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Torbjørn L. Knutsen

Where should we look to find the first forays of International Relations (IR) theory? The turbulent era that followed the collapse of Rome is a good place to begin. This chapter shows how authors of these ‘Dark Ages’ touched several of the broader issues of international affairs. First among these were questions concerning the causes of war, the nature of diplomacy and the preconditions for peace. The chapter notes that early discussions on these themes took place within three distinct civilizations: in Byzantium, the Islamic world and in the unruly region of the north-Atlantic rim. This latter region – the ‘Far West’ – was at first inferior to the other two civilizations. Yet, it was here that systematic discussions of international relations first evolved. These discussions were affected by the feudal nature of Western society. They were also steeped in the Christian religion – as is evident in the writings of Capella and Augustine. However, over time there emerged theories that were also influenced by texts from pre-Christian Greece and from imperial Rome. This is indicated by the writings of St. Thomas, Pierre Dubois, Marsiglio of Padua, and others.

in A history of International Relations theory (third edition)
Torbjørn L. Knutsen

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’

in A history of International Relations theory (third edition)

This book traces discussions about international relations from the middle ages up to the present times. It presents central concepts in historical context and shows how ancient ideas still affect the way we perceive world politics. It discusses medieval theologians like Augustine and Aquinas whose rules of war are still in use. It presents Renaissance humanists like Machiavelli and Bodin who developed our understanding of state sovereignty. It argues that Enlightenment philosophers like Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau laid the basis for the modern analyses of International Relations (IR). Later thinkers followed up with balance-of-power models, perpetual-peace projects and theories of exploitation as well as peaceful interdependence. Classic IR theories have then been steadily refined by later thinkers – from Marx, Mackinder and Morgenthau to Waltz, Wallerstein and Wendt.

The book shows that core ideas of IR have been shaped by major events in the past and that they have often reflected the concerns of the great powers. It also shows that the most basic ideas in the field have remained remarkably constant over the centuries.

The nineteenth century and the rise of mass participation
Torbjørn L. Knutsen

The political revolutions in America and France occurred at about the same time as the industrial revolution in England. The three events spurred new visions, ideas and arguments about social relations – domestic as well as international. This chapter discusses the theories and ideologies that emerged in the wake of these revolutions. It presents several authors, but none is singled out for special analysis – although Hegel receives a little more attention than others. Instead, the chapter addresses three political ideologies – three ‘-isms’ – that emerged during and after the Napoleonic Wars: liberalism, radicalism and conservatism. Each ideology is discussed in a way that highlights ideas about war, wealth, peace and power. A distinction is drawn between the theories of the Atlantic rim (represented by the liberal thinkers Cobden and Mazzini) on the one hand, and on the other the theories of the Continent (represented by the protectionist List and by Bismarck).

in A history of International Relations theory (third edition)
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Becoming contemporary
Torbjørn L. Knutsen

This chapter introduces the ‘classic age of international relations’. It focuses attention of the forces that changed the Western world and altered interstate interaction. It discusses three such forces in particular: industrialism, imperialism and nationalism. The chapter identifies writers who observed the rapid changes of the age and who sought to identify their origins, capture their nature and assess their implications. These writings encouraged the growth of the modern social sciences. Some of them, especially those made by historians and lawyers, also contributed to the rise of International Relations (IR) as an academic subject. Many writers discussed change in terms of progress. This chapter documents the way academics – liberal, radical and conservative alike – drew on Darwin’s theory of evolution to help explain world events. It also shows how historians and lawyers helped establish schools and found journals to examine international issues, and how peace activists formed associations to combat war. These efforts systematized centuries of previous writings on war, wealth, peace and power. And they opened the gates wide for a systematic, academic study of International Relations (IR).

in A history of International Relations theory (third edition)
Abstract only
Why a history of International Relations theory?
Torbjørn L. Knutsen
in A history of International Relations theory (third edition)
Guns, ships and printing presses
Torbjørn L. Knutsen

During the early decades of the sixteenth century, several Atlantic states developed new ship designs, new navigation techniques and new weapons systems. These innovations increased their capabilities, their power and their wealth. This chapter discusses these innovations and shows how they paved the way for the ‘great discoveries’ and for Western conquests in Africa, Asia and the Americas. The chapter also shows how the invention of movable type contributed to a religious Reformation – which provoked religious quarrels that in turn undermined the authority of religion. The chapter discusses several authors – among them Italian diplomat Alberico Gentili and Spanish lawyer Francisco de Vitoria – who stimulated international theorizing. It singles out French philosopher Jean Bodin for special attention. Bodin foreshadowed the modern notion of the state and explored the concept of ‘sovereignty’ in ways which exerted a formative influence on subsequent scholarship on the state and on interstate relations.

in A history of International Relations theory (third edition)
Torbjørn L. Knutsen

The re-discovery of ancient texts changed the views and visions of the Far West. It challenged Christian orthodoxy and triggered the rise of Renaissance humanism. These re-discoveries coincided with other changes that washed across the Far West – among them the economic expansion of commerce and the political evolution of the modern state. This chapter examines the rise of the Italian city states, whose interrelations foreshadowed dynamics of the modern interstate system. It presents authors like Niccolò Machiavelli who discussed state relations and wars in secular and modern terms. The chapter singles out the writings of Francisco Guicciardini and the actions of Lorenzo de Medici for special attention. Both men were attuned to the new, secular notions of the ‘reason of state’ and of the ‘balance of power’.

in A history of International Relations theory (third edition)
Torbjørn L. Knutsen

The atomic bomb ended World War II. It also opened up for a new, post-war peace: a world order divided between the USA and the USSR. The two, rivalling, extra-European powers were trying to outdo each other in ideological prowess and atomic capabilities. Their efforts divided the world in two ideological camps and two spheres of influence. Within the Western camp, interstate relations were largely conceived in terms of liberal internationalism. Relations between the two atomic superpowers, however, were approached in power-political terms. The USA knew little about the inner workings of the USSR. US analysts compensated for scant empirical knowledge by developing theories about Soviet behavior and models of US-Soviet interaction. Such efforts, which drew heavily on rational-actor models and statistical techniques from Economics and Engineering, stimulated several new approaches – more technical or scientific than those invoked by IR scholars in the past. Among the new approaches were game-theory and systems-theory. Their advance sowed the seeds for a big debate about the most suitable methodology for the study of IR: the new, behaviouralist approach or the traditional, historical approach.

in A history of International Relations theory (third edition)
The Cold War after Stalin
Torbjørn L. Knutsen

This chapter presents the early, tense period of the Cold War and examines the IR theories that evolved under its impact. First, studies of the superpower rivalry stimulated the rise of the new field of ‘security studies’ – a scientific spin-off from the Realist tradition. On its heels followed the development of ‘peace research’, informed by an anti-war sentiments and left-wing theories. Second, studies of the increasing cooperation within the West revived old, liberal theories of interdependence and triggered new and special theories of integration. Third, anti-Western rebellions and wars in the colonies – what was increasingly termed ‘The Third World’ – brought in radical theories of exploitation and dependency to IR. This proliferation of approaches spurred IR scholars to chart and systematize the theories of their field. This chapter discusses two such efforts during the 1950s. First, those of Martin Wight who sought to chart the three different traditions of Realism, Rationalism and Revolutionism. Then, the efforts of Kenneth Waltz, who mapped IR theories in terms of the three different images or levels of analysis: that of the individual, the societal and the systemic.

in A history of International Relations theory (third edition)