50th Anniversary Issue: Past, Present, Future


, Volume 50, Issue 1, pp 48-54

First online:

Relativists and Absolutists: Grand Strategies in a World of Fractured Norms

  • Irving Louis HorowitzAffiliated withTransaction Publishers, Rutgers—The State University of New Jersey Email author 

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The current widespread renewed interest in the development of grand military-political strategies is a function of a rapidly changing global configuration of powers. From the bipolarity of the Cold War, which by its very construction limited either the United States or the Soviet Union from constructing much less implementing a unilateral framework, we have moved to a political and economic environment in which a variety of nations in parts of the world that did not figure into the power equations of the past century, invites such analysis. This article draws attention to factors profoundly limiting a grand strategy at the global level. It further indicates that the source of such push for grand strategy derives from inherited doctrines, largely of 19th European origin, which continue to emphasize absolutist doctrines based on theology, history and ideology. They are increasingly dysfunctional formulas in a relativistic universe of political systems and military technologies. The emergence of economic Diaspora in place of “three worlds of development” also serves to weaken approaches derived from imperial doctrines and political approaches that are no longer the monopoly of conventional armed forces. The essay concludes with the belief that one older element that continues to display cachet is diplomacy and face to face human initiatives. Bargaining rather than blustering may be the order of the age. In this, it is Metternich rather than Hegel that may prove a better source of negotiating a complex multi-national world order.


International policy Military strategy State power Authoritarianism Strategic practice Strategic thinking Nationalism Political pragmatism Political absolutism Cultural relativism Normative values