Starting with nineteenth-century jurisprudence, this essay traces the changing perceptions of the nature and role of groups in politics as affected in turn by scientific reformism, classic pluralism, and descriptive science orientations to the study of politics. The work of Laski and Bentley is highlighted.
The essay contends that political science has not grown by scientific study laid upon scientific study, but rather by a process of gradual encroachment of ideas in which basic premises, questions, and terms shifted without adequate examination. It is argued that this change is not properly portrayed as a trend from abstract legal metaphysics to ever more sophisticated approximations of reality. The forgotten contributions of past orientations are stressed, and the reasons that Bentley was ignored in his day discussed.
More specifically, the study concludes that the process of accretion of ideas was of some benefit to political science as a discipline, but the heritage left by this process was negative in two important respects: the neglect of a dynamic in favor of a static perspective, and the divorce of normative theory from empirical research on American politics.