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Politics and science as a vocation: can academics save us from post-truth politics?

Politics and science as a vocation: can academics save us from post-truth politics?
Politics and science as a vocation: can academics save us from post-truth politics?
In an apparently post-truth era, the social science scholar, by disposition and training committed to rational argumentation and the pursuit of truth, appeals as the ideal bulwark against excessive politicization of facts and expertise. In this article, we look to the experience of four prominent social scientists who have recently left the academy to enter politics with the aim of using their academic expertise to reshape policy. We use these cases to explore fundamental dilemmas derived from a close reading of Max Weber’s seminal vocation essays of a century ago. Weber observed that politicians were driven by a will to power, whereas academics were driven by a will to truth. We argue that these two competing dispositions create four tensions for the academic turned politician: 1) between calling and commitment; 2) between means and ends; 3) between rationalization and professionalization; and 4) between facts and values. Analysing memoirs written by four of the most prominent academics-turned-politicians in recent times, we explore how Weber’s tensions manifest in contemporary practice. Our account reveals that these actors face a daunting, but not impossible, task. Their success depends on wedding the relentless pursuit of ends with the prudent application of political means.
Political elites; post-truth; politicians; Weber
575–590
Boswell, John
34bad0df-3d4d-40ce-948f-65871e3d783c
Corbett, Jack
ad651655-ac70-4072-a36f-92165e296ce2
Havercroft, Jonathan
929f9452-daf9-4859-9f59-88348846949a
Boswell, John
34bad0df-3d4d-40ce-948f-65871e3d783c
Corbett, Jack
ad651655-ac70-4072-a36f-92165e296ce2
Havercroft, Jonathan
929f9452-daf9-4859-9f59-88348846949a

Boswell, John, Corbett, Jack and Havercroft, Jonathan (2020) Politics and science as a vocation: can academics save us from post-truth politics? Political Studies Review, 18 (4), 575–590. (doi:10.1177/1478929919875065).

Record type: Article

Abstract

In an apparently post-truth era, the social science scholar, by disposition and training committed to rational argumentation and the pursuit of truth, appeals as the ideal bulwark against excessive politicization of facts and expertise. In this article, we look to the experience of four prominent social scientists who have recently left the academy to enter politics with the aim of using their academic expertise to reshape policy. We use these cases to explore fundamental dilemmas derived from a close reading of Max Weber’s seminal vocation essays of a century ago. Weber observed that politicians were driven by a will to power, whereas academics were driven by a will to truth. We argue that these two competing dispositions create four tensions for the academic turned politician: 1) between calling and commitment; 2) between means and ends; 3) between rationalization and professionalization; and 4) between facts and values. Analysing memoirs written by four of the most prominent academics-turned-politicians in recent times, we explore how Weber’s tensions manifest in contemporary practice. Our account reveals that these actors face a daunting, but not impossible, task. Their success depends on wedding the relentless pursuit of ends with the prudent application of political means.

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Accepted/In Press date: 20 May 2019
e-pub ahead of print date: 20 September 2019
Published date: November 2020
Keywords: Political elites; post-truth; politicians; Weber

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Local EPrints ID: 432040
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/432040
PURE UUID: 0e549444-1b17-47a4-9caf-f92f88a1a19d
ORCID for John Boswell: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0002-3018-8791
ORCID for Jack Corbett: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0003-2005-7162
ORCID for Jonathan Havercroft: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0003-0995-8912

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Date deposited: 27 Jun 2019 16:30
Last modified: 18 Feb 2021 17:25

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