Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Modern International Relations Theory

I'm 50 pages into Alexander Wendt's classic of IR theory, "Social Theory of International Politics," and am quite pleased with the ideas it has produced in me.  Wendt has been called the third most influential theorist in International Relations, and the foremost American in the field.  He, like Waltz before him, is wrong, and the reasons are clear.

Wendt, like others, chooses to classify systems of IR on whether they are materialist or idealist (Neorealism and World Systems Theory (I'll add Marx) vs Neoliberalism and his theory (social constructivism) (and I'll add Hegel)) and whether they are holist or individualist.  All theories which can be so pigeonholed are false.

The ideas (idealism) one can have are constrained by the physical reality (materialism), just as those ideas (the steam engine) will change the physical reality, and thus change the constraints.

Individuals might be said to grow up in a system (holism) which influences their development, just as individuals can change the system (Bush and bin-Laden) and thus lead to future individuals growing up in a different system.

Both dichotomies are, I posit, actually feedback loops.  The OODA loop is a great example, developed during the Vietnam War by an Air Force pilot to describe decision making in flight.  The reality (or system) is first Observed, then the actor (individual) Orients themselves within the system, a Decision (individual) is made, and then an Action is taken.  The action, of course, or rather the result of the action, is dependent on the whole system, given the example of an aerial dogfight, what the other pilot does.

Orientation might need some further explanation.  Given that I live on Earth, in country America, I might choose to read Drudge or the Huffington Post.  This orientation will determine, in part, what I learn, and therefore, what decisions I might make.

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