The three traditions of political thought
1. The three traditions of political thought, according to the study guide, are supposed to be mutually exclusive. In Martin Wight’s reading each tradition is described and each of them has special characteristics that prove their exclusiveness. For the Revolutionist the main point of their international theory is the “moral unity of the society of states”. They describe the international community as cosmopolitan and not internationalist, meaning that all human beings are meant to be together and cooperate without the intervention of any state.
In fact, Revolutionists see the state as and obstacle to human unity. One of the principal characteristics of this tradition is its prescriptive character; they want to change what is wrong and achieve a utopia. One of the main differences between this tradition and the other two is that the three historical examples of this tradition are not connected and they are basically separate events triggered by religious and ideological fanaticism. However the sense of “exclusive representativeness” is a constant present in these three Revolutionist cases.
In the middle of the three traditions are the Rationalists. They argue that international relations between states shouldn’t be dominated by any power, and that these relations should be conducted in a condition of international anarchy. This believes come from Locke’s idea that human beings are rational and they have no need of common government to live together. In this sense they can be called Naturalist, because they argue that the only law of nations is in the law of nature (no need for treaties or true law). Rationalist ideas have been constant during the history of human kind.
At the end of the spectrum, Realists are those who see international relations as states struggling for power. They see humans as irrational creatures in constant warfare if there are not regulations and common law. Their analysis is inductive; they are not trying to prescribe. Realist are based in a more “scientific theory” (mechanistic, biological and psychological), and their affirmations come from this inductive process, allowing them to make sociological statements of international relations. Realists as the Rationalist maintain a continuous tradition in international theory.
From my point of view, the most relevant Realist aspect to understand international politics is the idea of control of power as the driving force between states. Morality for them has no place when dealing with power, and this competition eliminates any law or treaty and their relationships is regulated by a balance of power that could lead to warfare. Another important aspect is that this theory arrives to conclusions by the inductive method, this means that it is showing us what it is not what is ought to be. On the case of the Rationalist tradition, the main aspect is the idea of cooperation over competition.
Power is still fundamental for Rationalist, but they place reason and knowledge as important factors to balance the struggle for power. From this, they arrive to the conclusion that in the international sphere, states will try to cooperate diplomatically and commercially, establishing laws and order, to achieve harmony. Finally, Revolutionist tradition most important aspect to understand international politics is the idea of change the system and achieve and international brotherhood where no state has control over the others. This change can be attained by embracing power (hard revolutionist) or leading by example (soft revolutionist).
I think that studying these three traditions before getting into the deep study of international politics is fundamental for the understanding of many aspects of the international arena. As we find in the study guide and as I said in the beginning, these three traditions are mutually exclusive, this characteristic allow us to have a clear panorama to the development other theories and to have a clear understanding of where the opinions of different experts can be related.
Additionally, to be the first contact with the concepts of international politics, I find it important to define a framework for the study and avoid the problems of confusions between theories and studies. Thanks to the analysis of these three traditions I learned how political theories and political ideas can be related into international politics. Now that I learned the basic framework of international politics I feel more comfortable to study this subject more in depth.
2. The reading “Realm of Answers” from the Course Guide has a value significance in introducing the different levels of analysis for international politics. The examples that the reading provides to explain the different levels help the reader to identify with clarity the differences and the importance of each of the three divisions. The individual, the state, and the system of states are the three main categories to analyze any international conflict according to the reading. The fact that these levels should be considered when analyzing opens different doors when trying to find a cause for a conflict. It is also important to mention that the study of each level should be made very carefully in order to avoid distortion of the reality by overlooking one or another. However, “Realm of Answers” also specifies that at the end the analysis of each level should be measured and a conclusion of which one is the most influential should be made.
All these points just mentioned are also found in “Levels of Analysis” by K.J Holsti and in the “Third image” article by Waltz. The first one is pretty specific and enumerates each level of analysis avoiding any kind of examples. In this sense, the course guide reading helps us to situate different historical events and related them with each of the levels of analysis that we find in Holsti. One important problem that “Realm of Answers” has is that it overlooks a fourth level (the global) that we find in “Levels of Analysis”. In the other hand, if we look at Waltz article, we can find that this one focuses on the third level (the system of states), and pays more attention to the history, and development of this levels, giving us information about it that are not found in “Realm of Answers”.
These three levels are fundamental for the analysis of international politics. The study of relationship and conflicts between states has to look at each level, because otherwise is impossible to look at the whole the problem. The evidence that each image gives us work like pieces in a puzzle, and the only way to have the complete picture is to put them together. Once again, even though the three (or four if we count global influence) are important for the analysis, one of them should be considered to be the most influential when finished the investigation.
It is important to understand that international politics deals with the idea that individual, and states actions are related. States are controlled by individuals, and they are also influenced by other states or by forces like economy. If we are trying to investigate the causes or motivations for situations within and between states is important to look at each level. If we focus too much in the individual actions, we are forgetting that those actions are influenced by the people who live in the states, and by other states that have economic or diplomatic relations. In addition, in the actuality, is fundamental to understand that foreign policy, economic crisis, diplomatic talks, etc. influence not only one or two states, but the whole global system. For this interconnection and dependency of states in our times, it would be foolish just to focus in one level and forget about the other. If we do so, a big mistake will be made and the possibility to find solutions could be lost.
To end with the study of this Unit, I would say that the article “The third image” by K.N Waltz is a clear example of the Realist tradition that we already study in the first Unit. It is obvious that Waltz see the system of states as a place where interest and power dominate the international relations. He refers to the states as units (formed by group of individuals with a same goal and sharing values as patriotism and nationalism), and each unit will use any mean to attain its goals. This characteristic of the states like units seeking power implies that the rest of the states will have to compete rather than cooperate. In this way, Waltz notices that the system of states as a battle ground, comparing this system as if the states would be individuals in the state of nature (from the Hobbesian point of view).