The Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions
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The Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions


DisciplinaCiências Políticas e Teoria do Estado622 materiais7.848 seguidores
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political science is rooted in constitutionalism or staatswissenschaft and,
when it diverges from that tradition, it remains distinctive.
5 What are the Competing
Traditions\u2014Idealism?
.........................................................................................................................................................................................
In British political science, the idealist tradition encompasses those who argue that
social and political institutions do not exist apart from traditions or our theories
(or ideas) of them (see Nicholson 1990). The major British idealist of recent times
is Oakeshott (1991 and the citations on pp. xxiii\u2013xvi). I concentrate on the
application of his ideas to the study of political institutions.
The inheritors of idealism challenged behavioralism for its neglect of meanings,
contexts, and history. Oakeshott (1962, 129\u201330) argued political education required
the \u2018\u2018genuine historical study\u2019\u2019 of a \u2018\u2018political tradition, a concrete manner of
behavior.\u2019\u2019 The task of political science, although he would never use that
label, is \u2018\u2018to understand a tradition,\u2019\u2019 which is \u2018\u2018participation in a conversation,\u2019\u2019
\u2018\u2018initiation into an inheritance,\u2019\u2019 and \u2018\u2018an exploration of its intimations.\u2019\u2019
old institutionalisms 97
For Oakeshott (1962, 126\u20137) a tradition is a \u2018\u2018Xow of sympathy\u2019\u2019 and in any political
activity we \u2018\u2018sail a boundless and bottomless sea\u2019\u2019 and \u2018\u2018the enterprise is to keep
aXoat on an even keel.\u2019\u2019 This is a conservative idealism that treats tradition as
a resource to which one should typically feel allegiance (cf. Taylor 1985;
Skinner 1969).
For Johnson (1989, 131, 112), political institutions \u2018\u2018express . . . ideas about
political authority . . . and embody a continuing approach to resolving the issues
which arise in the relations between citizen and government.\u2019\u2019 Institutions are also
normative, \u2018\u2018serv[ing] as means of communicating and transmitting values.\u2019\u2019 They
are the expression of human purpose, so political institutions necessarily contain a
normative element (Johnson 1975, 276\u20137). The task of \u2018\u2018political science,\u2019\u2019 a term
Johnson would abhor, is to study institutions using \u2018\u2018the methods of historical
research . . . to establish what is particular and speciWc rather than to formulate
statements of regularity or generalisations claiming to apply universally.\u2019\u2019 History is
\u2018\u2018the source of experience\u2019\u2019 while philosophy is \u2018\u2018the means of its critical appraisal\u2019\u2019
(Johnson 1989, 122\u20133). Johnson\u2019s (1977, 30; emphasis in original) analysis of the
British constitution is grounded in the \u2018\u2018extraordinary and basically unbroken
continuity of conventional political habits.\u2019\u2019 The British \u2018\u2018constitution is these
political habits and little else\u2019\u2019 and the core notion is \u2018\u2018the complete dominance\u2019\u2019
of the idea of parliamentary government. Johnson (2004) applies this idea of the
customary constitution of practices \u2018\u2018mysteriously handed down as the intimations
of a tradition\u2019\u2019 and \u2018\u2018inarticulate major premises\u2019\u2019 (the reference is, of course, to
Oakeshott) to New Labour\u2019s constitutional reforms; for example, devolution. His
detailed commentary is of little concern here. Of relevance is his \u2018\u2018bias\u2019\u2019 towards
\u2018\u2018the customary constitution\u2019\u2019 because of its \u2018\u2018remarkable record of adaptation to
changing circumstances and challenges\u2019\u2019 (Johnson 2004, 5). However, a customary
constitution depends on support from a society that is sympathetic to \u2018\u2018habit,
convention and tradition.\u2019\u2019 Johnson fears there is a \u2018\u2018crumbling respect for trad-
ition\u2019\u2019 and ponders whether the current reforms move \u2018\u2018beyond custom
and practice,\u2019\u2019 and \u2018\u2018piecemeal adaptation may have its limits.\u2019\u2019 The customary
supports of the constitution may well have been \u2018\u2018eroded beyond recall.\u2019\u2019 Johnson
(2004) ends on this interrogatory note.
The notion of institutions as embedded ideas and practices is central to
Johnson\u2019s analysis. It also lies at the heart of the Islamic study of political institutions.
Al-Buraey (1985, ch. 6) identiWes a distinctive Islamic approach to the institutions
and processes of administrative development. Its distinctive features include: its
emphasis on Islamic values and ethical standards; prayers in an Islamic organiza-
tion\u2014salah Wve times a day is a duty because it is as necessary to feed the soul as to
feed the body; bureaucracies that represent the groups they serve; and shura or the
process of continuous dialogue between ruler and ruled until a consensus emerges.
Also, asOmid (1994, 4) argues, Islamcanproduce two contrasting views of the role of
the state. The state exists \u2018\u2018only to protect and apply the laws as stated by God.\u2019\u2019 The
98 r. a. w. rhodes
Saudimodelmeans that you cannot have elections, leaders emerge by consensus and
rule according to the teachings of the Koran. The Iranian model builds on the
alternative view that Muslims have to abide by the rulings of Islam but that which
is not prohibited is permitted. So, there can be elections, parliament, and legislation
but the laws have to be subject to scrutiny by a council of guardians. I do not end on
an interrogatory note, but stress the primacy of ideas in the study of political
institutions (see also Blyth 2002; Campbell and Pederson 2001; Hay 2002).
6 What are the Competing
Traditions\u2014Socialism?
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If historical materialism and economic determinism have been relegated to the
dustbin of history, what is left? I seek to show that the tradition persists and
introduce brieXy the Marxist theory of the state; the post-Marxists, whose work
has been inXuenced by \u2018\u2018the linguistic turn;\u2019\u2019 and the non-Marxists with their
predilection for social engineering.
6.1 Marxist Political Economy
The speciWc area of concern to the student of political institutions is their analysis
of the state. The literature burgeoned (see for example Hay 1996, 1999; Jessop 1990;
and Chapter 7).
Jessop is a central Wgure. He argues against all those approaches to state theory
predicated on a distinction between structure and agency. He treats structure and
agency only as an analytical distinction; they do not exist apart from one another.
Rather we must look at the relationship of structure to action and action to
structure. So, \u2018\u2018structures are thereby treated analytically as strategic in their
form, content and operation; and actions are thereby treated analytically as
structured, more or less context sensitive, and structuring.\u2019\u2019 This approach involves
examining both \u2018\u2018how a given structure may privilege some actors, some identities,
some strategies . . . some actions over others,\u2019\u2019 and \u2018\u2018the ways . . . in which
actors . . . take account of this diVerential privileging through \u2018strategic-context
analysis\u2019 \u2019\u2019 (Jessop 2001, 1223). In other words, individuals intending to realize
certain objectives and outcomes make a strategic assessment of the context in
old institutionalisms 99
which they Wnd themselves. However that context is not neutral. It too is strategic-
ally selective in the sense that it privileges certain strategies over others. Individuals
learn from their actions and adjust their strategies. The context is changed by their
actions, so individuals have to adjust to a diVerent context. Institutions or func-
tions no longer deWne the state. It is a site of strategic selectivity; a \u2018\u2018dialectic of
structures and strategies\u2019\u2019 (Jessop 1990, 129).
According to Hay (1999, 170), Jessop\u2019s central achievement has been to transcend
\u2018\u2018more successfully than any other Marxist theorist past or present\u2019\u2019 the \u2018\u2018artiWcial
dualism of structure and agency.\u2019\u2019 I do not want