Location, Location, Location

For political scientists New York City is an unparalleled social-political laboratory. An immigrant city, with its multi-ethnic, multi-racial and multi-religious population base, New York City represents the pinnacle of cosmopolitanism. Yeshiva University exists in one of the more vibrant immigrant enclaves of the city, Washington Heights, whose cliffs alongside the Hudson River the troops of General George Washington defended during the American revolution. New York’s Wall Street and Madison Avenue are geographic signifiers that denote, around the world, high finance, multinational corporatism, the advertising kingdom and the communications network, all of which make New York City a global hub. Comprised of five boroughs, four of which are clustered around “the City” (Manhattan), an island about 13 miles long and 2 miles wide, with a total population of some eight million inhabitants, how is such a city governable?

Add to this mix the presence of the United Nations. The U.N. brings diplomats to New York City as both employees and privileged residents – privileged because their U.N. status allows them to live  in the city in various ways as “exceptions to the rule”  – like having parking privileges on the busy streets of New York!  You will find consulates of states from around the world nestled among the brownstones on Manhattan’s east side. Anyone can schedule an appointment with a consulate official and get first-hand information about that official’s country. Rising into the clouds from its perch on the banks of the East River around midtown, the tablet-shaped U.N. building with its panoply of national flags decorating its front courtyard has immortalized this New York City vista through photographs snapped by tourists and professionals alike that have appeared in every possible venue around the world. Does the U.N. really help govern the world?

And, of course, one can jump on Amtrak and be in Washington, D.C. or Boston within four hours, in Philadelphia within even less time. Want to attend a session of Congress?  See Independence Hall?  Follow the Liberty Trail?  Or see the Liberty Bell?  You’ll find Amtrak at Penn Station at 34th Street in Manhattan. To get to Penn Station, take the #1 subway train at 181st St. and St. Nicholas Ave – only a few blocks from the YC campus.

And then, of course, there is Jewish New York. A rich history connects Jews with this fabled metropolis! You can devote Sundays to exploring…. The Tenement Museum. The Jewish Museum. The Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park. YIVO. The Leo Baeck Institute. The various Jewish organizations. The synagogues. Brooklyn. The Yiddish theater. The regular theater.  The Israeli consulate. The U.N.’s Isaiah Wall. The Israel Day Parade. And Yeshiva University where you’ll arrive back home!

To study political science in New York City from the vantage point of Yeshiva University in Washington Heights is like studying a body in motion. And we can’t even list all the libraries and archives the city has to offer. It’s impossible not to find what you need or want in New York City – unless you don’t know what you need or what you want. In that case there is another resource available to you – the faculty around you at Yeshiva University who stand ready to help under almost all circumstances.

The very first thing to learn about studying political science is to know where you are -- observe your environment. Look around. Ask questions. What’s going on? Who are those people? What do they want? How do they want to get it? Can they get it given the circumstances?  Should they rightfully get it?  How do you know if they should rightfully get it?  As students of Yeshiva College, you reside in Washington Heights. Where does the name come from again? Who lives in Washington Heights besides you?

People are the resource of political scientists. People make our work exciting and challenging.  Their needs, their hopes for a better life, all of these things figure potentially into eventual political considerations. People’s needs, whether in Washington Heights or Kuala Lumpur or Beersheva, drive the inquiry and research of political scientists in democratic states. The ancient Greeks taught us that the aim of politics should be the good life, meaning the ethically harmonious life. How should we define that good life today in our globalized world? 

Observe. Listen. Question.  These are the tools of the political scientist. Where can you do all of these things as well as in New York City? Doesn’t New York City just beg the question?