Waltz, the state of international relations, and theoretical abstraction: Contextualising a legacy

Richard Devetak
  • Australian Journal of Political Science, July 2014, Taylor & Francis
  • DOI: 10.1080/10361146.2014.937375

Waltz: contextualising a legacy

What is it about?

Kenneth Waltz is the most influential theorist of international relations (IR), but his real contribution and legacy remains misunderstood. This article argues that Waltz's main contribution to IR has been to define theory in abstract philosophical terms. This is as true for Waltz's critics as for his followers. The article also juxtaposes Waltz's Theory of International Politics with another influential text that sought to rise to higher levels of abstraction, John Rawls's Theory of Justice.

Why is it important?

Through a contextual-historical approach this article shows how Kenneth Waltz's lasting legacy lies in reorienting international relations (IR) theory by submitting it to philosophical oversight. IR theory has come to assume that theory should be conducted in increasingly abstract philosophical registers, whether post- Cartesian, Kantian, Marxist or Heideggerian. It has thus come to discard historiographical and empirical modes of knowledge and, like Rawls, risk flight from reality.

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The following have contributed to this page: Professor Richard Devetak