Daniel Nexon

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Ben Rhodes, Part the Second: Or, Journalistic Interpolations are Not Evidence

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The White House Pushes for its Policies, and Other Surprises from Ben Rhodes

It seems that everyone (at least on the political right) is in a tizzy about the “revelations” in David Samuels’ New York Times Magazine story on Ben Rhodes. For example, Lee Smith, at the Weekly Standard, headlines “Obama’s Foreign Policy Guru Boasts of How the Administration Lied to Sell the Iran Deal.” As I’ll explain below, that’s, at best, massive hyperbole.  But what we really learned is that Ben Rhodes has a massive ego—Thomas Ricks is less kind in his assessment. We also learned that Samuels—like any reporter—wants to break big stories. Put the two together, and you come away less, not better, informed.

Let’s start with one of the passages from the story that’s receiving a lot of attention—and that Smith partially blockquotes:

As Malley and representatives of the State Department, including Wendy Sherman and Secretary of State John Kerry, engaged in formal negotiations with the Iranians, to ratify details of a framework that had already been agreed upon, Rhodes’s war room did its work on Capitol Hill and with reporters. In the spring of last year, legions of arms-control experts began popping up at think tanks and on social media, and then became key sources for hundreds of often-clueless reporters. “We created an echo chamber,” he admitted, when I asked him to explain the onslaught of freshly minted experts cheerleading for the deal. “They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.”

When I suggested that all this dark metafictional play seemed a bit removed from rational debate over America’s future role in the world, Rhodes nodded. “In the absence of rational discourse, we are going to discourse the [expletive] out of this,” he said. “We had test drives to know who was going to be able to carry our message effectively, and how to use outside groups like Ploughshares, the Iran Project and whomever else. So we knew the tactics that worked.” He is proud of the way he sold the Iran deal. “We drove them crazy,” he said of the deal’s opponents.

This is, more or less, a description of what every single White House does when seeking to pass a major, and controversial, initiative. They connect with allies, they disseminate talking points, they coordinate with like-minded policy and industry groups, and they feed those groups information. Administrations create multiple information channels to the press, the public, and elected officials.The Obama Administration did this for the Affordable Care Act. The Bush Administration did this for its massive tax cuts, for the Iraq War, and, unsuccessfully, in its efforts to privatize Social Security. Continue reading

Interventionism and Restraint in Democratic Foreign Policy

At War on the Rocks, Mieke Eoyong intervenes in the Sanders-Clinton foreign-policy debate. Although the case made for Sanders’ foreign policy by those she critiques—including Sean Kay—is much broader, she focuses on three arguments: that “Sanders has superior judgment because he opposed the Iraq War and Clinton didn’t; Sanders would exercise restraint in intervention, where Clinton is on record supporting U.S. intervention in a number of cases; [and] Sanders would restrain defense spending.”

I’m going to respond to the first two. I do so as a recovering liberal hawk. In the 1990s, my views on foreign policy were profoundly shaped by the pages of The New Republic. But over the last fifteen years, I’ve moved further and further away from liberal interventionism. Don’t get me wrong: I’m still more of a ‘strong defense’ type than most people on the left. But the problems that I see with Eoyong’s case reflect the reasons for my own evolution.

Indeed, Eoyong’s first argument is that the real test of judgment is learning from mistakes. As she writes:

A candidate’s ability to admit he or she has made a mistake and take corrective action is far more important in the world where imperfect information and changed circumstance may render initial judgments as poor decisions. No one gets it right all the time. How do candidates cope when they get it wrong? What lessons do they learn? What steps do they take to address the problems?

Fair enough. And this is one reason why I don’t worry about a possible Clinton presidency the way that many on the Democratic left do (indeed, if and when Clinton wins the nomination my pocketbook will open up to her campaign and I will do everything I can to support it). But I think it telling that Eoyong has nothing to say about the actual lessons learned by liberal interventionists from Iraq. Continue reading

The Practice Turn in International Relations Theory

Thanks to PTJ, ISQ Online is running a debate about the scope and nature of the ‘practice turn’ in the study of world politics. The symposium centers around a recent International Studies Quarterly article by Christian Bueger and Frank Gadinger, “The Play of International Practice.”*

Continue reading

Thoughts on DA-RT

For background on DA-RT, see Jarod Hayes’ post at the Duck of Minerva, as well as John Patty’s response to the petition to delay implementation (as well as its related website) and Jeffrey Isaac’s response to Patty and Isaac’s latest postRoundups and responses abound.

I drafted a longer piece on DA-RT, but now realize that I will probably never finish it. So, instead, some brief comments:

  • I have neither signed the DA-RT Journal Editors’ Statement (JETS), nor the acronym-challenged petition to delay it’s implementation. My basic reasons are straightforward. The journal that I edit, International Studies Quarterly,  is a publication of the International Studies Association (ISA). Given the structure of the ISA, I do not believe that I enjoy the authority to make this kind of decision—although I should note that my view is not universally shared among ISA journal editors. ISA does have a replication policy that ISQ follows, but it currently only extends to the archiving of statistical materials. ISQ will follow whatever transparency policy the ISA deems appropriate for its journals.
  • The dynamics of the DA-RT dispute share some similarity to those associated with “wedge issues.” That is, it “divide[s] [political scientists] through code words [and] labeling” in ways I find deeply troubling.

  • Participants in the debate over DA-RT need to make sure that they cultivate, or continue to display, intellectual empathy. In other words, opposition to DA-RT standards does not make you an opponent of social science understood correctly. Support for DA-RT standards does not make you a methodological puritan.
  • But the controversy does provide some people who hold these beliefs the opportunity to express them in unhelpful ways (cf. “wedge issue”).

  • This is particularly problematic, because there’s nothing wrong with agonistic and intense exchange on the issues.

The Duck Civil War over Russia…

…has escalated. First, Jeff took his argument to Foreign Affairs.  Now I’ve retaliated—and brought in Alex Cooley in an attempt at establishing escalation dominance.

These interpretations dangerously misread contemporary geopolitics, however. Putin’s appearance of strength is, in reality, a function of Russia’s relatively weak international position. Russia lacks a global network of allies and partners and denounces the United States’ leadership. But Moscow cannot decisively influence the rules, institutions, and norms of the international order. By contrast, what many diagnose as U.S. weakness is a symptom of its exorbitant geostrategic privilege. Prudent foreign policy requires Washington to manage its extensive and heterogeneous security commitments and global relationships carefully. This makes Putin’s style of boldness not only less difficult to pursue but also often reckless—sacrificing longer-term position for short-term gain.

Go check it out (paywalled).

The First Democratic Debate: Clinton and Foreign Policy

My overall view of the first democratic debate of the 2016 nomination contest probably tracks with the consensus. I should disclose that I’ve contributed to the Sanders campaign and support it, even though my views on some issues are more conservative.

In brief, Clinton showed herself a capable and exceedingly well-prepared politician. I jokingly commented on social media that this encapsulates her biggest advantage and her biggest liability. But, to be honest, it really is much more of an asset than anything else. She’s extremely smart, experienced,  and skilled at politics. She is also surrounded by people with strong messaging skills—at least when it comes to focused activities, such as debates.

Sanders came across as he does in all other campaign settings: passionate, focused on the issues, and unwilling to go after his rivals in a deeply personal way. It reinforced suspicions among some that the rationale for his candidacy resides in a desire to push the eventual nominee—that is, Clinton—to the left on economic issues. That may have been his original intent, but he remains the only serious alternative to Clinton; my guess is that he takes the support that he’s generated very seriously.

Sanders’ performance, and the reaction it generated, likely come from his “unorthodox” debate preparation:

Sanders’ team sees the first Democratic debate as a chance to introduce a fairly niche candidate to a national audience. So his team intends to let him do what he’s been doing. Far from preparing lines to deploy against Clinton — let alone O’Malley, Lincoln Chafee or Jim Webb — Sanders plans to dish policy details, learned through a handful of briefings with experts brought in by his campaign.

At some point, the Sanders campaign is going to need to make a choice about whether to pivot to a more orthodox approach. Given that one of Sanders’ major asset is his genuine, rather than affected, authenticity, this presents something of a challenge.

I respect Webb a great deal, but I don’t think that tacking to the right on issues like Iran is either good politics or good policy. He’s out of step with the Democratic electorate, and he has no chance at winning the nomination. Chafee’s performance was poor, and does nothing to dispel the key question of his campaign: “why are you even running?”

O’Malley, on the other hand, was comparatively impressive. His attempts to outflank Clinton on the left—particularly on foreign policy—weren’t perfectly implemented, but they point in the direction of how to press these points. For example:

I believe that, as president, I would not be so quick to pull for a military tool. I believe that a no-fly zone in Syria, at this time, actually, Secretary, would be a mistake.

You have to enforce no-fly zones, and I believe, especially with the Russian air force in the air, it could lead to an escalation because of an accident that we would deeply regret.

I support President Obama. I think we have to play a long game, and I think, ultimately — you want to talk about blunders? I think [Putin’s] invasion of Syria will be seen as a blunder.

And this, unsurprisingly, is what I want to talk about. Two of Clinton’s answers on foreign policy troubled me. But for different reasons. Continue reading

Is Russia a Paper Tiger?

Jeff Stacey has a new piece at Foreign Affairs that is basically a re-skinned version of his post at the Duck of Minerva. It should come as little surprise that I don’t find either piece particularly persuasive.

Overall, I agree with Jeff’s basic assessment of Russian moves as destabilizing. In Syria, where Moscow seeks to save the Assad regime, Russian intervention in a country that the US and its allies are already mounting military operations carries with it significant risks. Also, as Jeff writes:

Indeed, Russia has been playing a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with allied planes and ships across Eurasia for many months now. Among other things, it has been both flying in the flight paths of Western commercial and military aircraft and using ships and submarines to intermittently sail into Western countries’ territorial waters. In addition, Russia has staged a series of large-scale military exercises just across the border of Poland and several Baltic states, and its intelligence service actually seized an Estonian agent during last year’s NATO Summit and held him for several days.

I see this ‘muscle flexing’ as a mixture of ham-handed coercive diplomacy and reversion to Cold War great-power repertoires. It would obviously be better for everyone if Moscow stopped, insofar as they increase the risk of military and diplomatic incidents. But, as I noted a few days ago, these efforts have generally backfiredContinue reading

Russia, Russia Burning Bright? (Spoiler: Not So Much)

Russia Comp GDP

GDP (PPP) for US, Russian Federation, and Major European Economies

The Russian Federation covers more territory than any other country. It has a large nuclear arsenal, skilled weapons designers, and the world’s fourth largest military budget—after the United States, China, and Saudi Arabia. But it maintains that budget—which comes it at roughly 12% of US military expenditures—by spending a larger percentage of its GDP on defense than does the United States, China, Britain, France, Japan, or Germany. Indeed, if the major European economies boosted defense spending to 3% of GDP—still short of Russia—they would each have larger military budgets.

Of course, military spending is a poor proxy for capabilities. Russia has a larger population than any other European state, along with a big army, extensive air-defense network, and other indicators of martial prowess. But it also has a smaller economy than the state of California, and still cannot indigenously produce much of the high-tech accruement of modern warfare. Moscow can certainly overwhelm many of its neighbors, but it isn’t a political-military juggernaut.

I consider such remarks necessary in light of the current freakout over Moscow’s intervention in Syria, including here at the Duck of Minerva.

Thankfully, a wave of cooler heads have started to push back against the hyperventilations of #resolvefairy acolytes. But the whole notion that Putin is a master strategist, and that whatever goes down in Syria is a result of his outmaneuvering the West in Ukraine, needs a reality check.

Let’s review. Continue reading

Against Policy Relevance: A Polemic

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Over on my Facebook feed, there’s a good discussion going on about Adam Elkus’ “The Problem of Bridging the Gap.” Elkus’ post amounts to, quite deliberately, a medium-length polemic against “policy relevance.” That is, he aims to provoke.

For example, Elkus argues that:

It judges the value of academic inquiry from the perspective of whether or not it concords with the values, aims, preferences, and policy concerns and goals of a few powerful elites. Why, if anything, do we judge “policy relevance” by whether or not it helps governmentpolicy elites? Surely governmental elites, politicians, think-tankers, etc aren’t the only people who care about policy! The “policy relevance” model is simply a normatively unjustified statement that political scientists and social scientists in general ought to cater to the desires and whims of elite governmental policymakers.

And:

It demands that academic inquiry ought to be formulated around the whims and desires of the people being studied. One does not see this demand outside of the political science policy relevance wars. No one asks psychologists whether experiments are “relevant” to lab rats because it would be absurd to base research around what the experimental subject wants. Psychologists also do not care whether or not the college students that are paid to populate their experiments find their research “relevant” or understandable. Nor do neuroscientists inquire about the preferences of neuronal populations or biologists the opinions of ant colonies. Yet political scientists ought to cater to a narrow set of policy elites that they (partly) study?

You should go read the whole thing. Continue reading

Academia isn’t Baseball

PTJ

PTJ’s Essential Player Statistics

This is a guest post by both Nexon and Patrick Thaddeus Jackson. Standard disclaimers apply.

Cullen Hendrix’s guest post is a must read for anyone interested in citation metrics and international-relations scholarship. Among other things, Hendrix provides critical benchmark data for those interested in assessing performance using Google Scholar.

We love the post, but we worry about an issue that it raises. Hendrix opens with a powerful analogy: sabermetrics is to baseball as the h-index is to academia.  We can build better international-relations departments. With science! Continue reading

Debating Covert Intervention and the Democratic Peace

One reason that Patrick I stepped down as a permanent contributors to the Duck of Minerva was to develop ISQ Online as a forum for intellectual exchange surrounding International Studies Quarterly pieces.  I think readers of the Duck will find the exchanges there interesting, and so I’ll be using (abusing?) my ‘standing guest’ privileges to call attention to them.

ISQ recently published—on early view—a piece by Michael Poznansky entitled “Stasis or Decay? Reconciling Covert War and the Democratic Peace.” In the final round of review, two of the referees proved very enthusiastic but one still expressed significant reservations. So we offered him the opportunity to have ‘the debate’ in public by authoring a rejoinder. The result, Tarak Barkawi’s “Scientific Decay.”

ISQ Online offers us the opportunity to continue these sorts of exchanges. Hence, we now have a symposium, “An Extended Debate on the Utility of the Democratic Peace Thesis.” In it, Poznanski and Barkawi go another round.

Continue reading

The Duck-Cat of Minerva

I want readers to know that I would never, ever link to a Buzzfeed video. Unless, of course, the video included footage of Ifrit. He receives about three seconds of fame — starting at about a minute in.

Are Germans Against Upholding NATO’s Article V Commitments?

A recent Pew poll says that they are.  According to Pew, “at least half of Germans, French and Italians say their country should not use military force to defend a NATO ally if attacked by Russia.” Indeed, the news is grim.  The public release informs us that, “Americans and Canadians are the only publics where more than half think their country should use military action if Russia attacks a fellow NATO member (56% and 53%, respectively). Germans (58%) are the most likely to say their country should not.

Clearly, Pew thinks this is a big deal. How do we know? They provided a one-click solution for anyone wanting to publicize the finding on Twitter: “Germans (58%) most likely to say their country should not defend NATO allies against Russian military conflict http://pewrsr.ch/Rus-Ukr2015”

That certainly sounds distressing. Is it true?

Unfortunately, we can’t tell. Because that’s not the question Pew asked.

NATO pew poll

Continue reading

What We Really Need is a Slice of Humble Pie

This is a guest post by former Duck of Minerva blogger Daniel Nexon. The views that he expresses here should not be construed as representing those of the International Studies Association, International Studies Quarterly, or anyone with an ounce of sanity.

We now have a lot of different meta-narratives about alleged fraud in “When Contact Changes Minds: An Experiment in the Transmission of Support for Gay Equality.”  These reflect not only different dimensions of the story, but the different interests at stake.

One set concerns confirmation bias and the left-leaning orientations of a majority of political scientists. At First Things, for example. Matthew J. Franck contrasts the reception of the LaCour and Green study (positive) with that of Mark Regnerus’ finding of inferior outcomes for children of gay parents (negative). There’s some truth here.  Regnerus’ study was terminally flawed. LaCour and Green’s study derived, most likely, from fraudulent data. Still, one comported with widespread ideological  priors in the field, while the other did not. That surely shaped their differential reception. But so did the startling strength of the latter’s findings, as well as the way they cut against conventional wisdom on the determinants of successful persuasion.

Continue reading

Yale Ferguson Award

[Note: This is a guest post by Daniel Nexon].

This is a call for nominations for the third annual Yale H. Ferguson Award, presented by the International Studies Association-Northeast. Information below the fold:

Continue reading

Reporters and Foreign Affairs Analysis: Ukraine Edition

This is a guest post by former Duck of Minerva blogger Dan Nexon. It is cross-posted at his personal blog, Hylaean Flow.

One of the ongoing rationales for The Monkey Cage is that journalists do a poor job of covering US electoral politics. They focus on personality and style. They downplay the role of fundamentals, such as economic forces and the nature of the electoral system. The same is too often true in foreign-affairs reporting. Consider a recent piece by multi-award-winning reporter, Scott Wilson: “Ukraine crisis tests Obama’s foreign policy focus on diplomacy over military force.”

What is Wilson’s argument? A sample:

Now Ukraine has emerged as a test of Obama’s argument that, far from weakening American power, he has enhanced it through smarter diplomacy, stronger alliances and a realism untainted by the ideology that guided his predecessor….

“If you are effectively taking the stick option off the table, then what are you left with?” said Andrew C. Kuchins, who heads the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I don’t think that Obama and his people really understand how others in the world are viewing his policies.”

And another:

The signal Obama has sent — popular among his domestic political base, unsettling at times to U.S. allies — has been one of deep reluctance to use the heavily burdened American military, even when doing so would meet the criteria he has laid out. He did so most notably in the aftermath of the U.S.-led intervention in Libya nearly three years ago.

But Obama’s rejection of U.S. military involvement in Syria’s civil war, in which 140,000 people have died since he first called on President Bashar al-Assad to step down, is the leading example of his second term. So, too, is the Pentagon budget proposal outlined this past week that would cut the size of the army to pre-2001 levels.

Let’s consider a bit of history.

  • In April of 2008, President George W. Bush pushed hard for a Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Georgia and Ukraine at the Bucharest NATO summit. Germany and France balked, for both self-interested and prescient reasons.
  • In August of 2008, Russia baited Georgia into invading South Ossetia. At the key principals meeting in Washington, no one was willing to risk war with Russia over Georgia.
  • In 2009, Yanukovich and his Party of Regions wrested power from the unruly and ineffectual Orange coalition that had ousted him in 2004. Yanukovich adopted a pro-Russian tilt. Although he was more than happy to leverage Moscow against Brussels, under no circumstances was he going to make a serious push to bring Ukraine into NATO.
  • While Georgia is a small country on the Russian Federation’s periphery; Ukraine is a large country of significant affective and geo-strategic significance to Russia.

See the problem? There’s no obvious counterfactual set of Obama policies that would better position the United States to handle Russia’s gambit in Ukraine. Continue reading

Theories Never Die

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor’s Note: This is a  guest post by Felix BerenskoetterIt is the 25th and final installment in our “End of IR Theory” companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. tl;dr notice: ~1750 words.

Other entries in the symposium- may be reached via the “EJIR Special Issue Symposium” tag.

Having been invited to offer an ‘overall response’ to this special issue, I decided to take a look at how the contributors deal with the editors’ claim that we are witnessing the end of ‘IR Theory’. But let me preface this with an observation.

The EJIR editors’ decision to compile this special issue, taken at the 2011 ISA conference in Montreal, occurred parallel to the creation of the ISA Theory Section (in which I was closely involved). While this was not a consciously coordinated effort, neither was it a coincidence. Both initiatives were motivated by a similar concern, namely a sense that there were not enough substantial/creative theoretical discussions in two primary fora of IR discourse: in journals (the EJIR editor’s view) and at ISA conferences (my view). And yet, the observations spurring the two initiatives are slightly different. The EJIR editors saw a ‘retreat from theory’ in IR indicated by missing inter-theoretic debate and lack of theory development. My view was that there is quite a bit of theorizing going on, but that it is either happening in inward-looking cliques, or has difficulties making it onto the ISA program because it does not fit the outlook of existing sections. Accordingly, the two initiatives were framed in contrasting ways, namely as (i) debating stagnation, crisis and end (EJIR), and as (ii) supporting and bringing together new thinking (Theory Section).

One reason for this contrast lies, I think, in different conceptions of theory and theoretical debate. Whereas the EJIR brief refers to an end of great debates and paradigm wars, that is, a lack of debate between and development of ‘isms’, I see fruitful theoretical discussions taking place both inside and outside the isms, albeit not in terms of competition. Related, there is a generational factor. The EJIR editors are established professors and so were the contributors initially selected for the EJIR project; the panels at ISA and BISA did not include a single young scholar (I commented on this elsewhere). Continue reading

Not Aufklärers but Dilettantes: Reading Michael C. Williams’s “In the Beginning…”

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor’s Note: This is a  guest post by Daniel J. LevineIt is the 24th installment in our “End of IR Theory” companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post refers to Michael C. Williams article (PDF). His post appeared earlier today. tl;dr notice: ~1730 words.

Other entries in the symposium–when available–may be reached via the “EJIR Special Issue Symposium” tag.

“In the Beginning” joins a growing literature – including my own Recovering International Relationsin which normative claims regarding the vocation of IR theory are tied to an historical account of its disciplinary emergence.*<name=”back2917″> If these arguments vary in their details, they share a common logical-rhetorical tactic. An account of the discipline’s beginnings is mobilized to critique present-day scholarly practices: to spur “reflection on where one is, and where one is going.”

On Williams’ account, a basic confusion regarding IR-realism’s relationship to liberalism characterizes “where we are.” The traditional ‘dueling paradigms’ approach to IR theory in which “realism and liberalism…develop as parallel tracks that rarely intersect substantively,” overlooks their deeper historical co-emergence. IR-realism, he argues, emerged to guide liberal societies and protect their freedoms amidst the growing challenges of postwar political life. That co-emergence, Williams suggests, has been forgotten, with “significant implications for how we think about the past and future development of the field.”

What Williams wants is international theory that is not merely open to normative concerns, but which is deeply imbued with them. Accordingly, it is not a reflection so much as it is a proposed regrounding. Williams wants us to think about IR differently because he wants IR to speak to political life differently: in the voice of Ira Katznelson’s post-war “political studies enlightenment,” which “combined the deduction of politics from norms with its extrapolation from facts, affiliating engaged social criticism with disinterested social science[.]” (p. 3)

Nothing wrong with that; but what practices of reflection are to keep his understanding of the field from becoming as “final and defining” as those he is attempting to critique? [p. xxxx] Rationalist scholars, too, often evince a sense of grounded vocation. Where they differ is on the account of social and political life upon which their analyses rely, and onto which their notions of ‘good’ theory bolt. [inter alia, see here, here, here, and here]. Nor are ‘historical’ narratives any more objectively or self-evidently cohesive than are ‘rationalist’ ones. If indeed – as Williams quotes Adorno and Horkheimer in his 2005 book – “all reification is a forgetting,” then what risks being reified and forgotten in his counter-narrative? (p. 128) Continue reading

The International Relations Enlightenment and the Ends of International Relations Theory

EJT_19_3_cover.inddEditor’s Note: This is a  guest post by Michael C. WilliamsIt is the 23rd installment in our “End of IR Theory” companion symposium for the special issue of the European Journal of International Relations. SAGE has temporarily ungated all of the articles in that issue. This post refers to Williams’ article (PDF). A response, authored by Daniel J. Levine, will appear at 10am Eastern.

Other entries in the symposium–when available–may be reached via the “EJIR Special Issue Symposium” tag.

Disciplinary history is too important to be left only to intellectual historians. It should concern anyone interested in international politics. “The tradition of all dead generations” may not weigh on the brains of today’s International Relations (IR) scholars with quite the fever of Marx’s nightmare, but it does continue to exert powerful and often unrecognized effects on contemporary thinking. The idea of an “end of IR theory” that animates the Special Issue of the EJIR provides an intriguing opportunity to open up this issue: to ask where the field is going by looking again at where it came from.

This story can be told in many ways. One of the most revealing is to take seriously Stanley Hoffmann’s famous claim that IR developed as a quintessentially “American” social science (PDF). Hoffmann was right, though for reasons and with implications quite different from those he advanced. In his eyes, these origins lay mainly in a concern with American hegemony and policy-oriented theory in the context of the Cold War. No one could doubt that these questions were important, yet in many ways IR’s origins and commitments are better located in a wider but generally unrecognized analytic and political sensibility that, in his brilliant study of Desolation and Enlightenment, Ira Katznelson has called the “political studies enlightenment” (note the small ‘e’).

Katznelson holds that diverse figures in post-war American social science including Dahl, Hofstaeder, Lasswell, Lindblom, Polanyi, and Arendt were united in the view that the desolation of the previous half century and its apparent refutation of Enlightenment promises of progress, peace, and the reign of reason. In response, they undertook systematic analyses of the limits of a century and a half of increasing rationalism within the liberal Enlightenment tradition. Yet they did so not to reject modernity or liberalism, but to save it. They held that understanding the calamities of the period required seeing them not as simple irrationality erupting inexplicably into the otherwise placid, progressive, world of reason, but as specifically modern, arising in important aspects from the Enlightenment itself, and representing key weaknesses within it, including its inability to engage the question of “radical evil” in modernity; the increasing dominance of technology, and technical rationality; the rise of “mass society” and mass politics, and the accompanying crisis of classical liberalism and its vision of democracy; and the rise of extreme nationalism and anti-liberal politics as an at least partial consequence of liberal modernity, not as its simple antithesis. The goal was to grasp these dynamics philosophically, historically, and sociologically, in order to understand how they might be countered in pursuit of suitably chastened but nonetheless recognizable Enlightenment values and principles.

Continue reading

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