A Polemical Reflex

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


Arguably, among the various polemical ideas that find reflection in “Fortune’s Banter,” the one against a certain form of utopianism is one of the most distinctly visible. Equally challenged by Bull, this form of utopianism “concerns not international politics but the limits of knowledge about it, the possibilities of a strictly scientific treatment of all its dimensions.”1 Not only does this treatment not apply to all dimensions of politics but it also does not apply to its most important practical dimension—the ethical dimension—the one invoked by the question, “what is to be done?”2 This intellectual node had been clarified by Morgenthau with crystal and arresting clarity in his treatment of the political and intellectual functions of international theory. At a time of redefinition of political theory, Wight and Morgenthau resisted such transformation.


Political Theory Great Power International Politics Political Knowledge Political Outcome 
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  1. 1.
    Hedley Bull, “The Twenty Years’ Crisis Thirty Years On,” International Journal 24, no. 4 (1969): 632. The classical locus of this critique in the American political science is Hans J. Morgenthau, Scientific Man vs. Power Politics (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1946) but Morgenthau’s essay on “The Meaning of Science in Our Era and the Mission of Human Being,” written in 1934, is also particularly interesting. To my knowledge, this essay is still unpublished even in German but it is part of the remarkable volume Hans J. Morgenthau, Il Concetto del Politico. Contra Schmitt, ed. Alessandro Campi and Luigi Cimmino (Soveria Mannelli: Rubbettino, 2009), pp. 79–152.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    “What shall we do” is the recurrent question in Luke 3:10–14, KJ21. Nikolai Chernyshevsky was Lenin’s favorite Russian thinker and his novel, What Is to be Done? (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989), was Lenin’s favorite novel. What follows is Francis Randall’s comment in his review of the 1961 edition introduced by Edward H. Carr: “Chernyshevsky posed the most intractable problem that faces an ethical revolutionary. The propagandist for rational ethics forced his hero into a genuinely tragic dilemma, in which the ethical problem is not rationally soluble. Chernyshevsky had the greatness to point beyond his system, and beyond himself”; Slavic Review 21, no. 1 (1962): 180.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Hans J. Morgenthau, “The Intellectual and Moral Dilemma of Politics,” in Politics in the Twentieth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962), 1:65–6.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
  5. 5.
    Bernard Crick, The American Science of Politics. Its Origins and Conditions (Berkley: University of California Press, 1964), p. 38.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    In Gaddis’s description, a cornerstone of modern political science, the “behavioralist analysis,” “normally extends from the cautious confirmation of the obvious to the inability to confirm anything at all”; John Lewis Gaddis, “International Relations Theory and the End of the Cold War,” International Security 17, no. 3 (1992–93): 38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    For example, the so-called security dilemma, a basic concept in international relations, seems to be essentially described by Montesquieu’s reflection on the increase of troops in De l’Esprit des Lois, “A new distemper has spread itself over Europe, infecting our princes, and inducing them to keep up an exorbitant number of troops. It has its redoubling, and of necessity becomes contagious. For, as soon as one prince augments his forces, the rest of course do the same; so that nothing is gained thereby but the public ruin. Each monarch keeps as many armies on foot as if his people were in danger of being exterminated; and they give the name of peace to this general effort of all against all”; Charles de Secondat Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, ed. Anne M. Cohler, Basia C. Miller, and Harold S. Stone (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 12:17.Google Scholar
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    Interestingly enough, in a book dedicated to the instruments and the problems of game theory applied to politics, the editor laid stress on “a series of unpleasant surprises; the individual strategies are rational, but the outcomes are often irrational; norms are created for stability, but the results generate instability; competition/cooperation rules are general, but outcomes are often for particular benefit”; Gian Enrico Rusconi, ed., Giochi e Paradossi in Politica (Turin: Einaudi, 1989), pp. xxix–xxx.Google Scholar
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    The argument affirming the possibility of historical prediction based on statistical data and the cyclical recurrence of long cycles is against this conception; see Joshua Goldstein, Long Cycles. Prosperity and War in the Modern Age (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998). The same position is reaffirmed in his The Predictive Power of Long Wave Theory, 1989–2004, in Tessaleno Devezas, ed., Kondratiess Waves, Warfare and World Security (Amsterdam: Ios Press, 2006), pp. 137–44.Google Scholar
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    Giuliano Toraldo di Francia, Tempo, Cambiamento, Invarianza (Turin: Einaudi-Scuola Superiore di Studi Storici, 1994), p. viii.Google Scholar
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    On the relationship between time and political crisis, see Alessandro Colombo, Tempi Decisivi. Natura e Retorica delle Crisi Internazionali (Milan: Feltrinelli, 2014).Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    August Ludwig von Schlozer, Theorie der Statistik nebst Ideen über das Studium der Politik überhaupt (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1804), p. 86.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Martin Wight, International Theory: The Three Traditions, ed. Gabriele Wight and Brian Porter (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1991), p. 18. Clearly, this is a sort of attack that has nothing to envy to “the intemperate and exhilarating onslaught on psychology by Collingwood” that Wight explicitly justifies at p. 21.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Ibid., p. 21.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Niccolò Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, trans. Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 1:56.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    He makes reference to Johannes Kepler, recognizing the inseparability between the astrologist and the astronomer that Gérard Simon has explained in Kepler Astronome Astrologue (Paris: Gallimard, 1979). There is a notable passage from Kepler’s Conversation with the Sidereal Messenger, where he compares an hypothetical prescient man to God: “If the glory of the Architect of this world is greater than that of those who contemplate it, because that one quarry outside himself the reasons for its construction, while the other recognizes barely and with great effort the reasons expressed in the same building, it is undeniable that those who conceive with their wit the causes of things, before things become apparent to their senses, are more similar to the Architect than all others”; Ioannis Kepleri, Dissertatio cum Nuncio Sidereo (Francofurti: Apud D. Zachariam Palthenium, 1611), p. 41.Google Scholar
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    Ibid. The Reagans have never denied the influence of the astrologer upon the president: from the president’s perception of the Soviet leadership to the astrologer’s involvement in summits’ timeline definition and negotiations length. The astrologer’s book includes an intriguing astrological interpretation of why the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty is dangerous. She thinks that it is because her advice was not exactly followed; see Joan Quigley, What Does Joan Say? (New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1990), esp. pp. 172–82. The most famous case is Himmler “that (like Hitler and Wallenstein) … was unduly influenced by his astrologer”; Hugh Trevor-Roper, The Last Days of Hitler (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), p. 73. The use of astrologers seems a persistent feature of political leadership; cf. Ellen Barry, “As Vote Nears, Astrologer for Sri Lanka’s President Faces Ultimate Test of His Skills,” International New York Times, January 6, 2015, digital ed.Google Scholar
  18. 19.
    Assessing Morgenthau’s worries about the worst alternative scenario, and recalling “that the Cold War very nearly became ‘hot’ in many occasions,” Scheuerman makes an unusual comment: “We probably survived the Cold War because of luck and contingencies to a greater extent than it is now fashionable to admit”; William E. Scheuerman, Morgenthau. Realism and Beyond (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2009), p. 213, note 8.Google Scholar
  19. 21.
    Martin Wight, Power Politics (London: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1946), p. 48. These lines are significantly absent from the first version of Power Politics (pp. 17–24, esp. 21–2). They have been apparently written in the late 1950s. If so, they would be coeval with “Fortune’s Banter.”Google Scholar
  20. 28.
    Martin Wight, “History and Judgement: Butterfield, Niebuhr, and the Technical Historian,” The Frontier 25, no. 8 (1950): 306–7.Google Scholar
  21. 29.
    Martin Wight, “The March of History,” The Observer, January 5, 1947, p. 3. Cf. Arnold J. Toynbee, A Study of History, 12 vols. (London: Oxford University Press, 1934–60), and Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, 2 vols. (New York: Knopf, 1926–28).Google Scholar
  22. 31.
    Here is Friedrich A. Hayek’s idea in The Counter Revolution of Science. Studies on the Abuse of Reason (New York: Macmillan, 1964), pp. 31, 33, 35: “Unless we can understand what the acting people mean by their actions any attempt to explain them, i.e., to subsume them under rules which connect similar situations with similar actions, are bound to fail … Not only men’s action towards external objects but also all the relations between men and all the social institutions can be understood only in terms of what men think about them … Only what people know or believe can enter as a motive into their conscious action.”Google Scholar

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© Michele Chiaruzzi 2016

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  • Michele Chiaruzzi

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