moral standards have been replaced by new approaches of political analysis based on quantitative data, with such lifeless notions as “focusing”, “socialization”, ”system”. This shift of scientific interest from significant questions of politics and democracy to purely pragmatic aspects explains the crisis that the American political science has come to face .

There is no uniformity inside American science, among various national schools. D. Easton stressed that there exist so many approaches to the study of politics that political science seems to have lost its bearings [10, p.154].

But the question is: can there be uniformity in a social science?

Russian political thought, its social sciences have always noticeably differed from western social-political tradition. This can be explained by several factors. Firstly, the geographic position of Russia, between Europe and Asia, East and West, conditioned the “conflicting” type of Russian civilization and social life. Secondly, compared to the European countries, Russia was subject to a different paradigm in its social-economic and political development. Here capitalism combined with serfdom in the economy, and absolute monarchy in the political aspect – which caused social contradictions. Unlike in the West, there was no demarcation between political and ethical-religious traditions. The Russian thought had for a long time been syncretic. This could be explained by the fact that traditionally there was “little” politics in Russia, at least as understood by western standards. The Russian monarchy, like any other monarchy, except may be for the British one, was perceived as a non-political state institution, granted by the God. It existed without change till the formation of the State Duma at the beginning of the 20-th century. This is the reason why in Russia political theories appeared much later than in other countries.

In other words, during a very long time, until the 19-th century, political ideas in Russia developed in a non-rational manner, mainly in a religious or mythological key, they were closely connected with philosophy and existed in the social context, so it would be adequate to characterize the Russian political thought of the first nine centuries from the time of its inception as social-political.

The peak of Russian political thought falls on the end of the 19-th the beginning of the 20-th centuries. It was at that time that the major trends of the Russian political thought came into being: Russian liberalism, conservatism, revolutionary radicalism, religious-moral tradition. This process was undoubtedly influenced by the abolition of serfdom and the ensuing liberal reforms of the 1850-ies – 70-ies that stimulated interest towards problems of constitutionalism and law, state building, representative institutions, and others.

A purely Russian phenomenon was the famous dispute between pro-Slavic supporters and the westerners. There appeared populism and Eurasianism and the discussions around these issues led to better understanding of cultural-historic and social-political development in the context Russia-The West, Russia-Asia. Social democratism, being a western phenomenon acquired typically Russian features. In fact, these fundamental directions having changed over time have found their place in modern Russia shaping major ideological trends of Russian political science.

In Russia politics for a long time did not have the status of a separate domain of social development, as it was in the West, because there was no pluralistic democracy – an open legal competition of political parties for seats in the parliament or posts in the government. This practice was initiated only in 1906 with the formation of State Duma and was terminated in 1917, before it had asserted itself as a stable system.

However, the emergence of political science as an academic subject goes back to 1755, when the first ten departments of Moscow University were set up at M. Lomonosov’s suggestion, the Department of Political Science being one of them. In the first half of the 19-th century Moscow University included the Faculty of Ethics and Politics which turned out specialists of politics, diplomacy, political economy. But it is not clear what impact it had on the formation of Russian political science.

In the Soviet period political science developed into a multidisciplinary system of knowledge including such disciplines as Marxist-Leninist Philosophy, Political Economy, Scientific Communism, History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It was only in the 1970-ies that the term “political science” came to be occasionally used in relation to research devoted exclusively to politics. Political science did not exist as a social institute with its structures and functions, but as separate theories explaining and anticipating social development of the country.

The themes of the Soviet and western thought coincided but their formation was principally different. While western social science was preoccupied with the study of reality , objective laws and projects of development the Soviet science was concerned with the problems of the future: building of a new society, education of a new man, theories of developed socialism, etc. These theories were based on the constructed reality and when it became clear that the project could not be put into life the theories could not help find ways out of the crisis that the country got into. As a result, western liberal theories easily gained popularity among ideologists in the USSR at the time of the crisis.

At the end of the 80-ies political science became popular due to the radical liberalization of the Russian society and soon got recognition as an academic discipline giving rise to numerous institutes and centers for political studies serving the interests of various political structures.

Differently from western, first of all American, practice the use of political scientists in government service did not take root in Russia. Instead, it has become common among politicians to get academic degrees in social and political sciences.

In the post-Soviet period a lot of disputable issues were raised by Russian political science. One of these was the possibility of using the western political science and experience in Russia. Two opposing trends addressed this issue. The ‘westernized’ approach proceeded from the obvious retardation of the Russian political science and called to cover the gap through adopting western experience and methodology of research.

The other, 'soil-bound' tradition stressed the principal inappropriateness of western concepts in the Russian reality. According to A. Panarin, western political science describes the world of politics as it took shape in Europe and then in the USA after the modernization shift, consequently it can be fully applied only to the West , the new democratic West [11, pp.3-17].

Thus, the important question is: how adequately this science can describe political processes in countries that have civilizational framework different from western countries.

The answer to this can be the following observation: “Political struggle which concentrates on specific points needs different kinds of knowledge and a different kind of intellectual. Perhaps it will lead us to a situation where there is no American or European or Asian or African political science, but instead different political discourses depending on locality, situation and politics.” [12, p.98].

The present stage in the development of political science is the stage of “scientific reflection”. It refers primarily to western political science, but it is of great importance to Russian science as well . It presupposes acquisition of western theoretical background, its critical assessment and elaboration of domestic theories and methodologies.

Russian political thought shaped itself in specific conditions characteristic for Russia. They determined socio-political environment that created the Russian type of statesmanship, society and social science. In the post-Soviet period, especially at the beginning, Russian political science relied heavily on western theories, but later its quest for identity reflected in the works of Russian political scientists revealed high potential of national science, which ,as never before, is able to meet the challenge of modern social development.

Rossiter C. Parties and Politics in America. Cornel University Press. Ithaca and London. 1964.-Pp. 206.
Thomas, David N. Two-party politics in America.// Contemporary Review. V. 261(1520). Sept.1992.
Adams, James Truslow, The Epic of America. Boston, Little, Brown and company, 1931. Pp.433
Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America. Saunders and Otley (London).V 1-2 , 1835 1840.
Markuze G. Odnomernyi chelovek. M.: Refl-book, 1994. 368 s.
Zinov'ev A. Zapad. Fenomen zapadnizma. M.: Tsentrpoligraf, 1995. 461c.
Ordeshuk P. Evolyutsiya politicheskoi teorii Zapada i problemy institutsional'nogo dizaina // Voprosy filosofii. 1994, 3.
Burgess, John William. Political Science and Comparative Constitutional Law. Baker and Taylor Company. New York.-1890. Pp.xx + 372.
Ricci, David M. The Tragedy of Political Science: Politics, Scholarship, and Democracy. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press. 1984. Pp.xiii +335.
Politicheskaya nauka: novye napravleniya. / Pod red. R.Gudina, Kh.-D.Klingemana, M.:Veche. 1999. 815 s.
Panarin A. S. Politologiya. O mire politiki na Vostoke i na Zapade. Izd-vo: Universitet, 2000. 320 s.
E. Berndtson. The Rise and Fall of American Political Science:Personalities, Quotations, Speculations.//International Political Science Review. 1987. Vol.8, No.1.Pp. 85-100