In 1939, E.H. Carr published The Twenty Years’ Crisis, which argued that the world was divided into two camps: utopians and realists. Utopians like President Woodrow Wilson and his followers had made a mess of the world through their well-intentioned but naïve attempts at international cooperation. Realists were those, like Carr, who recognized that the struggle for power and survival were perennial features of human life and politics among nations. Carr wanted policymakers to face the facts, acknowledge reality, and not get lost in idealistic dreams. ‘Realism’ as a professionalized academic school of international relations was born.
John Mearsheimer has written a stinging indictment of post-Cold War policy as being founded on a form of liberalism that ignores the realities of nationalism and the limits of the power of even the strongest states. It is reviewed here by four scholars of differing political and intellectual orientations, all of whom agree that this is an important and stimulating book. The clarity of the argument, the verve of the writing, and a willingness to stake out a strong claim on an important subject are the hallmarks of Mearsheimer’s scholarship and fully on display here. For Jennifer Pitts, this book is bracing and salutary; Jack Snyder says that this is “an incisive book that deeply analyzes the tendency of self-deluded post-Cold War liberalism to overreach in its efforts to remake the entire world in a liberal mold.” For William Wohlforth, Mearsheimer gives us “refreshingly bracing prose whose bluntness cannot conceal the profound learning it conveys,” and Christopher Layne writes that the great Delusion “Is an important book.”
In recent years, a number of leading security studies scholars including Christopher Layne, John Mearsheimer, Robert Pape, Barry Posen, and Stephen Walt have come out in favor of U.S. strategic retrenchment overseas. The fact that this list of scholars reads like an honor roll of prominent academic realists makes the current trend all the more interesting. ‘Offshore realism’ would seem to be the order of the day. This trend, moreover, is hardly limited to the academy. The case for strategic retrenchment and offshore balancing fits with large sections of popular and congressional opinion, tired as American citizens and politicians they are of foreign wars and given that they are consumed with domestic economic difficulties. Indeed, it could be argued that the Obama administration is implementing a modest form of strategic retrenchment which will only accelerate in the next few years.
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.