The American Political Science Association recently published in its journal PS the results of a survey of political theorists in America. Respondents were asked in one instance to name “scholars doing excellent work today whose work will be influential during the next 20 years.” Topping the list was Chicago’s Patchen Markell, who I confess I hadn’t heard of prior to reading the survey. Most of the other names on the list were known to me, including our own Patrick Deneen, who came in at #12, tied in votes with Michael Walzer and Thomas Pangle. The pomocon’s Peter Lawler had half as many votes as Deneen, but I’m not sure whether I should interpret that as a sign of a disciplinary-wide embrace of Porcher ethics or not. No doubt Patrick will modestly point out that the fact he received nearly four times as many votes as Alasdair MacIntyre as a flaw in the survey; and since (in the interest of full disclosure) I received no votes in the survey I am immodestly inclined to believe it’s flawed. we may be in agreement. Nonetheless, the survey is an encouraging sign the important work Patrick is doing is not going by unnoticed, and one hopes it means the Porch may attract more passers-by. Kudos.

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Jeffrey Polet grew up in an immigrant household in the immigrant town of Holland MI. After twenty years of academic wandering he returned to Holland and now teaches political science at Hope College, where he also grudgingly serves as chair of the department, having unsuccessfully evaded all requests. In the interim, he continues to nurture quirky beliefs: Division III basketball is both athletically and morally superior to Division I; the Hope/Calvin rivalry is the greatest in sports; the lecture is still the best form of classroom instruction; never buy a car with less than 100,000 miles on it; putts will still lip out in heaven; bears are the incarnation of evil; Athens actually has something to do with Jerusalem; and Tombstone is a cinematic classic. His academic work has mirrored his peripatetic career. Originally trained at the Catholic University of America in German philosophy and hermeneutical theory, he has since gravitated to American Political Thought. He still occasionally writes about European thinkers such as Michel Foucault or the great Max Weber, but mostly is interested in the relationship between theological reflection and political formation in the American context. In the process of working on a book on John Marshall for The Johns Hopkins University Press, he became more sensitive to the ways in which centralized decision-making undid local communities and autonomy. He has also written on figures such as William James and the unjustly neglected Swedish novelist Paer Lagerkvist. A knee injury and arthritis eliminated daily basketball playing, and he now spends his excess energy annoying his saintly wife and their three children, two of whom are off to college. Expressions of sympathy for the one who remains can be posted in the comments section. He doesn’t care too much for movies, but thinks opera is indeed the Gesamtkuntswerk, that the music of Gustav Mahler is as close as human beings get to expressing the ineffable, that God listens to Mozart in his spare time, and that Bach is history’s greatest genius.


  1. The survey apparently asked political theorists (of whom roughly 1,000 responded) to name up to 5 scholars “doing excellent work today whose work will be influential in the next 20 years.” Of what was at least potentially 5,000 votes (I don’t know how many were actually cast), the top vote-getter (Markell) received 40; I received 15, along with Pangle and Walzer; Lawler received 7; MacIntyre received 4 (Rawls, 5!); etc.

    So, what this poll really proves is that there’s no real agreement about what theorists and theories will be important in 20 years – that the discipline, much like the academy, is one of fragmentation and disagreement more than anything else. I was gratified to receive even this small collection of votes (a fact not unnoticed by some of my colleagues, for whom rankings of any kind is proof of something), but my head still fits inside most of my hats.

    Thanks, Jeff

  2. Impressive showing!

    Shouldn’t Rawls be excluded on the grounds that he is deceased and no longer working “today”?

    And arguably MacIntyre’s best work is behind him, though I think that it will still be influential in the coming decades. (But I’m not exactly an academic insider)

  3. I blogged a little about the survey here. It was mostly predictable, and what I didn’t find predictable I actually found gratifying: specifically, it was gratifying to see that so many important figures in political philosophy, who get marginalized somewhat at many of the dominant Anglo-American influenced schools in political theory, rank so highly: Habermas, Taylor, Arendt, Wolin, etc. All of whom, I ought to note, were taken with great seriousness and taught exhaustively at CUA. So let’s here it for open-minded, Continental-philosophy-allowing Catholic grad programs!

    Incidentally, Jeff, Patchen is a swell fellow. He and I have corresponded some about J.G. Herder in the past.

  4. Congrats, Prof. Deneen!

    MacIntyre is retiring from teaching and I, for one, am quite excited and curious to see what he writes in the future. I’m not yet convinced his best work is behind him.

  5. Mr. Cooney,
    While officially a philosopher (as is Rawls), MacIntyre’s work has profound importance and relevance for political philosophy. His efforts to revive an Aristotelian and Thomistic basis for ethics has profound and far-reaching implications for political philosophy, particularly as a response to “emotivist” (or more broadly liberal) belief that no end or good of human life can be understood or embraced.

    MacIntyre himself has explored some of the political implications of his own philosophical thought, perhaps most bracingly in his essay “Politics, Philosophy, and the Common Good” (reprinted in “The MacIntyre Reader,” edited by Kelvin Knight). For FPR sympathizers, it’s particularly worth noting that in this essay, MacIntyre acknowledges the insights of agrarians, particularly Wendell Berry (p. 237).

    In a summary set of paragraphs – ones that might have been written for FPR – he writes,

    “Such societies [of the sort he has been describing that would accord with human flourishing] must be small-scale and, so far as possible, self-sufficient as they need to protect themselves from the destructive incursions of the state and the wider market economy. They need to be small-scale, so that, whenever necessary, those who hold political office can be put to the question by those hold political office in the course of extended deliberative debate in which there is widespread participation and from which no one from whom something might be learned is excluded. The aim of this deliberative participation is to arrive at a common mind….

    [Such communities must also have truly free markets]. Genuinely free markets are always local and small-scale markets in whose exchanges producers can choose to participate or not. And societies with genuinely free markets will be societies of small producers – the family farm is very much at home in such societies – in which no one is denied the possibility of the kind of productive work without which they cannot take their place in those relationships through which the common good is realized. Such societies can never of course aspire to achieve the levels of economic and technological development of advanced modernity. But from the standpoint of those who give their allegiance to such societies, the price to be paid for limitless development would involve a renunciation of their common good Indeed the conception of the common good presupposed by large-scale so-called free market economies is necessarily an individualist one, although the ‘individuals’ are sometimes corporate entities. So that the conflict between the kind of local community I have been characterizing and the international and national economic order is at the level of practice, as well as that of theory, a conflict between rival conceptions of common good” (248, 249-50).

  6. So someone sent me this. Pretty funny. I agree that MacIntyre doesn’t show up on the radar in pol science. Although my rating (and virtually all of them) is statistically insignificant, I thought any Porcher would curve my score up given that it comes from the sticks, whereas Pat D’s ia coming from a Ph.D institution at the very heart of the imperial servile state (Georgetown). As far as I can tell, I’m very top of the small college division and sure to be more influential than MacIntyre. I also agree, of course, that Pat has said more in his own voice that’s likely to endure than Pangle, which is not to deny that Tom is a hell of a scholar.

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