Peter Marden, The Decline of Politics:  Governance, Globalization and the Public Sphere.  Aldershot, England:  Ashgate, 2003.  286 pages.

Amitai Etzioni, From Empire to Community:  A New Approach to International Relations.  New York:  Palgrave, 2004.  258 pages.

Irving Louis Horowitz, editor, Civil Society and Class Politics:  Essays on the Political Sociology of Seymour Martin Lipset.  New Brunswick, NJ:  Transaction, 2004.  234 pages.

Jack Goldstone, editor, States, Parties and Social Movements.  Cambridge, England:  Cambridge University Press, 2003.  287 pages.

        reviewed by Ted Goertzel, Rutgers University, Camden NJ
   Published n the Journal of Political and Military Sociology, Volume 32, No 2, Winter 2004, pp. 277-281.

    Peter Marden's The Decline of Politics is the most dismal of these books.  Marden is caught in a miasma of anxiety, malaise, isolation and discontent.  He fears that there is no alternative to the free trade juggernaut which has hegemony in his native Australia and almost everywhere else.  The villains are the neo-liberals, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and the large corporations who have colonized the public sphere and reduced the capacity for open participation in political dialog.  
    Intellectuals have always been upset by the failure of political and economic leaders to follow, or even pay much attention to, their advice.  Marden summarizes and critiques the works of many of them, including such luminaries as Arendt, Aristotle, Baudrillard, Bauman, Bourdieu, Foucalt, Gellner, Giddens, Habermas, Hegel, Hobsbawm, Marcuse, Rousseau, Weber and many others.  His is a scholastic method; most of the argument is devoted to analyzing the works of other scholars.  He worries that this can degenerate into a verbose and pedantic exercise, and writes with admirable clarity about writers whose books are anything but.  His book could be used as a text by instructors who spend the semester explicating the works of leading theorists.
The Decline of Politics also includes observations about topics such as corporate management of health care, China's role in the World Trade Organization, trade and biotechnology, the September 11 attacks, increasing surveillance by security forces, the decline of social participation in wealthy societies, schizophrenic desire as a basis for postmodern social organization, and the attempts to develop global civil society.  These discussions could serve as a basis for classroom discussion, but they are not long enough to offer a comprehensive analysis.  
Although the title speaks of the Decline of Politics what is really meant is the decline of the influence of the left intelligentsia and leftist social movements.  Neo-liberal politics, as Marden defines it, has been ascendant.  Leftist movements were much more vital when they attacked capitalism and offered socialism as an alternative.  Now they attack "neoliberalism," a much mushier concept, without offering any clear alternative.  In his conclusion, Marden offers little more than a call for politics that is open, public, contested and responsive to the issues of the day.  But what if the neo-liberals win this political game?
Amitai Etzioni's book is much more upbeat.  For him, the vessel of globalization is half full, not half empty.  He is fully aware of the problems with globalization, but thinks it can also been seen as a trend towards world government and world community.  He offers an alternative he calls communitarianism.   This involves a normative synthesis of Western scientific, democratic and secular values with Eastern spiritual and communal values.  His views have something in common with those of social democrats who advocate a "third way" of social democracy, but he adds a soft religious dimension.  He opposes fundamentalism of all sorts, seeking to acknowledge the need both for individual freedoms and strong community norms.  He strongly opposes Huntington's clash of civilization thesis, arguing that the struggle must be against extremism everywhere, including extremes of rationalism and secularism.
 Etzioni's book is based on scholarship and journalism about current affairs and international relations, with only occasional references to theoretical writings.  He has written elsewhere on the philosophy of communitarianism, the only part of his work that Marden discusses.  Far from seeing a decline of politics, Etzioni finds evidence for a global increase in political participation.  He believes that politics still matters, and that the values he espouses have a chance of winning.
Irving Louis Horowitz has collected a set of articles as a tribute to Seymour Martin Lipset.  Much of Lipset's work was driven by a need to understand why the socialist parties he favored never had much success in the United States, when compared to Europe or Canada.  Nathan Glazer observes that this question seems less compelling today, now that socialism has more or less failed everywhere.  Terry Clark notes that question of the alleged breakdown of class politics, another debate emerging out of Lipset's work, also seems less compelling.  It depends mostly on how broadly one chooses to define class.  Lipset was a stimulating writer and thinker, and his autobiographical essay in this volume is a delight.  If there are no comparable figures in political sociology today, this may be because geniuses are few and far between.  
Or it may be because the really big issues that engaged left-of-center intellectuals have been settled, politically if not intellectually, and political sociologists have not become really engaged in the issues of the post-socialist world.  One alternative is to retreat into the ivory tower of scholasticism, as Marden has done.  The other is to escape into complex statistical analyses of quantitative data sets, as several authors in the Horowitz collection have done.  The results are much less interesting, and less convincing, than those Lipset achieved with simple cross-tabulations, frequency tables and small-N comparisons.
Jack Goldstone has collected a set of articles by scholars who worked together for several years on a common project:  seeking common ground between two different theories of social movements.  One theory views movements as outsiders, challenging the powers that be in the interests of neglected or oppressed groups.  The other sees them as tightly linked to state institutions and often created and manipulated by established political actors.  The authors soon discover that neither theory has all the answers.  Nor would synthesizing them in some formal way be helpful.  Instead, the authors offer case studies on topics such as racial contention in the American south, the FBI's counterintelligence against the new left, the transition to democracy in Eastern Europe and Mexico, party conflict in India, racial categorization in the United States and protest cycles in the American student movement.  
Each of the essays is insightful and informative, but none draws much from the general theories.  As Charles Tilly notes in his afterword to the volume, the authors display a deep ambivalence about general models of social movements.  Resource mobilization, political process and other theories serve only to raise questions, not to provide answers.  
What then should political sociologists do?  Richard Samuels' essay in the Horowitz volume suggests an answer, one which applies to anyone who seeks to achieve political as well as intellectual goals.  The successful leader, says Samuels, is a bricoleur, a tinkerer or problem-solver who uses whatever tools he or she has at hand to accomplish a goal.  In social science, this is best done when one starts with a puzzle or a problem, such as Lipset's wondering why socialism had failed in the United States but succeeded in Saskatchewan.  Manali Desai, in the Goldstone volume, raises a similar question when he asks why social policies have been so different in the Indian states of Kerala and West Bengal.  Kim Williams raises another puzzle, why did so many state legislatures in the 1960s adopt laws requiring the addition of a multiracial category on state documents?
Answering empirical puzzles like these requires being a bricoleur, willing to use any method or theory that can help.  So does trying to solve a policy problem, such as building global institutions to contain terrorism before some group sets off a nuclear weapon in a major world city.  Amitai Etzioni is to be commended for having the chutzpah to take on such a topic.  Political sociology will be stronger when more of us rise to similar challenges.