No Kant but a bit on fudge

The Blackwell Dictionary of Political Science
September 10, 1999

This work offers a workmanlike vade mecum for those interested in the world of pol-sci, or pol-sci-fi. It is clearly not written for initiates: as the blurb tells us, it makes "minimal assumptions about the reader's prior knowledge of the discipline".

In general, Frank Bealey is more reliable on the empirical side of politics than on theory, although the entry on communitarianism is excellent. He also does well on corporatism and the Droop quota. There are some exemplary entries, such as that on federalism: he effectively dispels the misconception that sees federalism as a centralising threat from "Brussels" rather than its antithesis. And Bealey's subsidiarity is a model of clarity, noting the concept's debt to Thornist political thought.

There are, however, a certain number of oddities and bloopers. The distinction between ius ad bellum and ius in bello is due not to Aquinas, but to a later scholastic distinction. Alexander Hamilton's remark about the "tyranny of Jacobinism" is dated at 1787, well before the French revolution, when the term entered the anglophone (and indeed francophone) political vocabulary.

The most famous remark made by Colonel Thomas Rainsborough (here referred to as "Rainboro") at the Putney debates in 1647 is misquoted. Quango is an acronym for "quasi autonomous non-governmental organisation". Toleration cannot simply be "the practice of not interfering with beliefs and actions that one does not like": do I tolerate US global hegemony, or my GP's administration of an enema? I put up with them.

Some notable omissions: Kant, a major influence on modern international relations theory, is entirely absent. Signs of the times: the book covers "Balkanisation", but not "Finlandisation". "Focus group" and "lobby system" get the heave-ho, as does "qualified majority voting", but "spin doctor" has its niche. Poor old Aristotle, rightly acclaimed as the founder of political science, gets less space than the late Reginald Bassett.

Bealey comes up with some interesting trivia, eg that candidates with surnames early in the alphabet do well in compulsory-voting polities such as Belgium and Australia, as press-ganged voters cannot be bothered to read the whole ballot paper. The value-judgements entry is rather vieux jeu, since nowadays many political theorists reject the fact/value distinction on which talk of value judgements was based. Even the odd political scientist has come round to this way of thinking. The index, at its best one of the glories of works like this, lacks cross-references. So there are, for example, 40-odd undifferentiated references for "democracy". The jobbery side of politics would benefit from more coverage. The book has nothing on political conspiracy, lying, ruthlessness or cynicism, though honourable mentions go to corruption and fudge.

Bealey's prime virtues are lucidity and an eye for salient detail. His succinct and judicious entries make this a volume to dip into rather than wallow in at length, but it offers much to help the student of politics, with sensible and up-to-date suggestions for further reading.

At £316 for the paper and £55 for the cloth edition, this volume is likely to be beyond the means of many of its presumable target purchasers, but should be widely acquired by libraries.

Glen Newey is lecturer in philosophy, University of Sussex.

The Blackwell Dictionary of Political Science

Author - Frank Bealey
ISBN - 0 631 20695 7 and 20694 9
Publisher - Blackwell
Price - £55.00 and £15.99
Pages - 384

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