Kariel, Henry S.

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Kariel, Henry S. 1924-2004


Henry S. Kariel was one of the most influential postmodern political scientists of the latter half of the twentieth century and a significant critic of the fundamental concept of pluralism in American politics. Born in Plauen, Germany, on July 7, 1924, Kariel earned his doctorate in political science at the University of California at Berkeley and served primarily on the faculty of the University of Hawaii at Honolulu. Kariels scholarship vaulted him to the forefront of the antipluralist movement that attempted to interpret and describe the political and social unrest of the 1960s and 1970s. He proposed a new methodology of political science rooted in the identification of citizens at the political margins. This was a concerted effort to expand democracy by transforming the disaffected into willing and vital participants within the political process at the expense of the traditional pluralistic tradition.

Kariel was heavily influenced by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (18441900), who argued that it was impossible for human beings to attain final knowledge of the political and social realms. Kariels political science was informed by this brand of postmodern relativism, and he posited that a consistent relativism recognized the claims and ends of all people, rather than those of a pluralistic elite. Established truths were no longer true, especially in rapidly changing social conditions. In this view, what the individual believes to be real is subjective, and the political scientist must therefore question established systems and truths in an effort to understand and make sense of new directions, as well as help create a more direct democracy that serves the needs of all.

Kariel viewed the student protests against the Vietnam War on college campuses, the riots in urban ghettos, governmental scandals, and the general backlash against the pluralistic reliance upon trusted institutions that often characterized the late 1960s and 1970s as evidence of the decline of pluralism and the onset of a new political dichotomy, one that legitimately questioned the authority of government while demanding an egalitarian society. As opposed to the general disturbance among citizens and more conservative academics that such events caused, Kariel and many critics of liberal pluralism saw not wanton violence or decadent protest, but rather a controlled effort aimed at forging a new political and social reality. He thus urged the adoption of a suspension of the empirical and looking beyond traditional data-gathering to define and explain new political theory.

While Kariel claimed to not repudiate constitutionalism, his approach was criticized for contradicting the fundamental ideology of constitutionalism. The essential critique of Kariel posited that while the citizenrys flexibility and freedom to act politically are indeed a part of the pluralistic tradition, the sovereign power to govern is limited by the peoples own creationthe Constitution. In addition, critics charged that antipluralists such as Kariel failed to explain how a society in which everything was politicized would guarantee equitable results. In addition, despite the difficulties of the late 1960s and the demoralizing resignation of President Richard M. Nixon in 1974, citizens were unlikely to abandon the authority vested in governmental institutions in favor of the unknown dynamic for which Kariel argued. Kariel died in Hawaii on July 8, 2004.

SEE ALSO Constitutionalism; Constitutions; Critical Theory; Elite Theory; Freedom; Nietzsche, Friedrich; Pluralism; Political Science; Postmodernism; Power; Sovereignty; Vietnam War



Kariel, Henry S. 1961. The Decline of American Pluralism. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Kariel, Henry S. 1964. In Search of Authority: Twentieth-Century Political Thought. New York: Free Press.

Kariel, Henry S. 1966. The Promise of Politics. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.

Kariel, Henry S. 1969. Open Systems: Arenas for Political Action. Itasca, IL: F. E. Peacock.

Kariel, Henry S. 1989. The Desperate Politics of Postmodernism. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.


Belz, Herman. 1972. Changing Conceptions of Constitutionalism in the Era of World War II and the Cold War. Journal of American History 59 (3): 640669.

Lowi, Theodore J. 1969. The End of Liberalism: Ideology, Policy, and the Crisis of Public Authority. New York: Norton.

Norton, Anne. 1990. Response to Henry S. Kariel. Political Theory 18 (2): 273279.

Tugwell, Rexford G. 1970. Constitution for a United Republics of America. The Center Magazine III (November/December), 2425.

Matthew May