Willoughby, Westel Woodbury

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Willoughby, Westel Woodbury



The career of Westel Woodbury Willoughby (1867-1945) spanned much of the early history of the political science profession in the United States. He began teaching at Johns Hopkins University in 1894 and remained there until his retirement in 1933. During Willoughby’s tenure, Johns Hopkins was one of the principal centers of graduate training in political science in the United States. But Willoughby also exerted influence on the profession in his capacity as secretary-treasurer of the American Political Science Association, which he helped to organize in 1903. He held this position for ten years and was elected president of the organization in 1913. In addition, he was for a time managing editor of the American Political Science Review.

Willoughby, like his contemporaries, saw political science primarily as a deductive discipline. The most important task of the scholar was to discover the fundamental principles underlying the role of governmental institutions in society. Once this rationale was understood, men could proceed to organize and operate their political institutions in accordance with sound criteria. Since Willoughby regarded the state essentially as an ethical enterprise, these principles were at least partially normative in character. In conformity with the classic tradition of political and legal theory, Willoughby assigned little importance to “purely descriptive” studies of the actual operation of political systems. Since the 1930s, political science has shifted markedly to the empirical study of political behavior, and consequently Willoughby’s influence as a scholar has declined precipitously. Although he is often remembered as the dean of political science in the early part of this century, he is now seldom referred to in the political science literature.

Willoughby’s contributions to the study of political institutions are primarily in three areas: political theory, public law, and international relations. His most influential early work was in the field of political philosophy; he published An Examination of the Nature of the State in 1896 and Social Justice in 1900. These early studies were in the tradition of juristic and ethical philosophy—inquiries into the origins of political authority and the proper limits of its exercise. In the field of public law the most important of his contributions was a two-volume treatise, The Constitutional Law of the United States, published in 1910. In the latter portion of his career much of Willoughby’s work lay in the area of international law and international relations. Following his service in 1916 as constitutional adviser to the president of the recently established Chinese Republic, Willoughby published several books bearing on the Chinese position in the international community, including Foreign Rights and Interests in China (1920) and The Sino-Japanese Controversy and the League of Nations (1935). He also served on several other occasions in an advisory capacity to the Chinese government.

It may well be that Willoughby’s contributions to scholarship were ultimately less significant than his more practical activities as a political scientist.

Francis E. Rourke

[See alsoPresidential Government; Public Law, article onthe field.]


There is a collection of Willoughby’s papers in the Johns Hopkins University library.

1896 An Examination of the Nature of the State: A Study in Political Philosophy. New York: Macmillan.

1900 Social Justice: A Critical Essay. New York: Macmillan.

1903 The Political Theories of the Ancient World. New York: Longmans.

1904 The American Constitutional System: An Introduction to the Study of the American State. New York: Century.

(1910) 1929 The Constitutional Law of the United States. 2d ed. 2 vols. New York: Baker, Voorhis.

(1912) 1930 Principles of the Constitutional Law of the United States. 2d ed. New York: Baker, Voorhis. → An abridgement of Willoughby (1910).

1918 Prussian Political Philosophy: Its Principles and Implications. New York: Appleton.

(1920) 1927 Foreign Rights and Interests in China. 2d ed., rev. & enl. 2 vols. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.

1930 The Ethical Basis of Political Authority. New York: Macmillan.

1935 The Sino-Japanese Controversy and the League of Nations. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.


Matthews, John M.; and Hart, J. (editors) 1937 Essays in Political Science in Honor of Westel Woodbury Willoughby. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.