Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 00:52 | SYDNEY
Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 00:52 | SYDNEY

Reader ripostes: American IR theory


Sam Roggeveen


20 April 2010 11:15

Two replies to my post arguing that American debate about international relations theory needs to discover the via media between realism and idealism known as the English School. Further down, a comment by Aaron Connelly from CSIS in Jakarta (here's Aaron's blog). But first, Alex:

Love the blog — you make international policymaking in Australia seem more important than it is. That's a compliment, by the way.

You suggested that the US should include elements of English School theory. I agree. However, the US is familiar with the notion of the English School and has been for years. Take Barry Buzan, a well-regarded US academic. In International Organization, Vol. 47, No. 3 (Summer, 1993), pp. 327-352, Buzan argued that the English School is a useful middle step in understanding or modifying archaic concepts of anarchy versus global governance.

You can't get a bigger or more prestigious academic journal than IO dealing with this issue. You cannot say that the US academic or policymaking community is unaware of the distinction between left/right, anarchy/global government, or that there are modifying theories in the middle.

What you can say is that there is an emphasis in US international relations on clear definitions, on causation, and on variables. What makes US international relations so successful in terms of winning an argument is its capacity to emphasise certainty and de-value circumstance, as well as push Manichean arguments over nuanced ones.

By highlighting the changing nature of the international system as well as the comparatively weak spaghetti links between states, English School scholars are attacked from both left and right in the US. I'm not convinced that US scholars buy that kind of argument, despite the obvious theoretical and practical strengths of 'the anarchical society' — why sign up to an argument that will win no friends and have greater troubles getting published than standard re-imaginings?

Aaron writes:

In complete agreement here regarding the English School in America. Or for that matter, constructivist IR theory more generally.

I became a bit of a devotee of the English School when I did a year at Oxford as an undergraduate. But it's just simply not taught back in the States. The closest most Intro to IR professors will get is a dismissive reference to Wendt. (It gets a little better in graduate school, but most American officials have never done a political science graduate degree).