Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Man, State and War: Thank you Kenneth Waltz, now Rest in Peace

As a student of International Relations and an aspiring theorist of the discipline, the news of the passing of Kenneth Waltz is sad. This guru embodied the neo-realist theory throughout his great academic history. Ken was the author of several enduring classics of the field, including Man, the State, and War (1959), Foreign Policy and Democratic Politics (1967),  and Theory of International Politics (1979).   His 1980 Adelphi Paper on nuclear proliferation ("The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May Be Better"), was also a classic, albeit a controversial one. 

Kenneth Waltz
As a first year student at the university studying International Relations, Ken's works came in handy. We dissected and unpacked various theories of IR. Theorist such as Hans Morgenthau, the father of realism were introduced to us with the monumental piece of "Politics Among Nations". Others such as E.H Carr, Thucydides, Niccolo Machiavelli also epitomized the realist discourse. The epistemology and ontological points of departure came in handy when unpacking the theory debate. This being said, Kenneth Waltz remains my all time favorite theorist in International Politics. I have read his book "Man, State and War" and it together with the monumental seminal work on foreign policy of "Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis by Graham T Allison remain as my all time favorite reads in international relations. 
In essence, Waltz's thesis in the book "Man, State and War" is on the causes of war in a contextual framework of the man and society. Using units of analysis, Kenneth Waltz divides international relations theory into three images: that of man, state and system. He looks at the three images vis-a-vis each other and forms his theoretical premise of the causes of war. Interesting in this reading was his analysis of man within a polity or society. He asks "Can man be best understood by studying society or by studying man?" His analysis is premised on the conception that man is born good but it is society that erodes their character. 
Writing recently on nuclear deterrence in Iran and the politics of the bomb, Kenneth Waltz reminded us of his unique analytical skills.  In Foreign Affairs magazine, Professor Kenneth N. Waltz says it is time to back off and let Ahmadinejad develop his nuclear weapons. I wrote in this blog before on Waltz's perspective. He believed that a nuclear Iran will bring stability in the Middle East region. Just the standoff between India and Pakistan that cooled down through nuclear deterrence, Waltz believed Iran-Israel tensions could be healed this way. 
I eulogize Kenneth Waltz's on his excellent and critical formulation of IR theories and events. I have never met his in person but through his great works. He introduced me to the discipline that is International Relations. We debated and argued on the images as conceived by Waltz in class both at undergraduate and graduate studies. My analytical skills within the corpus of IR have largely been influenced by this great scholar. In scholarship, one is acclaimed and despised in equal measure but for me, Waltz remains one of my great mentors.   


  1. Clap Clap Deco!!!! He really did shape I.R theory. I love the piece

  2. Indeed the IR world has lost a major contributor to neorealism. His works Theory of International Politics and Man, the State and War have been cornerstones of the neorealist perspectives to international relationals. RIP Ken Waltz.