APSA Goodnow Award Nomination Letter: Dean Burnham
Dear Chairwoman, Priscilla Regan, and members of the Frank J. Goodnow Award Committee:
The signers of this letter, members of the American political science community, seek to nominate Walter Dean Burnham for the Frank J. Goodnow Award. Professor Burnham's contribution to the field of political science cannot be overstated. His accomplishments during more than fifty years of academic career place him as one of the most prominent political scientist of the second half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first. In this regard we would like to make our own the words expressed by Theodore Lowi in 2010 when he nominated Professor Burnham for this distinguished award. Professor Lowi wrote, “Dean's service has been his contribution to political science, and the results of his work have been of great benefit at large to citizenship and democracy. He has been a ‘public intellectual’ without the op-ed page or the thirty-second comment.”
Burnham’s main contribution and service to political science has been bridging different sectors of the discipline in the common enterprise of providing profound political analysis. At the time that Burnham started writing, behaviorism dominated American political science and Professor Burnham was very comfortable doing this kind of analysis. For most behavioral political scientists, studying the past was simply a useless enterprise. However, in Burnham’s view, history and behavioral political science were complementary enterprises. In his 1965 path-breaking article The Changing Shape of the American Political Universe, Burnham brought history to the fore and set the agenda for further analysis of party politics, electoral behavior, and political realignment. Burnham’s conception of history was groundbreaking in the 1960s. He, in other words, was the first to provide a historical scope to political analysis, and in doing so he opened up a very serious and needed dialogue between historians and political scientists.
An expression of this dialogue was the meeting of historians and political scientists at Washington University in St. Louis to study American political party development in 1967. The outcome of the seminar was the publication of American Party System, a book Dean Burnham edited with William N. Chambers. The book provided the data and theoretical foundation for the analysis of party politics throughout American history. In this work the idea of regularly succeeding party systems as concrete historical entities was first set forth.
For many specialists the birth of the subfield of American political development (APD) started with the publication of the American Party System. The work showed us the utility of having a historical perspective and highlighted many of the features that contemporary specialists in APD use for their analysis. Thus, he alerted us to the fact that without pattern recognition, historical political analysis risks irrelevance. He demonstrated that multidisciplinary work is indeed a valuable enterprise. He, along with many others, showed the need to place the United States in comparative perspective, not only contrasting the US with other countries but also doing what William Chambers called “intra-national comparison.” He offered, in a nutshell, basic guiding principles that have framed research on American political development. Thus, Burnham was an APD person even before APD was considered a sub-discipline in political science. In the words of Lowi, “American political development (APD) was the offspring of Dean Burnham.”
Professor Burnham brought not only a historical dimension to the political analysis but also significantly contributed to the linking between quantitative and qualitative analysis. During his entire career, Burnham was not simply crunching numbers. He effectively combined a quantitative and evaluative method based on a solid theoretical framework, realignment theory. In every single book or article written by Burnham, we observe a quantitative analysis combined with a profound interpretation of the numbers and historical understanding of the theme under analysis. A clear manifestation of this kind of analysis was expressed in his main book, Critical Elections and the Mainspring of American Politics. In this work Burnham analyzed the function and implications of critical realignments for the American political process, rejecting the dominant tendency of American political scientists at that time who viewed American politics in a static fashion. Burnham therefore showed that American politics evolves, not statically but dynamically, that changes cannot be understood by counting electoral turnouts. They are understood by considering the peculiarities of the American constitution, its political culture, its political behavior. Burnham’s realignment perspective transcended electoral politics to become a framework to study the evolution of American politics in general.
In developing his theory of political realignment, Burnham was fundamentally concerned with American democracy, with its peculiarities, its developments, and its shortcomings. He evaluated this from a progressive perspective, studying topics like the party of nonvoters, or how institutional structures reinforce economic unfairness.
With his macro analytical framework, Burnham established a school of thought, not just of people that studied the evolution of American politics but also of students who saw his historical-comparative-multidisciplinary analysis as a source of inspiration.
As Professor Lowi has asserted in different forums, “Dean has been neglected by the APSA, and we are less of an association as a consequence. I do believe his official recognition is long overdue.” The signers of this letter agree with Professor Lowi and are convinced that APSA should remedy this by awarding the Goodnow Award to Walter Dean Burnham.
The undersigned participants