Ithiel de Sola Pool and Society’s Need for “Apathy”, “Passivity”, and “Defeatism”

Let’s talk about how the “liberal” elite perceive how a democratic society should function.

In 1967, Ithiel de Sola Pool published a book in cooperation with the American Political Science Association titled: Contemporary Political Science: Toward Empirical Theory.

Pool was a revolutionary figure in the field of social sciences, having studied under Harold Lasswell. Pool held several prestigious academic appointments, including Stanford University and, eventually, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was the chair and founder of the MIT political science department. He remained at MIT for more than 30 years.

Safe to say that Pool represented the “liberal” elite of the political class.

Let’s read:

More and more political scientists are becoming not just detached observers or mere publicists, but also participant technicians in the management of public action. With the growth of massive public programs to redevelop whole societies, and with the increasing technical command that the rigorous methods of the behavioral sciences give to its practitioners, the political scientist is increasingly a political engineer. He may be a planner of defense, or a rebuilder of cities. It may well be appropriate for the political scientist to think of himself in the image of the engineer rather than that of the physicist. The political scientist is often a problem solver. He brings to bear on the solution of a governmental problem whatever techniques are available to him from the bag of tricks of all the social sciences.

the special mission of political science – namely, the problem of violence and coercion in human affairs. The task is to tame this demon and put it to constructive work.


In a section aptly titled: Is there a conflict between the goals of democracy and stability? Pool writes:

The political science classics differ in their precise solution to the dilemma, but they are pretty well agreed on the statement of the problem. They are largely agreed that full political participation incurs grave dangers for the polity. They believe that the serious engagement of the entire public in political life is likely to be destructive of order.

The outstanding modern essay on this subject is Berelson’s concluding chapter to Voting in which he maintains that a measure of public apathy is a condition without which a democratic polity would be torn apart in a bitter struggle.

P. 25

And now for my favorite part:

What is the testimony of the developing world? In the Congo, in Vietnam, in the Dominican Republic, it is clear that order depends on somehow compelling newly mobilized strata to return to a measure of passivity and defeatism from which they have recently been aroused by the process of modernization. At least temporarily, the maintenance of order requires a lowering of newly acquired aspirations and levels of political activity. The so-called “revolution of rising expectations” creates turmoil as new citizens demand things which the society is unable to supply. Movement which express demands that cannot be satisfied do threaten the cohesion of those commonwealth.

In our own society, too, the civil-rights movement likewise demonstrate that the demand for citizen rights is often in conflict with the value of order. This issue of militancy and compromise is always irreconcilably present in that movement. There are those who would stir up people to ask for freedom now regardless of consequences and those who would go slowly to preserve the body politic.

P. 26

Any questions?

If you want to learn more about Harold Lasswell, please read: Propaganda: Eward Bernays and Harold Lasswell

Thanks for reading,


Ithiel De Sola Pool, Contemporary Political Science: Toward Empirical Theory, McGraw-Hill, 1967

One response to “Ithiel de Sola Pool and Society’s Need for “Apathy”, “Passivity”, and “Defeatism””

  1. Reblogged this on Apetivist.

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