My chair at Sheffield was called “Political Theory and Institutions”. I often wonder whether the men who named it thought that they were creating two jobs or one. What was meant to be the force of that “and”? I suspect that they thought, not very precisely, that there were indeed two positions, but that they wished, as a good English compromise, to keep them close together, at least to stop them getting too far apart. They probably did not wish for a “mere theorist” or for a menu too theoretical however scholarly, therefore “and Institutions” which would seem something practical, not simply descriptive.
For the British institutional school have rarely had any complicated doubts about having authority to say how institutions should be reformed – usually in the best Burkean manner, of course, of “reform in order to preserve”. Long before debates about “wert-freiheit” and “commitment” engulfed us, most British students of politics simply assumed that either one was studying the history of political ideas – which gave one some sort of loose authority to talk about morals; or else one was studying modern or contemporary institutions – which gave one some sort of loose authority to talk about what politicians should be doing or how they should be doing it.
As a student of Laski, I never had any doubt that one should go beyond all this insular empiricism and be committed, but somehow after his death, when the magic of his manner and the intoxication of his matter ceased, many of us read his books, the morning after the night before, and were left, if not high and dry, at least a little sobered to find how arbitrary, or even absent, was the philosophical connection between his theory and the particular practice advocated. I count myself lucky to have then encountered the stimulating teaching of Carl Friedrich at Harvard before returning to the very changed, high and dry atmosphere of L.S.E. under Oakeshott. […]
After working with Friedrich and the remarkable gathering of talent that was at Harvard in the 1950s, the blood has remained warm with the sensation that in some proper sense our academic subject has a valid prescriptive voice towards the world. In Harvard there were certainly two distinct jobs still, but the connection between them was felt to be close, a relationship both logically and socially unavoidable. Recently some of the Fellows of an Oxford College gratuitously debated whether I was really a theory or an institutions man — I found this very odd and repulsive, philosophically, I hasten to add, quite as much as temperamentally. It pleased me to remember that when Friedrich once gave a lecture at Oxford, the same question was asked. So much the worse for them and the better for us.
Referens: Crick, Bernard. 1971. “On Theory and Practise”, i Theory and Politics. Theorie und Politik. Festschrift zum 70. Geburtstag für Carl Joachim Friedrich. Haag: Martinus Nijhoff.