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The Process of Government: A Study of Social…

The Process of Government: A Study of Social Pressures (edition 1995)

by Arthur F. Bentley (Author)

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Arthur F. Bentley originally wrote this book over the years 1896-1908 while working as a Chicago newspaper reporter and editor, during which time he had a "sense of tremendous social activity taking place," and a feeling that "all the politics of the country, so to speak, were drifting across [his] desk." This prompted Bentley to develop an analysis of group interests, which he believed to be the true dictators of government decisions.He was hailed on methodological grounds as an early supporter of the "behavioral revolution," which called for the use of natural scientific methods in the social sciences and for offering a group theory of politics. Bentley's implicit critique of narrow empiricism reflects the diverse influences of Dilthey, Simmel, and Dewey. The Process of Government was virtually ignored until the post-World War II period, but is now regarded as a classic in political science.… (more)
Title:The Process of Government: A Study of Social Pressures
Authors:Arthur F. Bentley (Author)
Info:Transaction Publishers (1995), Edition: 2nd, 533 pages
Collections:Your library, Insightful books
Tags:methodology of social science, government theory

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The Process of Government: A Study of Social Pressures by Arthur F. Bentley



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I think I discovered this book via another book called Democracy for Realists. The author of Democracy for Realists hailed this work as a unique contribution to government theory which still provides timely insights, even though it's over a hundred years old. Now that I have read this book, I can agree with that assessment. This book is worth reading because the ideas it presents make a lot of sense even though they differ from mainstream political theory, which proceeded in other directions in the 20th century.

The author's main idea is that all government, whether it be by democracy, by limited monarchy or by despotism, is in the end a group activity. People live and act in groups, not alone. Those groups set their own objectives and defend their interests and ideals, disagree, negotiate and compromise in the process of government. Under almost any form of government, some groups will be formally excluded. But even the excluded will have some indirect influence, however much weaker it may be. In any event, even the actions of a particular president or particular agency can only be understood as group activities.

This seems like a reasonably good insight to me, and it alone makes this book worth reading. However, the author's presentation and analysis do have some faults. Firstly, at nearly 500 pages, the book is far too long. The first 160 pages provide an extensive critique of previous works which ends in the conclusion that "activities" should be the central focus of social research. This century-old literature review doesn't hold much interest today, and the author concept of "activity" is not explicated in a particularly clear manner.

Furthermore, even though the author gives some examples of how the process of government works through group activities, I would have hoped for a little bit more theoretical clarity. It seems like the author repeatedly returns to the same conclusion: this is group activity - but never takes a step back to explain the how groups actually fight, cooperate and compromise with each other. He must have considered that a question of detail which can only be studied on a case-by-case basis, but personally I got the impression that one or two more steps in the direction of general theory could still have been taken.

Nevertheless, I will certainly return to selected sections of this book in the future just to see what it had to say.
  thcson | Aug 25, 2019 |
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