The Crimson Bookshelf

A SEQUENTIAL SCIENCE OF GOVERNMENT: A Study in Systematic Political Science. By Dennis DeWitt Brane. Western Reserve University Press. 90 pp. $1.25.

The following review was written for the Crimson by William P. Maddox, Instructor and tutor in Government.

THE very existence of a science of government is still so stubbornly challenged that a serious attempt to set forth the foundations upon which it might rest is extremely welcome. Curiously enough, this has been too rarely done in a systematic manner in this country. All science rests partly on a faith in its possibility, and partly on postulates as to the nature of the material with which it deals. The pre-suppositions of a "political science" are obviously incapable of scientific demonstration, but there should certainly be some agreement as to what they are.

In this extraordinary thoughtful little essay, Mr. Brane holds that in constructing a "political science" several fundamental preliminary steps are necessary: the scope of the field of inquiry must be delimited, a "unifying concept" based on the simplest and most universal phenomenon observed within the field must be agreed on, and a "sequential" relationship among the manifold data must be established.

The tentative boundary of the "science" is set as the "state," as the "all-pervasive instrumentally for social control," but he wisely extends this limit in his final chapter by admitting that many other social institutions manifest conditions of social control not unlike those of the state. Clearly, this is true. The "state" is a legal concept associated with comparatively modern political institutions in the west. "Politics" not only belong to universal history, but also are involved in human relations which have little or nothing to do with the structure of government. What, then, is the essential, pervasive, irreducible characteristic in this thing we call "politics"--the unifying concept? Mr. Brane says it is social control--the control of power exercised by man over man. Few will quarrel with this choice in general, although some doubt whether "power" adequately expresses the "political" relations of men, and all will readily admit that since it is a phenomenon perceptible not in itself but only in cause and effect, the "science" must be constructed along somewhat vague and unstable lines. The same, of course, applies to electricity in the physical science, but the obstacles in the way of the description and explanation of the behavior of either "force," while real, are not insurmountable.

Finally, Mr. Brane offers a "sequential" scheme of the material of politics for purposes of systematic investigation. The analysis is defective, in that when Mr. Brane introduces it, he is still obsessed by the primacy of the "state" as the concern of political science, and he fails to revise it in the light of his later extension of the scope of the subject. Still, in its restricted field, the scheme is logical and sufficient. In its broad outlines (omitting the elaborate sub-groupings), it comprises five basic elements: the state, an institution of power for social control; law, the regulation of power; government, the mechanism of power; politics, the exercise of power; and mind, the residence of power.

The author is dominated in his inquiry by a formalistic jurisprudence which renders the analysis, on the whole, self-consistent as a science of government, but suggests the possibility of other sciences founded on different postulates. Even in the above arrangement it is doubtful whether government should be viewed simply as a "mechanism"; it is essentially dynamic, involving the exercise of power--rightful power as distinct from politics.

Notwithstanding these criticisms, the essay is regarded by the reviewer as a searching and suggestive philosophical inquiry of a very high order.