Friday, December 3, 2004

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December's books of the month

I initially feared that the general interest book for December may not necessarily of general interest, since it's Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season by Stewart O'Nan and Stephen King. However, then I remembered that this would be the pefect stocking stuffer for anyone who hates the Yankees, which accesses a broad spectrum of Americans. Publisher's Weekly says that, "Of all the books that will examine the Boston Red Sox's stunning come-from-behind 2004 ALCS win over the Yankees and subsequent World Series victory, none will have this book's warmth, personality or depth." That's good enough for me! Well, that plus the awesome cover photo.

The international relations book this time around is an oldie but a goodie -- Kenneth Waltz's Man, The State, and War. In my Classics of International Relations Theory class this year, this book easily sparked the most animated discussion. The reason is that this text -- in combination with Thomas Schelling's The Strategy of Conflict -- transformed the way people (or at least Americans) studied international relations.

Prior to Waltz, the great books in international relations either had a strong teleology embedded in their theory (Kant, Lenin) or came at the problem of international relations from a normative cast that colored their positive analysis (Hobbes, Angell, even Morgenthau).

After Man, The State, and War, the discipline underwent two changes -- first, it took on a much more positivist cast. The question of how to stop war was supplanted by the analysis of determining the causes of war. Although there is a normative explanation for this -- it is foolhardy to try and prevent war without understanding the causes of the phenomenon -- it has led to the discipline as a whole to shrink away from making policy prescriptions. Second, the field of study slowly shifted its explanations away from individual or even domestic-level approaches. Instead, the "system of states" -- i.e., the implications of anarchy at the global level -- became the overriding concern.

[Why not recommend Waltz's even-more-influential Theory of International Politics?--ed. As Henry Farrell points out, the price gouging on that book is pretty appalling.]

Another reason for recommending Waltz is this October address by Mitchell Reiss, the Director of Policy Planning for the State Department. The speech tries to place the Bush administration's foreign policy within the context of Waltz's Man, The State and War. It's certainly an interesting intellectual exercise -- though Reiss diplomatically elides Waltz's attack on assertive Wilsonianism -- the neoconservatism of its day.

posted by Dan on 12.03.04 at 01:19 AM


You're recommending Man, The State, and War?? That's almost as bad as the fact that I've given The Tragedy of Great Power Politics as a birthday present... Classics of IR Theory sounds like it'd be a cool class, though. Carr, Hobbes, Kant, and Thucydides... it's so... Chicago.

posted by: Philip J. Brinkman on 12.03.04 at 01:19 AM [permalink]

And how. I nearly vomited when I had to buy "Theory of International Politics" for my grad course in IR theory. Almost $75.00, and it's not even a hardcover! Sure, it has nice glossy pages, but I'll trade those for nasty, ink-absorbing pages anyday if it means saving a few bucks. (Or a lot of bucks, in this case.) Victimizing impoverished graduate can't get much lower than that.

posted by: tractatus on 12.03.04 at 01:19 AM [permalink]

I actually got my paperback copy of ToIPol used for $45. At the used book sale where I got it, the checker first started to ring it up at $4.50, then did a double take, and asked if I was sure I wanted to pay $45 for this. Alas, I was sure.

posted by: Tom on 12.03.04 at 01:19 AM [permalink]

Great class. I've long advocated pairing Locke and Hobbes to capture the essence of the neorealism/neoliberalism debate.

I tried to do something similar this semester, but had to deal with the limitations of its being an masters course.

A quick recommendation: if you're combining Hobbes and Locke with Went and Snyder, you should really add the first half of Rouesseau's Second Discourse, which could be taken to represent the systemic-constructivist position on the state of nature. If you're really ambitious, the first part of G.W.F. Hegel's Natural Law: The Scientific Ways of Treating Natural Law, Its Place in Moral Philosophy, and Its Relation to the Positive Sciences of Law, in which Hegel takes Hobbes, Locke, and their ilk to task for imputing backwards onto the state of nature the very characteristics that would justify their vision of political authority.

I haven't taught Hegel's essay in this way, but I've found Rousseau a useful supplement to Locke and Hobbes for the purposes of the contemporary debate over anarchy.

This might be "very Chicago," but it is also "very Columbia." Columbia's Western Civilization course, AFAIK, predates Chicago's.

posted by: Lee Scoresby on 12.03.04 at 01:19 AM [permalink]

Ah, but I believe Chicago's "great books" program, the legacy of which lives on in the Core (which, in my mind, is the heart of Chicago qua Chicago,) predates Columbia's coursework.

Purely as a matter of opinion (on which I think happens to be correct, albeit) I'd take someone who has gone through Chicago's core over someone who has gone through Columbia's in an intellectual or academic showdown any day of the week. But, I've had this argument before and, well... I'm biased. (Chicago A.B., '04)

Such infighting aside, Chicago and Columbia should both be commended on their dedication to such education (Columbia has even staked it's Title IV funds on it!)

With reference to the price of Waltz's books and the various posts and comments on the same, I have to agree that buying Keohane's reader is a much better move (that's what we read in my IR field seminar.)

posted by: Philip J. Brinkman on 12.03.04 at 01:19 AM [permalink]


I hate to break it to you, but Columbia's came first. Of course, which came first doesn't tell us anything about the current quality of the courses. From my perspective, many of the offerings at Chicago look more interesting. On the other hand, I did teach in Columbia's Contemporary Civilization program, and I have nothing but praise for it -- even if it does suffer from the "Tuesday, Hegel; Thursday, Marx" problem.

In fact, the best program of this type is not a general core, but an honors concentration at Harvard known as Social Studies.

posted by: Lee Scoresby on 12.03.04 at 01:19 AM [permalink]

This is one Yankee fan who can't wait to read O'Nan & Kings book "Faithful etc". What Boston did this year was so good for baseball it goes beyond team rooting interest. It hurt to lose but what a way to go. Now we will have to deal with the drug use issues that have really dampened the great season ending play of Boston.

posted by: Gorman on 12.03.04 at 01:19 AM [permalink]

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