Synopses & Reviews
Can politics be studied scientifically, and if so, how? Assuming it is impossible to justify values by human reason alone, social science has come to consider an unreflective relativism the only viable basis, not only for its own operations, but for liberal societies more generally. Although the experience of the sixties has made social scientists more sensitive to the importance of values, it has not led to a fundamental reexamination of value relativism, which remains the basis of contemporary social science. Almost three decades after Leo Strauss's death, Nasser Behnegar offers the first sustained exposition of what Strauss was best known for: his radical critique of contemporary social science, and particularly of political science.
Behnegar's impressive book argues that Strauss was not against the scientific study of politics, but he did reject the idea that it could be built upon political science's unexamined assumption of the distinction between facts and values. Max Weber was, for Strauss, the most profound exponent of values relativism in social science, and Behnegar's explication artfully illuminates Strauss's critique of Weber's belief in the ultimate insolubility of all value conflicts.
Strauss's polemic against contemporary political science was meant to make clear the contradiction between its claim of value-free premises and its commitment to democratic principles. As Behnegar ultimately shows, values—the ethical component lacking in a contemporary social science—are essential to Strauss's project of constructing a genuinely scientific study of politics.
"In 1953, Leo Strauss published his best-known book, Natural Right and History, based on the Walgreen Lectures delivered at the University of Chicago in October 1949. He argued with polemical vigor that we have a perennial 'need for natural right'—that is, for the transcendent standards of right and wrong independent from social conventions.NRH signified an endeavor to renew the question of natural right in the 'crisis of the West' with three problems: relativism, historicism, and the scientific study of politics. In a discreet survey of the problem of political science, Nasser Behnegar provides us with a concise examination of Strauss' critique of Max Weber, the fact-value distinction and contemporary social science. Behnegar argues the subtle, yet even-handed thesis that Strauss '...is a friend, perhaps an indispensable friend, of the scientific study of politics.' While Weber had distinguished between facts and values, political life reveals that the difference is alien to a commonsense understanding of political things. The belief that the realm of science only pertains to facts, not values, finally reduces Weber's social science to nihilism and absurdity, betraying the project of a genuine political science. Given the crisis of modernity this realization is far from palatable since, as Strauss declares, 'Man cannot live without light, guidance, and knowledge.' In the end, the impressiveness of Behnegar's unpretentious accomplishment goes beyond his illuminating reading of a much-ignored facet of Strauss' thinking. The achievement lies in the clarity with which the problem of contemporary social science is presented and the calm aide-memoire that political science is concerned principally with wise action." Reviewed by Don Fry, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
About the Author
Nasser Behnegar is an assistant professor of political science at Boston College.
Table of Contents
List of Abbreviations
Chapter 1: Political Science in the Age of Relativism
Chapter 2: Political Philosophy in the Age of Relativism
Chapter 3: The Fact-Value Distinction and Nihilism
Chapter 4: The Fact-Value Distinction and Social Science as a Theoretical Pursuit
Chapter 5: The Problem of Social Science
Chapter 6: Strauss's Polemic Against the New Political Science
Chapter 7: The New Political Science
Chapter 8: The Revolt Against the Old Political Science
Chapter 9: The New Political Science and Liberal Democracy