Sei sulla pagina 1di 25

Hans Morgenthau, Realism, and the Scientific Study of International Politics


Source: Social Research, Vol. 61, No. 4, Sixtieth Anniversary 1934-1994: The Legacy of Our Past
(WINTER 1994), pp. 853-876
Published by: The New School
Stable URL:
Accessed: 22-04-2015 14:00 UTC

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content
in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship.
For more information about JSTOR, please contact

The New School is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Social Research.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 22 Apr 2015 14:00:06 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Hans Morgenthau,
Realism,and the
of International/

X OLiTiCAL science is a verytrendydiscipline.Few books or

articlesare citeda decade,letalone a generation,aftertheyare
written.When scholarsdie, theirideas oftendie withthem,
althoughtheymaybe reinventedlaterand trumpetedas new.
Hans Morgenthauis a rare, if partial,exception to this
generalization. Studentsstillread his work,especiallybut not
exclusively Politics
Among Nationswhichto a largedegreemade
thefield;scholarsstillcitehiswork,eveniftheyhave notread
it recentlyor carefullyand even if theirmain objectiveis to
attackit; and, perhapsmoreimportantly, thereis muchto be
gainedbyre-reading his booksand thinking aboutwhathe has
to say.Morgenthauwrotetoo muchforme to even attempta
summary, and, like any subtleand supple thinker,he voiced
too manycontradictions As botha
to permitreadydistillations.
detachedscholarand a passionateobserverof worldpolitics,
Morgenthausoughtto have his generalphilosophyguide his
viewson specificissuesand yetto remainopen enoughto allow
his observationsof the wisdom and folly-usually the
latter-aroundhimaltersomeof his mostdeeply-heldbeliefs.
In a world in which scholarshipand public policy are
increasingly separate,in whichhighestacademicprestigegoes
to those who constructthe most abstractand apparently

SOCIAL RESEARCH, Vol. 61, No. 4 (Winter1994)

This content downloaded from on Wed, 22 Apr 2015 14:00:06 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

rigorousmodels,and in whicha fascinationwitheveryday

politics,let alone the hope to improvethe welfareof human-
kind,is seen as antithetical to theattemptto discoverthelaws
of politicsand in which an abilityto see severalsidesof a hotly
contestedissue is seen as an insufficient commitment to the
correctcause, Morgenthau'sapproach is not a popular one.
And yetbecausehe had so muchto sayaboutso manytimeless
questions,scholarsfindit impossibleto avoid him.
Like so manyscholarswho formedthefoundinggeneration
of the Americanstudyof international politics,Hans Mor-
genthau was a refugee from the Nazis, and his European
educationand experienceprovideda breadthof outlookand
an historicalorientation whichgave himinsights, whichcame
more slowly to more parochial American students,and
simultaneously blindedhimto important aspectsof American
policy,especiallyits domesticroots.He reservedsome of his
deepestscornforideas which,if not uniquelyAmerican,are
particularly prominent in Americansocialscienceand political
thought. More specifically,he sought to tame Americans'
optimismabout human nature,science,and reform.Epito-
mized by WoodrowWilson,much Americanpublicopinion,
many politicalleaders,and a distressingly large numberof
scholarsequated good intentionswith a successfulforeign
base human instincts, believedthatdemocraciescould avoid
warsand thata peacefulworldcould encouragedemocracies.1
I suspectthatin the 1940s and 1950s, when Morgenthau's
ideas firstreceivedwidespreadattention,both some of his
appeal and some of the objectionto his argumentsstemmed
fromhis darker,moreEuropeanviewof worldpolitics.2
Of course,mostof whatMorgenthauwrotefor American
audienceswas written duringtheCold War,and it was in this
context that his writingsproved so influential.It is an
exaggerationwithsome truthto see Americanwritingson
international politicsbeforeWorldWar II as preoccupiedby
legalismand Americanforeignpolicyin that era to have

This content downloaded from on Wed, 22 Apr 2015 14:00:06 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

neglectednational power. To scholars,statesmen,and an

informedpublic whichbelievedthatthe USSR was a grave
menace to Americansecurityand Westernvalues, that an
assertiveAmericanpolicy was necessaryto cope with this
threat,and thatmanyAmericantraditions werea hindrancein
thisnew world,manyof Morgenthau'sargumentswere both
enlightening and useful.Of course,hisinfluenceshouldnotbe
overestimated: theexperienceof Hitlerwas a greatersponsor
of Realismthan any writtentextcould be. But people who
wererespondingin whatwas fortheman unprecedentedway
by activelyparticipating in the balance of powerwere greatly
comfortedby the idea that their behavior was not only
appropriatefor the momentbut was grounded in world
historyand thenecessaryconductof nations.
Morgenthau's stresson thecentralityof thenationalinterest
was particularly important.Althoughmanyscholars-myself
included-have feltit to be maddeninglyvague, the concept
was particularly important in theAmericancontextforwhatit
denied: that states should follow either sub-nationalor
supra-national interests.Bothwerehighlytemptingto Ameri-
cans. Lacking strong state and beinga nationof immigrants,
the United States oftenhad troublemaintaininga foreign
policythat was guided more by externalthan by internal
factors.In the nineteenthcentury,Irishimmigrants strongly
opposed policiesthatcould be seen as pro-British; isolationism
was particularly strongin the middlewestin partbecause of
the large German population;afterWorld War II Eastern
Europeanvoterswere adamantthattheircountriesof origin
notbe sacrificedto the USSR. To the post-warforeignpolicy
establishment, whichsaw itselfas cosmopolitanand having
risenabovesuchparochialism, itwas veryusefulto realizethat
concernsof segmentsof the populationcould legitimately be
put aside in favor of thewider good. But not too wide a good;
whiletheUnitedNationsmightdevelopintoa real instrument
of worldorder,theUnitedStatescould notaffordto relyon it
or to seek the commonbenefitof mankindunless thisalso

This content downloaded from on Wed, 22 Apr 2015 14:00:06 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

servedAmericaninterests. There was nothingcynicalin this;

countrieswould not thrive-and mightnot survive-if they
wereexcessively This is not to say that
idealisticor altruistic.
the statesmenof the earlyCold War yearswere more prone
betweenwhatwas good fortheirstateand what
to see conflicts
was good for others than were those in other eras.
Nevertheless,Realism's enjunctionthat states not seek to
reshapethe worldwas usefulin bothrestraining some of the
statesmen's wilderschemesand, more importantly, in giving
thema languagewithwhichthey could justifytheir policiesto
theAmericanpublic.Of coursethereis an ironyhere:itcan be
arguedthat,in theend,thepolicyofcontainment did re-order
As centralto Morgenthau'sanalysisas the nationalinterest
was power.Indeed, forhimthetwowereverycloselyrelated.
Perhapshis mostfamoussentenceis that"the main signpost
that helps political realism to find its way through the
landscape of international politicsis the conceptof interest
definedin termsof power"(Morgenthau,1978,p. 5). Despite
the importanceof the conceptof power to him, he never
analyzed it with the care and sophisticationit deserved,
however.The discussionin Politics AmongNationsis not much
different than thatwhichcould be found in less important
textbooks.While he noted some of the obvious sources of
nationalpower,he neverdiscussedmanyof the less obvious
aspectsof powerto whichmodernpoliticalsciencehas devoted
much- butperhapsnotenough- attention.3 Even bythetime
Morgenthaustartedwriting,Carl Friedrichhad made the
important pointthatpowerwas oftenreflectedin anticipated
reactions-thatis,an actorwhoapparently gothiswaymaynot
have been powerfulbut mayhave been tailoringhis demands
towhathe thoughtotherswerewillingto give(Friedrich,1937,
pp. 589-91). The crucialneed to separatethe resourcesthat
mightcontribute to powerfromthenotionof poweritselfwas
also establishedrelativelyearly. It was crucialto an under-
standingof power to see that it was highlyrelationaland

This content downloaded from on Wed, 22 Apr 2015 14:00:06 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

context-bound and so was notreadilyfungible.An actorcould

have power over anotherin a particulararea withoutbeing
able to swayotherson thatquestionor influencethe same
actoron differentissues.Indeed,thiscrucialfacthelpsexplain
why concept powercould notservethesamefunctionas
the of
theconceptof moneyin theeconomy,therebypreventing the
discipline politicalscience from following itssister
in fruitfullydevelopingveryabstractmodels. Althoughthis
was a conclusionwithwhichMorgenthaustrongly agreed,his
failureto deeplyexploretheconceptof powerrobbedsomeof
his argumentsof muchof theirforce.
To saythatthenationalinterestmustbe definedin termsof
powerdoes notsayexactlywhatitis. Morgenthau's conception
of Realismin factdoes notlead to specificpolicyprescriptions
or detailedpropositions forempiricalresearch.4Whileit may
be possible to condemn a particularlyegregious policy as
diminishing a nation'spower,a widerangeofcoursesof action
remain. This may disturb a statesmanlooking for more
detailed guidance, but it did not upset Morgenthau,who
realizedthatstatesmanship could notbe reducedto formulas.
He soughta realismthatwouldtellstatesmen howto thinkand
whatfactorsto thinkabout, not whatspecificconclusionsto
reach.Thus, itwas quitepossibleforpeople who wereequally
true to the preceptsof Realism to advocate diametrically
opposingpolicies.An obviousexampleis Americanpolicyin
Vietnam.AlthoughMorgenthaunot onlydisagreedwiththe
Americanintervention but had troubleunderstandinghow
any sensibleperson could advocate it, in fact many of the
argumentsforthewarcould have been bolsteredbyfootnotes
to Politics
Among Nationsand amongthepolicy'sarchitects were
people who had been figurative and literal students of
If the factthatRealistreasoningcould reach contradictory
conclusionswas upsettingforstatesmenwho werelookingfor
ambiguousguidance,the factthat Realismdoes not readily
yieldtestablepropositions has been a sourceof frustrationfor

This content downloaded from on Wed, 22 Apr 2015 14:00:06 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

politicalscientistswho soughtto maketheirdisciplinemoreof

a science.Of course,thisdid notbotherMorgenthau.For him,
itmade no senseto tryto rigorously deduce propositions from
fundamental axioms. This would have so oversimplified
politicsas to producea caricature.
Furthermore, itimpliedthe
existenceofone dominantvalueand vastlyunderestimated the
role of contingencyin politics.For Morgenthau,it was a
philosophicalerrorof the mostfundamentalkind to equate
the practiceand studyof politicswithscience(Morgenthau,
1946).Of course,Morgenthaufeltthathisviewswerebased on
and borneout by international history, but he nevertriedto
developtightlinksbetweenhis argumentsand eitherspecific
incidentsor an array of internationalevents,as political
scientistsnow do. He never seriouslyconsideredalternative
explanationsor triedto showhow the courseof international
politicswas incompatiblewiththemand consistentwithhis
It was thisrejectionof the essenceof the scientific method
that caused many later scholars to feel that however
well-founded hispremisesand howeverwisehisinsights, there
were grave limitations to the utilityof his approach. To go
further,it was argued, much more rigor was called for;
scholarshad to develop theories of international politicsfrom
whichtheycould deduce testablepropositions.The founda-
tionsforthe studyof international politicshad to be driven
deeper into bedrock by firstfindingprinciplesof human
behavior;upon thisone could builda structure thatwas more
consistentand more ambitious than was possible using
Morgenthau'smoreintuitive framework (Waltz,1990). Thus,
themostinfluential currenttheory(Waltz'sNeorealism)shares
many of Morgenthau'sbasic premisesbut proceeds with
greaterrigor(Waltz,1979). Like Morgenthau, Waltzand those
whohavefollowedhimstresstheimportance of powerand the
nationalinterestand put to one side variationsin domestic
politicsand societiesand decision-makers' beliefsand values.
Explicitlyfor these theoristsand implicitly for Morgenthau,

This content downloaded from on Wed, 22 Apr 2015 14:00:06 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

the reason for this focus is the assumption that the

internationalenvironment exertssufficient compulsionon its
membersso thattheirbehaviorusuallywillbe onlymarginally
affectedby theirinternalcharacteristics. The powerof these
theorieshas permittedscholarsto draw from them many
important propositions and to pointto new areas thatcan be
fruitfullyexplored. The priceof thisparsimonioustheorizing,
however,is to omita range of factorsthatMorgenthaufelt
werevital-forexample,themultiplicity ofgoalsthatstatescan
seek,theroleofmorality, and statesmanship itself.Thus, many
of those who criticizeWaltz and Neorealismhave come to
But bothMorgenthau's approachand Neorealismshareone
important and troublesomeattribute: theyare descriptive and
prescriptive. That or
is, implicitly explicitlythey simulta-
neously seek to explain how statesdo behaveand to pointout
how states shouldbehave. While this dual mission is not
it raisestworelatedanalyticalproblems.First,it is
a bitanomalousto be tellingstatesmenthattheymustfollow
the inevitablelaws of internationalpolitics.Since the laws
describe how statesmenmust behave, at least in general
outline,itmakesas littlesenseto instruct themas itdoes to tell
leavesto appear in thespringand fadein theautumn.In fact,
Morgenthauseemed particularlyimpatientwith American
statesmen,who he thoughtwere especiallyprone to fail to
conformto thelawshe had discerned.Second,failingsare not
onlythoseofindividualsstatesand statesmen butof thetheory
as well.Whenstatesmen disregardthelawsor,to use language
in currentuse,behavesub-optimally, thetheorywouldseemto
be disconfirmed. Thus, Americanbehaviorin Vietnamposed
real problemsforMorgenthauand Waltz.They believedthe
policytobe inconsistent withthewaytheirtheoriesled themto
thinkstatesshould and did behave.5 Morgenthaudid not
explicitlytryto explainthe contradiction betweenmisguided
Americanpolicyand his argumentsbut impliedthatthe gap
was further evidenceof humanirrationality. Waltzconfronted

This content downloaded from on Wed, 22 Apr 2015 14:00:06 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

the question more directlyand incorporatedthe aberrant

behaviorintohistheoryin theformof an argumentaboutthe
tendencyof statesto "overreact" in theperipheries
to conflicts
of a bipolar world. This claim does not fit well with the
structureof the rest of his argument,however.6So what
Morgenthauand Waltzmake inadvertently clear is thatit is
difficultto develop an argumentthat both explains and

s Realism
UnusualElementsin Morgenthau'

AlthoughMorgenthauinspiredmanyscholarsto develophis
ideas of power,the nationalinterest,and the international
systemintoa morerigorousand parsimonious theory, itwould
be a greatmistaketo neglect the elementsin Morgenthau's
analysis thatdo not fitthis Indeed,
tidyanalysis. it is thevery
presence of complicatingand unrulyfactorsthat defined
politicsforMorgenthau.It waslargelybecauseof themthathe
felt that science-in his conceptionof it- could only be
misleadingwhenapplied to the understanding or practiceof
thisrealm(and it is partlythe willingnessto put theseareas
aside thatenablesothersto pursuea morescientific approach).
Particularlyimportantare Morgenthau'semphasison ideas,
morality, and diplomacy.


The question of the relativeimportanceof ideas and

materialinterests,or, more usefully,the interrelationships
betweenthe two,have been centralto socialsciencefromthe
beginning.In the post-warera, Americanscholarsof security
studieshave been particularlyconcernedwiththisquestion,
examiningthe roles of militarydoctrine,statesmen'stheories
of conflict(especiallydeterrenceversusthe spiral model of

This content downloaded from on Wed, 22 Apr 2015 14:00:06 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

conflict),beliefsabout whetheroffenseor defense has the

advantage,and images of other states.7Using a cognitive
approach to the study of foreign policy, scholars have
examinedhowbeliefsand perceptionsform,change,and both
affectand are affectedbybehavior.8Morerecently, studentsof
international politicaleconomyhave come to realize that a
purely materialist approach is inadequate (Goldstein and
Many studiesbegin with a ritual assertionthat Realism,
beingdeeplyrootedin unchangingmaterialinterests, ignores
the role of ideas. Perhaps such a Realist model could be
developed,and in placesWaltz'sapproachcomesclose to this,
but it is foreignto Morgenthau'sanalysis.For all his stresson
theimportance of thenationalinterest,
whichhe oftenimplied
was objective,he clearlysaw thatstatesmencan conceiveof
theirinterestsin quite differentways,are moved by deep
psychological forces,need to developintellectualconstructsto
make sense of their world, and often are prisonersof
inaccurateor inappropriate beliefs.
Indeed, an understanding of the power of ideas is closely
relatedto thedescription/prescription tensionin Morgenthau's
thought.The prescriptive elementin hisscholarlywritings,not
to speak of his frequentessayson currentpolicies,would be
pointlessif he did not thinkboth that people mightbe
persuadedby themand thatchangingpeople's ideas would
lead to changesin foreignpolicy.His wholediscussionof the
importance of powerand thenationalinterest was designedto
establishin the Americanmindthe viewthathe believedwas
properand whichI inferhe thoughtwasliterally foreignto the
traditional Americanapproachto foreignpolicy.
Let me just take two otherexamplesof his concernwith
statesmen's beliefs,one quitespecificand theothergeneral.To
startwiththe former,Morgenthaubelieved that American
securitypolicy in the Cold War was badly flawed by the
tendencyto examinenuclearweaponswithinthe conceptual
frameworkthat was appropriatefor conventionalweapons

This content downloaded from on Wed, 22 Apr 2015 14:00:06 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

(Morgenthau,1964, 1976). Because theyrendermeaningful

militaryvictoryimpossible,nuclear weapons fundamentally
alter the traditionalrelationshipbetweenforceand foreign
policy.Whenvictory was possible,armsracesand thequestfor
military superioritymade sense.But as longas bothsideshave
secondstrikecapability (thatis,can destroytheothersideeven
iftheotherlaunchesa surpriseattack),theonlywayto prevent
a nuclearwarfromdevastating bothsideswouldbe to agreeon
rulesthatwould limitthe conflict.The destructive powerof
the weapons,the difficulties of wartimecommunication, and
the hold of human emotions would make such limits
impossible,however.Thus, mutualvulnerability has created
dilemmaswhichtraditionalmilitary strategy, frombeing
able to solve,onlyservesto compound.
Trapped as theywerein pre-nuclear waysof thinking, many
analystsand decision-makers pursued traditionalsolutions
such as nuclearsuperiority and the developmentof complex
war plans. At bottom,thisapproach constituted a failureto
accept the realities of mutual vulnerability and mutual
deterrence.AlthoughI would faultMorgenthaufornot fully
appreciatingthe argumentswith which he disagreed or
probingtheintellectual, institutional,and politicalreasonsfor
theAmericanstance-whichwas generallyparalleledbySoviet
policy-I thinkthathis insightwas acute and indeed relied
heavilyupon it in my twobooks on nuclearstrategy(Jervis,
1984, 1989). WithoutarguingthatAmericandefensepolicy
was foundedsimplyon an intellectual error,thatthe dispute
was entirelyamenable to empiricalevidence and careful
reasoning,or thatwe can everforgetto ask whois advantaged
and whois disadvantaged in domesticand bureaucratic politics
by the successof alternative views, I thinkthat Morgenthau
was correctto argue thatone cannotunderstandthe policy
alternativesor international outcomeswithoutgraspingthe
content,origins,and implicationsof alternativeviewsabout
how nuclearweaponsaffectworldpolitics.
Even more at odds with the stereotypeof Realism is

This content downloaded from on Wed, 22 Apr 2015 14:00:06 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Morgenthau'stwo-foldargumentthat people's beliefsabout

the worldare deeplyaffectedby theirpast politicalstruggles
and thattheyare prone to failto understandthis.Centralto
his attackon Liberalism'sexaggeratedfaithin the power of
reasonand theassociatedattemptto reducepoliticsto science
is his view that knowledgeis contingent, dependingon the
conditionsand interestswhichlead people to hold it. Those
who believe that all realists conceive of knowledge as
independentfromexperienceand self-interest, whothinkthat
theyhavemade a fundamental discovery whentheyarguethat
people's sense of their social world is in measure
sociallyconstructed, and who thinkthattheyare the firstto
grasp the close interconnections betweenpower and knowl-
edge have neverread Scientific Man VersusPowerPolitics.In a
penetrating and lucid analysis,Morgenthaushowsthatmuch
of modern Liberalismfails to understandthe contingent
natureof its own knowledge.The person who argues that
scientificreasoningallowshimto fullyunderstandpoliticsis in
facta "truedogmatist whouniversalizes cognitiveprinciplesof
limitedvalidityand applies themto realmsnot accessibleto
them"(Morgenthau,1946,p. 220).
The scientificideas of modern Liberalismas applied to
politicsgrewout of the struggleof the emergingmiddleclass
againstfeudalism,aristocracy, and arbitraryrule. This was
both understandableand in many senses admirable. The
problem,however,liesin theinevitabletendencyof thehuman
mindto endowwithinherentlegitimacy and value thewaysof
thinkingand substantiveideas that served people well in
reachingspecifiedends. Thus, "Liberalismdeduced fromthe
limitedexperienceof a certainage universallawswhichwere
found wantingwhen applied to conditionsdifferentfrom
those under which they were originallydeveloped" (Mor-
genthau,1946,p. 85). People bothuniversalizetheirideas and
abstractthemfromthe interests whichplayeda large partin
shaping them: the "claim to universality, however,is actually
detrimental [the] scientificclaim, since it obliteratesthe

This content downloaded from on Wed, 22 Apr 2015 14:00:06 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

social and moraldetermination by whichall social scienceis

qualified"(Morgenthau,1946,p. 167). "In the socialsciences,
the socialconditionsdeterminenot onlythe ulteriorpurpose
but also the objectof inquiry,the investigator'srelationto it,
his assumptions,methods,and immediateaims. ... In all
societiescertainresultsare beyond the reach of scientific
inquiry..." (Morgenthau,1946, p. 162). I do not know
whether it is more strikingthat Morgenthau failed to
acknowledgethatothers,especiallyKarl Manheimand E.H.
Carr, had made parallel argumentsand neglectedto fully
developthisimportantline of reasoningin his laterwork,or
thatboth scholarswho soughtto develop Realismand those
who soughtto attackit have neglectedhis analysis.
WhileMorgenthau'sdiscussionis groundedin his attackon
theover-reliance on scienceand reasonin politics,thethrustof
his positiongoes further. Consistentwithmodernpsychology,
he sees that beliefs cannot be explained purely by "cold
cognition" and insteadare influenced byemotion,interest, and
self-image. In a way strikingly
parallelto the classicstudyof
Opinions andPersonality,whichasks"ofwhatuse to a manis his
opinions?"(Smith,Bruner,and White, 1956), Morgenthau
sees that

reason is like a lightwhichby its own innerforcecan move

nowhere.It mustbe carriedin orderto move.It is carriedbythe
irrationalforcesof interestand emotionto wheretheseforces
wantitto move.. . . [Because]eventhoughmanis dominatedby
interestsand drivenbyemotionalimpulses,as wellas motivated
by reason,he likesto see himselfprimarilyin the lightof this
latter,eminently humanquality.Hence, he giveshis irrational
qualitiesthe earmarksof reason.Whatwe call 'ideology'is the
resultof thisprocessof rationalization
(Morgenthau,1946, p.

More recentstudiesof foreignpolicyhave also exploredthe

extent to which emotionaland political needs determine
perceptions of thechancesof
of otheractorsand expectations
coursesof action.10
successof alternative This line of research

This content downloaded from on Wed, 22 Apr 2015 14:00:06 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

raises the questionof the conditionsunder whichand the

extentto whichideas and beliefsare a functionof theperson's
interests-that is, are superstructure, to use the Marxist
terminology. Morgenthaudoes not venturean answer,which
is understandablegiven the difficulty of the question; his
successorshave notdone muchbetter.But one shouldat least
note the tensionbetweenhis insightthatbeliefsabout world
politicsare contingentand his centraltenet:

political likesocietyin general,is
governedby objectivelaws. ... It believesalso ... in the
possibility in
distinguishing politicsbetween a truthand
opinion-betweenwhat is true objectively and rationally,
supported byevidenceand illuminated byreason,and whatis
only subjectivejudgment,divorced from thefactsas theyare
and informed byprejudiceand wishful thinking(Morgenthau,
1978,p. 4).
In his view that ideas are deeply colored by parochial
experienceand self-interest,Morgenthausees thatpowerful
states,even- ifnotespecially-whentheyare liberaldemocra-
cies satisfiedwiththe statusquo, willoftennot onlysay but
actuallybelievethattheirpoliciesare in thebestinterests
entirecommunity of nations.Althougha bit less explicitand
bitingin this regard than E.H. Carr (1939), Morgenthau
realizesthathumanbeingsdo notwantto recognizethelimits
of theirown perspectivesor the powerfuldrives of their
selfishness.Thus, statesare oftenhighlymoralisticand, by
comingtobelievethattheyare doinggood forothersas wellas
themselves, do moreevilthanwas necessary.Liberaldemocra-
cies sufferthe furtherdisabilityof universalizingthe waysin
whichtheyovercametyranny and aristocracy at home.Liberals

violenceand liberalrationality.
Thus Liberalism
techniquesithaddeveloped as instruments
of its domesticdomination,such as legal pledges,judicial
machinery, economictransformations, fromtheir political
substratumand transferred themas self-sufficiententities,

This content downloaded from on Wed, 22 Apr 2015 14:00:06 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

devoidof theiroriginal to theinternational

sphere(Morgenthau, 1946,pp. 50-1).

There is much to Morgenthau'sanalysis,especiallythe

fundamentaltruth that politicians,like people in their
everyday lives,are slowto appreciatethecontextin whichtheir
moralvaluesas wellas theirempiricalbeliefsare validand are
quick to extendinto one sphere the truthsthatare derived
fromanother.Interestingly enough,Louis Hartzsimilarly saw
thefundamental importance of the struggleagainstfeudalism
in shaping politicalthought,but did so in the contextof
explainingwhyAmericanshad sucha different understanding
of politicsfromEuropeans:the formerwere "bornequal"-
Americansocietywas founded by a middle-classfragment,
never underwenta bourgeoisrevolutionagainstfeudalism,
and so neverdeveloped eitherstrongreactionaryor strong
socialiststrainsof thinking(Hartz, 1955).n Indeed, Hartz
explains the Americaninabilityto understandmany other
societies,itspathologicalfearof revolutions, and its paranoid
anti-communism by the ideology that grew out of the very
absenceof a struggleagainstfeudalismthatMorgenthausees
as responsiblefor the over-reasonedand overlyscientific
perspective of Westernnationsthathas caused foreignpolicy
debacles.The irony,of course,is thatMorgenthausees the
UnitedStatesas the primeexampleof whathe is describing,
yet Hartz shows that America is distinctfrom Europe in
lackingthe experienceof feudalismand the middle class's
overthrow of it.
Althoughthis summarycannot do full justice to Mor-
genthau'sarguments, I hope I have said enoughto showthat
in his understanding thatbeing powerfulcan lead people to
believethattheirviewsare trueand benefitothersas wellas
themselves, and in thetensionhe portrays(withoutresolving)
betweeninterestsand ideas, Morgenthauis a much more
complex Realist than most current discussionseither of
Morgenthauor of thesesubjectswouldlead us to believe.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 22 Apr 2015 14:00:06 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


In his conceptionof the role of moralityin international

politics,Morgenthauagain divergesfromwhat most people
associatewithRealism;manyscholarswho argue thatmorality
playsa significant role in foreignpolicycontrasttheirviews
withwhattheytaketobe Morgenthau's withoutunderstanding
the latter.12 It is alwaysgood forauthorsto findsomeoneto
disagree with- and there is much to disagree with in
Morgenthau's analysis-butitsimplywillnotdo to use selected
quotations to show thatMorgenthauthoughtthatinternational
politicsleaves no room forethicalconsiderations. Indeed, at
one pointMorgenthauquotesCavour'sfamousremark:"If we
had done forourselveswhatwe did forItaly,whatscoundrels
we wouldhave been!" (Morgenthau,1946,p. 179).
Those whotellthestandardtaleof Morgenthauand Realism
wouldnotbe surprised;theywouldbe surprised,however,at
whatMorgenthausays next: "No civilization can be satisfied
withsucha dual morality" (Morgenthau,1946). Morgenthau's
viewsof therelationship betweenexpediencyand morality are
notsimple,and I do notthinktheyare entirely consistent.
it is clear thathe believesthatmoralitydoes and mustplaya
large role in the selectionof nationalmeans and goals. "In
order to be worthyof our lastingsympathy, a nation must
pursue itsinterests forthe sake of a transcendentpurposethat
gives meaning to the of
day-to-dayoperations its foreign
policy"(Morgenthau,1960, p. 8). Moralitycan be destructive
whenstatesmenuse it to identify the good of the worldwith
the good of their state, if not of themselvespersonally.
Properlyconceived,however,morality providesa checkon this
Political realismrefusesto identify
themoralaspirations of a
particular nationwiththemorallawsthatgoverntheuniverse.
. . . The lighthearted
equationbetween a particular
and thecounselsof Providence is morally foritis
thatverysinofprideagainst whichtheGreektragedians

This content downloaded from on Wed, 22 Apr 2015 14:00:06 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

prophets havewarnedrulersandruled.The equationis
also politically for it is liable to engenderthe
distortionin judgmentwhich,in the blindnessof crusading

More than is true for later scholars,Morgenthautraces

muchof the sourceof the necessaryevil in politicsto human
nature and "the animusdominarteli, the desire for power"
(Morgenthau,1946,p. 192). Pure selfishness and thedesireto
gratifybasichumanneeds, such as shelter,food,and security,
would onlyproducesome of the conflictwe see in our social
worldbecause thoseimpulsescan oftenbe gratifiedthrough
cooperationon thebasisof mutualrespectand equality."The
desireforpower,on the otherhand, concernsitselfnot with
once his survival has been secured. Consequently,the
selfishnessof man has limits:his will to power has none"
(Morgenthau, 1946, p. 193). Although the desire to
dominateplaysa role in all aspectsof humanlife,in politicsit
is "theverylife-blood oftheaction,theconstitutive principleof
politicsas a distinct sphere of human activity"(Morgenthau,
1946, p. 195). This does not mean thatthereis no room for
morality, butthatifitis to be meaningful and effective,
takeaccountof thedemandingrealmin whichit operates.
For Morgenthau,the rules of moralityare not simple,in
partbecausetheimportanceof powerin international politics
meansthatjudgmentsmustbe renderedin particular contexts,
thus prohibiting the abstractions thatcould otherwiseguide
policy. Indeed, a danger second onlyto universalizing one's
interests and perspectives is to applygeneralprinciples without
paying attention to the context in which they will work
themselves out. Thus, inter-war Western statesmen who were
seekingtobuildinternational politicson enlightenedprinciples
of justice "were intellectuallyand morallyunable to resist
Germanexpansionas longas itappearedto be justified-as in
the cases of Austria and the Sudetenland-by the holy

This content downloaded from on Wed, 22 Apr 2015 14:00:06 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

principlesof nationalunification" (Morgenthau,1946, p. 54).

Properlyconceived,moralityseeks to both furtherthe state's
legitimate interests and respectthoseof others.It searchesfor
common ground withoutyieldingwhat the state needs to
protectitself.This searchis notlikelyto succeedifstateshave
wildlydifferentconceptionsof rightand justice. Thus, for
Morgenthaua degreeof moralconsensusamongnationsis a
prerequisitefor a well functioninginternationalorder. In
contrastto more recent analystslike Waltz (and myself),
Morgenthauarguesthatthe balance of powerarose not only
out of the clash of competingself-interests but out of a
commonculture,respectforother'srights,and agreementon
basicmoralprinciples(Morgenthau,1978,pp. 221-28; Waltz,
1979;Jervis,forthcoming, eh. 4).14
WhileMorgenthau is maddeningly elusiveaboutexactlywhat
morality requiresand therelationship betweenmorality and pru-
dence, he is clear that despite the crucial role for morality in
therewillalwaysbe tensionbetweentheimperatives
politics, of
power and those of morality, and, for this reason,statesmen
cannotseek to behavemorallyin the sense of doing as much
good foras manypeople as possible."Thereis no escape from
theevilofpower,regardless ofwhatone does. . . . Politicalethics
is indeedtheethicsof doingevil.Whileitcondemnspoliticsas
thedomainof evilpar excellence,it mustreconcileitselfto the
enduringpresenceof evilin all politicalaction.Its last resort,
then,is theendeavorto choose,sinceeviltheremustbe, among
severalpossibleactionstheone thatis leastevil"(Morgenthau,
1946,pp. 201-2). I thinkas important as thewillingness to face
thenecessity to do evilis Morgenthau's stressthatindeedthere
is choice.Taken to itsextreme,Realismarguesthatbecausein-
ternational politicslacksgovernment, theinternational environ-
mentis so hostilethatstateshavelittleroomto maneuver:they
areintherealmofcompulsion, notchoice.ButMorgenthau, like
hisfellowdistinguished RealistArnoldWolfers, realizesthatwhile
thisisinfactsometimes thecase,statesmen rarelyareentirely the
prisonerof forcesbeyondtheirowncontrol(Wolfers,1962).

This content downloaded from on Wed, 22 Apr 2015 14:00:06 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


SinceMorgenthausees a largerole forstatesmen and states-

manship, it is notsurprising that he also the
stresses importance
of diplomacy.But thistoo contrasts withthe standardviewof
Realismas describing and prescribing expansionofcontrolifnot
of territory, stiff-necked refusalto compromise, and constant
threats.But Morgenthaudevotesthe finalchaptersof Politics
Among Nations todiplomacy and includesas itsonlyappendixthe
Charter ofthe United Nations. Realism,atleastforMorgenthau,
thattheymustalsocompromise and trimtheirobjectives towhat
is feasible.Forceand warcan neverbe dismissedfrominterna-
tionalpolitics, butin a prudentpolicy,theyusuallyremainin the
background.Morgenthau's rulesof diplomacymayseemcom-
monsense,butthosewhoknowMorgenthau bystandardsum-
mariesof himmaybe surprisedbythem:"Diplomacymustbe
divestedof the crusadingspirit";"Diplomacymustlook at the
mustbe willingto compromise on all issuesthatare notvitalto
them"; "Never in
putyourself positionfromwhichyoucannot
retreatwithout losingfaceand fromwhichyoucannotadvance
without graverisks";"Neverallowa weakallyto makedecisions
foryou";"The armedforcesare theinstruments of foreignpol-
icy,not itsmaster" (Morgenthau, 1978, pp. 550-58).
Partlybecauseof theinfluenceof theCold War,a greatdeal
of thestudyof international politicsoverthepasttwodecades
has focusedon bargaining.Of course,thisprocessinevitably
involvescommon as well as conflicting interests(Schelling,
1960),but,nevertheless, the emphasishas been on how states
seekto getas muchas possible,primarily bytheuse of threats.
As Morgenthaushows, this view is not incorrect,but it is
incomplete.Muchof international politicsconsistsof a mutual
adjustment interests, and this involvesnot only exerting
one's willoverothersbutunderstanding whatotherswantand
whythey want it. The protracted patientinteraction
and with

This content downloaded from on Wed, 22 Apr 2015 14:00:06 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

others,the explorationof alternative

solutions,the accommo-
dation of what others need constitutesthe essence of
day-to-daydiplomacywhich,if successful,does not produce
thosedramaticclasheswhichhaveso preoccupiedscholarsand
giventhema distortedviewof how international politicsdoes
and shouldfunction.

Realism,Peace, and DomesticPolitics

Toward the end of his career,Morgenthaumodifiedif not

renouncedsomeof theimportant elementsof hisapproachon
the groundsthatchanges in the world had renderedthem
inappropriate.The existenceof huge stockpilesof nuclear
weaponsmeantthatsuperpowerwar was no longera viable
tool of statecraft(Morgenthau,1964). Increasingeconomic
interdependencehad drawn the developed states closer
together,increasingthe benefitsof peace and the costs of
severedrelationships(Morgenthau,1975). This analysiswas
accurateand important; withthebenefitof hindsight, I would
argue that Morgenthaudid notgo farenough, did not see the
extentto whichinternationalpoliticsamong the developed
states15was being transformed radicallynot onlybecause of
changesin thecostsand benefitsof warand peace butbecause
of changes in values and the propensityof democraciesto
cooperatewitheach other.Morgenthaudenied the possibility
of theformerchangeor theefficacy of thelatter.His stresson
the role of malignhuman natureon the one hand and the
powerfulrole of the international
environment on the other
leftlittleroomforvaluesand domesticregimes.But ifhuman
beings have not changed, significantelementsof the value
systemin developed democracies have. The triumphof
bourgeoisdemocracymay not be the end of history,but
concernfor honor,preoccupationwithpositionfor its own
sake ratherthan for nationalwell-being,and the drive for
nationaldominanceare greatlyreduced.16

This content downloaded from on Wed, 22 Apr 2015 14:00:06 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Morgenthau wouldhave troublewiththisconclusion.He re-

servedsome of his sharpestcommentsforthosewho believed
thatdemocracies werefundamentally different, thattheycould
extendthenormsand valuesupon whichtheywereconstructed
to the internationalarena. Indeed, WoodrowWilsonand his
followersrepresentfor Morgenthaumuch thatwas wrong-
headed aboutforeignpolicyin thetwentieth century.Mostre-
alistsagreed;stateswerelike "billiard
balls" in thattheirinternal
differenceswereinconsequential and theirbehaviordetermined
onlybytheirreactionsto one another.17 Butwhileitis truethat
democracies are notlesswillingto fightthanare otherformsof
government, theyrarelyifeverfighteachother.18 Althoughitis
all tooeasytoimaginethefraildemocracies in theformerUSSR
and EasternEuropegoingto warwitheach other,regimesthat
are not onlysubjectto the willof theirpeoplesbut also have
stableand well-established
institutions are verylikelyto remain
at peace witheach otherand to cooperatemorereadilythanis
trueforautocraciesor revolutionary regimes.The individual-
ism,faithin reason,and willingness to compromisethatMor-
genthauhad seen as undermining democracies'abilityto con-
ductworldpoliticsina worldofhostilestatesmayinfactproduce
thedesiredand expectedresultswhentheyare sharedamongall
themajorpowers.The expectation thatjustregimeswouldeven-
tuallytriumphand thatstatescould not remainstrongif they
oppressedtheirpeople seemed naive to mostrealists(myself
included).But itmayhavesustainedpopularsupportforWest-
ernforeign policiesduringtheColdWarand helpedbringabout
whatMorgenthau and so manyothersthought wasimpossible:a
worldin whichthemostpowerful statesin thesystem no longer
menaceeach other.

1There seemstobe morethana bitoftruthin these
as I willdiscusslater.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 22 Apr 2015 14:00:06 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

2 The classic contrastbetween

thought on the one hand and that of ContinentalEurope on the
otheris Wolfers,1962,ch. 15.
3 The most
complete treatment,with special reference to
international politics,is Baldwin,1989.
4 He makes the former
point clear in Morgenthau,1958, pp.
5 It is
possible,of course,for a scholar'spolicypreferencesto
shape his theoriesand indeed thismayhave been trueforsome of
6 For further discussion,see Jervis,forthcoming, ch. 3.
See, forexample,Snyder,1984; Posen, 1984; Schelling,1960,
ch. 9; Spiegel,1985.
8 The literature is voluminous:important worksincludeWohlstet-
ter, 1962; Holsti, 1967, ch. 2; Jervis,1976; Larson, 1985; Jervis,
Lebow,and Stein,1985.
9 For an earlier
10 studyalong theselines,see Odell, 1982.
See, forexample,Janisand Mann, 1977; Cottam,1977; Lebow,
1981; Tervis, Lebow,and Stein,1985; Wark,1985.
11This book is and surelyone of the
mostcontroversial in thestudyof Americanpoliticsand society.
12See, for
example,Lumsdaine,1993,ch. 1.
13Much recent
scholarshiphas concernedthe conditionsunder
whichstatespursue relativeratherthan absolutegains: Baldwin,
recently,Paul Schroeder(1994) has developed in rich
detaila viewthatis similarto Morgenthau's.
qualificationis important; internationalpoliticsin the rest
of theworldbearsmuchgreaterresemblanceto traditional patterns.
16For further discussion,see, forexample,Mueller,1989; Jervis,
analogy comes from Wolfers,Discordand Collaboration.
Waltz'spowerfultheoryis builtin large measureon denyingthe
relevance of domestic differencesfor the basic patterns of
international politics(Theory ofInternational althoughhe sees
theirrolein settingthedetailsof policy(Waltz,1967).
The evidenceand literature is wellsummarized in Russett,1993.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 22 Apr 2015 14:00:06 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Baldwin,David,Paradoxes ofPower(New York: Blackwell,1989).
Baldwin, David, ed., Neorealism and Neohberalism (New York:
ColumbiaUniversity Press,1993).
Carr, E.H., The TwentyYears'Crisis,1919-1939 (New York: St.
Cottam,Richard,Foreign PolicyMotivation(Pittsburgh, PA: University
of Pittsburgh Press,1977).
Goldstein,Judithand Keohane,Robert,eds.,IdeasandForeign Policy:
Beliefs, Change(Ithaca:CornellUniversity
Hartz,Louis, TheLiberalTradition in America(New York: Harcourt,
Brace & World,1955).
Holsti,Ole, "CognitiveDynamicsand Imagesof the Enemy:Dulles
and Russia,"in David Finlay,Ole Holsti,and RichardFagan,
Enemies (New York: Rand McNally,1967).
in Politics
Janis,Irvingand Mann, Leon, DecisionMaking(New York: Free
Jervis,Robert,Perception and Misperception in InternationalPolitics
(Princeton.NÌ: PrincetonUniversitv Press,1976).
Jervis,Robert,TheIllogicofAmerican NuclearStrategy(Ithaca:Cornell
University Press,1984).
Jervis,Robert,TheMeaningofTheNuclearRevolution (Ithaca:Cornell
University Press,1989).
Jervis,Robert, "The Future of InternationalPolitics: Will It
Resemblethe Past?"International Security16 (Winter1991/92):
Jervis,Robert,"InternationalPrimacy:Is the Game Worth the
Candle,"InternationalSecurity17 (Spring1993): 52-67.
Jervis,Robert,Systems: DynamicsandEffects(Princeton, NJ:Princeton
University Press,forthcoming).
Jervis,Robert,Lebow,RichardNed, and Stein,Janice,Psychology and
Deterrence (Baltimore:lohns HopkinsUniversity Press,1985).
Larson,Deborah,TheOrigins ofContainment:A PsychologicalExplana-
tion(Princeton, NJ:PrincetonUniversity Press,1985).
Lebow, Richard Ned, BetweenPeace and War (Baltimore:Johns
HopkinsUniversity Press,1981).
Lumsdaine,David,MoralVision inInternationalPolitics
PrincetonUniversity Press,1993).
Morgenthau,Hans, Scientific Man VersusPowerPolitics(Chicago:
University ChicagoPress,1946).

This content downloaded from on Wed, 22 Apr 2015 14:00:06 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Morgenthau,Hans, Dilemmasof Politics(Chicago: Universityof

Morgenthau,Hans, The Purposeof American Politics(New York:
Morgenthau,Hans, "The Four Paradoxes of Nuclear Strategy,"
AmericanPoliticalScienceReview58 (March1964): 23-35.
Morgenthau, Hans, "WorldPoliticsand the Politicsof Oil," in Gary
Eppen, ed., Energy:The PolicyIssues(Chicago: Universityof
ChicagoPress,1975),pp. 43-51.
Morgenthau, Hans, "The Fallacyof ThinkingConventionally About
NuclearWeapons,"in David Carltonand Carlo Schaerf,eds.,
ArmsControland Technological Innovation(New York: Wiley,
1976),pp. 256-64.
Morgenthau,Hans, PoliticsAmongNations,5/e,revised(New York:
Mueller,John,Retreat FromDoomsday: TheObsolescence ofMajor War
(New York: Basic Books, 1989).
Odell, John, U.S. International MonetaryPolicy (Princeton,NJ:
PrincetonUniversity Press,1982).
Posen, Barry,The Sourcesof Military Doctrine(Ithaca, NY: Cornell
UniversityPress, 1984).
Russett, Bruce, Graspingthe DemocraticPeace (Princeton,NJ:
PrincetonUniversity Press,1993).
Schelling,Thomas,TheStrategy ofConflict(Cambridge,MA: Harvard
Schroeder,Paul, The Transformation ofEuropeanPolitics,1769-1848
(New York:OxfordUniversity Press,1994).
Smith,M. Brewster,Bruner,Jerome,and White,Robert,Opinions
(New York: Wiley,1956).
Snyder,Jack, The Ideologyof the Offensive (Ithaca, NY: Cornell
Spiegel,Steven,TheOther Arab-Israeli
East PolicyfromTrumanto Reagan (Chicago: Universityof
Waltz,Kenneth,ForeignPolicyand Democratic Politics(Boston:Little,
Waltz, Kenneth, Theoryof International Politics(Reading, MA:
Waltz,Kenneth,"RealistThoughtand NeorealistTheory,"Journal of
Affairs 44 (Spring/Summer 1990): 39-48.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 22 Apr 2015 14:00:06 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Wohlstetter,Roberta, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision (Stan-

Wark, Wesley, The UltimateEnemy: British Intelligenceand Nazi
Germany, 1933-1939 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UniversityPress,
Wolfers,Arnold,"PoliticalTheoryand International
Arnold, Wolfers,Discordand Collaboration
HopkinsUniversity Press,1962).

This content downloaded from on Wed, 22 Apr 2015 14:00:06 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions