Theodore Lowi Receives the Wilbur Cross Medal

We are pleased to celebrate Cornell Professor Theodore Lowi’s receipt of the Wilbur Cross Medal — the most prestigious prize given to alumni of the Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Forged in the fiery brilliance of Yale political science in the 1960s, Lowi rose to become an astounding political scientist whose influence extended far beyond the confines of his discipline. Among his many contributions, he demonstrated something that we at ISPS take to heart: political scientists have to understand and care about what government does. As a public science dedicated to the understanding of civic affairs, political science had a special role in a democratic society, and political scientists need to take that role seriously.

In a 1991 address as President of the American Political Science Association, Lowi lamented that the study of public policy had shifted dramatically away from political science due to “the explosive growth of the separate policy analysis programs and the economics requirements in the schools of public affairs and public policy and in the law schools.” In essence, public policy had become a branch of applied economics—a branch whose value Lowi recognized but which, he wanted to remind us, missed an enormous range of considerations surrounding the causes and consequences of public policy, from their political and institutional sources to their effects on democratic participation and deliberation.

As Lowi put it in his address, “Among the sins of omission of modern political science, the greatest of all has been the omission of passion”—not the “passion of ideology” but “the pleasure of finding a pattern, the inspiration of well-rounded argument, the satisfaction of having made a good guess about what makes democracy work, and a good stab at improving the prospect of rationality in human behavior.”  He did not want political scientists to merely speak truth to power. “It was enough,” he closed his address, “to speak truth to ourselves.”

Theodore Lowi spoke that truth, and he richly deserves the Wilbur Cross Medal.

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