Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The AMERICAN Political Science Association

...is going to have its 2009 meeting in Toronto, Canada. Canada, of coure, is in the thrall of a creepy political correctness that is stifling free speech. So there’s a petition going around among APSA members demanding that the Canadian government guarantee that the political scientists be able to speak their minds on controversial issues without being arrested or otherwised hassled. I signed the petition.

But the REAL problem is that we’re having OUR meeting in THEIR country. I’m all for not telling the Canadians what to do. Maybe we could invade them, but it’s not at all certain that we could give them freedom and democracy. Given that we’re meeting on their political turf, it’s reasonable for our political scientists to ask for the guarantee of good ol’ American free speech, and for the Canadians to be mighty insulted that we’re asking. There is a Canadian Political Science Association, and you don’t see them meeting in one of our cities.

So Dr. Pat Deneen has proposed an alternative political science meeting in our country next year--featuring "unexiled" American political scientists and of course anyone else who wants to come. We’re talking here, after all, about POLITICAL science, and so we should be alive to the features that distinguish various political communities or "states."

Discussions - 5 Comments

Part of the problem is that, as an academic organization, APSA is not so parochial as to cater to those who only study US politics. It is open to those who study Plato, Aristotle, etc. - for their own sake even.

The other part of the problem is that APSA is not so parochial to exclude non-Americans from its membership.

As an academic and not a political community, the "American" part of the APSA is more a tag of convenience, or signifier of geographic focus.

All this aside, the real reason to keep APSA out of Toronto is that most people would rather spend the long weekend in San Francisco, Boston, Tulsa, or some other city.

Peter and John raise a lot of good points. Why call it the "American" political science association at all? It may be merely a geographical signifier, as John suggests, a signifier that in fact signifies nothing. Yet, most departments of political science have a subfield in AMERICAN government - by which they do not mean Canada. It was once believed that our field had something to do with cultivating civic knowledge - i.e., had something to do with citizenship of a particular nation.


More and more political scientists have jumped on the globalization bandwagon, believing not only that we have superceded the need to attend to the nation state, but its continued existence is downright pernicious. Princeton's "Politics" Department is a poster child for the post-national fantasy. Some have seriously proposed abolishing the field of American Government (within American universities) and folding it into "comparative" studies. It's these sorts of people who proposed having the conference in Canada. It's at once a repudiation of the traditional acceptance of the desirability and reality of nations, and happily a location that has itself already moved in this post-political direction. Predictably, the levers of the State are now being used to enforce conformity with the cosmopolitan norm (hence the petition drive, of which I am also a signator).


Peter gets to what is at issue - the cosmopolitan dream is a post-political fantasy. Mark Warner was its epitome last night - it doesn't matter which party thinks of a good idea; what matters is that it works. Of course, what constitutes "working" is left undefined, but it tends to be whatever makes us more mobile, rootless, cosmopolitan. Moreover, what works is best to be determined by administrators and bureaucrats (Warner, typically enough, is a business executive in his past life. Don't think that this fantasy isn't attractive to McCain, either: he's been seriously flirting with naming either Fiorina or Whitman as his Vice-Presidential running mate, a nod in its own way to his own post-partisan aspirations).


What I think is vital about being clear about maintaining the theoretical and geographic distinctiveness of the AMERICAN P.S.A. is the recognition of the centrality of politics as our subject of study, and, more fundamentally, a defining characteristic of what it is to be human. If "political scientists" don't understand that their fantasy tends toward the abolition of politics (and the abolition of Man, for that matter), then perhaps it is the task of the American Political Science Conference Not-In-Exile to begin that lesson.

On a more mundane note, I imagine APSA is getting bargain basement prices on convention facilities and hotels. I'd guess that the contracts were signed shortly after the SARS crisis hit Toronto, and city elders sought ways to bring the visitors back. I imagine it's the same situation for post-Katrina New Orleans.

Having been to a number of APSA meetings and regularly reading the APSA journal I doubt there will be much said to inflame the Canadian thought police.

Greetings from Boston:

#4: The point is, of course, that the APSA tolerates, but would probably rather not tolerate, those with whom they disagree. So, the related groups--ISI, Claremont, Jack Miller Center, etc, and even, perhaps publishers like Rowman & Littlefield, and how about those dreaded political philsophers who like to read PLato and Aristotle seriously--would be the ones that would most likely have to watch their speech.

For an organization that on the surface claims it values free speech, having a conference in a state where "offensive" speech could land one in court is, to say the least, not conducive to a genuine (or "authentic" to be more modern) learning experience.

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