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Rationalizing Capitalist Democracy

The Cold War Origins of Rational Choice Liberalism

In Rationalizing Capitalist Democracy, S. M. Amadae tells the remarkable story of how rational choice theory rose from obscurity to become the intellectual bulwark of capitalist democracy. Amadae roots Rationalizing Capitalist Democracy in the turbulent post-World War II era, showing how rational choice theory grew out of the RAND Corporation’s efforts to develop a "science" of military and policy decisionmaking. But while the first generation of rational choice theorists—William Riker, Kenneth Arrow, and James Buchanan—were committed to constructing a "scientific" approach to social science research, they were also deeply committed to defending American democracy from its Marxist critics. Amadae reveals not only how the ideological battles of the Cold War shaped their ideas but also how those ideas may today be undermining the very notion of individual liberty they were created to defend.

408 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2003

Economics and Business: Economics--History

History: History of Ideas

Political Science: Political and Social Theory


"A most interesting examination of the evolution of rational choice theory within economics, political science, and philosophy, and she describes as well how its emergence fits into the intellectual politics of the cold war era. The depth of reading and analysis is most impressive . . . Rationalizing Capitalist Democracy is an excellent work of research and a useful, engaging presentation of ideas. It will repay reading by all economists, historians, and political scientists interested in the development of ideology."

Stanley L. Engerman | Business History Review

"This book should be widely consulted by anyone working in the field of social policy today. This is an engaging and important book ."

James Midgley | Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare

"The difficult texts in the canon of rational choice theory are discussed with clarity and insight. For those who want to know this intellectual history, this is the book to read. . . . That rational choice provided a foundation for some Cold War liberals is important and worth understanding. This book provides the means for such understanding."

Michael Coulter | Journal of Markets and Morality

“[Amadae] explains how the RAND Corporation’s systems analysis and rational policy analysis became normative standards in governmental decision making. There are arresting insights into the whole ensemble of defense establishment leaders and institutions. . . . This is . . . a sophisticated, substantive, and balanced interpretation. Readers will come away from this book with a nuanced and enhanced understanding of many vital and enduring themes in contemporary political thought. This is an exemplary study in modern intellectual history. It is well positioned to reconfigure the contours of the rational choice theory landscape and its legacy.”

Frank Annunziata | Journal of American History

Table of Contents

Prologue: Schumpeter, Hayek, and Popper

Part I. Rational Policy Analysis and the National Security State
Chapter 1. Managing the National Security State: Decision Technologies and Policy Science

Part II. Rational Choice Theory in American Social Science
Chapter 2. Kenneth J. Arrow’s Social Choice and Individual Values
Chapter 3. James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock’s Public Choice Theory
Chapter 4. William Riker’s Positive Political Theory
Chapter 5. Rational Choice and Capitalist Democracy

Part III. Antecedents to Rational Choice Theory
Chapter 6. Adam Smith’s System of Natural Liberty
Chapter 7. Rational Mechanics, Marginalist Economics, and Rational Choice

Part IV. Rational Choice Liberalism Today
Chapter 8. Consolidating Rational Choice Liberalism, 1970-2000

Epilogue: From the Panopticon to the Prisoner’s Dilemma


APSA Politics and History Section: J. David Greenstone Book Award

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