The Clash of Ideas in World Politics cover

The Clash of Ideas in World Politics is an excellent book. It possesses a persuasive, detailed argument and compelling case study evidence that spans 500 years of diplomatic history. It will be of enduring interest to analysts of international relations.

The book has numerous strengths, though three in particular stand out. First, the book reveals the shortcomings of realist theories of international relations by documenting the centrality of ideologies to leaders’ foreign policies. Specifically, Owen demonstrates that ideologies are frequently critical to how leaders’ understand the threats to their most important domestic and international interests. These threat perceptions, in turn, will tend to have major effects on states’ core security policies, including choices of allies and enemies and efforts to promote by force particular institutions and beliefs in other countries. This last set of choices is the primary focus of Owen’s analysis.

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It may be useful to mark the addition of Security Studies to the H-Diplo list by discussing some of the differences in the way historians and political scientists typically approach our common subject matter.[2]  Is it too much to say that our relations are symbiotic or even that we are doomed to a marriage?  Although we have significant differences and often squabble, we not only need to stay together for the sake of the kids (i.e., our students), but while we sometimes do not want to acknowledge it, we draw great sustenance and even pleasure from each other.  From the political science side, it seems to me that the investment and affections are a bit asymmetric in that most of us see the great importance of international history,[3] while historians draw less from political science and sometimes have the temerity to doubt the value of the discipline.  In my last year of graduate studies at Berkeley I took a fine course on European international history by the renowned Raymond Sontag.  I very much enjoyed and learned from the course, but when I talked to him about drawing on history for my dissertation, while he treated me with great personal kindness, he made clear that he really didn’t see why political science was needed and hoped that I would not muck up his field.  On the other hand, many historians have not only tolerated and even encouraged our intrusions, they have drawn on our theories.  For all our differences, we share a fascination with the patterns, idiosyncrasies, and changes in cross-border relations.

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