Political Science Now

Jeffrey Isaac– 2017 Frank J. Goodnow Award Recipient

The Frank Johnson Goodnow Award was established by the APSA Council in 1996 to honor service to the community of teachers, researchers, and public servants who work in the many fields of politics. Frank J. Goodnow, the first president of the American Political Science Association, a pioneer in the development of judicial politics, and former president of Johns Hopkins University, is an exemplar of the public service and volunteerism that this award represents.

Jeffrey C. Isaac is James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, where he has taught for the past 30 years.  He recently stepped down from an eight-year tenure as Editor in Chief of Perspectives on Politics: A Political Science Public Sphere. He has published four books, edited or co-edited two anthologies, and published over 75 articles and essays.

As a scholar, he is best known for his work as an interpreter of the writings of Hannah Arendt and Albert Camus, in articles published in American Political Science Review (twice), Political Theory, and Praxis International, and in his 1992 book Arendt, Camus, and Modern Rebellion (Yale Press).

He extended this approach in his book Democracy in Dark Times (Cornell University Press, 1998 This book brings the thinking of Arendt and Camus into dialogue with the writings and the praxis of Central European democrats and former anti-Communist dissidents such as Adam Michnik and Vaclav Havel. Lisa Disch wrote of this book that “this will be the first of the many recent books on Hannah Arendt to move beyond exegesis to engage in the kind of thinking about politics that she so valued. This book brings an Arendtian voice back into contemporary politics.” This work has made Isaac one of the most prominent US political theorists to engage democratic intellectuals in Eastern Europe. He has attended numerous conferences at Central European University in Budapest, in Prague, and in Bucharest, where he visits regularly, and his Democracy in Dark Times was published in Romanian as Democratia in Vremuri Intunecate (Bucharest: Polirom Press, 2000).

He is also well known for his writings on Marxism and the history of the left. He edited the Yale University Press 2014 edition of the Communist Manifesto, with critical essays by himself, Steven Lukes, Saskia Sassen, Vladimir Tismaneanu, and Stephen Eric Bronner. He has long been a regular contributor to Dissent magazine, on whose editorial board he long served (He is now listed as a Contributing Editor). His book The Poverty of Progressivism (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003) is an interpretive essay on the decline of liberal progressive politics in the United States.

Perhaps most closely connected to his editorship of Perspectives, Isaac has done work on the history and character of political science. His first book, Power and Marxist Theory: A Realist View (Cornell, 1987), was one of the first efforts to incorporate realist philosophy of science into American political science. His “The Strange Silence of Political Theory” was the basis of a major 1995 symposium in the journal Political Theory, with responses by Seyla Benhabib, William Connolly, Kirstie McClure, and others (the 1997 inaugural issue of the journal Theory & Event proceeded from a critique of this essay, and including an essay by Sheldon Wolin explicitly addressing it). And his 2004 article in Perspectives on Politics on “Social Science and Liberal Values in a Time of War” outlined a perspective on “Weberian values” that was cited by some of those involved in the group Security Scholars for a Sensible Foreign Policy.

Since his appointment as editor of Perspectives in 2009, Isaac has written extensively in a range of scholarly venues to promote his conception of “a political science public sphere.” His “For a More Public Political Science,” the lead essay of the June 2015 issue of Perspectives, is one of the most widely viewed piece published by an APSA publication since 2015.

In the past year, Isaac has contributed regularly to Public Seminar, an online platform and blog published by the New School for Social Research (http://www.publicseminar.org/author/jisaac/) and he recently became co-editor of the site’s “Liberal Democracy in Question” vertical platform.

In his spare time, Isaac is a gigging jazz and blues pianist. His band, the Postmodern Jazz Quartet, has been a mainstay of the Bloomington music scene for over a decade (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMMuThv4-sA ). His children, Adam (31) and Lisi (26) are the source of much joy, and his two Great Pyrenees dogs, Rollie (10) and Jessie (5) are the source of much exercise.

He owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to the many colleagues with whom he has worked in recent years, and especially to those who have worked with him on the staff of Perspectives: James Moskowitz, Margot Morgan, Rafael Khachaturian, Laura Bucci, Shanna Dietz, Beth Easter, Adrian Florea, Rachel Gears, Pete Giordano, Emily Hilty, Carolyn Holmes, Luke Mergner, Fathima Mustaq, Hicham Bou Nassif, Katie Scofield, Katey Stauffer, Rebekah Tromble, Brendon Westler, and Rafia Zakaria. He would also like to thank Mary Katzenstein, Jenny Mansbridge, and Bob Keohane for nominating him for the Goodnow Award; the many colleagues who supported this nomination; his terrific colleagues who worked with him on the Editorial Board of Perspectives; Jan Peterson and Jessica Williams, who have handled the journal’s finances at Indiana; and everyone with whom he has worked over the years.

“Jeff Isaac’s nomination was submitted by Mary Fainsod Katzenstein and Robert Keohane with a co-nomination from Jane Mansbridge, and further support from forty-three faculty, including thirteen former APSA presidents, who joined in the nomination. Supporting statements were submitted by eighteen co-signers, many of who served with him on the APSA Council and/or on Persepectives’ editorial board. The nomination package was impressive, detailed, and enthusiastic in its endorsement of Professor Isaac. The supporters took particular note of Isaac’s long and untiring contributions to one of the profession’s most important and widely read journals, Perspectives on Politics, for which he served as book review editor for four years and then as editor-in-chief for eight years. His term as editor-in-chief ends this year making it a very fitting time to honor him with the Goodnow Award.

In his roles at Perspectives, the supporters highlight in particular his careful and responsible management of the editorial process, his commitment to transparency and clarity, and his dedication to fostering a diverse political science public sphere. His carefully crafted introductory essays to each issue of Perspectives provide evidence of these characteristics. In his roles at Perspectives and more generally in the profession and at Indiana University, Professor Isaac is recognized as a valued mentor by many junior and even senior colleagues. The nomination package also notes that he has served in a “remarkable array of leadership positions” including department chair and service on several editorial boards.

A number of phrases and words appear in many of the supporting statements with respect to why Professor Isaac is superbly deserving of the Goodnow award – energy and passion, innovative and creative, open-minded and insightful, rigorous, dedicated, positive and congenial, and constructive.

Additionally, all the nominators and supporters commend Professor Isaac’s scholarship and the important contributions of his research to the discipline, as well as his voice on a range of issues of importance to the profession. He is a prolific scholar publishing four books, editing two anthologies, and writing over seventy-five articles and essays.

The 2017 Goodnow Committee is honored and pleased to make this award to Jeff Isaac.”

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