Lee Epstein
Lee Epsteing Ethan A.H. Shepley Distinguished University Professor
Untitled Page

Published in 2002. Journal of Theoretical Politics 14 (1): 93-122

Lee Epstein
Olga Shvetsova

Can an apparent loser snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat? This question occupied the attention of the late William H. Riker during the last ten years of his career, and it is one that he answered in the affirmative: By constructing choice situations in order to manipulate outcomes losers can become winners, and vice versa. Riker even coined a term, "heresthetics," to describe this "art of political manipulation." But is Riker's rather large body of work the "idiosyncratic" product of a "singular genius" or can it serve as the "foundation of a new theory of politics?" Scholars have recently raised this question, and not unreasonably so, for Riker's theory of heresthetics has yet to gain a serious foothold into the political science literature.

We develop a game-theoretic model, which enables leaders-in our case, Chief Justices -to engage in heresthetical manipulations. From this model, we deduce propositions about the circumstances that would lead them to invoke heresthetical devices, as well as the particular strategies we would expect them to employ. Finally, we explore the propositions against data amassed from the private papers of two former justices. Our results indicate that Riker's work was not the "idiosyncratic" product of a "singular genius" but rather can serve as the "foundation of a new theory of politics."

Click here for the article (.pdf file)