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Cult of the IrrelevantThe Waning Influence of Social Science on National Security$
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Michael Desch

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691181219

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691181219.001.0001

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Social Science’s Cold War

Social Science’s Cold War

The Behavioral Revolution’s Quixotic Effort to Construct a “Policy Science”

(p.65) 4 Social Science’s Cold War
Cult of the Irrelevant

Michael C. Desch

Princeton University Press

This chapter details how with the end of the Second World War, social science disciplines were pulled in two diametrically opposed directions. The general intellectual climate of the post-World War II/early Cold War era was one of great optimism about professionalizing and modernizing the social sciences on the model of the natural sciences. This impulse especially affected political science. However, the inherent tensions between “rigor” and “relevance” reasserted themselves once again, and it became clear that a peacetime choice between them might have to be made. On the one hand, the experience of the war, and the growing realization that the country faced a protracted period of rivalry with the Soviet Union, encouraged the disciplines to try to remain relevant to policy. On the other hand, the mixed security environment and desire to remake the social sciences in the image of the natural sciences eventually pushed them away from it.

Keywords:   social science disciplines, World War II, Cold War, social sciences, natural sciences, political science, policy relevance

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