The Great War, the big League and the twenty years’ crisis
in A history of International Relations theory (third edition)
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The field of IR emerged from World War I. This chapter explores how this happened. It shows, first, how liberal internationalists developed detailed schemes of collective security during the war and how they worked to establish a League of Nations and a ‘science of international politics’ after it. The chapter then shows how left-wing theorists expanded upon radical theories to explain the outbreak of world war. These explanations informed Lenin and the Bolsheviks and drove the policies of the Russian revolution in an anti-capitalist and anti-Western direction. By 1919, Wilson and Lenin represented the two major approaches to questions of international politics. But it was Wilson’s approach, not Lenin’s, which came to dominate the academic study of IR. During the 1920s, IR was consolidated as an academic field in universities, research institutions and specialized journals. During the 1930s, the liberal approach was pushed on the defensive. As fascist parties emerged in Europe, the liberals were criticized for being ‘idealistic’, Critics like Reinhold Niebuhr, Winston Churchill and others charged the liberal idealists for overlooking ‘the realities of power’


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