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International Relations: The Long Road to Theory

  • Stanley H. Hoffmann (a1)


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.



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

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

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

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

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

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. 733–46; 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.; Morgenthau, Hans J., “Reflections on the State of Political Science,” Review of Politics, XVII, No. 4 (October 1955), pp. 431–60.

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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

16 These arguments are developed by Kissinger, Henry A. in A World Restored, Boston, 1957. 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. 973–76; and a critique of this attitude in Niebuhr, Reinhold, The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness, New York, 1944, pp. 173ff.

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

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

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

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). See Grosser, Alfred, “L'étude des relations internationales, spécialité américaine?Revue Française de Science Politique, VI, No. 3 (July-September 1956), pp. 634–51.

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. 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. 6090; 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. See also Parsons, Talcott, Essays in Sociological Theory, Pure and Applied, Glencoe, Ill., 1949, pp. 23ff.

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

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

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

28 Jacobson, N. in Young, Roland, ed., Approaches to the Study of Politics, Chicago, 1958, pp. 115–24. 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

36 See Bernard's, Jessie critique in International Sociological Association, The Nature of Conflict, Paris, 1957, pp. 64ff. 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. 1415; Maclver, Robert, Social Causation, Boston, 1942, pp. 48ff.; Heckscher, Gunnar, The Study of Comparative Government and Politics, London, 1957, pp. 2021.

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).Contra, 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.

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

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

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

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.

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

46 Hempel, Carl G., “The Function of General Laws in History,” Journal of Philosophy, XXXIX, No. 2 (January 1942), pp. 3547. 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. See the critique by Lipsky, George, “The Theory of International Relations of Harold Lasswell,” Journal of Politics, XVII, No. 1 (February 1955), pp. 4358.

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

48 Liska, , International Equilibrium, p. 16.

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

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. For instance, the “balance between the power of the principal Great Powers and their sense of responsibility and selfrestraint” (Liska, , op.cit., p. 158) 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. 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.) 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., 1954; also Snyder, R. C. in Young, ed., op.cit., pp. 4ff.

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. See McClosky, Herbert, “Concerning Strategies for a Science of International Politics,” World Politics, VIII, No. 2 (January 1956), pp. 281–95.

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

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

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

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. 381401; 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.; Coulborn, Rushton, ed., Feudalism in History, Princeton, N.J., 1956, pp. 389ff.

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.

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

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.

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. 524–44; and Renouvin, P., Histoire des relations internationales, 1, Paris, 1953, 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.

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

68 Wolfers, Arnold, “The Pole of Power and the Pole of Indifference,” World Politics, IV, No. 1 (October 1951), pp. 3963. 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. 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.

70 See Sondermann, Fred A., “The Study of International Relations: 1956 Version,” World Politics, X, No. 1 (October 1957), pp. 102–12. 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.

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. 473–93, with reference to military unevenness.

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

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., 1956; also Dunn, Frederick S., “The Present Course of International Relations Research,” World Politics, 11, No. 1 (October 1949), pp. 90ff. Among past efforts, see in particular Russell, Frank, Theories of International Relations, New York, 1936; Schiffer, Walter, The Legal Community of Mankind, New York, 1954.

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.

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

78 See the arguments presented by Corbett, Percy in Morals, Law and Power in International Relations, Los Angeles, 1956; 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.

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


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