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Some Problems in Doing Political Theory: A Response to Golembiewski's 'Critique'

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Type: Working Paper
Author: Ostrom, Vincent
Date: 1977
Series: Workshop Reprint Series, no. R77-16
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/4197
Sector: Social Organization
Subject(s): Workshop
political theory
public choice
Abstract: "Robert T. Golembiewski's 'A Critique of 'Democratic Administration' and Its Supporting Ideation' serves a useful purpose. It challenges some assumptions of public choice theory as well as some of my arguments about democratic administration as an alternative to bureaucratic administration. Golembiewski's 'Critique' is representative of various criticisms that have been made (Heikoff, 1973; Neiman, 1975; Self, 1975). However, it is so discursive that an effort to respond to each point is not feasible in this essay. I shall respond only to major issues. I see no point in discoursing on the general virtues and vices of market economies or on 'cycles of governance' since these have not been the focus of my inquiries. "Several issues are raised that are central to the task of doing political theory. These include the general issue of methodological individualism, the related assumptions about self-interest and preference orderings, and the place of values, efficiency, and Pareto optimality. These issues are, in turn, imbedded in a more general problem: that of using language as a tool for theoretical inquiry and testing the usefulness of different conceptual languages for generating inferences and researchable hypotheses. "The language problem gives rise to a serious potential for misunderstanding. Many conclusions that Golembiewski attributes to me, for example, are not my conclusions and do not follow from the conceptual language that I use. In translating some of my arguments into his language, Golembiewski says something different than I have said. In some cases the virtual antithesis is asserted. In other cases, targets of convenience in public choice theory or economic theory more generally are used to condemn by association without critically examining the relevant issues in my own work. These problems will become apparent in the course of this essay. Before turning to some methodological issues in doing political theory, I need first to establish the context for Golembiewski's 'Critique' and my response."

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