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History & international relations

  1. 1. HISTORY AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONSWhat are the lessons of history for the study of international politics? Dointernational relations scholars twist history? Are historians antiquarians? This book is a major contribution to the debate about philosophy and methodin history and international relations. Thomas W.Smith draws on insights fromhistoriographic theory and analyzes international relations scholarship fromclassical realism to structural, quantitative, and postmodernist work. The studyhighlights often licentious historical methods in international relations, as well asconvergence between the disciplines in style, method, and paradigmatic focus.Topics covered include:• interpretation and the politics of history;• anecdotalism, selection bias, and theoretical filtering;• use and abuse of history in foreign policy;• structural and quantitative history;• postmodernist history and politics;• historical skepticism and international relations theory.Smith argues that much of international relations—in theory and practice —restson narrow and often deterministic readings of history. He shows how historicalconstruction and interpretation chip away at scientific renderings of internationalpolitics. This skeptical view of history illuminates international relations as a realmof contingency and moral choice. Thomas W.Smith is Assistant Professor of International Relations at KoçUniversity, Istanbul.
  3. 3. HISTORY ANDINTERNATIONAL RELATIONS Thomas W.Smith London and New York
  4. 4. First published 1999 by Routledge 11 New Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by Routledge 29 West 35th Street, New York, NY 10001 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group"To purchase your own copy of this or any of Taylor & Francis or Routledges collection of thousands of eBooks please go to www.eBookstore.tandf.co.uk." This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2005. © 1999 Thomas W.Smith All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Smith, Thomas W., 1962– History and international relations/Thomas W.Smith p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. 1. International relations. 2. History. I Title JZ1242.S64 1999 327.1’ 01–dc21 98–51213CIP ISBN 0-203-20124-8 Master e-book ISBN ISBN 0-203-26580-7 (Adobe eReader Format) ISBN 0-415-17865-7 (Print Edition)
  6. 6. CONTENTS Acknowledgments vii1 Introduction 12 The historical problem in international relations 73 History, contingency, and the roots of realism: 33 Reinhold Niebuhr and E.H.Carr4 History, analogy, and policy realism: 59 Hans J.Morgenthau and George F.Kennan5 The poverty of ahistoricism: 89 Kenneth N.Waltz and neorealist theory6 “The importance of being scientific”: 115 J.David Singer and the correlates of war7 Exit from history? Postmodern international relations 1438 Conclusion: history, skepticism, and the recovery of theory 173 Notes 185 References 191 Index 211
  7. 7. ACKNOWLEDGMENTSI wish first to thank Kenneth W.Thompson, Michael Joseph Smith, David C.Jordan,Norman A.Graebner, and Dante Germino for directing this study when it was mydoctoral thesis at the University of Virginia. I also wish to thank my friends andcolleagues for their help and support: Alice Ba, Stephen Calabrese, Andrew Clem,Desmond Dewsnap, Cary Federman, Daniel Landis, Amy Nagle, ChristopherSabatini, Thomas Sakats, Ilter Turan, Scott Waalkes, Helga Welsh, and MarshalZeringue. I would also like to thank James A. Smith, Jr. for his encouragingcomments on a draft of Chapter 3; Paul W. Schroeder for his remarks on Chapter 5;J.David Singer, who took time from his busy schedule to discuss Chapter 6 withme; and Patrick Yott, of the Alderman Library Social Science Data Center at theUniversity of Virginia, for his assistance, also with Chapter 6. The errors andinfelicities that remain are my own. A special thanks is due Deniz Bingöl, myresearch assistant at Koç University, whose hard work and good cheer wereinvaluable in the final stages of this project. I gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Earhart Foundation, theInstitute for the Study of World Politics, the Miller Center of Public Affairs andthe Woodrow Wilson Department of Government and Foreign Affairs at theUniversity of Virginia, and the College of Administrative Sciences and Economicsat Koç University. The discussion of Michael Oakeshott in Chapter 2 was originally published in“Michael Oakeshott on History, Practice, and Political Theory,” History of PoliticalThought, 17 (1996), pp. 591–614. Copyright ©, Imprint Academic, Exeter, UnitedKingdom. The Reinhold Niebuhr material in Chapter 3 first appeared in “The Usesof Tragedy: Reinhold Niebuhr’s Theory of History and International Ethics,” Ethicsand International Affairs, 9 (1995), pp. 171–91. Copyright ©, Carnegie Council onEthics and International Affairs, New York. The section in Chapter 4 devoted toGeorge Kennan was first published in “Historical Learning and the Setting ofForeign Policy: The Case of George F. Kennan,” Miller Center Journal, 4 (1997), pp.95–105. Copyright ©, Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia,Charlottesville, Virginia. They are reprinted here with permission.
  8. 8. 1 INTRODUCTION Out of our conceptions of the past, we make a future. Hobbes (1994:32)“The past,” the great skeptic of British philosophy Michael Oakeshott once noted,is “a field in which we exercise our moral and political opinions, like whippets ina meadow on a Sunday afternoon” (Oakeshott 1962:166). Prompted by Oakeshott’scritique of history-as-ideology, this study scrutinizes international relations theoryand research across the methodological spectrum from classical realism toquantitative and postmodernist work. Perhaps because it is a child of history,international relations, as it has developed, has tried to distance itself from historicaldiscourse, through methodological and theoretical innovations seeking generalknowledge about international and global politics. In this flight from the old waysof history, researchers have tended to downplay the historical content of their ownwork, and, at times, to embrace an easy historical empiricism. This uncritical viewof the past has contributed to an often licentious historical method, with historyserving less as an independent body of evidence than as a trove to be plundered,and which in the discipline’s most scientific work saddles history with morecertainty than it can bear.The historical problem is to some extent inherent in the material. As HansMorgenthau noted in an opening passage of Politics Among Nations (1948), The most formidable difficulty facing a scientific inquiry into the nature and ways of international politics is the ambiguity of the material with which the observer has to deal.… The first lesson the student of international politics must learn and never forget is that the complexities of international affairs make simple solutions and trustworthy prophecies impossible. It is here that the scholar and the charlatan part company… In every political situation contradictory tendencies are at play…which tendency actually will prevail is anybody’s guess. The best the scholar can do, then, is to trace the different tendencies which, as potentialities, are inherent in a certain international situation. (Morgenthau 1948:4–6)
  9. 9. 2 HISTORY AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONSQuincy Wright, an early advocate of the quantitative study of international politicsand one of the field’s greatest interdisciplinarians, had especially kind words forhistory. He noted that “in their emphasis on contingency [historians] provide ahealthy antidote to the overenthusiastic social scientist,” and that an appreciationof history lent the student of war a balanced sense of continuity and change, of uniqueness and repetition, of causation and contingency, and of choice and standards. He can better realize the complexity and uncertainty of human affairs, the many factors to be considered in making judgments, the dangers of abstraction, of dogmatism, of prediction, of action, and of inaction. He can better understand the abundance and variability of human values and the opportunities as well as the insecurities of any situation. (Wright 1955:87, 89)Now more frequently cast in the mold of political science, students of internationalpolitics have largely abandoned these earlier ideas about the nature of history andthe limits that history suggests for social science research. Today, “rigorous,” oftengrand, historical models are the norm, as is routine disregard for the problems ofhistorical discourse. The historical problem: an overviewIn its most basic outline, the historical problem in the field of internationalrelations comprises epistemology, ideology, and sociology. Epistemologically,history turns out to be an indispensable, but fickle, research partner. It is decidedlynot the independent body of evidence touted by Leopold von Ranke (1874: vii) ashistory “as it really was” (wie es eigentlich gewesen ist). If getting history right is “likenailing jelly to the wall,” as Peter Novick suggests in his highly controversial,meticulously documented That Noble Dream: The “Objectivity Question” and theAmerican Historical Profession (1988:1), then the use of history in social science is noless challenging. Plunging into the historical literature, the researcher is quicklyenmeshed in lively debate over description and explanation. History turns out tobe not so much an archival puzzle, whose parts eventually fall neatly into place,than a patchwork of often incongruous facts and more or less plausible inferences,interpretations, and impressions. This is particularly the case as the historian movesinto the realm of meaning and causality. As Stanley Hoffmann has argued (1987:455), “many different readings of the same reality are possible. Even if all historiansagreed on the facts, they would still disagree on the respective weight of those facts;in the act of ‘imaginative reconstruction’ that any causal analysis performs,assessments of motivation and causal efficiency vary considerably.” Ideologically, history is ripe for partisan selection and interpretation. As thetheorist constructs and reconstructs histories, allying inquiry with one interpretive
  10. 10. INTRODUCTION 3school and carefully ignoring others, the findings risk being dictated or distortedby individual ideological or intellectual commitments. In place of searchinghistorical inquiry, we get a lawyer’s brief that confuses evidence and advocacy. Interms of sociology, the customs and conventions of international relations haveincreasingly fostered a kind of heedlessness toward historical questions. It hasbecome standard practice to brandish easy anecdotes and analogies, pursueahistorical, stand-alone theory, or else to approach the “history” part of theenterprise as merely a formal testing stage on the road to theory. This is symptomaticof a broader affliction in the field. Yosef Lapid (1989:249–50) suggests that, formany years, international relations has held “the dubious honor of being amongthe least self-reflexive of the Western social sciences.” Most debate in the disciplinetakes place within a“positivist” framework; it is assumed that rationally justifiedassertions about the “essential” nature of politics can be scientifically verified byobserving its historical manifestations. Critics of theory and history generallyrespond with theory and history of their own, in what often becomes an all-or-nothing contest of evidence and ideas. Rarer are examinations of the field’sunderlying assumptions and methods, particularly regarding the historical evidenceitself, or the field’s roots in social science. Most of the historical challenges described in this study fall within the followingcategories: Selection bias: as the title of Barbara Geddes’s article (1990) states, “the cases youchoose affect the answers you get.” This is the overarching problem in historicalusage across the social sciences. Selection bias can be systematic, resulting fromshoddy research; or it can be instrumental, aimed at promoting a particulartheoretical position. Partisan selection bias is usually accompanied by the sin ofomission of studiously avoiding unhelpful history. In all social science research,potential alternative explanations often reside in sources not enlisted or data notcollected. Anecdotalism generalizes from carefully chosen particulars. This is often more ofa didactic tool than a research method, as the theorist airily presents handpickedevents and narratives in order to corroborate his/her ideas. Analogies may beanecdotal as well, as the scholar or policymaker sees current dilemmas closelymirrored in the past. Although it is a sub-set of selection bias, the anecdotal fallacyis so prevalent as to warrant special mention. Ahistoricism promotes political theory emptied of content and context, often inan effort to sidestep the idiosyncrasies of political choice and the processes ofchange. Theorists may also be ahistorical in failing to recognize the impact ofmoment et milieu on their own research, thus presenting historically contingentconstructs as timeless laws of politics. The field is ahistorical as well in its focus oncontemporary history and policy issues (Buzan and Little 1994:233–4), and in itstendency to read the present back into the past. Theoretical filtering interprets history through one’s theoretical lens. This practiceis to some degree unavoidable: history needs theory to lend it coherence. At theextreme, theoretical filtering produces tautological research, undermining history’s
  11. 11. 4 HISTORY AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONSrole as an independent source of corroboration or falsification, as the case may be.Theoretical filtering is related to the quantitative fallacy as well, which arises whenstatistical methods propel research in a particular substantive direction. Inpostmodern work, a fixation on diversity and difference may prove so fine a filterthat any similarities across historical periods or event are lost, thus walling off thepast from the present. Cathedrals of clay: here one constructs theories of painstaking precision as thoughthe medium of research were Carrara marble rather than the softer stuff of history.This fallacy is common among quantitative researchers, who assume a tight affinitybetween historical data and history as it really was. Statistical methods allow for agreat deal of sophistication and precision in research and theory, yet this precisionmay overstep the archival and historiographic evidence on which quantitative dataare based. Bridging history and international relationsThree preliminary comments may be made about work that attempts to bridge thedisciplines of history and international relations. First, although some politicalscientists are loath to admit it, historians, at their best, are the furthest thing fromantiquarians. Not only do historians interpret culture and politics with originalityand flair, they also bear the daunting task of dismantling myths and preserving thepast from ideology and oblivion. The adage goes that history can be written wellonly in a free country. By the same token, historians are in no small way guardiansof the open society. “Why do ruling classes fear history?,” asks Harvey Kaye (1996).Anyone who has read Orwell, Kundera, or Koestler, or who knows the story ofPicasso’s Guernica, understands that people in power invariably espouse a certainview of history. Some dictators have literally turned history into fiction, creatingan “official story” out of whole cloth, or airbrushing politically inconvenient peoplefrom its pages. More subtly, states propagate heroic historical myths aboutthemselves, viewing past wars, for example, as cleansing, redemptive struggles.Political leaders may cultivate what A.D.Smith (1995:63) terms “ethnohistory,” anamalgam of selective historical truth and idealization, in order to create and controlpolitical identity (see also Hobsbawm 1993). In one way or another, ideologicalhistory depicts the past merely as a sort of ante room opening onto the politicalpresent. The free hand of the historian and the unencumbered hurly-burly ofhistorical argument are the surest safeguards against these abuses. It was not fornothing that Khrushchev is reputed to have said, “Historians are dangerous, andcapable of turning everything topsyturvy. They have to be watched” (quoted inOwen 1995:3). Warts and all, historical research and debate help to preserve integrityin politics. Second, it should come as no surprise that history is a dynamic enterprise,constantly being rethought and rewritten. In the past few years alone, a flap eruptedover how the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC should represent, fiftyyears on, the Enola Gay bombing of Hiroshima; Robert McNamara published an
  12. 12. INTRODUCTION 5apologia for his lies that had spurred on the war in Vietnam; rather more ambiguousevidence has emerged concerning the Gulf War, undercutting what was at the timea tightly scripted portrayal of events; emerging from their forced hibernation,national historiographies are resurfacing in Eastern Europe and the former Sovietrepublics; in Moscow, the Soviet archives were ceremoniously opened at the end ofthe cold war, yet since that time access to the documents has been severely restricted;the stock of past presidents and prime ministers rises and falls on the tides ofhistorical argument and evidence; under the pall of special prosecutors, state papersin some countries are probably more sanitized than ever; even the venerableAmerican State Department series, Foreign Relations of the United States, has possiblybecome the source of disinformation, its editors declaring that their owngovernment tampered with, and denied them, important evidence. There is little reason to believe that the current state of historical evidence andjudgment is definitive or final. This itself would signal the end of history. Lately,“historical revisionism” has become a pejorative term, used first in reaction toMarxist interpretations of the origins of the cold war, and, more recently, in thebacklash against postmodern relativism in social and cultural studies (seeWindschuttle 1997). At times, revisionist history is plainly pernicious. Issue afterissue of the upright-sounding Journal of Historical Review, for example, carries“debate” about the “Holocaust myth.” Presumably, the publication’s high-mindedbanner (“bringing history into accord with the facts”) and its use of a sturdy, old-fashioned type for its masthead, are supposed to lend plausibility to its vileassertions. During the cold war, official Polish history had little to say about themassacre of Polish officers in the forest near Katyn by the Soviets in 1940 “until ajoint Polish-Soviet commission charged with filling in historical ‘blank spots’…declared it to be history” (Blok 1992:122). For reasons related to state security andnational unity, many historians in Turkey have for decades denied that a separateor overlapping Kurdish identity may exist within the country’s borders. Until onlyvery recently, Kurds were known euphemistically as “Mountain Turks.” Historical revisionism is not always wrong, however. In many ways, revision isthe lifeblood of the historian’s craft, as old verities are revisited, beliefs change, newdocuments and other artifacts are disclosed, and innovative inter pretive modelsare employed (Gaddis 1997b: preface and Leffler 1995). This seems especially truewhen it comes to recent and contemporary political history. There is a certaintimeliness and relevance attached to contemporary accounts, as historians attemptto bring coherence to the chaos of current events. Nevertheless, there are perils aswell in passing historical judgment even as “the eggs are frying,” as Hemingwayonce noted in one of his front-line dispatches during the Spanish Civil War.Judgments will almost certainly change when viewed with the clarity and insightthat often come with historical distance and detachment. Finally, when working at the intersection of politics and history it is helpful torecall that the “disciplines” are contrived. Each represents a voice and method ofdiscourse that provide a coherent framework for making intelligible one facet ofexperience. In their eagerness to erect academic walls, however, the disciplines risk
  13. 13. 6 HISTORY AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONSisolating themselves, in effect shattering human experience. Fortunately, the socialsciences resist this tendency. As the great social science historian Fernand Braudelnotes (1980:25–6), “the social sciences force themselves on each other, each tryingto capture society as a whole, in its ‘totality.’ Each science encroaches on itsneighbors, all the while believing it is staying in its own domain.” Events in onerealm reverberate in others. Economics spills over into politics, and vice versa;anthropology, psychology, and linguistics borrow and trade ideas; history adoptsinsights and problems from its neighbors, and reflects them back again. This processis, of course, congenial to liberal learning. This book traces the combative intimacyof two disciplines having a great deal in common, yet struggling to maintain theirseparate identities. I hope it will be clear just how much students of internationalrelations are indebted to historians, and vice versa, and how connected the twodisciplines are in method, style, and content, and in terms of the paradigms guidingtheir ideas. In many ways, the similarities between the fields are more striking thanthe differences. My hope in this study is to elucidate in a single argument a central problem ofmethod and content across a very diverse discipline. The theories and researchexplored here represent a wide range of approaches to history in internationalpolitics, including philosophical, theological, inductive, policy-oriented, deductive,quantitative, and postmodernist work. The theorists and projects under review arealso widely regarded as the finest exemplars of their respective method, thusproviding the most rigorous “defense” of each against the author’s skepticism. Thechapters flow chronologically. They also move, generally, from contingent views ofhistory toward nomothetic political science analysis, before lapsing into thekaleidoscope histories of postmodernism. If any strand of international thought isnot represented here (and many important ones are not), it is for reasons of spaceand because of the breadth of the field. Given the broad sweep of the study, someof the approaches that are treated will no doubt be given short shrift. I ask thereader’s indulgence for these shortcomings, as no slight is intended.
  14. 14. 2 THE HISTORICAL PROBLEM IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONSIan Lustick has encouraged students of politics to confront “the largely (now)uncontested claim that the work of historians is not understood by historians tobe, and cannot legitimately be treated by others as, an unproblematic backgroundnarrative from which theoretically neutral data can be elicited for the framing ofproblems and testing of theories” (Lustick 1996:605). The problem, as BenedettoCroce once noted, is that simple chronicle is but the “corpse of history,” il cadavere,for “history without interpretation is history without the historical problem”(quoted in Florovsky 1969:353–4). Because it rests on inference of things past,historical thought is bound up in a web of prejudice and politics and honestdisputes over ambiguous evidence. The effect, most fundamentally, is that there arehistories, not history. While history is the only “empirical” evidence theorists ofinternational politics can exploit, a diversity of interpretations would seem tosupport an array of theories, even contradictory ones.1 This is a difficult notion for theorists and researchers in the discipline ofinternational relations, who have long turned to historical writings as a source ofinsight and a field of evidence in which to test their ideas. James Bryce argued inInternational Relations (1922: vi–vii), “It is history which, recording the events andexplaining the influences that have molded the minds of men, shows us how theworld of international politics has come to be what it is. History is the best—indeedthe only—guide to a comprehension of the facts as they stand.” Updating this idea,Bruce Bueno de Mesquita (1996: 53) notes that “For the social scientist the eventsof history are a laboratory in which to test their claims about how variables areassociated with each other; to test their theoretical propositions about causation.” As either political backdrop or behavioral laboratory, history is never far removedfrom international theory and research. When theory is constructed from thebottom up, history provides the building blocks. When theory is built from thetop down, history serves to test or falsify theoretical concepts. Case studies arefocused, comparative historical analyses. The learning and institutionalist literatureis explicitly historical and evolutionary. When quantitatively oriented researchersspeak of “events data” or “data-making,” they are referring to historicalrepresentations abstracted from a welter of evidence. Normative theorists stress thehistorical context of moral action. Marxist theorists seek to uncover the hiddenhistories upon which international theory is founded, while postmodernists point
  15. 15. 8 HISTORY AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONSout privileged views of the past that have shaped the discipline. Marxists andpostmodernists criticize conventional interpretations of history, yet both are atpains to use history against traditional theory to reveal its contingent character.Formal theory, including game theory, is perhaps the most ahistorical of theoreticalapproaches, yet increasingly it too is being put to the historical test. Nor is the historical canon in international relations particularly slim. TheVictorian historian and politician John Seeley argued that history was “a school forstatesmen” on the claim that “History is past politics and politics present history”(quoted in Stern 1973:199). This sentiment underpinned the alliance at the turn ofthe century between diplomatic history and the emerging discipline of internationalrelations. Today, most students of international politics still turn to event-centeredmilitary, diplomatic, or imperial history, such as those by Thucydides, Guicciardini,Fénelon, Albrecht-Carrié, Gulick, Kagan, Howard, and Gaddis; or to the theory-rich“world” histories of Toynbee, Dehio, McNeill, Kennedy, and others. A thirdtraditional focus is on the philosophical “histories” of Smith, Kant, Gibbon, Marx,Spengler, Halle, Fukuyama and others. However, the emergence of new theoriesand approaches has opened new realms of historiography beyond the standardrepertoire of “high” political history. Increasingly, researchers are drawn to the“slow-time” history advocated by the Annales school, accounts of civilizations,cultures, and other non-Westphalian (i.e. based on the European nation-statemodel) polities, as well as many of the rapidly expanding universe of “new” socialand economic histories: of technology, trade, labor, demography, ethnicity,institutions, ideas, popular culture, customs, norms, and so forth. Christopher Hill(1985:141–2) notes of this eclecticism in historical usage, “in some respectsinternational relations in the United States tends to be closer to history than it isin Britain, where the subject is generally thought to be ‘traditionalist,’ i.e., heavilyhistorical.” History, theory, and epistemologyAs Peter Burke (1992a: 1) has noted, the relation between history and social theoryis “deceptively simple.” To begin with, “history” is an ambiguous word. It refers tothe aggregate of past events in general, or to the train of events connected with aparticular place, person, culture, mentality, etc. But history also refers to attemptsto represent or re-create those pasts. History may take the form of chronicle, annals,narrative, tale, story, or statistical analysis. The ancient Greeks thought of historyas a learning or knowing by inquiry, and believed that it could be either true orimaginary. Today, history is generally taken to be true, even scientific, in its methodsand claims, yet it can also be seen as artistic or novelistic. It may center on eventsor on broader social, cultural, or economic traces or trends. It may be presentedas happenstance or determined, as a seamless web or a series of discrete periods. Itmay be didactic or belletristic. It may be politically engaged or value-free. Socialtheory is only slightly less ambiguous. As Raymond Aron (1967:2) explains, theorymay be considered either as “contemplative knowledge, drawn from ideas or from
  16. 16. THE HISTORICAL PROBLEM IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 9the basic order of the world…the equivalent of philosophy,” or as “a hypothetical,deductive system consisting of a group of hypotheses whose terms are strictlydefined and whose relationships between terms (or variables) are most often givenmathematical form.” Thus, one should bear in mind that different kinds of historians turn to theoryfor different reasons, just as different theorists use history for a variety of ends.Even within the disciplines, assumptions, methods, and “needs” vary markedly.However, it is interesting to note that across disciplines these differences often fade.A diplomatic historian may have more in common with a realist theorist than withan environmental historian. A postmodern theorist will identify more with a socialhistorian than a classical liberal theorist. Such methodological and ideologicaldifferences probably divide social research more than any real or imagineddisciplinary walls. It is difficult to assign respective “roles” to social scientists andhistorians because they so rarely stay within them. Certainly the dichotomiescustomarily employed to distinguish history from political science—particular/general, explanation/understanding, nomothetic/idiographic, narrative-based/theory-based, presentist/antiquarian, policy-relevant/ivory towerish, active/con-templative, theoretical/empirical, and so on—are belied by the diversity and overlapof the fields. Still, theory and history both have their limits, and here the fields stand tocomplement each other: Historians and social theorists have the opportunity to free each other from different kinds of parochialism. Historians run the risk of parochialism in an almost literal sense of the term. Specializing as they usually do in a particular region, they may come to regard their “parish” as completely unique, rather than a unique combination of elements each one of which has parallels elsewhere. Social theorists display parochialism in a more metaphorical sense, a parochialism of time rather than place, when they generalize about “society” on the basis of contemporary experience alone, or discuss social change without taking long-term processes into account. (Burke 1992a:2)Despite these converging interests, acrimony between the history and internationalrelations disciplines, in particular, seems to be the norm. Some theorists revel inthe belief that their craft was built upon the lifeless body of history. They seehistorians as antiquarians lacking in any rigorous methodology, or worse, asdeceivers who conceal the assumptions and models guiding their narratives.Alternatively, historians are thought simply to line up the facts. Political scientiststhen step forward with their dynamic methods and put the facts to relevant use.Some historians respond with disdain for the “baseless” designs of internationaltheory. Christopher Thorne, for one, mocks international relations’ loftierabstractions as “super-rational exercises,” “divorced from the complexities provided
  17. 17. 10 HISTORY AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONSby historical evidence; riding high into a quasitheological stratosphere; deliveredin an unlovely tongue” (Thorne 1988:6–7). Students of international politics have offered similar critiques of their own field.Martin Wight (1966:32) notes: It may seem puzzling that, while the acknowledged classics of political study are the political philosophers, the only acknowledged counterpart in the study of international relations is Thucydides, a work of history. And that the quality of international politics, the preoccupations of diplomacy, are embodied and communicated less in works of political or international theory than in historical writings… It is not simply that historical literature is doing a different job from systems analysis. Historical literature at the same time does the same job—the job of offering a coherent structure of hypotheses that will provide a common explanation of phenomena; but it does the job with more judiciousness and modesty, and with closer attention to the record of international experience.Writing in 1972, Hedley Bull maintained that the theoretical literature oninternational politics “illuminates the subject more than the literature of diplomatichistory.” Yet, he added, If we compare the historical with the theoretical study of international relations it is clear that the literature of diplomatic history is still of more evenly high quality, that the standards of the historian’s profession are more clearly discernible, his canons of judgements less open to dispute, his territory less encroached upon by the crank or the charlatan, the imparting of his knowledge and techniques more clearly by itself an education. (Bull 1972:32)In recent years, several high profile cases have reinforced stereotypes about historyand theory. Francis Fukuyama’s (1992) “end of history” thesis and SamuelHuntington’s (1996) “clash of civilizations” idea, for example, were met with astream of derision from historians (and many theorists) critical of their grandclaims about the past and future of world politics. These criticisms, like most clichésabout history and theory, tend to exaggerate tensions between the two fields.Though sometimes marching in different methodological directions, history andinternational relations remain cognate disci plines. Indeed, across a vast middle,students of history and politics are doing much the same thing: trying to explainand/or understand events and their underlying causes, often with an eye towardthe future. Also, one cannot help but notice the parallel development ofinternational relations and international history since mid-century: from unit-levelanalyses of foreign policies to the study of international systems; from a focus ongreat powers to the effects of revolutions and popular movements; from narrativeto economic and statistical emphases, and back to narrative; from discrete studies
  18. 18. THE HISTORICAL PROBLEM IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 11of domestic and foreign politics to synthesis of the two; from statist approaches toglobal ones; to a growing interest in the social underpinnings of politics. Along the way theorists have been steady—if sometimes selective—consumers ofhistoriography, at times doing their own archival work and historical construction.Conversely, diplomatic historians, but also historians of culture, civilization, andglobalization, have profited from international relations theory. Gordon Craig(1983:9) acknowledges a debt to theorists for encouraging historians to seekcorrelations and comparisons across cases with an eye toward prediction. John LewisGaddis (1990:422) advocates and practices what he calls interdisciplinary“bumping,” of ideas and criticisms. Melvyn Leffler (1995:179) does not shackle hiswork to any single model, but nevertheless professes to be “more and moreimpressed with the utility of theory,” noting how different theories “illuminateprospective causal relationships and interactions” that might otherwise have beenleft unexplored. The epistemology gapWhat has not bridged the disciplines, however, is concern about the nature anduses of historical knowledge itself. Philosophers of history do attempt to addressthe limits of historical claims. In international relations, however, the historicalproblem is often glossed over or ignored. This book should make clear the extentto which mainstream theorists strip history of its thorny dilemmas, and essentiallytreat ambiguous historical evidence unambiguously. The laboratory idea of history,in particular, seems rooted in the positivist philosophy of society associated withHume, Condorcet, Saint-Simon, Spencer, and, above all, Auguste Comte. Comteargued that we “have to contemplate social phenomena as susceptible of prevision,like all other classes, within the limits of exactness compatible with their highercomplexity.” Social scientists must “abandon the region of metaphysical idealities,to assume the ground of observed realities by a systematic subordination ofimagination to observation,” on grounds that “there is no chance of order andagreement but in subjecting social phenomena, like all others, to invariable naturallaws.” Ultimately for Comte, the task of social science was to “introduc[e] into thestudy of social phenomena the same positive spirit which has regenerated everyother branch of human speculation” (quoted in Gee 1950:161–2). Perhaps because international relations has developed along generally positivistlines, problems of historiography and the validity of its use by theorists have beenneglected in favor of more tractable questions regarding research method anddesign. As Nevil Johnson notes in The Limits of Political Science (1989:29), in themidst of this preoccupation with method, history has too often served merely as a“dignified background” to an outwardly scientific methodology, yet thatepistemologically the whole project “hangs in the air.” Debate about history oftencenters on how best to tease out the laws, patterns, tendencies, trends, andprobabilities of political behavior, how large a sample of historical evidence isadequate to test a hypothesis, the choice of case studies and the fit of analogies,
  19. 19. 12 HISTORY AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONSeven the finer points of coding The New York Times (Puchala 1990). Several chaptertitles in Richard Neustadt and Ernest May’s Thinking in Time (1986) typify thisattitude: “Dodging bothersome analogues,” “Inspecting issue history,” “Findinghistory that fits,” “Noticing patterns.” Despite its pivotal role in building andtesting theory, historiography is quite often treated as given, with causality fixed,and disputes over evidence and interpretation resolved. “History” becomes bedrockof knowledge to be quarried and applied. The theorist seems mainly concerned withlocating the richest vein, choosing his picks and shovels, and exhibiting the gemshe selects to greatest advantage. This methodological veneer obscures a raft of crucial questions. Is history, asEdmund Burke (1989:155) said, “a great volume…unrolled for our instruction?”Or is it “not so much a series of events as a magic mirror where everyone sees whathe wants?” (Thorne 1983:123). What does it mean to ground theory in history? Howautonomously do theorists treat historical knowledge? Is the theorist’s evidencerigged? Are facts subordinated to ideology? How strictly do readings of historygovern theory’s causal, predictive, and normative tasks? One study ofhistoriography concludes that our understanding of the past is dominated by acomplacent, Anglo-centered view of history as “the progress of natural rights anddemocratic governance” (Appleby et al. 1994:107–16). Is international relations anaccomplice here? A broader problem lies in the tension between historical understanding andsocial science explanation. The historian’s concern is thought to be with theparticulars of specific events, with adherence to milieu et moment, while theoreticalpronouncements are seen to point to general explanations and predictions of worldpolitics. How does the theorist wrap his mind around a class of phenomena withoutdoing violence to the differences inherent in the material? Another problem issimply interpretive. As one scholar notes, No matter how detailed and thorough an historical inquiry may be, it certainly cannot leave us with a unique correlation between the various empirical variables which will force all observers to make identical inferences and conclusions. Instead the available evidence allows for a number of more or less plausible interpretations. (Njølstad 1990:223)History—like politics—elicits more than its fair share of criticism. Aristotle believedthat poetry was more philosophical and of higher value than history. Goethe calledmeaning and direction history “the most absurd of all things,” a “web of nonsensefor the higher thinker” (quoted in Löwith 1949: 53). The OED cites MatthewArnold’s reference to that “huge Mississippi of falsehood called history.” OscarWilde once remarked that the only duty we have to history is to rewrite it. The skepticism underpinning this study is meant to be constructive. To be sure,history is an imperfect craft. As Paul Veyne points out (1984:3–14), history can be
  20. 20. THE HISTORICAL PROBLEM IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 13a “true” account, but ultimately that account is based on “mutilated knowledge,”on more or less pronounced “traces” of the past. Ernst Cassirer described in ThePhilosophy of the Enlightenment (1962) the eighteenth-century transformation ofscientific inquiry from the Cartesian esprit de système, which sought to resolvefundamental problems of existence and epistemology through abstract reason, toa more modest esprit systématique, which in place of unequivocal answers held out amethodology of hypothesis, testing, and inference. Some of historiography’s mostardent critics, particularly postmodern ones, set historical study beside a Cartesianideal in place of the more humble modern standards. An extreme Foucauldian viewholds that the historian is absolutely shackled by politics and prejudice, that historyis an exercise in power and domination. This is a forceful, but probably minorityview, even among postmodernists. Yet, as Carlo Ginzburg has noted, rather thantreating artifacts as a potential “window,” however imperfect, on the past, somecritics turn historical evidence into “a wall which by definition precludes any accessto reality.” Holding history to an absolutist scientific standard amounts to a sortof “inverted positivism” employed to repudiate all historical understanding(Ginzburg 1991:83). Avenues to history: correspondence and constructionA brief tour d’horizon of the historical problem in international relations behindus, this section sets out two ways of understanding history: Ranke’s formulation ofhistory “as it really was,” and Michael Oakeshott’s constructionist theory of history.These two approaches to history and their respective interpreters are consideredseminal by historical epistemologists. The section is foundational to my overallargument in that it frames a debate about the nature of historical knowledge fromwhich international theorists, judging from their often naive use of history, havetoo often been sheltered. Ranke and correspondenceAlmost every major debate in contemporary historiographic theory takes as itsstarting point Leopold von Ranke’s “critical method” of sophisticated archivaltechnique and non-judgmental style. Ranke advocated above all else the autonomyof historical inquiry from moral and political values. In the preface to his firstbook, History of the Latin and Teutonic Nations From 1494 to 1514 (1887) he wrote:“History has had assigned to it the office of judging the past and of instructing thepresent for the benefit of future ages. To such high offices the present work doesnot presume; it seeks only to show history as it really was” (wie es eigentlich gewesen ist).2 History “as it really was.” This is probably the most quoted phrase abouthistoriography. The statement is generally seen as a manifesto for a positivist orscientific approach to history. Called by one biographer (Krieger 1977:3) the“Copernicus” of historical knowledge, Ranke envisioned the historian’s task as thatof dispassionately presenting the “objective nature of the great facts…free from the
  21. 21. 14 HISTORY AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONSmutual accusations of the contemporaries and the often restricted view of theirposterity” (Iggers and Moltke 1973:150). This “strict representation” of the facts,“be it ever so narrow and unpoetical, is, beyond doubt, the first law” (Ranke 1887:vi). Apart from this, the historian would banish himself from his books. As Rankewrote in his History of England (1875), in it he had tried “to extinguish my own self.to let the things speak and the mighty forces appear which have arisen in the courseof the centuries” (Krieger 1977:5).3 Ranke aspired to a method that sharply separated subject and object, fact andvalue, history and fiction. For Ranke, the historian was no mere compiler or collatorof data, but in weaving a narrative the historian was thought literally to re-createthe past. Ranke saw historiography as corresponding to a series of actual past eventsthat exist independent of historical thought and writing. As he noted in one essay,“We should be satisfied with simple information—satisfied that it merelycorresponds to the object” (Iggers and Moltke 1973:39–40). The appendix to Historyof the Latin and Teutonic Nations, “In Criticism of Modern Historians,” made Ranke’sreputation as an historiographic theorist. In it, Ranke reproached historians forwriting histories cobbled together from other histories. He catalogued a number oferrors, plagiarisms, and deceptions in the works of Machiavelli, Guicciardini, andother Renaissance historians and memoirists (the latter more likely to engage inself-acquittal and score-settling than balanced reporting), and suggested that thereliance of latter-day historians on such contemporary accounts had perpetuatedmyths and misstatements from the Renaissance. Ranke taught that the criticalhistorian must instead focus on the primary sources, testing and vetting historicalaccounts against the facts as embodied in the documents. The result of theseresearches would be “essential” history, concrete, and value-free (Unparteilichkeit).Ranke believed that this plain narrative, with its close attention to “authorities”and careful scholarly apparatus, constituted history’s claim to autonomy; abstractcausal explanation was best left to philosophers. Yet, even Ranke was no Rankean. He meant history to be critical and colorless,but as Wilhelm Dilthey remarked, “In Ranke all the forces of the nine teenthcentury come alive” (quoted in Wines 1981:2). Most of all, Ranke was a Romantic;his idea of “essential” history extended beyond facts, into the realm of the spirit.The ultimate task of the historian was not merely to describe, but to intuit thesweeping ideas of history as embodied in individual events and actors. “Aftercriticism, intuition is necessary. The result is a sympathetic comprehension of theuniverse” as a realm of cultural creativity and spiritual development embodied inthe lives of nations (Wines 1981). Ranke wrote in “The Great Powers” (1833) that“Out of the clash of opposing forces, in the crucial moments of danger—collapse,resurgence, liberation—the most decisive developments are born” (p. 97). Heconcluded: World history does not present such a chaotic tumult, warring, and planless succession of states and peoples as appear at first sight. Nor is the often- dubious advancement of civilization its only significance. There are forces
  22. 22. THE HISTORICAL PROBLEM IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 15 and indeed spiritual, life-giving, creative forces, nay life itself, and there are moral energies, whose development we see. They cannot be defined or put in abstract terms… They unfold, capture the world, appear in manifold expressions, dispute with and check and overpower one another. In their interaction and succession, in their life, in their decline or rejuvenation, which then encompasses an ever greater fullness, higher importance, and wider extent, lies the secret of world history. (in Iggers and Moltke 1973:100)Herbert Butterfield (1969:100) has noted that “Great historians…have to be rescuedfrom the cages into which their…successors try to confine them.” This is the casewith Ranke. Translated into the idiom of Anglo-American empiricism, Ranke’shistoricism was stripped of this Romanticism, leaving only the empirical method.With the notable exceptions of Macaulay and Carlyle, nineteenth-century Britishhistoriography adhered to a mildly Rankean positivism. E.H.Carr points (1961:15),perhaps too stridently, to the era’s “fetishism for facts” and its treatment ofdocuments as the historian’s “Ark of the Covenant”: “The reverent historianapproached them with bowed head and spoke of them in awed tones. If you findit in the documents, it is so.” Butterfield, however, notes (1969:108) an appreciationof the duality of Ranke, who “on the one hand opened in the modern field the eraof scientific research is the man who on the other hand stood as the supreme apostleof ‘general history.’” Arthur Marwick reports some resistance at the universities inBritain (“Research! Research! A mere excuse for idleness; it has never achieved, andnever will achieve, any results of the slightest value!”4), yet the critical method tookroot. Lord Acton, who had commended the “fidelity” of Ranke’s “miniature-painting” yet faulted him for lacking the “breadth of touch requisite to do justiceto great popular and national movements,” nevertheless set the task for contributorsto The Cambridge Modern History (1902–10), as “meet[ing] the scientific demand forcompleteness and certainty…as we approach the final stage in historical learning”;“Our Waterloo,” he wrote “must be one that satisfies French and English, Germansand Dutch alike” (Acton 1973:247, 249). In his 1896 report to the syndics ofCambridge University Press, Acton prophesied, with more confidence than Rankeever had, that advances in technique would yield “ultimate history.” “Allinformation is within reach and every problem has become capable of solution”(Acton 1907:12). Similarly, when J.B.Bury proclaimed, in 1902, that history was“simply a science, no less and no more,” he meant that history was concrete andultimately knowable (quoted in Marwick 1970:62). With the rise of the historical profession in the United States, Ranke’s historicismwas most earnestly misinterpreted and made the creed of the guild. The “scientificschool” of the late nineteenth century claimed Ranke as its archetype, amisidentification Georg Iggers (1962:20) suggests may be rooted in the differencebetween the German conception of “science” (Wissenschaft), which denotes any sortof systematic research, and the more exacting canons of American natural science.5 Herbert Baxter Adams noted of Ranke: he “determined to hold strictly to the facts
  23. 23. 16 HISTORY AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONSof history, to preach no sermon, to point no moral, to adorn no tale, but to tellthe simple historic truth” (quoted in Iggers 1968:63–4). Frederick Jackson Turnerdeclared that, thanks to the German historian, “That inductive study of phenomenawhich has worked a revolution in our knowledge of the external world was appliedto history” (quoted in Novick 1988:28–9). Harvard’s Ephraim Emerton calledRanke the founder of “the doctrine of true historical method,” adding, “If onemust choose between a school of history whose main characteristic is the spirit,and one which rests upon the greatest number of recorded facts, we cannot longhesitate…Training has taken the place of brilliance and the whole world is todayreaping the benefit” (quoted in Iggers 1968:64). Ranke was designated the firsthonorary member of the American Historical Association, and, after his death in1886, the history department at Syracuse University acquired his papers along withhis desk, chairs, and writing utensils, which were displayed like a shrine. The devout state-centeredness of Ranke’s analysis and his insistence on theprimacy of foreign policy (Primat der Aussenpolitik) has resonated especially withstudents of diplomatic history. This branch of historiography, which traditionallyhas focused on event-centered history as implied in state documents and other“high” political artifacts, comes closest to Ranke’s own work. Ranke’s internationalhistory was also his most controversial. Like Thucydides, whose political thoughthe analyzed in his dissertation at the University of Leipzig, Ranke saw the balanceof power as a fundamental mechanism of inter-state politics. The two shared a senseof how crucial were the spiritual aspects of power and conflict. Yet while there is atragic cast to Thucydides’ grasp of power and ethics, Ranke romanticized conflict: “Victory falls wherever the greatest energy, the most vital concentration of force,lies. What we describe as material force has in itself a higher significance, for thegreatest possible unfolding of the rule of the spirit reveals itself among the mostresolute.” Elsewhere he speaks of the “supreme law” of national independence“requir[ing] that the state mobilize all its inner resources for the goal of self-preservation” (Wines 1981:256, 257). The pitfalls of this triple alliance—a glorified state, a spiritual view of power, andtotal moral commitment to the struggle—are not hard to find. Werner Stark remarksthat “Behind the radiant Ranke looms the sinister Bismarck” (ibid.: 12). Pieter Geyl(1958:28) wonders if Hitler may loom there as well. Geyl points to the dangers of“objective” narrative that acknowledges no extra-historical standards in interpretinghistory. He acquits Ranke of this, but argues that it is nonetheless an attitudepromoted by the critical method and that in lesser minds may have abetted the riseof National Socialism. Even Nietzsche condemns the German historical school forinculcating “that admiration for the ‘power of history’ which in practice transformsevery moment into a naked admiration for success and leads to an idolatry of thefactual” (quoted in Callinicos 1995:10). It is instructive that Ranke did claimautonomy for his historical narrative, refusing to parrot the “political” historianswhose partisan and teleological scholarship aimed to propel Germany towardunification. The most jingoistic of German historians—Droysen, Sybel, Treitschkeand others—faulted Ranke, despite his great-nation views, for what they saw as an
  24. 24. THE HISTORICAL PROBLEM IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 17excessive and unpatriotic objectivity (Gay 1974:75–6). This is perhaps more anethical problem than an epistemological one, but like most modern realists, Ranke,especially in the connection between balance-of-power history and his sanction ofthe state’s war footing, drew a clear connection between history “as it really was”and realpolitik beliefs and practices. Oakeshott and constructionismVying with this scientized version of Rankeanism as correspondence andrepresentation is the idea of history as an interpretive construction. Toward theclose of the nineteenth century, Dilthey, Croce, F.H.Bradley, and others challengedRanke’s empirical method from the perspective of philosophical idealism.Oakeshott, Collingwood, Becker, Robinson, and Beard refined the constructionistview in the twentieth century, where it remains a staple of pragmatic historicalthought. Constructionism does not presume that history can or should correspondto actual past events, nor does it claim to divorce the historian from the object ofhis inquiry. History is not a transparent set of positive facts to be mastered by thehistorian or applied by the student of politics. The past as an actual series ofhistorical events or as a causal lineup of historical actors is considered unknowablein any strict sense. Rather, history is the “ideate,” spoken, or written understandingof that past. As Michael Oakeshott (1990:99) puts it, “History is the historian’sexperience. It is ‘made’ by nobody save the historian; to write history is the onlyway of making it.” Historical constructionism is rooted in the experience-centered skepticism ofidealist epistemology. Knowledge, it is said, does not exist independent ofexperience. At least it is impossible to discern the “essence” of things apart fromhow they are apprehended. As Diderot (1963:35) wrote in his Lettre sur les Aveugles(1749), “On appelle Idéalistes ces Philosophes qui, n’ayant conscience que de leurexistence et des sensations qui se succèdent au dedans d’eux-mêmes, n’admettentpas autre chose.” Oakeshott traces this attitude to Hobbes’s skepticism and to hiscontention in the Leviathan (1651) that understanding must begin with experience,“for there is no conception in a man’s mind, which hath not at first, totally, or byparts, been begotten upon the organs of sense” (Hobbes 1947:xxiii). In the idealist construction of knowledge, the mind is said to transform a jumbleof perceptions into meaningful and coherent worlds of knowledge —history,politics, science, art, etc. These Oakeshott calls “modes” of experience: they are“arrests” or abstractions of the whole of experience. A mode is not arbitrarily drawn,but is authentic so far as it offers “an autonomous manner of understanding,specifiable in terms of exact conditions, which is logically incapable of denying orconfirming the conclusions of any other mode” (Oakeshott 1983:2). By preciselydescribing a mode’s governing logic, idealists seek above all to avoid the problemof ignoratio elenchi, the irrelevance engendered when argument or inference passesfrom one mode of discourse to another. (Gilbert Ryle calls this a “categorymistake.”) Modalists would argue, for example, that countering poetry with science
  25. 25. 18 HISTORY AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONSor philosophy with literature does not advance understanding. For this reason,Oakeshott insisted that history can support no practical conclusions. The historicalpast, he wrote, “is a complicated world, without unity of feeling or clear outline:in it events have no over-all pattern or purpose, lead nowhere, point to no favouredcondition of the world” (Oakeshott 1962:166). This, surely, is an overstatement ofthe incommensurability of historical and practical knowledge, but in it is a greattruth, namely that non-historical interests constantly encroach upon history. At work here is a constructionist rather than a correspondence logic. AsOakeshott (1990:108) argues, “To pursue ‘what really happened’ as distinct fromsimply ‘what the evidence obliges us to believe,’ is to pursue a phantom. And theshortest way of disposing of history altogether is to suppose that what is known inhistory is a fixed, finished and independent past. A form of experience wedded tothis purpose is infatuated with the impossible and joined with the contradictory.”For Oakeshott, historical inference demanded single-minded engagement with theevidence. It was sparked exclusively by artifacts from bygone times that had survivedmore or less intact to the historian’s day. The Gospel according to St. Mark, thescore of Figaro, Hobbes’s Leviathan, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Fountains Abbey,a parish register of marriages: these are the historian’s materials. He or she“understands” the past via these artifacts alone, not by way of hearsay or intuitionor any perceived non-historical need. These footprints of the past provoke andsustain historical inquiry, but they are not in themselves “historical.” The recorddoes not speak for itself; historical events and actors are never simply observable“data.” The historian takes the evidence and transforms it into history, aiming tounderstand “men and events more profoundly than they were understood whenthey lived and happened” (Oakeshott 1950/1951: 350). Ultimately, Oakeshott (1990:93) argues, “The historian’s business is not to discover, to recapture, or even tointerpret; it is to create and construct.” History is not a branch of scientific“discovery,” nor is it an imperfect representation of anything. The historical pasthas not survived; rather, it is a novel creation based on the artifacts. Because this process is bound up in the historian’s mind, prejudice in selectionand interpretation is inescapable. Oakeshott (ibid.: 99–100) argues, “There is nofact in history which is not a judgement, no event which is not an inference.” Half-skeptics have distinguished between evidence and interpretation, claiming to be“scientific” in their research, yet admittedly narrative and subjective in their writing.6 Yet constructionists can be skeptical even of the “facts,” which at the extreme aresaid not to exist until the historian creates them. As against orthodox Americanhistoriography, Carl Becker noted in 1910 that however unassailable the sources,“the historical fact is a wonderfully elusive thing after all, very difficult to fix, almostimpossible to distinguish from ‘theory,’ to which it is commonly supposed to beso completely antithetical.” Instead of the historian “‘sticking to the facts,’ the factsstick to him” (Snyder 1958:10, 24). E.H.Carr’s selectivity thesis likewise aims tounsettle the distinction between fact and value, calling a “preposterous fallacy” thebelief in a “hard core of historical facts existing objectively and independently ofthe interpretation of the historian.” Carr suggested that the historian approaches
  26. 26. THE HISTORICAL PROBLEM IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 19“the facts” like “fish on a fishmonger’s slab.” The historian “collects them, takesthem home, and cooks and serves them in whatever style appeals to him” (Carr1961:10, 6). Constructionists are especially wary of ideological abuses of history. Even whenthe historian is devoted to his or her craft, there is still room for skepticism. AsCharles Beard put it in his famous essay against objectivity, “That Noble Dream”(1935), “Beyond doubt, scholars of competence can agree on many particular truthsand on large bodies of established facts.” But it “denies philosophy” to believe thatit is “possible for men to divest themselves of all race, sex, class, political, social,and religious predilections and tell the truth of history as it actually was” (Beard1935:76–7). Oakeshott’s concerns about treating history as a treasure house havebeen mentioned. He insisted that “history is thinking about the past for the sakeof the past; it is a way of thinking about the past free from all extraneous interests”(Oakeshott 1936: 78). He contended that to interpret the evidence with somepractical or moral end in mind was, by definition, to descend into ideology. Hetagged historical ideologists as “vulgar rag-pickers,” in whose hands artifacts are“transformed from being resonant, ambiguous circumstantial survivals of bygonehuman life into emblematic actions and utterances…entirely divorced from theircircumstances.” “A record reputed to be a mine of prophetic utterances may beconsulted at random, after the manner of the sortes Vergilianae,” he argued, and here the yield is not advice but an alleged unavoidable destiny and the courage to accept it. The Old Testament, its character as the recorded past of the ancient Hebrew people ignored and belief in its alleged divine authorship suspended, has long been known as an unequalled collection of exemplars of human character and situation and a rich vocabulary of verbal and situational images, of parables and analogies, in terms of which to understand, express and respond to current situations. (Oakeshott 1983:58)For Oakeshott, history was not the handmaiden for any other branch of knowledge,or for any political creed. Nor was history to be interpreted in terms of any imposedcontrivance of teleology, evolution, or development. “We shall not find unity inhistory unless we have first constructed history on a principle of unity,” he declares(Oakeshott 1990:142).7 In order to preserve the integrity of his story, the teleologist-historian must either ignore as “non-events” whatever does not fit within hisstraitjacket plot, or he must sculpt events to make them fit. Oakeshott sanctionedhistorical periodization, although he discouraged overburdening theseconceptualizations—“the Carolingian Empire,” “the Protestant Reformation,”“European Liberalism,” etc.—with categorical finality. Only the “flimsiest partition”distinguishes one historical event from another, as “there is nothing solid orabsolute in their character” (ibid.: 122). We should not, therefore, confuse thehistorian’s “tentative, multiform historical identities” with the “stark, monolithic
  27. 27. 20 HISTORY AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONSproducts” of facile classifications and ideological constructions (Oakeshott 1983:117–18). Oakeshott (ibid.: 58) defined history constructed within these strictures as an“argued invitation to imagine the intricacies and the coherence of a condition ofhuman circumstance which has not survived.” History remained a modestconstruct, with historical truth tied to an obligation to the evidence and centeredon the coherence of the story. When the historian is successful, i.e., when eventsare understood independent of subsequent events or contemporary desires, the pastexhibits at most “a peculiarly tentative and intermediate kind of intelligibility”(Oakeshott 1962:159). The image of historical construction Oakeshott evokes inOn History (1983) is that of a country “dry wall,” whose stones are held togethernot by mortar, but by their roughly interlocking shapes. If this wall should totteror rifts appear, these eccentricities are seen not as defects, but as characteristics ofhistory. Historians may prefer not to dwell on the soundness of their constructions.Hayden White claims (1966:112) that since the mid-nineteenth century, mosthistorians have affected a kind of “willful methodological naiveté,” that there is“resistance throughout the entire profession to almost any kind of critical self-analysis.” Peter Novick (1988:15, 593) suggests that “reflecting on epistemology” is“what historians do worst, or at least badly,” either out of “utter indifference” toepistemological questions or in “tacit recognition that the issues involved [are] toohot to handle.” While White and Novick are probably not representative spokesmenfor the historical profession, no serious historiographic theory today denies theimpact of presentism and bias on historical thought. The historian may seek whatJakob Burckhardt described as the “Archimedean point outside events” whereobjective judgments are possible, knowing, however, it will not be found. As Hans-Georg Gadamer (1992:18) once put it, “We stand at the end of our own reflections.”No historian is divorced from non-historical interests. The real question is theextent to which these extracurricular engagements color his/her history. We nowtake up this problem as it relates to social science theory. History, theory, and social scienceHistorians are themselves divided over the relation of their craft to other realms ofsocial inquiry. (See, for example, Marwick 1970, Hofstadter 1973, Dunn 1978, Fogeland Elton 1983, and Appleby et al. 1994.) History’s affinity for social science isgenerally seen to turn on questions of objectivity and on the possibility of derivinghistorical trends, patterns, or laws from the available evidence. This possibility restsin turn on the notion that knowledge exists objectively and independently ofapprehension and interpretation. However, even if objectively understood, is eachpast event sui generis, and thus resistant to inclusion in scientific constructs? Arethere timeless historical and political precepts, or are social studies purelycontextual? Can there be what Carl Hempel (1942) calls, in the locus classicus ofthe deductive historical method, a “function of general laws in history”? Does
  28. 28. THE HISTORICAL PROBLEM IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 21Oakeshott (1936:78) overstep in his insistence on the “absolute impossibility ofderiving from history any generalizations of the kind which belong to a socialscience,” and that anyone who attempts to wed history and social science is“ignorant of the nature of either and careless of the interests of both”? Inference versus observationIn its relation with social science, history is torn between inference and observationon one hand, and idiography and nomothesis on the other. As we have seen, theinference—observation question is at the center of the Ranke—Oakeshott debate,with Ranke claiming to “observe” events via the documents, and Oakeshott creatinghistorical inferences based on the artifacts. This “inside—outside” dilemma parallelsDilthey’s famous distinction between the sciences and the humanities. Accordingto Dilthey, the humanities were an inward experience (Erlebnis) where, in the caseof history, the historian grapples imaginatively with evidence of the past with theaim of understanding the motivations and beliefs behind events and actions. Theaim of scientific knowledge, on the other hand, was to explain (begreifen) phenomenapresented as outward spectacles. (See Collingwood 1956: 171–6.) Dilthey found itappropriate, then, that students of the natural sciences use the language of causality,and that students of the humanities speak the language of experience. This distinction is also a factor of the sociology of knowledge and of scientificdiscovery. All knowledge is conditioned in some way, although critical theoriesmost commonly regard truth as defined by power and interests, as with Marx,Mannheim, Lukács, Foucault, and others. E.H.Carr was arguably the field’s firstcritical theorist in his contention that ethical and theoretical commitments, “farfrom being the expression of absolute and a priori principles, are historicallyconditioned, being both products of circumstances and interests and weaponsframed for the furtherance of interests” (Carr 1946: 68). As we will see in ourdiscussion of postmodernism in Chapter 7, the discipline has, in this critical sense,come full circle. Thomas Kuhn’s idea of the ambiguity of paradigms in science has had a similareffect on more formal research programs. Kuhn argued in The Structure of ScientificRevolutions (1962) that paradigms structure otherwise haphazard research, but theyalso impose boundaries on inquiry. This is why paradigmatic “normal science”persists even as anomalies mount. Scientific (including historical) knowledge doesnot steadily accumulate in a way that can be rationally reconstructed. Rather, onlywith a broader upheaval in the ethos of scientific discovery does one paradigmsupplant another. Kuhn maintained that paradigms were doubly problematic intheir relation to history. Not only did paradigmatic orthodoxies blinker thescientist’s interpretation of the historical evidence, but also scientific logic was itselfinnately Whiggish, that is to say, unequivocally linear, cumulative, and present-centered about its own disciplinary history (Kuhn 1962:137). The problem withany such contentions about the relativity of knowledge is that the critic must claimto have achieved some privileged position from which to make a critique. What is
  29. 29. 22 HISTORY AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONSunassailable in any case is that the social scientist is part of the history from whichhis/her knowledge is constructed, and at any moment that knowledge may have tobe amended or abandoned altogether. Moreover, as Alan Ryan (1970:19) and others have argued, historical descriptionand explanation can be self-fulfilling. For instance, the vision of a zerosum coldwar held by President Truman’s National Security Council appears (with Soviethelp) to have produced exactly that: its initial assumptions were “confirmed” bythe actions that flowed from those assumptions. This is not to suggest that wemerely re-imagine the history of international relations in terms of some peaceablekingdom, nor need it lead to total skepticism about our socially conditionedconstructs. We can say, however, that the social dimensions of theory and policyblur the divide between belief and knowledge. Caution seems especially apt as we venture onto the boggy ground of ascribingmeanings to historical events. As Max Weber, himself primarily an historianinterested in generalization, nevertheless made clear, the shortcoming of historicaldiscourse is that it can only ever provide a self-centered meaning to events, that thebroadest “theoretical” patterns in history are as much the products ofconceptualization as of actual observation: The fate of an epoch which has eaten of the tree of knowledge is that it must know that we cannot learn the meaning of the world from the results of its analysis, be it ever so perfect; it must rather be in a position to create this meaning itself. It must recognize that general views of life and the universe can never be the products of increasing empirical knowledge. (Weber 1949:57) Idiography versus nomothesisA second axis of tension in history and theory is that between “idiography”(particular-description), and “nomothesis” (law-generation, with attendant “if xthen y” causal claims). It is here, really, that history and the social sciences,depending on one’s view, either meet or diverge. On this point, the anthropologistMargaret Mead once wisecracked that historians study “the unique event in all itsuniqueness” (quoted in Thorne 1988:36). The environmental historian E.L. Joneshas noted that if the “uniqueness problem” is “carried to the extreme of ignoringall regularities, the very possibility of social science is denied and historians arereduced to the aimlessness of balladeers” (quoted in King et al. 1994:43). Particularists such as Oakeshott defend the differentia specifica of historical eventsand actors, insisting that “where comparison begins, as a method of generalization,history ends.” “Liberalism felled the Berlin Wall,” or “democracies are pacific,” arenot, then, historical statements. Oakeshott claims that “the relation between eventsis always other events.” The implication is that historical understanding requiresno “theory,” but rather lies in “a greater and more complete detail…a world ofevents in which no lacuna is tolerated” (Oakeshott 1990:166, 141). Thus, we can
  30. 30. THE HISTORICAL PROBLEM IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 23never know history with any scientific rigor, since to do so requires strict causallinks (necessary and sufficient) between events. Oakeshott (1983:75–6) insists thatstrict causality is a standard of science not of history, and attempting to bridge this“unresolvable categorical distinction” is to engage in a “pretentious muddle.” On the nomothetic front is Carl Hempel’s path-breaking use of the deductivemethod in historical interpretation. “The methodological unity of empiricalscience,” Hempel argues, demands that “general laws have quite analogousfunctions in history and in the natural sciences” (Hempel 1942: 48, 35). Hempelemploys what has variously been called “the regularity model,” the “coveringmodel,” or the “deductive” method of “prediction and control.” Under whateverrubric, historical interpretations are deduced from general assumptions that appearto “cover” it and similar cases. Hempel suggests that history has always been“scientific,” that causality is implicit in all historical writing. Linking actions withevents with terms like “causes,” “outcomes,” “origins,” “influence,” “development,”“growth,” and “decline,” suggests that the relationship between events is not oneof happenstance, but that the outcome stated was a necessary consequence of theaction depicted. The idea is that general causal assumptions can be “scientifically”confirmed or disconfirmed, as Hempel put it, “by suitable empirical findings”(ibid.: 35). Writ large, this is essentially the tension between history and theory. The “idealtype” of historian emphasizes meaning, difference, content, context, andcomplexity. His theorist counterpart focuses on regularities, generalization, andeconomical explanation. Set Kenneth Waltz’s (1979) universal guide for explainingwar—the military structure of the international environment —beside GeoffreyBlainey’s (1973) thirty-three different conditions and caveats on war, and thecontrast between the disciplines is clear. In several ways, however, this is a false distinction. In either discipline, “facts”do not simply exist waiting to be incorporated into research. Historians as well astheorists rely on generalizations, models, and concepts. These are indispensable tohistorical writing; without some sort of framework, evidence and ideas lack meaningor coherence. “Facts may be facts,” Hugh Stretton wrote, “but theories order themand explanations select them.” Stretton continues: “by historians…and by manyother social scientists whether or not they admit it, explanations have to be chosenby some principle of value, fashion or chance; no ‘scientific’ principle can replacethem” (Stretton 1969: v, 60). The historian always works according to somehypothesis. The real task is to derive a premise that “will neither lead him into thesystematic error of interpretation according to a general principle unsupported byevidence or insufficiently comprehensive, nor leave him with disiecta membra whichcannot be brought into any intelligible relations with the actualities of human life”(Introduction to Herodotus 1947: xii). Moreover, in ways that are rarelyacknowledged, the logic of most historical explanation (though not of Oakeshott’s)mirrors that of scientific explanation. The burden of much of history is to showthat events were to be expected, given certain antecedent conditions. As Hempelpoints out, there is a causal claim here. There is also a suggestion, at least, that in
  31. 31. 24 HISTORY AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONSthe future one might expect similar consequences under similar conditions. In acrude manner, this is what it means to possess a “sense of history.” When confronted with historical skepticism, an historian may plead that thestory is being told as well as possible, given personal limitations and those of theevidence. When a theorist encounters “historical” concerns, he or she is apt to seekrefuge in the canons of social science. A common rejoinder is that theory cannotbe bounded by specific historical events. Theory is a model, a roadmap, or a lenswith which to make sense of the history. Theory should be elegant andparsimonious. Its function is not to struggle with the facts, but to illuminate thegeneral trends or tectonics of international politics. Granted, theoretical statements are abstracted from a far richer historical context,and precisely because the theorist is given to generalization, there is perhaps morechance of interpretive recklessness than with an historian. Less convincing, however,is the theorist’s contention that his compact causal model transcends interpretivequestions. Let us retire the idea that the historical problem has little bearing oninternational relations theory. Theory is not a license to twist history or to fudgequestions of causality, periodization, or intent. It is a tool for understanding, nota creed to be defended at any cost. And even if we consider international relationsa theoretical science on the methodological grounds proposed by Morton Kaplan(1961:24)— “the science of the discipline does not lie in absolute certainty but inreasonable belief, in definite canons of procedure and investigation, and in theattempt to permit confirmation or falsification even though of an impreciseorder”— historical testing, with all its attendant problems, remains the sine qua nonfor international relations as a progressive stream of knowledge. Traditionalists versus scientistsThis question has been muddled in the debate in international relations between“traditionalists” and “scientists,” the former concerned with more or less“historical” judgments, the latter with value-free generalizations and predictions.Traditionalists contend that because political scientists have cut “themselves offfrom history and philosophy,” they hold a “callow and brash” view of internationalstudies (Bull 1969a: 37). Some claim that historical interpretation is the crux of thestudy of international affairs. As Martin Wight (1966:33) formulaically suggested,“Politics: International Politics=Political Theory: Historical Interpretation.”Behavioral political scientists typically respond that historical interpretation hasno place in scientific abstraction, that it is impossible to “squeeze juice from thehistorian’s turnip” (Meehan 1968:108–9). Historical interpretation is theoreticallyunstructured, intuitive, anecdotal, idiosyncratic, and irreproducible—in short,unscientific. This division is over-simple, and does violence to the achievements of bothcamps. In fact, there is constant tension in theory—and history—betweengeneralization and historical content. As A.H.Birch (1969) and Richard Little (1991,1995) have argued, history and social science cannot be distinguished in terms of
  32. 32. THE HISTORICAL PROBLEM IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 25epistemology and method, but only by the kind of research questions asked. Littlenotes: This tug between the desire to understand both the particular and the general is not…peculiar to the “classical approach.” It is an endemic feature of the social sciences. The failure to appreciate this point has led to a false dichotomy between “classical” and “scientific” approaches and the odd notion, propagated by some historians who have lacked any self-conscious awareness of their own methods, that history is concerned with unique events whereas social science is concerned with a search for general laws. Social scientists and historians have no option but to rely on methods which ensure that some link is maintained between understanding the particular and explaining the general. (Little 1995:15)How does one draw a line between history and abstraction and still maintain thislink? The “scientific” reply is most often tied to the quest for a “general,” usually“systems,” theory of international politics, and aims to balance theoreticalsimplicity and depth of explanation. Yet, as Weber again argued, “for the knowledgeof historical phenomena in their concreteness, the most general laws, because theyare most devoid of content are also the least valuable. The more comprehensive thevalidity—or scope—of a term, the more it leads us away from the richness of reality”(Weber 1949:80). Indeed, in international relations, the quest for parsimony hassparked something of a race to the bottom in terms of historical content. This seemscounterproductive in such a complex field as international politics. Instead oftrying to understand events, causal models may simply assume that the way thingsturned out was foreordained. It is easy to forget that in politics the interplay betweennecessity and choice can be intense and often indeterminate. Process is no lessimportant than structure. For these reasons, theorists should perhaps build outwardfrom historical understandings. In doing so, they should attach, as Martin Wightonce counseled (1966:32), a liberal dose of “judiciousness and modesty” to theirhistorical claims. “Using” history: proof or plunder?According to Benedetto Croce’s (1941:19) famous slogan, all history iscontemporary history. “The practical requirements which underlie every historicaljudgment give to all history the character of ‘contemporary history,’ because,however remote in time events thus recounted may seem to be, the history in realityrefers to present needs and present situations wherein those events vibrate.” Ifhistory is malleable in the historian’s hands, the whole notion of using history inother pursuits begs added skepticism. As the theorist constructs and reconstructshistories, there is danger that the creation will be dictated or distorted by personalideological or intellectual commitments. This practice can reduce the “archive” of
  33. 33. 26 HISTORY AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONSinternational relations to little more than “self-fulfilling hindsight” (Booth 1995:332–3). The argument developed here is that abuses of history are tied to the rigidityof theory and to the extravagance of the theorist’s claims on history. The ambiguities of historical evidence seem lost on many international relationsscholars. It has been suggested that the discipline’s mainstream has hewed to anuncomplicated Rankeanism vis-à-vis history, which is neither uncomplicated norRankean. This has not always been so. Writing in 1959, Kenneth Waltz remarkedthat theory itself was chiefly responsible for the mutability of historical evidence.“The idea we entertain becomes a filter through which we pass our data,” he noted.“If the filter is good or the data selected carefully, they will pass like milk throughcheesecloth. The recalcitrance of the data may cause us to change one filter foranother, to modify or scrap the theory we hold—or it may produce ever moreingenious selections and interpretations of the data.” Waltz concluded that it wasimpossible to resolve theoretical dilemmas “historically.” Since the “evidence” iseasily tailored to meet expectations, historical argument tends merely to reproducethe logic of the arguer (Waltz 1959b: 60). We shall see in Chapter 5 that Waltz later tempered his skepticism, and in Theoryof International Politics (1979) advocated rigorously deductive theory, which hebelieved could be confirmed if derivative hypotheses withstood testing against“hard” historical cases. This about-face notwithstanding, doubts linger about thefirm findings of international relations research that hinges on history. If one is atall ambivalent about historical evidence, two or three contrary cases ought not tooverturn a theory; but then neither should a selected handful of consistent onesconfirm it. Currently the consensus among “theory—hypothesis—testing”researchers is against the low falsification threshold associated with Karl Popper(1959, 1965), and in favor of Imre Lakatos’s “sophisticated methodologicalfalsification,” which tests theory not only against the “facts,” but against othertheories as well (Lakatos 1970). Again, this may be a case of political scienceoutpacing the material. We shall see as well that Lakatos himself had grave doubtsabout “scientifically”— oriented social science methodology, wondering if it wasnot merely “pseudo-intellectual garbage.” Climbing the pyramids of antiquityResearchers will bicker over methodology, but often skepticism about history issimply trampled in a rush of aggressive conclusions promoting a particularintellectual stance. One is reminded of Nietzsche’s (1965:225) critique of those“curious tourists and laborious beetle-hunters climbing up the great pyramids ofantiquity.” Critics charge that theorists rummage through history books seeking“authorities” for their theoretical views. Indeed, the more distant an historicalexample or analogy, the more easily it seems to pass into evidence. Such criticism has remained at the margin of international relations scholarship,raised most often by historians familiar with theory. A general objection is thattheorists make cavalier use of historical narrative, designing what Collingwood
  34. 34. THE HISTORICAL PROBLEM IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 27(1956:257–61) called “scissors-and-paste” history, a jerrybuilt pastiche of “events.”A more specific indictment is that theorists jettison historical particularism,essentially forcing history to lie in the Procrustean bed of political inquiry.Christopher Hill (1985:142), for example, notes a tendency, especially amongAmerican theorists, to “play fast and loose with the historian’s concerns withparticularity and context.” Paul Schroeder (1994a: 148) worries that researchers will“go at history like a looter at an archeological site, indifferent to context and deepermeaning, concerned only with taking what can be immediately used or sold.” Notaltogether whimsically, Christopher Thorne (1983:123) offers the metaphor of“Clio as callgirl,” and cites a parallel in Jean Genet’s The Balcony, in which MadamIrma, keeper of the brothel she calls her “House of Illusions,” finds that each patron,“when he rings the bell and enters, brings his own scenario, perfectly thought out.” A case in point is the treatment of Kant’s idea of a “pacific federation” composedof constitutional republics. The Königsberg philosopher’s thesis has been translatedinto contemporary debate in the hypothesis that democratic states do not go to warwith each other, and is a standard premise of liberal international theory. Theproposition seems straightforward enough and appears amenable to empirical-historical testing. However, a recent flurry of “historical” scrutiny has only cloudedthe issue. Consider two articles, one by John Owen, the other by Christopher Layne,in a 1994 issue of International Security. The writers each probe four historical cases.In fact, they address two of the same cases—Anglo-Union acrimony during theAmerican Civil War, and Anglo-American tensions in 1895–6 in connection withthe Venezuela—British Guyana boundary dispute—and in doing so rely heavily onthe same history books. In the articles, each author rallies historiographic evidencein support of his argument, yet the conclusions drawn from that evidence are atloggerheads. Owen (1994:124) finds that “The liberal commitment to individualfreedom gives rise to foreign policy ideology and governmental institutions thatwork together to produce democratic peace.” Layne (1994:49) resolves that “theworld remains what it always has been: international politics continues to occur inan anarchic, competitive, self-help realm.” The disjunction lies in the history—or, more precisely, in the selection andinterpretation of historiography. Both articles are well within the norms andconventions of historical usage in international relations, yet both authors drawselectively on the historical record. They are either unaware of the conditional andcompeting nature of the relevant facts, or else they are acutely aware of this problemand have deliberately spotlighted helpful citations and obscured contrary claims,but without then qualifying their “historical” and theoretical conclusions. Indiscussion of the Trent Affair in 1861, for example, Layne (1994:19) quotes abellicose Prime Minister Palmerston as threatening “to inflict a severe blow upon,and read a lesson to the United States which will not soon be forgotten.” Owen(1994:113), on the other hand, quotes Palmerston’s reluctance to use force, due tothe “Shackles of Principle and of Right & Wrong on these Matters.” A morejudicious reading of the evidence might be that the Prime Minister was ambivalentabout starting a war with the Union. Instead, the researchers proceed based on