Serpents in the Sand

Essays in the Nonlinear Nature of Politics and Human Destiny
Courtney Brown
Compelling applications of nonlinear techniques to political and social behavior


For decades, social scientists have worked with models that have sought to quantify and explain human behavior. The common foundation for nearly all of these mathematical applications is the assumption of linear progression, equilibrium, and stability. Serpents in the Sand not only argues that political life is fundamentally nonlinear but thoroughly analyzes specific instances of extreme nonlinearity in politics. By so doing, Courtney Brown offers a guide to the reader on how to apply nonlinearity, including chaos theory, to real-world situations.

The author develops his argument by in-depth analysis of four examples covering a broad spectrum of political life. He considers, first, the relationship between individual rationality and the influence of a voter's political milieu. He then turns to look at the dynamics behind the Johnson vs. Goldwater landslide presidential election of 1964. The fall of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazi Germany provide a third case study, followed, by an analysis of the relationship between democratic electoral politics and the ecological environment.

Highly original in its finding, Serpents in the Sand resembles no other work on politics. It is the first study of nonlinearity in political behavior to base its argument on specific examples rather than on analogies to physical and ecological systems. Substantively, the book draws provocative conclusions from the test cases, examining for instance the potential for disaster in the oscillatory relationship between the way U.S. presidents are elected and the management of the country's environment. In the end, Serpents in the Sand extends its argument to the philosophy of human existence, showing that human behavior is as nonlinear as all other processes in the universe.

Courtney Brown is Associate Professor of Political Science, Emory University.

Praise / Awards

  • "Courtney Brown's second book is a sophisticated, considered, and methodologically polemical treatment of statistical modeling in the social-scientific study of politics. . . ."
    American Journal of Sociology
  • "In any discipline it seems increasingly rare to read a book that genuinely challenges, edifies, and inspires. Courtney Brown's important recent work is an example of that rarity. . . . . Brown makes the first comprehensive effort to apply the emerging field of nonlinear dynamics to political evolution. . . . . [This book] represent[s] the language of new discovery asking others to participate in new forms of exploration. Brown is asking for nothing less than a Kuhnian shift in political and social science. Such shifts inevitably take time. The next generation of political scientists, all of whom should be required to read Brown's works, may learn better than their predecessors to capture the nonlinear and complex realities of evolving political systems."
    —L. Douglas Kiel, American Political Science Review

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 192pp.
  • tables, figures.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 1995
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-10643-1

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  • $74.95 U.S.