The Wind of Politics: Disputing Determinism

  • Michele Chiaruzzi
Part of the Palgrave Macmillan History of International Thought book series (PMHIT)


“We have become completely determinists,” wrote Henri Poincaré polemically.1 It must be stated from the beginning that Wight had not become so. His is, first, a position against a certain kind of determinism, the belief that politics is governed by linear processes of causes and effects, susceptible to formal specification, which one would only have to reveal. Politics, of course, is determined by causes that are in principle ascertainable. But the belief that historical material could ever satisfy the nomothetic ambitions of a social science or a scientific politics is opposed to Wight’s view. Contrary to the idea, he argues that the occurrence of social phenomena can not be determined following variously formulated political schemes; he is opposed to the idea that such infallible schemes are detectable thanks to knowledge and its advancement. He is therefore a critic of those linear conceptions of progress or regress of politics.


Political Study Material Shape Polarize Logic Linear Conception Modern Social Science 
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    Of course, this ambition could be realized in the future. “We make no claim to be able to foretell the balancing dynamics of the coming decades. We do claim, however, that realist scholars will have to prepare for this analytic challenge.” Meanwhile, “by complicating the specification of the state’s position in the international system … determinate predictions [i.e., probabilistic predictions] can be made”; Thomas J. Christensen and Jack Snyder, “Chain Gangs and Passed Bucks: Predicting Alliance Patterns in Multipolarity,” International Organizations 44, no. 2 (1990): 139, 168. The triad of explanation, prediction, and prescription appears at page 138. The last page seems to confirm that the base for these predictions should be, essentially, an elaboration of historical analogies: “A nuclear-armed multipolarity may resemble the stable 1880s more than it will the chain-ganging 1910s or buck passing 1930s.” Morgenthau wrote that “nobody with any sense of responsibility can predict what the future will bring” on the basis of historical analogies. “Fifty years from now, historians will point either to the similarities or to the dissimilarities and prove that what happened was bound to happen”; Hans J. Morgenthau, “Remarks on the Validity of Historical Analogies,” Social Research 39, no. 2 (1972): 364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Martin Wight, “Interests of States,” paper presented to the British Committee, p. 20, quoted in Vigezzi, The British Committee on the Theory of International Politics, p. 50. Of course, on the national interest opinions diverge: “National interests seem quite stable, in some cases over centuries”; Alexander Wendt, “Social Theory as Cartesian Science: An Auto-Critique from a Quantum Perspective,” in Stefano Guzzini and Anna Leander, eds., Constructivism and International Relations: Alexander Wendt and His Critics (London: Routledge, 2006), p. 211. After his landmark decision to meet Castro in Cuba, President Obama said, “The United States will not be imprisoned by the past—we’re looking to the future … I’m not interested in having battles that frankly started before I was born”; quoted in Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Randal C. Archibold, “Obama Meets Raúl Castro, Making History,” International New York Times, April 11, 2015, digital ed.Google Scholar
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© Michele Chiaruzzi 2016

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