Kenneth Waltz, IR Theorist, RIP

14 May

Kenneth WaltzKenneth Waltz, a giant among the pantheon of grand theorists in political science and an exponent of structural realism, was an undergrad poli sci major’s best friend. His amazingly-constructed arguments exemplify for me how science is communicated, because they were easy to encapsulate for exams and discussions. Only, in the middle of writing those capsule summaries, those same pithy words often worked themselves into my brain and sparked reflection at the wrong time. But the resulting torrent of paragraphs filled entire exam booklets and essays with borrowed profundity. Here’s an example:

Waltz-Letter

For all the reasons I love this argument, Waltz’s contention that nuclear proliferation promotes stability provokes admiration as well as outrage.

Stephen M. Walt, another of my favorite theorists, offers this tribute, one piece of praise among many, but which I particularly admire as a blogger.

…Ken was trained in political theory and renowned as a theorist of international relations, but he was deeply interested in real-world issues and his example showed us how theory could be used to illuminate crucial policy issues. In addition to his own theoretical work, Ken wrote about Vietnam, nuclear strategy, economic interdependence and globalization, nuclear proliferation, the U.S. defense budget, and even the Rapid Deployment Force. For those of us who were interested in international security affairs, his model was wonderfully liberating. Ken showed that you could be a theorist and a social scientist without joining the “cult of irrelevance” that afflicts so much of academia.

In short, Kenneth Waltz was a prime reason, (along with E.H. Carr) why I loved political science and continue to study international relations.

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