There’s a nice and concise tribute to Robert Dahl in Foreign Affairs (Democracy Man). Particularly in light of Nick Kristof’s piece about the relevance of academics, this brief look back at Dahl’s life and accomplishments shows the importance of such figures (and much lesser-accomplished ones) for shaping our understanding of politics. From the article:
Dahl is often considered the founder of the behavioral school of political science. That is because he emphasized observable conduct in his early theoretical work on power and the behavior of urban elites in Who Governs, his study of decision-making in New Haven. But it misconstrues Dahl to identify him with that or any methodological school. Some of his work was conceptual, aimed at understanding such things as the nature of power and democracy. Some of it was institutional; he studied the feasibility and effectiveness of the separation of powers, whether democracy could survive without a market economy, and whether democratic firms could be efficient. Still other questions were normative, geared to determining which system of political representation is best, whether delegating political power to experts is a good idea, and how much inequality is desirable. He was a problem-driven scholar who addressed the major questions of his time and selected the methods appropriate to the task.