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Echoes of a Forgotten Past: Mid-Century Realism and the Legacy of International Law

  • Oliver Jütersonke

Those studying the work of Hans J. Morgenthau, widely considered the “founding father” of the Realist School of International Relations, have long been baffled by his views on world government and the attainment of a world state—views that, it would appear, are strikingly incompatible with the author's realism. In a 1965 article in World Politics, James P. Speer II decided that it could only be “theoretical confusion” that explained why Morgenthau could on the one hand advocate a world state as ultimately necessary in his highly successful textbook, Politics Among Nations, while writing elsewhere that world government could not resolve the conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States by peaceful means. According to Speer,

Morgenthau posits at the international level a super-Hobbesian predicament, in which the actors on the world scene are motivated by the lust for power, yet he proposes a gradualist Lockean solution whereby the international system will move, through a resurrected diplomacy, out of a precarious equilibrium of balance-of-power anarchy by a “revaluation of all values” into the “moral and political” bonds of world community, a process whose capstone will be the formal-legal institutions of world government.

This oscillation between Hobbes and Locke, Speer asserted, must be the result of Morgenthau's “commitment to the organismic mystique that comes out of German Romantic Nationalism,” although he admitted in a footnote that his reflections on the intellectual sources of Morgenthau's theories were “mere speculation.”

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1 All in-text references are to these works.

2 Morgenthau, Hans J., Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1948).

3 Speer, James P. II, “Hans Morgenthau and the World State,” World Politics 20, no. 2 (1968), pp. 207227, at p. 225.

4 Craig, Campbell, “Hans Morgenthau and the World State Revisited,” in Williams, Michael C., ed., Realism Reconsidered: The Legacy of Hans J. Morgenthau in International Relations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 195.

5 Ibid., p. 199.

6 Morgenthau, Hans J., La réalité des normes, en particulier des normes du droit internationale: Fondements d'une théorie des normes (Paris: Félix Alcan, 1934), p. 1. For a more detailed treatment of Morgenthau's early writings and their links with Kelsen, see Jütersonke, Oliver, Morgenthau, Law and Realism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), esp. pp. 75104.

7 See Baumgarten, Arthur, Die Wissenschaft vom Recht und ihre Methode, three vols. (Tübingen, Ger.: Mohr-Siebeck, 1920, 1922). The play on words is based on the fact that Lehre (the study of) and Leere (emptiness) are pronounced identically in German.

8 Kelsen, Hans, Das Problem der Souveränität und die Theorie des Völkerrechts. Beitrag zu einer reinen Rechtslehre [1920], 2nd ed. (Tübingen, Ger.: Mohr, 1928), p. 2.

9 Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations, p. 211.

10 See Kelsen, Hans, Unrecht und Unrechtsfolge im Völkerrecht (Vienna: Julius Springer, 1932).

11 Morgenthau, La réalité des normes, p. 242.

12 See Baumgarten, Arthur, “Souveränität und Völkerrecht,” Zeitschrift für ausländisches Recht und Völkerrecht 2 (1931), pp. 305334.

13 Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations, p. 419.

14 Koskenniemi, Martti, From Apology to Utopia: The Structure of International Legal Argument [1989], reissue with a new epilogue (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

15 Bristler, Eduard [Herz, John H.], Die Völkerrechtslehre des Nationalsozialismus (Zurich: Europa, 1938).

16 Herz, John H., Political Realism and Political Idealism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951); and Herz, John H., International Politics in the Atomic Age (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959).

17 See in particular Booth, Ken and Wheeler, Nicholas J., The Security Dilemma: Fear, Cooperation and Trust in World Politics (Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008); Stirk, Peter, “John H. Herz: Realism and the Fragility of the International Order,” Review of International Studies 31, no. 2 (2005), pp. 285306; and International Relations 20, no. 2 (2008), a special issue on Herz.

18 Frei, Christoph, Hans J. Morgenthau: An Intellectual Biography (Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University Press, 2001).

19 Flechtheim followed a similar trajectory: born in Düsseldorf, he also fled to Geneva, where he studied at the Graduate Institute before emigrating to the United States. Unlike Herz, however, he eventually returned to Germany, where he received tenure in 1952.

20 Herz, John H., “The Pure Theory of Law Revisited: Kelsen's Doctrine in the Nuclear Age,” in Engel, Salo, ed., Law, State and International Legal Order: Essays in Honour of Hans Kelsen (Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 1964), pp. 114 and 108.

21 Herz, John H., “Idealist Internationalism and the Security Dilemma,” World Politics 2, no. 2 (1950), pp. 157–80, at p. 157.

22 See Niebuhr, Reinhold, The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness: A Vindication of Democracy and a Critique of Its Traditional Defense (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1944).

23 Herz, “Idealist Internationalism and the Security Dilemma,” p. 179; emphasis in the original.

24 Herz, Political Realism and Political Idealism, p. 143.

25 See in particular Scheuerman, William E., Carl Schmitt: The End of Law (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999), pp. 225–51; and Koskenniemi, Martti, The Gentle Civilizer of Nations: The Rise and Fall of International Law 1870–1960 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 413509.

26 Morgenthan, Hans [sic], La notion du “politique” et la théorie des différends internationaux (Paris: Sirey, 1933). One can only imagine how upsetting it must have been for Morgenthau to realize that the publishers had misspelled his surname on the front cover and throughout the volume.

27 “The judicial function in the international realm, the nature of its organs and the limits of its application; in particular, the concept of the political in international law.” The published version appeared in 1929, with a slightly modified and abbreviated title: Morgenthau, Hans J., Die internationale Rechtspflege, ihr Wesen und ihre Grenzen (Leipzig, Ger.: Noske, 1929).

28 Ibid., p. 78 [my translation, OJ].

29 For a discussion of the reviews, see Jütersonke, Morgenthau, Law and Realism, pp. 53–60.

30 Lauterpacht, Hersch, The Function of Law in the International Community (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1933), p. 164.

31 Morgenthau, Hans J., Scientific Man vs. Power Politics (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1946), p. 94.

32 Shklar, Judith N., Legalism: An Essay on Law, Morals and Politics (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964), p. 126.

33 Morgenthau, Hans J., “About Cynicism, Perfectionism, and Realism in International Affairs,” in Morgenthau, Hans J., The Decline of Democratic Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962), p. 128.

34 See Kunz, Josef L., “The Swing of the Pendulum: From Overestimation to Underestimation of International Law,” American Journal of International Law 44, no. 1 (1950), pp. 135–40.

35 Koskenniemi, The Gentle Civilizer of Nations, p. 495.

36 Ibid., p. 496.

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