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International Relations: The Long Road to Theory

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 July 2011

Stanley H. Hoffmann
Harvard University
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It has become customary to begin a discussion of the nature and present state of the discipline of international relations with a number of complaints. This article will not abandon the custom; indeed, its purpose is, in the first place, to state the conviction that many of the problems we face in our field can be solved only by far more systematic theoretical work than has been done in the past—a conviction shared by most writers. Secondly, however, I will try to show that recent approaches to a general theory of international relations are unsatisfactory, because each one is, in its own fashion, a short cut to knowledge—sometimes even a short cut to a destination that is anything but knowledge.

Research Article
Copyright © Trustees of Princeton University 1959

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1 Dunn, Frederick S., “The Scope of International Relations,” World Politics, 1, No. 1 (October 1948), pp. 142–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Liska, George, International Equilibrium, Cambridge, Mass., 1957, PP. 198ff.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

2 See Zimmern's, Sir Alfred remarks on similar lines: The Study of International Relations, Oxford, 1934, p. 15.Google Scholar

3 See the reflections of Rüstow, Alexander, “Weshalb Wissenschaft der Politik,” in Zeitschrift für Politik, 1, 1954, pp. 132–35.Google Scholar

4 See Snyder, Richard C., “Toward Greater Order in the Study of International Politics,” World Politics, VII, No. 3 (April 1955), pp. 461–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Truyol, Antonio, “La Teoria de las Relaciones Internacionales como Sociologia,” Revista de Estudios Politicos, XCVI (November-December 1957), pp. 293336.Google ScholarSchwarzenberger's, George definition includes the dangerous expression “international society” (Power Politics, New York, 1951. P. 4).Google Scholar

5 As an example, see Wright, Quincy, The Study of International Relations, New York, 1957.Google Scholar

6 On the role of theory, see Thompson, Kenneth W., “Toward a Theory of International Politics,” American Political Science Review, XLIX, No. 3 (September 1955), pp. 733–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and idem, “The Study of International Politics: A Survey of Trends and Developments,” Review of Politics, XIV, No. 4 (October 1952), pp. 433–67.

7 On this point, see Easton, David, The Political System, New York, 1953, pp. 78ff.Google Scholar; Morgenthau, Hans J., “Reflections on the State of Political Science,” Review of Politics, XVII, No. 4 (October 1955), pp. 431–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

8 See Cobban, Alfred, “The Decline of Political Theory,” Political Science Quarterly, LXVIII, No. 3 (September 1953), pp. 321–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

9 Morgenthau, , op.cit., pp. 455ff.Google Scholar

10 Morgenthau, Hans J., Scientific Man versus Power Politics, Chicago, 1946, pp. 5051Google Scholar and 188–202.

11 On these points, see Herz, John H., Political Realism and Political Idealism, Chicago, 1951, pp. 315Google Scholar and 63ff.; Tucker, Robert W., “Professor Morgenthau's Theory of Political [Realism,]American Political Science Review, XLVI, NO. 1 (March 1952), pp. 214–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Butterfield, Herbert, “The Scientific versus the Moralistic Approach,” International Affairs, XXVII, No. 4 (October 1951), pp. 411–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Sprout, Harold, “In Defense of Diplomacy,” World Politics, 1, No. 3 (April 1949), pp. 404–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

12 It is impossible to subsume under one word variables as different as power as a condition of policy and power as a criterion of policy; power as a sum of resources and power as a set of processes; power as a potential and power in use.

13 On this last point, see, e.g., Organski's, A. F. K. “economic power monism” in his World Politics, New York, 1958.Google Scholar

14 Morgenthau's views on the role of motives and of ideological preferences are to be found in Politics Among Nations, New York, 1955, pp. 6–7 and 80ff. Similar views are expressed by Thompson, Kenneth W. in Macridis, Roy, ed., Foreign Policy in World Politics, New York, 1958, pp. 351–55.Google Scholar

15 See Cook, Thomas I. and Moos, Malcolm, “Foreign Policy: The Realism of Idealism,” American Political Science Review, XLVI, NO. 2 (June 1952), pp. 342–56Google Scholar; Aron, Raymond, “En quête d'une philosophie de la politique étrangère,Revue Française de Science Politique, 111, N0. 1 (January-March 1953), pp. 6991.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

16 These arguments are developed by Kissinger, Henry A. in A World Restored, Boston, 1957.Google Scholar The application of a rationality of means to the selection of ends is, it seems to me, one of the fallacies that mar the argument for limited nuclear war.

17 See Morgenthau, Hans J., “Another [Great Debate]: The National Interest of the United States,” American Political Science Review, XLVI, NO. 4 (December 1952), pp. 973–76Google Scholar; and a critique of this attitude in Niebuhr, Reinhold, The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness, New York, 1944, pp. 173ff.Google Scholar

18 Morgenthau, , Politics Among Nations, p. 9.Google Scholar

19 Aron, op.cit.; Thomson, David in Contemporary Political Science, Paris, UNESCO, 1950, pp. 588–89.Google Scholar

20 See Carr, E. H., The Twenty Years' Crisis, London, 1951, pp. 8991.Google Scholar

21 Reason, “far from following its own inherent impulses, is driven toward its goal by the irrational forces the ends of which it serves” (Morgenthau, Scientific Man versus Power Politics, p. 154).Google Scholar See Grosser, Alfred, “L'étude des relations internationales, spécialité américaine?Revue Française de Science Politique, VI, No. 3 (July-September 1956), pp. 634–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

22 This is frequently the case with George Kennan. See Carleton, William G., “Braintrusters of American Foreign Policy,” World Politics, VII, No. 4 (July 1955), pp. 627–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar On the possibility of justifying in realist terms a policy that can also be advocated on Utopian grounds, see Warner R. Schilling, “The Clarification of Ends, or, Which Interest Is the National?” ibid., VIII, NO. 4 (July 1956), pp. 566–78.

23 See Thompson, Kenneth W., “Toynbee et la politique mondiale contemporaine,” Diogéne, XIII (January 1956), pp. 6090Google Scholar; idem, ““Mr. Toynbee and World Politics,” World Politics, VIII, No. 3 (April 1956), pp. 374–91; idem, “Toynbee and die Theory of International Politics,” Political Science Quarterly, LXXI, NO. 3 (September 1956), pp. 365–86.

24 Barker, Ernest in Ashley Montagu, M. F., ed., Toynbee and History, Boston, 1956, pp. 9495.Google Scholar See also Parsons, Talcott, Essays in Sociological Theory, Pure and Applied, Glencoe, Ill., 1949, pp. 23ff.Google Scholar

25 Kissinger, Henry A., “The Meaning of History,” unpublished dissertation, Harvard University Library, p. 143.Google Scholar

26 Pitirim Sorokin in Geyl, P., Toynbee, A., and Sorokin, P., The Pattern of the Past, Boston, 1949, pp. 111–12.Google Scholar

27 Kaplan, Morton A., System and Process in International Relations, New York, 1957, p. xi.Google Scholar Similar remarks are found in Talcott Parsons and Shils, Edward, Toward a General Theory of Action, Cambridge, Mass., 1951, esp. pp. 5056.Google Scholar

28 Jacobson, N. in Young, Roland, ed., Approaches to the Study of Politics, Chicago, 1958, pp. 115–24.Google Scholar See also Hoffmann, Stanley, “Tendances de la science politique aux Etats-Unis,” Revue Française de Science Politique, VII, N0. 4 (October-December 1957), pp. 913–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

29 Moore, Barrington Jr, “The New Scholasticism and the Study of Politics,” World Politics, VI, No. 1 (October 1953), p. 129.Google Scholar See also Morgenthau, , op.cit., note 7 above, p. 443.Google Scholar

30 Quoted by Friedrich, Carl J., Political Philosophy and the Science of Politics, Padua, 1957, p. 8.Google Scholar

31 Kaplan, , op.cit., p. xi.Google Scholar See also Hans Zetterberg in Lazarsfeld, Paul and Rosenberg, Morris, eds., The Language of Social Research, Glencoe, Ill., 1955, pp. 533–40.Google Scholar

32 Cohen, M. and Nagel, E., An Introduction to Logic and Scientific Method, New York, 1934, pp. 266–67.Google Scholar See also Popper, Karl, The Poverty of Historicism, Boston, Mass., 1957, pp. 115ff.Google Scholar; Kaufmann, Felix, Methodology of the Social Sciences, New York, 1958, pp. 175–76Google Scholar and 237.

33 Shils, Edward and Finch, H. A., eds., Max Weber on the Methodology of the Social Sciences, Glencoe, Ill., 1949, pp. 73ff.Google Scholar and 77ff.

34 Aron, Raymond, Introduction à la philosophie de l'histoire, Paris, 1948, p. 227.Google Scholar

35 See Mill, John Stuart, A System of Logic, London, 1930, pp. 554Google Scholar and 594; Friedrich, C. J., Constitutional Government and Democracy, Boston, 1946, pp. 571–72Google Scholar; Morgenthau, , op.cit., note ro above, pp. 150–51.Google Scholar

36 See Bernard's, Jessie critique in International Sociological Association, The Nature of Conflict, Paris, 1957, pp. 64ff.Google Scholar Mill's classic critique of the abstract and concrete deductive methods in the social sciences is of vital importance here.

37 See Rivero, Jean, “Introduction to a Study of the Development of Federal Societies,” International Social Science Bulletin, IV, No. 1 (Spring 1952), pp. 1415Google Scholar; Maclver, Robert, Social Causation, Boston, 1942, pp. 48ff.Google Scholar; Heckscher, Gunnar, The Study of Comparative Government and Politics, London, 1957, pp. 2021.Google Scholar

38 “we cannot think creatively without metaphors, but any metaphor is in danger of becoming a categorical imperative” (Riesman, David in White, Leonard D., ed., The State of the Social Sciences, Chicago, 1956, p. 338).Google ScholarContra, see Herbert A. Simon and Allen Newell in ibid., pp. 66–83.

39 James G. Miller in ibid., pp. 29–65. See Deutsch, Karl, “Mechanism, Organism and Society: Some Models in Natural and Social Science,” Philosophy of Science, XVIII, No. 3 (July 1951), pp. 230–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

40 Dickinson, Edwin, Law and Peace, Philadelphia, 1951, p. 6CrossRefGoogle Scholar; also Visscher, Charles De, Theory and Reality in Public International Law, Princeton, N.J., 1957, pp. 153–55.Google Scholar

41 Kaplan, , op.cit., p. 149.Google Scholar See a critique of this tendency in Rostow, W. W., “Toward a General Theory of Action,” World Politics, V, No. 4 (July 1953), pp. 530–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Aron, Raymond, German Sociology, London, 1957, pp. 69ff.Google Scholar and 108.

42 Cohen, Morris, Reason and Nature, New York, 1931, pp. 343–44.Google Scholar

43 See the similarities between Morgenthau's and Morton Kaplan's conception of the national interest. Kaplan concludes that it is “objective” (op.cit., p. 165).

44 Lasswell, Harold and Kaplan, Abraham, Power and Society, New Haven, Conn., 1950, p. XVII.Google Scholar

45 See Kaplan, M., op.cit., pp. 4Google Scholar and 256ff. See also Lasswell, Harold, World Politics and Personal Insecurity, New York, 1935.Google Scholar

46 Hempel, Carl G., “The Function of General Laws in History,” Journal of Philosophy, XXXIX, No. 2 (January 1942), pp. 3547.CrossRefGoogle Scholar An example of this tendency can be found in Lasswell's, Harold study, “World Organization and Society,” in Lerner, D. and Lasswell, H., eds., The Policy Sciences, Stanford, Calif., 1951, pp. 102ff.Google Scholar See the critique by Lipsky, George, “The Theory of International Relations of Harold Lasswell,” Journal of Politics, XVII, No. 1 (February 1955), pp. 4358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

47 See Kaplan, Morton A., “An Introduction to the Strategy of Statecraft,” World Politics, IV, No. 4 (July 1952), pp. 549–76.Google Scholar

48 Liska, , International Equilibrium, p. 16.Google Scholar

49 Myrdal, Gunnar, An American Dilemma, New York, 1949, p. 1052.Google Scholar

50 See Liska's distinctions of various equilibria (op.cit., pp. 13–14, 52, 57, 132ff.).

51 See Easton, David, “Limits of the Equilibrium Model in Social Research,” Be havioral Science, 1, No. 2 (April 1956), pp. 96104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar For instance, the “balance between the power of the principal Great Powers and their sense of responsibility and selfrestraint” (Liska, , op.cit., p. 158)Google Scholar is hardly a measurable quantity.

52 See a critique of these attempts by Leoni, Bruno, “The Meaning of [Political] in Political Decisions,” Political Studies, V, No. 3 (October 1957), pp. 225–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar Talcott Parsons has emphasized the fundamental differences between economics and politics in The Social System, Glencoe, Ill., 1951, pp. 551ff.; his recent attempt to analyze the “polity” as a “subsystem of society” parallel with the economy (in Young, Roland, ed., Approaches to the Study of Politics, Chicago, 1958, pp. 298ff.Google Scholar) is not very encouraging.

53 Snyder, Richard C., Bruck, H. W., and Sapin, Burton, Decision-making as an Approach to the Study of International Politics, Princeton, N.J., 1954Google Scholar; also Snyder, R. C. in Young, ed., op.cit., pp. 4ff.Google Scholar

54 Compare Snyder's scheme with Cohen's, Bernard C. simpler and convincing framework in The Political Process and Foreign Policy, Princeton, N.J., 1957.CrossRefGoogle Scholar See McClosky, Herbert, “Concerning Strategies for a Science of International Politics,” World Politics, VIII, No. 2 (January 1956), pp. 281–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

55 Parsons, Talcott, The Structure of Social Action, New York, 1937, pp. 592ff.Google Scholar, Aron, Raymond, La théorie de l'histoire dans l'Allemagne contemporaine, Paris, 1938, pp. 255Google Scholar and 266ff.

56 Friedrich, C. J. in Merton, Robertet al., Reader in Bureaucracy, Glencoe, Ill., 1952, p. 33.Google Scholar See also Cook, Thomas I., review of Lasswell, and Kaplan, , Power and Society, in Journal of Philosophy, XLVIII, NO. 22 (October 1951), p. 698.Google Scholar

57 McClosky, , op.cit., p. 295.Google Scholar See also Pipes, Richard, “Max Weber and Russia,” World Politics, VII, No. 3 (April 1955), pp. 371401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

58 See Furniss, Edgar S. Jr, “The Contribution of Nicholas John Spykman to the Study of International Politics,” World Politics, IV, No. 3 (April 1952), pp. 381401Google Scholar; Jean Gottman, “Geography and International Relations,” ibid., 111, No. 2 (January 1951), pp. 154–73; idem, La politique des états et la géographie, Paris, 1952, pp. 48–49, 44–45, 164ff., 205.

59 In The Nature of Conflict, pp. 177ff. See also his article, “De l'analyse des constellations diplomatiques,” Revue Française de Science Politique, IV, NO. 2 (April-June 1954). pp. 237–51. Cf. Brinton, Crane, The Anatomy of Revolution, New York, 1952, pp. 7ff.Google Scholar; Coulborn, Rushton, ed., Feudalism in History, Princeton, N.J., 1956, pp. 389ff.Google Scholar

60 One type might be international systems of revolutionary periods, when the old rules of the game are challenged and totally new problems appear that the processes and institutions available during the previous period are powerless to handle. Ours is not the first such period. The problem which outer space poses for us is comparable to the problems raised by the great discoveries in the sixteenth century (new rules needed for the acquisition of territory, for the sea, etc.). The only radically new problems of today are those raised by nuclear weapons and those of economic development in a post-colonial phase. The rest—the break—up of empires, the clash of super-states, ideological warfare, etc.—are not at all unprecedented.

61 On types of foreign policies, see, e.g., the foreign policy of nations in periods of loss of influence; the foreign policy of “new nations.” On selected factors, see Association Française de Science Politique, La politique étrangère et ses fondements, Paris, 1954.Google Scholar

62 Aron, in The Nature of Conflict, p. 180.Google Scholar

63 See Haas's, Ernst B. excellent analysis, “The Balance of Power: Prescription, Concept or Propaganda?World Politics, V, No. 4 (July 1953), pp. 442–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

64 Tocqueville commented on the tendency of those who write in democratic ages to neglect the role of individual action, to stress the inevitability of past events, and to be more concerned with general theories of action than with the actors (Democracy in America, 11, ch. XX). See also the discussion by Meyer, John R. and Conrad, Alfred H., “Economic Theory, Statistical Influence and Economic History,” journal of Economic History, XVII, No. 4 (December 1957), pp. 524–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Renouvin, P., Histoire des relations internationales, 1, Paris, 1953Google Scholar, introduction.

65 It is easy to see how the scheme I suggest would differ from Morton Kaplan's, even though we are both engaged in a quest for systems and processes. Only two of his systems have empirical referents; I propose to start from history. He proceeds deductively and thus produces hypotheses which are difficult to test, for the reasons I have suggested above; I would proceed inductively. His systems and processes are stated; their existence in reality should be demonstrated first. The level of generalization at which he operates could not, in my scheme, be reached until each of the various stages I describe has been passed in turn.

66 Hoselitz, Bert F., “On Comparative History,” World Politics, IX, No. 2 (January 1957). P. 274.Google Scholar

67 Wright, , The Study of International Relations, pp. 489ff.Google Scholar

68 Wolfers, Arnold, “The Pole of Power and the Pole of Indifference,” World Politics, IV, No. 1 (October 1951), pp. 3963.CrossRefGoogle Scholar See also Leonard Binder's important reminder that international politics is not total and global: “The Middle East as a Subordinate International System,” ibid., X, No. 3 (April 1958), pp. 408–29.

69 On the pattern of power and on political culture, see Beer, Samuel H. and Ulam, Adam B., eds., Patterns of Government, New York, 1958, pp. 3ff.Google Scholar See also the “box” suggested by Kelman, Herbert C., “Societal, Attitudinal and Structural Factors in International Relations,” Journal of Social Issues, XI, No. 1 (1955), pp. 4256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

70 See Sondermann, Fred A., “The Study of International Relations: 1956 Version,” World Politics, X, No. 1 (October 1957), pp. 102–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar This defect is visible in Politics Among Nations, in Mr. Organski's recent book, World Politics, and in the fine text of Haas, Ernst B. and Whiting, Allen S., Dynamics of International Relations, New York, 1956.Google Scholar

71 Op.cit., note 68 above.

72 The role of unevenness in development as one of the main dynamics of international relations has not received sufficient attention. There are useful indications in Organski, op.cit., with reference to economic unevenness; in Herz, John H., “Rise and Demise of the Territorial State,” World Politics, IX, No. 4 (July 1957), pp. 473–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar, with reference to military unevenness.

73 Aron, Raymond, “Le développement de la société industrielle,” mimeographed lectures, Paris, 1956, p. 48.Google Scholar

74 See Arnold Wolfers' brilliant plea in his preface to Wolfers, and Martin, L. W., The Anglo-American Tradition in Foreign Affairs, New Haven, Conn., 1956Google Scholar; also Dunn, Frederick S., “The Present Course of International Relations Research,” World Politics, 11, No. 1 (October 1949), pp. 90ff.Google Scholar Among past efforts, see in particular Russell, Frank, Theories of International Relations, New York, 1936Google Scholar; Schiffer, Walter, The Legal Community of Mankind, New York, 1954.Google Scholar

75 See especially Morgenthau, op.cit., note 17 above. The emphasis on “survival” as an absolute raises a host of troublesome questions which realism rarely discusses, such as survival of what (a specific political form, such as the nation-state? an ideology? men?) and for what?

78 See Claude's, I. L. excellent discussion: Swords into Plowshares, New York, 1956, pp. 407ff.Google Scholar

77 Elliott, W. Y., The Pragmatic Revolt in Politics, New York, 1928, pp. 470ff.Google Scholar; Wolfers, Arnold, “Statesmanship and Moral Choice,” World Politics, 1, No. 2 (January 1949), pp. 175–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

78 See the arguments presented by Corbett, Percy in Morals, Law and Power in International Relations, Los Angeles, 1956Google Scholar; and by Behrendt, Richard F., “Der Beitrag der Soziologie zum Verständnis Internationaler Probleme,” Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Volkwirtschaft und Statistik, XCI, N0. 2 (June 1955), pp. 145–70.Google Scholar

79 Kant, Eternal Peace. I hope to develop and apply methodically the suggestions I have presented here.