Even though the book Man, the State, and War: A Theoretical Approach by Kenneth Waltz was written as far back as in 1959, it nevertheless contains a number of in-depth insights into what can be considered the main preconditions for wars to occur on a periodical basis. Given the fact that, due to the recent geopolitical developments in the world, humanity can be well discussed as such that stands on the threshold of yet another major war, the reading of this specific book should prove rather indispensable, within the context of one striving to understand the discursive significance of armed conflicts. In this paper, I will promote this idea at length, while reviewing Man, the State, and War and outlining what can be considered this book’s major strengths and weaknesses.
Structurally speaking, there are eight chapters in Waltz’s book (including Introduction and Conclusion). Nevertheless, it would be much more appropriate to refer to Man, the State, and War, as such that consists of three major chapters, concerned with the author’s intention to discuss war, in relation to what appears to be the nature of man, the nature of the idea of statehood and the essence of the qualitative dynamics in the arena of international politics. The author decided to designate these chapters in terms of ‘images’ – something that can be well deemed the discursive outlooks on the discussed subject matter.
In the Chapter Introduction, Waltz outlines the actual rationale, which prompted him to proceed with working on Man, the State, and War, and which appears reflective of the author’s desire to provide definitive answers to the questions: “Are there ways of decreasing the incidence of war, of increasing the chances of peace? Can we have peace more often in the future than in the past?” (Waltz 1).
According to the author, in order to be able to answer these questions, one would have to make an analytical inquiry into what can be considered that the existential mode of the representatives of Homo Sapiens species, on the one hand, and into the phenomenological overtones of the term ‘society’, on the other. While substantiating the validity of this idea, Waltz points out to the fact that, in the undertaking’s aftermath, the inquirer would be able to answer the question: “Does the man make society in his image or does his society make him?” (4).
According to the author, answering this question represents the matter of crucial importance – it is only after we adopt a discursively sound approach towards reducing/eliminating the likelihood for wars to occur, that there would be a rationale for us to believe that we may indeed be able to succeed, in this respect. After all, as Waltz rightly noted: “A prescription based on a faulty analysis would be unlikely to produce the desired consequences” (14). This effectively validates the proposed approach to tackling the subject matter – reviewing the well-established conceptualisations of war/peace, defining the measure of their discursive legitimacy and gaining the ‘synthesised’ insights into the phenomena at stake.
In the Chapter The First Image, Waltz exposes readers to what can be considered the ‘realist’ and ‘constructivist’ theorizations of the nature of war. According to the proponents of the ‘realist’ (or ‘pessimist’) paradigm of war, such as Spinoza, Niebuhr and Morgenthau, war cannot be discussed outside of what appears to be the perceptual/cognitive ‘wickedness’ of people: “The seat of evil is the self, and the quality of evil can be defined in terms of pride” (21).
This, of course, implies that wars are bound to continue to occur in the future – just as it used to be the case throughout the history of humanity. Waltz also explains to readers the conceptual essence of the ‘constructionist’ (‘optimist’) viewpoints on war, the proponents of which (such as Herz and Marx) used to stress out that, even though they strive towards domination is indeed very strong in people, it cannot be considered their main existential anxiety: “Power appears as a possibly useful instrument rather than as a supreme value that men by their very natures are led to seek” (37).
These viewpoints are concerned with the idea that people’s desire to wage wars derives out of the sheer imperfection of how human societies happened to be structurally organized. It is understood, of course, that this presupposes that there is indeed a possibility to eliminate wars altogether – something that can be achieved as the consequence of these societies being set on the path of a qualitative transformation. Waltz also outlines the major criticisms of both of the mentioned theoretical accounts of war (‘pessimist’ and ‘optimist’), while suggesting that even though they do appear conceptually inconsistent, this, in fact, is far from being the actual case.
In the Chapter The Second Image, Waltz outlines what can be deemed the ‘systemic’ theories of war – that is, the theories that are based upon the assumption that the outbreaks of violent conflicts between states need to be discussed in close conjunction with what happened to be these states’ modes of functioning: “The internal organization of states is the key to understanding war and peace” (81). According to the author, as of today, there are three major ‘systemic’ approaches to explaining the phenomenon of war: Marxist, Kantian (Idealistic) and Democratic.
Marxists believe that war is the ultimate consequences of the world’s countries remaining Capitalist, which implies that there would be no wars between Socialist states. Idealists, on the other hand, refer to wars as such that reflect the fact that the representatives of national elites in the warring countries are simply not being intellectually advanced enough. In the manner similar to that of Marxists, Democrats promote the idea that wars will cease to occur, as soon as the world’s countries embrace the ideals of democracy: “Democracy is pre-eminently the peaceful form of the state. Control of policy by the people would mean peace” (101). The author clearly positions himself, as someone who favours specifically the third of the mentioned statehood-related views on war.
In Chapter The Third Image, Waltz discusses the phenomenon of war, within the context of what accounts for a number of different theories of international relations. While doing it, he also promotes the idea that, even though there is indeed a good reason in believing that by being ‘rational’, states automatically become ‘peaceful’, there are no indications that the ‘rationalisation of states’ is a thoroughly objective process.
What contributes to this state of affairs is the fact that there is no universally recognised authority in the arena of international politics, which would encourage countries to refrain from declaring war on each other, as the ultimate way of resolving what happened to be the problematic issues between them. As the author pointed out: “With no system of law enforceable among them (states), with each state judging its grievances and ambitions according to the dictates of its own reason or desire – conflict, sometimes leading to war, is bound to occur” (159).
While pursuing his line of argumentation, Waltz quotes extensively from the works of Plato, Locke, Rousseau and Hobs. This, of course, can be considered as being yet another indication that Waltz favoured specifically the ‘realist’ paradigm of international relations, which refers to wars as simply the ‘violent extension of politics’.
In the book’s Conclusion, Waltz states that, in order for people to be able to understand the mechanics of wars, they would have to adopt the interdisciplinary/systemic approach to tackling the subject matter. In its turn, this should empower them rather substantially, within the context of how they would go about trying to make this world a more peaceful place to live: “A systematic study of the assumed causes of war becomes a direct way of estimating the conditions of peace” (225).
The author also points out to the fact that there is indeed a dialectical relationship between the discursive images of war, upon which he expounded in the book’s previous chapters. In Waltz’s mind, this confirms the objectiveness of the idea that the ways of humanity will continue being closely associated with the recurring outbreaks of war. The main precondition for this to be the case the author considers the fact that, despite the exponential pace of the ongoing socio-technological progress, the geopolitical developments in the world continue to be defined by the ‘law of the jungle’: “Wars occur because there is nothing to prevent them” (232). This once again exposes Waltz as the adherent of the specifically ‘realist’ theory of international relations.
As it was mentioned earlier, there are indeed a few reasons to consider the reviewed book rather insightful. The main of them is that Man, the State, and War exposes war as the discursively complex phenomena, which in turn implies that there can be no easy solutions to reducing the number of armed conflicts in the world. Nevertheless, there are a number of clearly visible drawbacks to this book, as well. Among them can be named the fact that the author never assessed the phenomena in question through the lenses of the Evolutionary theory.
Yet, it is this specifically the Evolutionary (or Social-Darwinist) perspective that provides us with the most scientifically legitimate explanation, as to why wars occur, in the first place. The book’s another weakness is concerned with the fact that it does not quite relate to the realities of today’s living – something that can be illustrated, in regards to the author’s naïve belief that only the formally independent countries can act as the agents of war. This, of course, implies that, even though being astute to an extent, Man, the State, and War can be best referred to as discursively outdated.
I believe that the provided earlier review of Waltz’s book, and the critical remarks, as to what undermines the author’s line of argumentation, contained in it, are fully consistent with the paper’s initial thesis. Apparently, it is indeed fully justified recommending Man, the State, and War to be read by just about anyone. At the same time, however, it would be intellectually dishonest to suggest that the reading of this book would come in as a great asset for those who are preoccupied with trying to discover the hidden causes of why wars continue to occur – especially when the realities of a post-industrial living are being concerned.
Waltz, Kenneth. Man, the State, and War: A Theoretical Approach. New York: Columbia University Press, (1959) 2001. Print.