Nicolas Guilhot and Ido Oren both contribute useful insights, in the paper Guilhot published in Behavioral Sciences, and in Oren’s review of it here. I would like to offer a more personal perspective based on my own experience. As a young History student at Columbia College from 1969 to 1973 I did, nevertheless, hover on the edges of the Political Science Department and its Institute of War and Peace Studies, the hotbed of IR at Columbia. From 1973 to 1981 I was a graduate student in IR at the Institute—and a direct observer of all of this. William T. R. Fox was my mentor, seconded by the nuclear weapons theorist Warner R. Schilling. Fox’s impact on the field has been dimmed by time but merits greater attention—it was he, after all, who coined the term “superpower,” and whose participation in a study group with Bernard Brodie led to the first systematic attempt to consider the international implications of the atomic bomb in The Absolute Weapon.
Tag: international relations theory
Nicolas Guilhot has established himself as arguably the leading disciplinary historian of post-World War II international relations (IR). In an earlier, “must-read” essay Guilhot painstakingly documented how, in the 1950s, the Rockefeller Foundation bankrolled a network of realist scholars and practitioners who set out to build a theory of IR. Although they could not agree on the meaning of “theory,” members of the group, including Hans Morgenthau of the University of Chicago and William Fox of Columbia University, were nearly all opposed to the creed that Morgenthau famously attributed to “scientific man”: the “conception of the social and physical world as being intelligible through the same rational processes” and the attendant view that “the social world is susceptible to rational control conceived after the model of the natural sciences.” Guilhot cogently interpreted the group’s effort to “theorize” IR as a defensive reaction to the surge of the behavioral movement in the social sciences, a movement that appeared to embrace the creed of “scientific man” and that was generously funded by the Ford Foundation. For Morgenthau and his associates, creating “IR theory” was a way of delineating “an independent disciplinary territory” for the field, rendering it “immune to the cues of behavioralism.” 
Constructing a new, supposedly autonomous academic discipline is anything but a neutral exercise, one that never occurs in a social or intellectual vacuum, but is invariably the product of a highly specific time, place, and context. Nicolas Guilhot’s stimulating volume of essays uses the prism of a 1954 Rockefeller Foundation conference on the theory of International Relations (IR), a small, select gathering of a dozen prominent academics, journalists, State Department officials, and foundation executives, to consider the emergence in the United States after World War II not simply of the field of International Relations but of the Realist approach to such studies. Eight experts on the Realist tradition discuss how and why this intellectual paradigm came to dominate post-1945 IR studies in North America, and the impact of this development in terms of differentiating and separating IR from other areas of political science or social science, where such studies were originally housed. Supplementing these essays are the original transcripts of the two days of Rockefeller Foundation-sponsored 1954 discussions of IR theory, plus several papers on the subject produced by some of the participants.