International Relations Academic Theories of International Relations Since 1945
by
Nick Rengger
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 November 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 02 March 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0043

Introduction

This entry discusses the dominant academic theories of international relations (IR) from World War II onward. The focus is on theories that have largely developed within a formal academic setting, though there is no suggestion that these theories have no purchase or effect outside the academy. Some very clearly do. The chief claim is that theoretical debate, almost from the beginning of the field as a self-conscious area of study, has been a mixture of methodological and more general philosophical concerns—both ontological and epistemological. For the heuristic purposes of this section, however, these two areas are separated. After a brief overview, and a brief discussion of the most influential journals and textbooks, the bibliography concentrates first on the major ontological debates that have shaped academic IR theory since 1945, before moving on to consider the methodological debates, and then finally looking at the major substantive theoretical approaches to IR within the academy, not in terms of an approach-by-approach framework, but rather through major theoretical debates.

General Overviews

This section examines the origin and trajectories of the academic theoretical study of international relations (IR). The points made herein will then be picked up and elaborated in the specific discussions in other sections.

Origins of Contemporary Academic Theories

Although IR as an academic subject was created after World War I with the founding of chairs such as the Wilson Chair at University of Wales, Aberystyth, in 1919, it is only after World War II that IR really began to develop as an established university subject. Early figures in the field were, by definition, educated in something other than IR (law, classics, or history being often favored fields), and so it took some time for “indigenous” theories to develop (see, for example the discussions in Schmidt 1998 and Morefield 2005). It is also worth emphasizing that, at least to begin with, the formal study of international relations was very much an Anglo-Saxon preserve, though that began to change relatively quickly. The unusual investment in the pursuit of academic theory was in part due to the investment in the “social sciences” that the US government and many philanthropic foundations generated in the immediate years after World War II, spurred by the perceived success of the social sciences as a contributor to the war effort. As an obvious corollary, it was in the United States that IR as a subject had its greatest and most exponential growth in the immediate postwar period, due to both available funds and the pressing interest of the American government in ways through, or around, the developing stalemate of the Cold War. This led to Stanley Hoffmann’s famous remark that IR was “an American social science” (Hoffmann 1977). The rest of the English-speaking world followed suit, followed in staggered ways by other countries over time. The internationalizing of IR theory led to less homogeneity of methodological temper and technique. Still, the impact of US social science and US methods was unquestionably central in the early stages, though there was a pronounced reaction against this, especially in Europe, beginning in the latter part of the 1970s and 1980s. Hedley Bull, in an important early survey, alluded to both the classical approach to the subject and its newer challenges and suggested that the debates contained within these might be important in shaping the evolution of the field, as indeed they have proved to be (Bull 1971). But with the spread of IR scholarship outside the US and Europe, many different ideas are now coming forward that take academic theories well beyond anything Bull was imagining in 1971 (see Tickner and Waever 2009).

  • Bull, Hedley. “The Theory of International Politics 1919–1969.” In The Aberystwyth Papers: International Politics, 1919–1969. Edited by Brian Porter, 30–55. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.

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    This was one of a series of papers originally presented at a conference to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Woodrow Wilson Chair of International Politics at the University of Wales, Aberystwtyth. Bull’s chapter is a good example of the tendency to “periodize” theoretical debates in terms of debates, though it is a sophisticated version of this tendency.

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    • Hoffmann, Stanley. “An American Social Science: International Relations.” Daedalus 106.3 (1977): 41–60.

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      This article contains Hoffmann’s argument that international relations is a specifically American social science, with both the positive and the negative aspects of that derivation. It also clearly claims IR as a social science, which many of Hoffmann’s British colleagues (e.g., Martin Wight) would have denied.

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      • Morefield, Jeanne. Covenants without Swords: Idealist Liberalism and the Spirit of Empire. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.

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        An excellent account of two of the most influential so-called Idealist thinkers about international relations after World War I—Alfred Zimmern and Gilbert Murray—emphasizing their shared classical background and commitments to a certain form of Anglo-Idealism.

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        • Schmidt, Brian. The Political Discourse of Anarchy: A Disciplinary History of International Relations. SUNY Series in Global Politics. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.

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          Perhaps the most detailed and general account of the origins of the field, especially in the United States.

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          • Tickner, Arlene, and Ole Waever, eds. International Relations Scholarship Around the World. London: Routledge, 2009.

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            A pioneering edited collection examining the growth of academic IR outside Anglo- American (and later European) areas that combines ontological, epistemological, and substantive concerns.

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            International Relations Theory Today

            From the late 1980s, a marked gap began increasingly to appear between dominant approaches in US international relations (and political science more generally) and much of the work being done elsewhere. In Keohane 1990, the leading US political scientist saw this as fundamentally a methodological split between “rationalist” (essentially “scientific”) methods and “reflectivist” (essentially “interpretive”) methods, but this covers up a much more complex set of distinctions (see the sections on Epistemologies and Approaches). The divisions in the field by the mid-1980s were already large enough to warrant another leading North American IR scholar, Kal Holsti, to refer to IR as a “dividing discipline” (Holsti 1985), and the divisions became much bigger in the 1990s and the early 21st century. From quite early on, there was a marked tendency to see the history of theoretical debate in the field as one marked by so-called great debates. The first so-called great debate was said to have been between realism and idealism in the 1930s and 1940s; the second between scientific method and classical approaches in the 1950s and 1960s; the third between positivism and post-positivism in the 1980s to the present. In the important article Smith 1994, Smith suggested that in fact the “three great debates” are insufficient to understand what he calls the “self images of a discipline.” “Theory” in IR has turned in many different directions, incorporated insights from many other fields, and engaged in debates that go way beyond the “three great debates” said to have shaped it.

            • Smith, Steve. “The Self Images of a Discipline: A Genealogy of International Relations Theory.” In International Relations Theory Today. Edited by Ken Booth and Steve Smith, 1–37. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 1994.

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              This article was a critique of the way in which IR self-understood its own history.

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              • Holsti, K. J. The Dividing Discipline: Hegemony and Diversity in International Theory. London: Routledge, 1985.

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                This book traces, and seeks to account for, the gradually increasing theoretical pluralism of IR since the end of the World War II.

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                • Keohane, Robert. “International Institutions: Two Approaches.” In International Institutions and State Power: Essays In International Relations Theory. By Robert Keohane, 158–179. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1990.

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                  This essay, included in a collection of Keohane’s essays from the 1970s and 1980s, was originally presented as his presidential address to the International Studies Association in 1988. It is an ingenious attempt to acknowledge the growing pluralism of IR theory in the academy while strongly suggesting that one methodological approach (the rationalist one) is the only one that will yield real progress.

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                  Textbooks

                  There are many textbooks that cover the range of theoretical approaches in contemporary academic international relations (IR). What follows is a judgment of the ones that best cover the theoretical issues in general and approaches in particular. Burchill, et al. 2009 is perhaps intended for more advanced students, whereas both Dunne, et al. 2010 and Jackson and Sorensen 2010 are more introductory. Hollis and Smith 1990 is not really a textbook in the contemporary sense of that term—as it pursues a thesis as well as debating different approaches—but it covers the major methodological debates in general very well. Kegley and Blanton 2010 is a popular and widely used textbook that will appear soon in an eleventh edition. Brown 2002 is simply the best general text for looking at the now-burgeoning field of “international political theory.”

                  • Brown, Chris. Sovereignty, Rights, and Justice: International Political Theory Today. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2002.

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                    Perhaps the best general treatment of what has been called the “normative turn” in IR theory, by one of its most important pioneers.

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                    • Burchill, Scott, Andrew Linklater, Richard Devetak, and Jack Donnelly. Theories of International Relations. 4th ed. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

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                      Very good general textbook on IR theory with good coverage of all major perspectives.

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                      • Dunne, Tim, Milja Kurki, and Steve Smith, eds. International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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                        Perhaps the best general theory textbook by an established team of editors. It is also available online.

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                        • Hollis, Martin, and Steve Smith. Explaining and Understanding International Relations. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

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                          An extremely well-written general introduction to methodological debates in IR, by a leading philosopher of social science (Hollis) and IR theorist (Smith).

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                          • Jackson, Robert, and Georg Sørensen. Introduction to International Relations: Theories and Approaches. 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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                            The other leading general theory textbook (aside from Burchill, et al. 2009 and Dunne, et al. 2010). Decidedly “English School” approach taken by editors, but still useful as general introduction with sophisticated dimensions. It also has an online resource center.

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                            • Kegley, Charles, Jr., and S. L. Blanton. World Politics: Trend and Transformation. 13th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2010–2011.

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                              One of the most popular and widely used US textbooks.

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                              Journals

                              Initially, the leading international relations (IR) journals were unquestionably World Politics and the American Political Science Review. In the 1950s and 1960s, International Organization became increasingly influential, along with journals that expressly emphasized the new “scientific” method favored by many. The new journals included the Journal of Conflict Resolution. All these publications were US based. From the early 1970s, a journal at the London School of Economics called Millennium, founded and edited by graduate students, rapidly became one of the vanguard outlets for the growing body of work critical of the US mainstream in IR. Millennium was joined in 1975 by the British Journal of International Studies (renamed the Review of International Studies a few years later), founded as the house journal of the British International Studies Association. Both journals are now very prominent in the British, and increasingly also European, theoretical debate. A powerful addition to the development of theoretical debate in Europe is the European Journal of International Relations, established by the Standing Group on International Relations (SGIR) of the European Consortium for Political Research. The development of various radical and critical approaches to IR has generated another important source of theoretical innovation. In this area, perhaps the most influential journal has been Alternatives. Finally, perhaps the most interesting general theoretical journal departure in recent years is the establishment of International Theory, which expressly seeks to develop a broadly based theoretical agenda across a very wide range of IR, law, philosophy, and social science.

                              Ontologies

                              The fundamental building blocks of any theoretical account of the world are normally held to compose three distinct activities: Ontology—what is the world? What do we study? Epistemology—how do we come to have knowledge of the world and its objects? Methodology—what methods do we use to try and understand? International relations (IR) as an academic subject is no different, and it, too, has its ontological, epistemological, and methodological debates. This section looks at two primarily ontological debates that have had powerful implications for academic IR theory, though they both have important epistemological and methodological aspects. The first is usually called the Levels of Analysis Question; the second, the Agent-Structure Debate.

                              The Levels of Analysis Question

                              One of the central ontological questions for the study of international relations is: What fundamental object—in the sense of actor—should we study? While the obvious and long the most popular answer is “states,” early theorists gave various answers to this question. The world historian Arnold Toynbee, an interwar analyst of international relations at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, famously believed the appropriate ontological units of study were “civilizations” and that states tended to be epiphenomenal (see Toynbee 1936–1951 and Toynbee 1954). Leading Marxist writers believed that the global economy was the most appropriate focus (e.g., Wallerstein 2011). In the 1950s and 1960s, IR theory developed a particular way of viewing this issue through what generally became known as “levels of analysis.” Kenneth Waltz, one of the most important academic theorists of IR, deserves credit for inaugurating this way of thinking. He argued in Waltz 1959 that we should see the issue of the causes of war through the lens of three “images” we have constructed. The first image suggests that wars occur because of “human nature”—the concept often called homo homini lupus. The second suggests that wars occur not because of bad people but because of bad states—forms of government that encourage or give in to aggression and conflict. Finally, the third image suggests wars occur because there is nothing in international politics to prevent them from occurring, since the system is anarchic. The theorist who developed that insight and put it to work in terms of general IR theory (Waltz’s concern was only with the causes of war) was J. David Singer (see Singer 1961). Singer’s essay compared and contrasted the systemic level of analysis with the state level, emphasized that one might see them in hierarchic terms (the state level nested in the international level), and suggested that good theory might take account of both, while keeping the analysis separate. It was through Singer’s version that the “level of analysis” debate became a central plank in IR theory, especially from the early 1960s to the early 1980s, but it has often been revisited by other writers in different contexts. Barry Buzan made it the centerpiece of his recasting of security studies in the early 1990s (see Buzan 1991). This debate led into many others, including the agent-structure debate, and had implications for still more outside the narrowly ontological.

                              • Buzan, Barry. People States and Fear: An Agenda for International Security Studies in the Post–Cold War Era. 2d ed. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991.

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                                This was a very significant book in security studies that used the levels-of-analysis debate as a way into the national security problematic.

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                                • Singer, J. David. “The Levels of Analysis Problem in International Relations.” World Politics 14.1 (1961): 77–92.

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                                  This essay is the locus classicus on the modern debate over the levels of analysis. Singer concentrates on the system and the state level and investigates how each might be used to develop theory in IR.

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                                  • Toynbee, Arnold. A Study of History. Vols. 1–6. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1936–1951.

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                                    Toynbee’s huge enterprise sought to identify civilizations as the central planks of investigation of world history and tried also to develop a theoretical account of their rise and fall.

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                                    • Toynbee, Arnold. A Study of History. Vols. 7–10. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1954.

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                                      The last four volumes in Toynbee’s massive attempt to set civilizations, rather than states, at the center of our understanding of world history.

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                                      • Wallerstein, Immanuel. The Modern World System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century. Berkeley: Univeristy of California Press, 2011.

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                                        This was the signature statement of what became known as “world systems theory,” a strongly neo-Marxist interpretation of world politics in the modern period, which took the central object of study to be the emergence, growth, and development of the global capitalist economy.

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                                        • Waltz, Kenneth. Man, The State, and War: A Theoretical Analysis. Topical Studies in International Relations. New York: Columbia University Press, 1959.

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                                          Waltz’s “three images” remains an influential trope in contemporary IR theory, and it set the idea of the levels of analysis in motion.

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                                          The Agent-Structure Debate

                                          One ontological question that arises along with levels of analysis is: What kind of objects have priority in terms of the study of international relations? We might agree that there are both systemic structures and state structures and individuals, but which should we focus on and why? It is clearly important to understand whether social structures determine individual behavior or whether it is better to see agency as affecting structures. How we answer this question tells us something important about the relevant ontology—what the fundamental referents of study are. In IR, the agent-structure debate arose initially in the context of the debates generated by the rise of “neorealist” arguments in the late 1970s and the reaction to them. An early and important contribution was Wendt’s argument that both neorealist and structural Marxist arguments were vulnerable to a version of Anthony Gidden’s structurationist critique (Giddens 1984) and that this opened a space for “agency” in IR unseen by these two differently but equally committed ontologically structural accounts. Wendt 1987 contributed to a growing debate over the relative merits of agency of structure in theorizing IR. Dessler 1989 responded to Wendt two years later by defending a structural reading of IR, and two UK scholars, Steve Smith and Martin Hollis, debated the topic extensively with Wendt in the pages of the Review of International Studies (Wendt 1991, Wendt 1992, Hollis and Smith 1991, Hollis and Smith 1992, Hollis and Smith 1994). By this time, the debate had become subsumed under the more general debate over the emergence of “constructivist” and “critical realist” accounts of IR, but in that context it remains an important ontological question, without having the prominence now that it did in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

                                          • Dessler, David. “What’s at Stake in the Agent-Structure Debate.” International Organization 43.3 (1989): 441–473.

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                                            This was Dessler’s contribution to the debate, urging a more strictly “scientific realist” case than the one Wendt had done and arguing for a transformational model in which the relation of agency to structure is seen as analogical to that of speech to language or artistic creation to the materials used.

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                                            • Giddens, Anthony. The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structuration. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 1984.

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                                              This was Giddens’s first major statement of the major theoretical approach to social theory that he called “structuration” theory. It emphasized the possibility of agency- based understanding in areas previously dominated by structural accounts, such as Marxist social theory, which was very influential across the social sciences.

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                                              • Hollis, Martin, and Steve Smith. “Beware of Gurus: Structure and Action in International relations.” Review of International Studies 17.4 (1991): 393–410.

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                                                Part of a long-running and influential series of exchanges in the leading UK academic journal of IR. (See Wendt 1991, Wendt 1992, Hollis and Smith 1992, and Hollis and Smith 1994).

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                                                • Hollis, Martin, and Steve Smith. “Structure and Action: Further Comment.” Review of International Studies 18.2 (1992): 187–188.

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                                                  Part of a long-running and influential series of exchanges in the leading UK academic journal of IR. (See Wendt 1991, Wendt 1992, Hollis and Smith 1991, and Hollis and Smith 1994).

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                                                  • Hollis, Martin, and Steve Smith. “Two Stories about Structure and Agency.” Review of International Studies 20.3 (1994): 241–251.

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                                                    Part of a long-running and influential series of exchanges in the leading UK academic journal of IR. (See Wendt 1991, Wendt 1992, Hollis and Smith 1991, and Hollis and Smith 1992.)

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                                                    • Wendt, Alexander. “The Agent-Structure Problem in International Relations.” International Organization 41.3 (1987): 335–370.

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                                                      This article is widely credited with launching the major debate on agency and structure in IR and was an early statement of what became “constructivist theory.” Wendt draws on both scientific realism and Giddens’s structuration theory to argue that IR theorists should move beyond the “positivist” search for empirical generalization and causal analysis toward a more holistic account of the way agents and structures can imply each other.

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                                                      • Wendt, Alexander. “Bridging the Theory/Meta-Theory Gap in International Relations.” Review of International Studies 17.4 (1991): 383–392.

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                                                        Review of Nicholas Onuf’s World of Our Making: Rules and Rule in Social Theory (Onuf 1989) and of M. Hollis and S. Smith’s Explaining and Understanding International Relations (Hollis and Smith 1990). The beginning of a long series of exchanges in the leading UK academic journal of IR. Hollis and Smith criticized Wendt’s and Dessler’s account of the agency-structure debate and their proposed ways of moving beyond it and insisted that the debate was still central, since both ontologically and epistemologically there were still “two stories to tell” (the scientific one and the hermeneutical one). Levels of analysis and agent-structure talk centrally disputed.

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                                                        • Wendt, Alexander. “Levels of Analysis vs. Agents and Structures, Part 3.” Review of International Studies 18.2 (1992): 181–185.

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                                                          Wendt replies to Hollis and Smith that the suggestions he was making allowed levels-of-analysis arguments to be reserved for “questions about what drives the behavior of exogenously given actors,” while agent-structure talk is reserved for “questions about what constitutes the properties of those actors in the first place.” (See Wendt 1991, Hollis and Smith 1991, Hollis and Smith 1992, and Hollis and Smith 1994).

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                                                          Epistemologies

                                                          One of the central engines of academic theory in international relations (IR) has been a series of important differences over the appropriate epistemologies and methodologies for studying the subject. This section offers an overview of the major academic debates about epistemology and method in IR since World War II. Obviously they overlap with the ontological debates.

                                                          The Rise of Social Science

                                                          While there were disagreements about method before World War II, it was really only after that epistemological and methodological debates in IR began in earnest. The dominant approach to studying IR in the interwar period had been a mixture of historical, legal, and classical scholarship. But after the war, the rise of new forms of “social science” in the United States began to displace the older ones, which were more broadly historical and legal. Ironically, this development was first noticed by Hans Morgenthau, one of the most influential “realist” theorists of international politics, who was later often assumed to believe in a “science” of international politics. Morgenthau 1946, his first English-language book, was a jeremiad directed at those who believed you could develop a “science of human behavior in general and of International Relations in particular.” In its power of language, logic, and influence over the field, it proved an effective counterblast to the growing “behavioralist” approach to political science. However, Morgenthau was very much on the wrong side of disciplinary history in the late 1940s and early 1950s. By the mid-1950s, the claims of the “scientific students” of international relations were becoming dominant in the US academy, a trajectory represented by the widespread praise for Kaplan 1957. There was resistance to this tendency, especially outside the United States, as in Bull 1966 and Reynolds 1973. By the late 1960s and the 1970s, the dominant methodological trajectory of American IR was “positivistic.” That is, it was committed to methodologies that broadly mimicked the ones imagined to be moving the gains made by the natural sciences. The new “positivism” in IR placed a high premium on formal theory, quantification, and/or game theory. It was this kind of theory that Keohane referred to as “rationalistic.” Among the most influential aspects of this “scientific turn” were the growth of statistical models and other techniques from economics, perhaps the most important of these being game theory. An early advocate of this, done with rigor and no little wit in the context of international affairs, was Schelling 1960, but more recent examples would include Nicholson 1989; Bueno de Mesquita, et al. 2003; and Fearon, et al. 2007.

                                                          • Bueno de Mesquita, Bruce, Alistair Smith, Randolph Siverson, and James Morrow. The Logic of Political Survival. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003.

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                                                            A powerful quantitative and game-theoretic exploration of a central topic in a certain kind of political science.

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                                                            • Bull, Hedley. “International Theory: The Case for a Classical Approach.” World Politics 18.3 (1966): 361–377.

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                                                              This article was a full-frontal attack on the new scientific assumptions (Kaplan and Schelling were highlighted in Bull’s footnotes) and a robust defense of the “classical approach” relying on history, law, and philosophy.

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                                                              • Fearon, James, with Kimuli Kasara, and David Laitin. “Ethnic Minority Rule and Civil War Onset.” American Political Science Review 101.1 (2007): 187–193.

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                                                                Very influential recent article using game theory to discuss the onset of civil war.

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                                                                • Kaplan, Morton. System and Process in International Politics. New York: Wiley, 1957.

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                                                                  Kaplan’s book was one of the most sophisticated general statements of the new “scientific” assumptions and how they could be used to build theory in IR. It was commensurately influential in is time and, equally commensurately, is almost unread today.

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                                                                  • Morgenthau, Hans. Scientific Man vs. Power Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946.

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                                                                    This book was effectively an attack on what Morgenthau saw as the diseases of the American liberal foreign policy tradition: legalism, progressivism, and scientism.

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                                                                    • Nicholson, Michael. Formal Theories of International Relations: A Critical Account of the State of Art in Formal International Relations Theory. Cambridge Studies in International Relations 3. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

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                                                                      Perhaps the best general book outlining how formal, statistical, and game-theoretic techniques can inform the study of IR.

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                                                                      • Reynolds, Charles. Theory and Explanation in International Politics. London: Martin Robertson, 1973.

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                                                                        Reynolds’s book is now long out of print and has had attracted little support in the wider theoretical debates. Yet it is a first-class piece of work, strongly criticizing scientific understandings of IR, but from a very different perspective than that of Bull, one drawing largely on the work of the philosopher R. G. Collingwood.

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                                                                        • Schelling, Thomas. The Strategy of Conflict. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1960.

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                                                                          Although Schelling was not really an IR theorist, his use of game theory applied to issues of war and peace became hugely influential on IR theorists in the 1960s and 1970s. It remains influential today. Part of Schelling’s appeal was literary skill allied to tremendous technical virtuosity.

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                                                                          The Rise of Post-Positivism

                                                                          From the 1980s onward, the “third great debate” (Lapid 1989) took shape with Kenneth Waltz’s Theory of International Politics, the most influential IR text for several decades (see Waltz 1979, cited under Liberals and Realists). A new challenge to scientific theory this time came not from old-school historians or lawyers or even philosophers, but from advocates of European “critical theory” and “post-structuralism” (Der Derian and Shapiro 1989). IR today is divided geographically and intellectually, a dubious legacy of its “great debates.” American IR is increasingly dominated by “scientific” assumptions, and IR outside the United States is increasingly pluralistic. One important broadly “critical”’ approach that did gain a strong foothold in the United States, however, was “constructivism”—a set of arguments that emphasized that ideas and perceptions as much as material forces needed to be considered in IR theory (and that drew on similar themes from outside the social sciences). Major works in IR constructivism include Kratochwil 1989, Onuf 1989, Ruggie 1998, and Wendt 2000. One final methodological shift began to occur in the late 1990s and early 21st century and emerged out of perhaps the most diverse form of the “critical turn” of the 1980s and 1990s, usually called “constructivism.” This was an attempt to wed forms of science with forms of critique and was generally known as critical realism. Drawing on the work of philosophers of science such as Roy Bhaskar, this body of work began to have a noted influence in IR (Wight 2006).

                                                                          • Der Derian, James, and Michael Shapiro, eds. International/Intertextual Relations: Post-Modern Readings of World Politics. Issues in World Politics. New York: Lexington, 1989.

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                                                                            This was the first major collection of “critical IR theory” writing in English, bringing together many who were influenced by contemporary European thought and all who were critical of the manner in which the “mainstream” saw IR and the world more generally.

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                                                                            • Kratochwil, Friedrich. Rules, Norms and Decisions: On the Conditions of Practical and Legal Reasoning in International Relations and Domestic Affairs. Cambridge Studies in International Relations 2. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

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                                                                              One of the pioneering works that established the constructivist approach in IR theory, Kratochwil’s book is a major tour d’horizon of social theory, IR, philosophical jurisprudence, and beyond.

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                                                                              • Lapid, Yosef. “The Third Debate: On the Prospects of International Theory in a Post-Positivist Era.” International Studies Quarterly 33.3 (1989): 235–254.

                                                                                DOI: 10.2307/2600457Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                In this article, Lapid argued that the work of various theorists of variously different theoretical persuasions (Der Derian, Kratochwil, Hoffman, and Rengger) constituted a major challenge to “conventional,” “mainstream,” “scientific IR theory” and thus constituted a third “great debate.”

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                                                                                • Onuf, Nicholas. World of Our Making: Rules and Rule in Social Theory and International Relations. Studies in International Relations. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989.

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                                                                                  Along with Kratochwil 1989, this established some of the ideas that became central to constructivist IR theory in the 1990s and beyond.

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                                                                                  • Ruggie, John Gerard. Constructing the World Polity: Essays on International Institutionalisation. New International Relations. London: Routledge, 1998.

                                                                                    DOI: 10.4324/9780203424261Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                    This is a collection of Ruggie’s most important and influential essays, together with a long and important, specially written introduction.

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                                                                                    • Wendt, Alexander. Social Theory of International Politics. Cambridge Studies in International Relations 67. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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                                                                                      Wendt’s much-anticipated book, drawing on more than a decade of journal articles, has been the most influential “constructivist” text—especially in the United States. Its title was a nod to Waltz.

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                                                                                      • Wight, Colin. Agents, Structures and International Relations: Politics as Ontology. Cambridge Studies in International Relations 101. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

                                                                                        DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511491764Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                        Building on a broadly constructivist base, Wight’s book was the first major statement of the so-called critical realist method in IR.

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                                                                                        Approaches

                                                                                        In this section, the focus shifts from methodological debates to more substantive, normative or prescriptive ones. If one major aspect of the academic theorizing about international relations (IR) has been focused on method, the other has focused on the substance of what we see in the international world rather than how we see it (or should see it). The debate has been increasingly pluralistic.

                                                                                        Liberals and Realists

                                                                                        The major debate that shaped interwar (and immediate postwar) IR theory is usually referred to as the realist-idealist debate, a term taken from Carr 1939. This is a huge simplification of a complex story. It is better to see the major substantive differences as being between a broadly liberal, progressive account of international politics and a more pessimistic and power-focused worldview. That distinction has remained a major temperamental and theoretical distinction in the field to this day. Influential liberal theorists include Robert Keohane (Keohane 2002) and, more recently, John Ikenberry (Ikenberry 2006), but none ignored or downplayed the more self-interested aspects of human collective action. Their “realist” sparring partners generally are held to include Hans Morgenthau (see Morgenthau 1946, cited under The Rise of Social Science), Kenneth Waltz (Waltz 1979), and John Mearsheimer (Mearsheimer 2001). Some thinkers combine elements of both approaches—notably Raymond Aron (Aron 1966) and a powerful recent addition, Dan Deudney (Deudney 2007).

                                                                                        • Aron, Raymond. Peace and War: A Theory of International Relations. New York: Doubleday, 1966.

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                                                                                          Aron’s magisterial attempt to combine liberal and realist insights deserves much more reading than it has had of late. It is a wonderful synthesis of explanation and prescription, of realism and liberalism, and of sociological and more formal understanding of the dilemmas of international politics. Written with a Gallic sophistication and charm that most contemporary IR theory lacks.

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                                                                                          • Carr, E. H. The Twenty Years Crisis, 1919–1939: An Introduction to the Study of International Relations. London: Macmillan, 1939.

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                                                                                            Carr’s book was first published in 1939 and was (and remains) a wonderful rhetorical achievement. A second edition in 1946 removed some of the obvious context of the 1939 version—such as its relationship to interwar appeasement.

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                                                                                            • Deudney, Daniel. Bounding Power: Republican Security Theory from the Polis to the Global Village. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.

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                                                                                              This book is a bravura attempt to link internal and external security concerns for the purpose of weaving a coherent theory of IR out of an alleged derivation from republican political thought.

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                                                                                              • Ikenberry, John G. Liberal Order and Imperial Ambition: Essays on American Power and World Politics. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2006.

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                                                                                                Building on Ikenberry’s earlier work, this book gives an account of the current “liberal international order” and the threats the author sees facing it, especially from the United States, the power that did so much to entrench the postwar liberal order.

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                                                                                                • Keohane, Robert. Power and Governance in a Partially Globalized World. London: Routledge, 2002.

                                                                                                  DOI: 10.4324/9780203218174Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                  This is a collection of essays from one of the most influential liberal institutionalists of the last four decades. It builds on his earlier work and clearly indicates where Keohane—whose work recently has taken an even stronger normative turn—thinks the liberal, progressive agenda in world politics should be moving.

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                                                                                                  • Mearsheimer, John. The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. New York: W. W. Norton, 2001.

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                                                                                                    The most influential general realist text since Waltz 1979, Mearsheimer’s book attempts to ally aspects of Morgenthau and aspects of Waltz to create his own version of realism, termed “offensive” realism.

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                                                                                                    • Waltz, Kenneth. Theory of International Politics. Reading MA: Addison Wesley, 1979.

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                                                                                                      The most influential IR theory book for several decades. Reinvented “realism” by focusing on “structure” of the international system—hence the term “structural realism,” as Waltz called it, or “neorealism,” as Keohane christened it. Keohane’s version became the most original in both method and substance. The lodestone of theoretical debates for at least two decades after publication.

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                                                                                                      Constructivists and Critics

                                                                                                      The critical turn of the mid to late 1980s and early 1990s was also substantive rather than merely methodological. It contained a good deal of variety (see Rengger and Thirkell-White 2007). It also spread across a wide range of areas and subfields within and on the shifting borders of IR theory. The constructivist project became increasingly diffuse (for example, with the rise of critical realism). Many who had engaged in earlier “theory wars” grew tired of them and turned to other areas of scholarly work. Nonetheless, by the end of the first decade of the 21st century, some combination of constructivist and/or critical theory had emerged as the dominant alternative to realist/liberal theories and methodologically positivistic IR. The critical turn toward Continental philosophy opened spaces for various new forms of theory to emerge, including the “aesthetic turn” variously observable in Bleiker 2009 and Danchev 2009, among a growing number. Equally, European IR theory was beginning to build bridges with other forms of social theory (e.g., Luhmaninan systems theory in Albert and Hilkermeier 2003) and combining constructivist IR theory with empirical research. Sometimes such moves were linked to older forms of theory, as with the revamped English School and the link with world history (Buzan and Little 2000). Constructivist theory also developed clear new orientations (Lebow 2008).

                                                                                                      • Albert, Mathias, and Lene Hilkermeier, eds. Observing International Relations: Niklas Luhmann and World Politics. New International Relations. London: Routledge, 2003.

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                                                                                                        A pioneering survey of the mutual implications of IR and Luhmannian systems theory.

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                                                                                                        • Bleiker, Roland. Aesthetics and World Politics. Rethinking Peace and Conflict Studies. New York: Palgrave, 2009.

                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1057/9780230244375Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                          A powerful argument for the centrality of aesthetic modes of understanding in IR.

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                                                                                                          • Buzan, Barry, and Richard Little. International Systems in World History: Remaking the Study of International Relations. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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                                                                                                            A pathbreaking study of world history and the international system by the two scholars chiefly responsible for the rebirth of English School IR theory in the late 1990s.

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                                                                                                            • Danchev, Alex. On Art and War and Terror. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.

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                                                                                                              An important collection of essays from a distinguished IR scholar who is also a biographer of leading artists (Braque, Picasso).

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                                                                                                              • Lebow, Richard N. A Cultural Theory of International Relations. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511575174Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                Building on the author’s justly celebrated earlier work, The Tragic Vision of Politics (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003), this work attempts to replace standard constructivist and mainstream IR theory with an original mixture of Greek thought about motivation, political psychology, and contemporary social science, coupled with a series of detailed historical case studies.

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                                                                                                                • Rengger, Nicholas, and Ben Thirkell White, eds. Critical International Relations Theory after 25 Years. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511607912Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                  This book offers an overview of the strengths and weaknesses, possibilities, and trajectories of the critical turn in IR after twenty-five years.

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                                                                                                                  Historical Sociology

                                                                                                                  One of the central areas of departure in thinking about IR theory is a growing engagement with historical sociology. There is a long-standing Marxist interest in what we might call the langue duree of the international system. (We have already mentioned Wallerstein and one might fit Toynbee in here also, in a non-Marxist sense, of course.) The influence of historical sociologists such as Giddens (see Giddens 1984, cited under The Agent-Structure Debate) and Michael Mann (Mann 1986) was important here, and the encouragement of figures such as Fred Halliday (Halliday 1999) within the field was crucial. In the first decade of the 21st century, this interest merged with critical theory and some normative concerns to generate a powerful historical and sociological analysis of key aspects of the international system, including harm (Linklater 2011), the growth of the international system (Rosenberg 1994), the idea of revolution (Halliday 1999), and the rise of the West (Hobson 2004).

                                                                                                                  • Halliday, Fred. Revolution and World Politics: The Rise and Fall of the Sixth Great Power. London: Macmillan, 1999.

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                                                                                                                    Halliday’s brilliant account of the significance and impact of the idea and practice of revolution on world politics is sui generis.

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                                                                                                                    • Hobson, John. The Eastern Origins of Western Civilization. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511489013Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                      A superb historical and sociological study arguing against the generally received views about the “triumph” of the West.

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                                                                                                                      • Linklater, Andrew. The Problem of Harm in World Politics: Theoretical Investigations. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

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                                                                                                                        This is the first volume in what is intended as a trilogy of studies that marries historical sociology—in particular that of the late Norbert Elias—to critical theory and IR. It will undoubtedly be very influential.

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                                                                                                                        • Mann, Michael. The Sources of Social Power. Vol. 1. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511570896Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                          The first volume of Mann’s hugely impressive and sweeping historical sociology of social power was influential across the social sciences. IR was no exception.

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                                                                                                                          • Rosenberg, Justin. The Empire of Civil Society: A Critique of the Realist Theory of International Relations. London: Verso, 1994.

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                                                                                                                            This is a pathbreaking, broadly historical/materialist analysis of the evolution and character of European international society and its logic.

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                                                                                                                            International Political Theory

                                                                                                                            Another area that has grown apace in recent years is what is now generally called “international political theory.” This draws on long-standing concerns in social and political philosophy about questions like the morality of war and long-standing debates over, for example, the evolution of the state or the character of natural law and adds to them some of the ontological and epistemological questions of contemporary international relations. Again, there are precedents in past scholarship—the English School, for example, was clearly concerned with some of these questions, and many so- called classical realists such as Morgenthau often have strong normative views. But this area of theory also draws on new areas of political philosophy, including the debates in analytical philosophy initiated by Rawls 2005 and pressing practical ethical dilemmas (the war in Vietnam, the war in Iraq). This has generated a wealth of important studies. Among the first and most influential treatment of the ethics of war was Walzer 1977, but that was swiftly followed by an analytically sophisticated treatment of the general field, and specifically the question of global justice, in Beitz 1979, a pioneering book on political theory and international relations. English School thought was moving into this area with Vincent 1986, an important book on human rights, and Nardin 1983, a critique of the increasingly dominant view on global distributive justice. Treatments of the history of international political thought began to appear (Boucher 1998, Pangle and Ahrensdorf 2002, Tuck 1999). An influential general treatment of this whole field is Brown 1992.

                                                                                                                            • Beitz, Charles. Political Theory and International Relations. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979.

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                                                                                                                              The first book in the analytic tradition to offer a general interpretation of IR and a defense of the idea of a Kantian cosmopolitan approach to IR, as opposed to either a realist one or an English School one.

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                                                                                                                              • Boucher, David. Political Theories of International Relations: From Thucydides to the Present. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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                                                                                                                                A detailed and thought-provoking history of international thought from the ancient Greeks to the present.

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                                                                                                                                • Brown, Chris. International Relations Theory: New Normative Approaches. New York: Harvester, 1992.

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                                                                                                                                  The first general text for IR theory, Brown’s book organized its arguments, both historical and contemporary, around the idea of the clash between cosmopolitan and communitarian thought in IR. Although Brown himself has moved away from that now—his more recent book, Sovereignty Rights and Justice (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2000), does not organize his arguments in this way—it was a hugely influential move at the time and has marked the field.

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                                                                                                                                  • Nardin, Terry. Law, Morality, and the Relations of States. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983.

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                                                                                                                                    Nardin’s book draws on Michael Oakeshott’s distinction between a purposive and a nonpurposive association to argue that international relations cannot be seen as the former and that therefore claims for global distributive justice are in fact category mistakes. Much more is contained in this powerful rebuke to the dominant assumptions of the subfield.

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                                                                                                                                    • Pangle, Thomas, and Peter Ahrensdorf. Justice Among Nations: On the Moral Basis of Power and Peace. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2002.

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                                                                                                                                      An equally thorough but very different take on the history of international thought, Pangle and Ahrensdorf suggest that there are both crucial differences and some similarities between, for example, “ancient” realism and its modern counterpart.

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                                                                                                                                      • Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005.

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                                                                                                                                        Routinely cited as the most influential work in academic liberal political philosophy of the 20th century and hugely influential across several fields. Originally published in 1971.

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                                                                                                                                        • Tuck, Richard. The Rights of War and Peace: Political Thought and the International Order from Grotius to Kant. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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                                                                                                                                          Tuck’s book concentrates on a briefer time scale than do Boucher 1998 and Pangle and Ahrensdorf 2002, but his argument is every bit as interesting. Widely regarded as a major study.

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                                                                                                                                          • Vincent, R. J. Human Rights and International Relations. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

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                                                                                                                                            John Vincent’s thoughtful, probing book on human rights in IR, taking a broadly English School approach but pushing both that and the subject closer together, has been justly influential.

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                                                                                                                                            • Walzer, Michael. Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations. New York: Basic Books, 1977.

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                                                                                                                                              The most influential treatise on the ethics of war since World War II. Walzer has now produced four editions of the book, but the basic recasting of the “just war” tradition does not change.

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