Political ethnography, purely abstract speculations, formal-legal studies, and configuration studies—these are all different, even antithetical, reactions against historicism. But because they come from a single source, one should not be surprised to see them combined, however uneasily and in however ill-fitting a manner, in the large syntheses of political thought of the period. These "large syntheses" are not necessarily works of great merit. More often than not, in fact, such works are written by secondary figures, by those who ape the styles of the times rather than those who create them; but they do provide a very broad picture of the dominant fashions in analysis. Any number of such studies could be used to exemplify the immediate post-historicist period in comparative politics, but two may suffice here: one, published in 1878 by Theodore D. Woolsey, a former
president of Yale, entitled rather grandiosely Political Science, or the State Theoretically and Practically Considered; the other, by his later Princeton counterpart, Woodrow Wilson, a work with the even more prolix title, The State: Elements of Historical and Practical Politics: A Sketch of Institutional History and Administration (1895).
Both Woolsey's and Wilson's subtitles, like Roscher's, tell us, in the typically ingenuous fashion of the late nineteenth century, the most basic things we need to know about their studies. Each portrays mainly two of the anti-historicist styles we have discussed, though in each may be found examples also of the others.
Woolsey's work, an ambitious and pretentious undertaking indeed, is in effect a combination of purely abstract speculations and purely concrete political ethnography. When Woolsey talks about the state "theoretically considered," he refers primarily to two of the three categories into which German writers on politics had by then come to divide political studies: Naturrecht (natural rights—sometimes Staatsrecht , public rights) and Staatslehre (theory of the state). The first of these, Naturrecht (Woolsey calls it the "Doctrine of Rights as the Formulation of a Just State") is, of course, concerned with normative theories of political freedom and obligation. This part of the study bears no relation to anything subsequently said in it, but it is justified in Woolsey's own mind on the ground that no state worthy of the name is unjust, that justice in the state mainly consists of the safeguarding of natural rights, and that, therefore, there is no point in discussing the state without discussing the theory of natural rights—a curious syllogism, to say the least, but one that does encompass in a flimsy way the bifurcation of theory and data that confronted Woolsey.
To this concern with natural rights is added a series of concerns that Woolsey himself identifies as Staatslehre , a veritable rag bag of ethical and nonethical questions: "Opinions on the Nature of the State and on Its Origins," "Theories of Sovereignty," "The Proper Ends and Sphere of the State," "The Organization of States" (whether the desire for it is instinctive or habitual, the need for a "constitution," the various departments of government, distinctions between representative and nonrepresentative systems), "Theories of Communism and Socialism," "Limits and Extent of the Punitive Power of the State," and sundry normative questions ("Can the Citizen's or Subject's Connection with the State Terminate?" "What Are the Limits of Loyalty and Obedience?" "What of Conflicts between Law and Conscience?").
All these problems, normative or not, are mainly discussed abstractly in the light of the abstract speculations of other political theorists. Politics "practically considered," however, turns out to be what the late nineteenth-century Germans understood by Politik: the large-scale historical examination of political institutions from earliest to modern times,
mainly in terms of the classical categories; the formal examination of the "departments" and "institutions" of central and local government; and, at the very end, a few afterthoughts (one or two quite reminiscent of Montesquieu, whom Woolsey had obviously read but not really understood) on the influences of "Physical Causes on Politics," on "National Character," and on the "Causes of Political Change and Revolutions." In short, the whole book, save only for the very end, is either unmitigatedly abstract or pointlessly concrete, and the quotation cited from it on the relations of the study of rights and the state, which introduces the work, is a good indication of the way Woolsey relates theory to data throughout.
Woodrow Wilson's The State is admittedly his minor piece—though anything but a modest one, going on as it does through 1,287 sections, large and small. From our standpoint, however, it is much more worth examining than his more distinguished work, for two reasons: one, that it purports to be a text on politics of unprecedented scope, a summation of the empirical knowledge of the state in his time; the other, that it begins with large claims for comparative politics as the only proper approach to understanding political experience.
What is "comparative" politics to Wilson? Essentially, it signifies to him, as to Woolsey, a very detailed and far-ranging political ethnography primarily as historical narrative and secondarily through the depiction of contemporary formal-legal structure. About five-sixths of the work is devoted to such bald descriptions. Wilson begins the study with some questions about the probable origins of government—a fact whose significance we shall see later, but this subject, after a cursory consideration of evolutionary and early anthropological theories, soon takes him to the more congenial ground of classical history, where his political ethnography proper begins. The political institutions, first of Greece and Rome, then of "Teutonic Polity" in the Middle Ages, and then of German and French feudalism and monarchy are painstakingly examined; the chapters on them constitute the "institutional history" section of the work. The "practical politics" side of the study involves mainly an indiscriminate detailing of the formal-legal structures of French, German, Swiss, Austro-Hungarian, Swedish-Norwegian, British, and American governments. And all this, counting some historical discussions scattered throughout, takes up nearly a thousand sections.
Not until section 1,121 is any attempt made to draw any "comparative" conclusions. And what are these conclusions? Their modesty is perhaps as remarkable as the ostentatiousness of the data on which they are based. Essentially, Wilson distills from his materials three inferences: political change has taken the form of a very slow process of development from more primitive to more highly developed political organizations; modern political experience confirms the Aristotelian classifications, although mod-
ern monarchies, aristocracies, and democracies have some features not found in the ancient world; governments are all pretty much alike—denying the view of those (Wilson claims the great majority) who believe in the uniqueness of political systems—but there are differences between governments, due partly to unique historical backgrounds and partly to "nation-marks," an argument that immediately reinstates the belief in uniqueness, albeit in a milder form. Finally, in a sort of epilogue, Wilson considers some purely abstract questions in primarily an abstract way: sovereignty, the nature of law, the classification of the functions of government, political rights, whether society is greater than government, and so on. That is the total extent of Wilson's summa —for a summa in a way it is, a summation of all the dominant modes of political thought of his time.