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Department of Politics and International

Relations
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work, is not copied from any other persons work (published or
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Name

MARIA ATANASOAEI

Student ID
No

149012012

Module Number and


Title:

PL1020: CLASSICS OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Date Due In:

24/11/2014

Date Submitted:

24/11/2014

Word Count (not including


bibliography):

2975

PLEASE COPY AND PASTE YOUR ESSAY ON THE PAGE


BELOW

The notion of classic, understood as a work of great value, was for the first time used in
literature by Aulus Gellius, in the second century AD and it has been employed since then in
the separation between the important works in an area of study and all the other pieces of
writing.1 Established as a discipline only at the beginning of the twentieth century, the field of
International Relations succeeded in imposing itself as a science due to a long list of valuable
works that are nowadays seen as classics. The aim of this paper is to determine the main
features of a classic of International Relations, by analysing the relation between certain
books and the traditions of thought they are related to, as well as the role they played in the
creation of the identity of the field. The analysis will also consider the capacity of a book to
exceed boundaries of time and space and the way in which specialists opinion can shape the
idea of what a classic of International Relations means.
To achieve a valid evaluation of the meaning of a classic, requires, first of all, a clear
understanding over the difference between a classic text of International Relations and
classical approaches and traditions in the area. While classic texts are landmark pieces of
work, classical traditions refer to the international theory and classical approaches are often
associated with the English school of thought in International Relations. 2 Once this difference
has been made, one can proceed to examine the features of a classic.
First and foremost, in order to be able to determine what a classic of International Relations
is, one must have a clear image over the main features of the field of International Relations
itself. Ever since established, this field has faced a continuous debate concerning its identity.
Often included to and, to a certain extent, mistaken by the field of Political Science, the
discipline of International Relations still struggles to find its way as an independent area of
study. In his article Writing the world: disciplinary history and beyond, Duncan Bell
1 H. Bliddal, C. Sylvest and P. Wilson (eds), Classics of International Relations:
essays in criticism and appreciation (London, New York: Routledge, 2013), pp. 1-2.
2 Ibid., pp. 3-4.

defines this necessity of social sciences, including the political ones, to construct their
identities as discipline-defining mythologies. By embracing myths, such as the myth of
the nation or of the international system, such disciplines gain their identity from the need of
scholars to legitimize and structure their work.3
Like all the other areas of study, the field of International Relations constructs its identity by
making use of its tradition. This tradition is formed by a range of elements, such as the main
areas investigated, the ways in which subjects from these areas are approached and the
contributions that were seen as landmarks for the formation and evolution of what is regarded
today as the science of International Relations. 4 It is here where the concept of identity
intersects the image of a classic. Classics are pieces of work, which, by approaching in
different, new ways the main concerns of the field, construct the tradition that generates the
identity of the discipline itself. They produce, as Saint-Beude said, unity and tradition 5 and
this tradition transcend(s) the distinction between international and all other forms of
politics.6
The best example that can be given to support this argument is the case of E.H.Carr and his
famous book, The Twenty Years Crisis. Published in a time when International Relations
was just starting to emerge as a science, in 1939, Carrs classic work can be classified not
only as a contribution to the debate over the identity of the discipline, but as the starting point
of this debate. In The Twenty Years Crisis, Carr challenges the utopianism, promoted in
that period especially by Woodrow Wilson, by opposing it a new form of perceiving the

3 D. Bell, Writing the world: disciplinary history and beyond, International Affairs 85
(2009), pp. 4-5.
4 Bliddal, Classics of International Relations, p. 1.
5 Ch.A. Sainte-Beude, What is a classic?, Essays (London: Walter Scott, undated),
p. 2.
6 M. Wight quoted in I. Clark and I.B. Neumann (eds), Classical Theories of
International Relations (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996), p. 260.

world, in a more critical, realistic way.7 He witnesses the transition of the International
Relations from the business of diplomats8 to an established science, becoming, in fact, part
of the change. In his view, no science deserves the name until it has acquired sufficient
humility not to consider itself omnipotent, and to distinguish the analysis of what is from
aspiration about what should be9, and International Relations was at a stage when the
humiliation brought by idealism prepared the discipline to gain its rights as a science. All
these confirm the important role that Carr played in constructing an identity of the discipline
of International Relations and the fact that the field remained dominated by Realists for a
long time is just another proof of this.
Nevertheless, one can argue that the example of E.H.Carr can be regarded as an exception,
since the fact that it was released in such early stages of the discipline, made it almost
impossible for the book not to contribute to the identity of the field and, therefore, become a
classic. This assumption, however, can be contradicted by analysing the way in which another
book, published fifty years later, when International Relations was already an established
discipline, also became a classic. This is Cyntia Enloes Bananas, Beaches and Bases, a
book that entered the debate over the identity of International Relations by asking questions
that we did not know we ought to ask.10 By taking into consideration the experiences of
women in international politics, Enloe hoped to achieve a more realistic perspective over
the way in which the world works.11 It is this totally new approach and the ability to challenge
pre-existing ideas and construct a new identity of the international system, that have turned

7 E.H.Carr, The Twenty Years Crisis, 1919-1939: An introduction to the study of


International Relations (Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2001), pp. 12-21.
8 Ibid., p. 3.
9 Ibid., p. 9.
10 Bliddal, Classics of International Relations, p. 263.
11 C. Enloe, Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International
Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), p. 4.

the book into a classic. This proves that a books value it is not related in any way with the
moment it was published, but with its ability to challenge the basis of the analysed area.
Having demonstrated the way in which a classic shapes the identity of the discipline, one
must proceed to demonstrate the way in which a classic generates and influences traditions of
thought within the discipline. An important difference must be highlighted here. A tradition of
thought it is just a small part of the tradition that forms the identity of the field, and it is
related to the theoretical sphere of international relations.12
Traditions of thought are competing worldviews, intimately related to values 13 and
constitute the means through which the discipline developed throughout time. 14 The process
was not only a consequence of the continuous debate between different traditions, but a
consequence of the debate that took place within every tradition, too. 15 This fact resulted into
what Henrik Bliddal calls a language of turns. 16 By challenging already established ideas,
authors have placed the field of International Relations under the sign of diversity and helped
readers widen their horizons.17 Therefore, it can be argued that a work does not have to
establish a new tradition of thought to become a classic, but it must bring something
innovative, something that improves the knowledge in the area. If for Kailitz, a classic of
political science must have an original argument that advances our knowledge about politics
in a significant way18, the same thing applies for a classic of International Relations. A book
should be regarded as a classic as long as it has enriched the human mind, increased its
12 Clark, Classical Theories (Macmillan: Basingstoke, 1996), p. 1.
13 M. Wight quoted in Clark, Classical Theories (Macmillan: Basingstoke, 1996), p.
260.
14 T. Dunne, Mythology or methodology? Traditions in international theory (Book
Review of M. Wight, International Theory: The Three Traditions), Review of
International Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 1.
15 Clark, Classical Theories, pp. 257-8.
16 Bliddal, Classics of International Relations, p. 5.
17 Ibid., pp. 5-6.
18 S. Kailitz paraphrased in Bliddal, Classics of International Relations, p. 6.

treasure, and caused it to advance a step.19 The recognition of such a book as a classic is
made at the moment when the name of an author, the title of a book and the representative
element of novelty brought by the ideas analysed in it, become so closely linked one to
another, that one cannot think of them independently. Edifying examples to support this
argument can be identified by analysing the evolution of the field of International Relations,
from the perspective of internal debates, within a certain school of thought, as well as from
the perspective of external debates, between different schools of thought.
In the first case, an analysis of the way in which the Realist school of thought evolved
throughout time proves that books that generate new ideas and determine new directions
within a tradition of thought, can be undoubtedly labelled as classics. Turning back to the
example of E.H.Carr, it is worth mentioning that, although his position in The Twenty Years
Crisis was clearly a Realist one, the conclusions he comes to are rather balanced, stating that
sound political thought and sound political life will be found only where both (utopia and
reality) have their place.20 It is the latter work of Hans Morgenthau, Politics among
Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, published in 1948, that will clearly outline the
characteristics of Realism. By presenting the six major principles that constitute the basis of
political Realism21, Morgenthau, just like Carr, offered the theoretical tools that established
Realism as a tradition of thought and, thus, became one of the classics of International
Relations. The idea of the struggle of nations for power, launched by these two foundingfathers of Realism22, found echo over the years in the work of another important author:
Kenneth Waltz. In his book, Theory of International Politics, published in 1979, Waltz
reinterprets this idea and constructs a new image of the international system, dominated by
19 Beude, What is a classic?, p. 2.
20 Carr, The Twenty Years Crisis, p. 10.
21 H. J. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace
(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978), 5th ed., pp. 4-15.
22 S. Burchill and A. Linklater (eds), Theories of International Relations
(Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 3 rd ed., p. 1.

anarchy, national interest and the need of maximizing the national security. 23 By doing this,
he creates the basis of a new form of Realism, known as Structural or Neorealism and
becomes a model for future writers, establishing its place as a classic. The impact of Waltzs
work can be clearly identified in John Mearsheimers The Tragedy of Great Power Politics,
a book published in 2001. Although the ideas promoted by Mearsheimer largely follow the
ones of Waltz, he also brings something new to the field by emphasizing the fact that states
seek to maximize their power, rather than their security.24

It is this new, offensive

perspective, which opposes the defensive Realism of Waltz, that turns Mearsheimers work
into a classic.
By considering this succession of Realist works, it can be easily proved that the idea of a
classic implies, as Beude said, continuance and consistence25 and it is linked to the
potential of certain ideas to be reinvented and emerge in new forms, that enrich the field of
study. But if in this case, the idea of continuity plays a key role in the identification of a
classic, in the case of classics that emerge from debates between different schools of thought,
this element is totally overshadowed by the one of novelty. An eloquent example for this can
be found in Alexander Wendts Social Theory of International Politics. Published in 1999,
the book brings into attention the fourth factor, neglected by IR theorists up to then: ideas. 26
By claiming that relations between states are socially and historically constructed27, Wendt
develops a new way of perceiving international relations, becoming one of the classics of
Social Constructivism and one of the key-authors in the debate over the structure of the
international system.
23 K.Waltz, Theory of International Politics (Addison-Wesley: Reading, 1979), pp.
103-116.
24 J.J.Mearsheimer, The tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York; London:
W.W.Norton, 2001), pp. 29-40
25 Beude, What is a classic?, p. 2.
26 A. Wendt, Social Theory of International Politics (Cambridge University Press:
Cambridge, 1999), p. 92.
27 Ibid., pp. 113-25.

Another important feature that classics, including the ones of International Relations, share is
the capability of exceeding the barriers of time and space. This characteristic has constituted
the main point of analysis in a long debate over the question of what makes a book a classic,
in which two positions were embraced: the essentialist and the sociological.28
The first position, attributes to a classic the capacity to stand the test of time and transcend
the boundaries of the country or culture of origin, by gaining a certain degree of universality.
From this point of view, a classic must possess some timeless verities and speak () to
the whole world.29 On the other hand, the sociological approach brings into attention the fact
that a classic must have a degree of complexity, that will enable societies from different
periods of time to find new and new meanings.30 Although these two approaches seem
irreconcilable and do not bring an answer to the question of whether it is the classic that
challenges the time or the time that challenges the classic, both of them seem to accept the
fact that ideas are the ones to establish if a book surpassed or not the barrier of time and
space. A classic appears, thus, as a collection of ideas that have a great impact over an area of
study by either expressing general truths that remain valid over the time or by constituting
statements that can be interpreted in many different ways and applied to various societies, in
different periods of time. This kind of ideas give value to a book and make it possible to
distinguish the books of all time from the books of the hours.31
All the works that are nowadays considered the classics of International Relations have stood
this test of time. No one can nowadays contest the fact that the international system is marked

28 Bliddal, Classics of International Relations, pp. 2-3.


29 Ibid., p. 2.
30 Ibid., p. 3.
31 J. Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies, www.philaletheians.co.uk, 14 April 2010,
http://www.philaletheians.co.uk/Study%20notes/Down%20to%20Earth/Ruskin's
%20Sesame%20and%20Lilies.pdf ),accessed 23 November 2014, p. 18.

by what Keohane and Nye called interdependence32, and by taking a quick look at how the
international arena looks, one can certainly confirm that it is dominated by men, rather than
women, which makes Enloes assumptions in Bananas, Beaches and Bases still relevant
today.33 All these, added to the fact that many works have been published in more than one
edition and translated in different languages, prove that they survived over the time and,
definitely, exceeded the barrier of space.
Another aspect that should not be neglected when observing how a book achieved the status
of a classic, is the way in which it was received by the specialists in the field. Steffen Kailitz
argues that if a book is generally seen as a fundamental work by people that are interested in
the discipline, then it must have definitely gained its status as a classic. 34 This idea can easily
be linked to the concept of authority, proposed and analysed by Conal Condren, in his work
The Status and Appraisal of Classic Texts. Condren describes classics as texts with a
certain degree of authority, that scholars use to increase their credibility in front of the
audience. He also claims that a text becomes more authoritative with every use of it and,
therefore, the exploitation of such sources becomes a self-feeding process. 35 A recognition of
its status from the part of specialists in the field, it is undoubtedly needed for a book to
become a classic; however, embracing a position, such as the one of Condren, might lead one
to undermine the true value of a book. In a review of Condrens piece of writing, Peter
Diamond highlights that, by engaging such ideas, the author fails in his attempt to give the
definition of a classic text and that the only thing he achieves is to bring a though critique on

32 R. Keohane and J. Nye, Power and Interdependence (London: Longman,2001),


3rd ed., pp.3-19.
33 Enloe, Bananas, Beaches and Bases, p. 5-7 .
34 Kailitz paraphrased in Bliddal, Classics of International Relations, p.6.
35 C. Condren, The Status and Appraisal of Classic Texts: An Essay on Political
Theory, Its Inheritance and the History of Ideas (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton
University Press, 1985), pp. 255-6.

the poltical theorists method of relying on the past in order to fulfil political needs of the
present.36
Taking everything into account, it can be concluded that a classic of International Relations
creates the units that brought together form the identity of the field. By bringing novelty and
consistency to pre-existing or newly formed traditions of thought and by exceeding barriers
of time, space and culture, a book recognised over the years as a classic by scholars of
International Relations is a book that it is almost instantly included in a must-read list by
those who wish to improve their knowledge in this area.

36 P.J. Diamond, Book Review: Condren, The Status and Appraisal of Classic Texts: An
Essay on Political Theory, Its Inheritance, and the History of Ideas (Sage Publications,
1987), Political Theory 15, pp. 269-73.

Bibliography:
Bliddal, H., Sylvest, C. and Wilson P. (eds), Classics of International Relations: essays in
criticism and appreciation (London, New York: Routledge, 2013).
Bell, D., Writing the world: disciplinary history and beyond, International Affairs 85
(2009), 3-22
Sainte-Beude, Ch.A. What is a classic?, Essays (London: Walter Scott, undated)
Clark, I. and Neumann, I.B.(eds), Classical Theories of International Relations (Basingstoke:
Macmillan, 1996).
Carr, E.H., The Twenty Years Crisis, 1919-1939: An introduction to the study of International
Relations (Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2001).
Enloe,C., Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989).
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M. Wight, International Theory: The Three Traditions, Review of International Studies
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).
Morgenthau, H.J., Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace (New York:
Alfred A. Knopf, 1978), 5th ed.
Burchill, S., and Linklater, A., (eds), Theories of International Relations (Basingstoke:
Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 3rd ed.
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Mearsheimer, J.J., The tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York; London: W.W.Norton,
2001).
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1999).
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Sesame

and

Lilies,

www.philaletheians.co.uk,

14

April

2010,

http://www.philaletheians.co.uk/Study%20notes/Down%20to%20Earth/Ruskin's%20Sesame
%20and%20Lilies.pdf , accessed 23 November 2014
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Condren, C., The Status and Appraisal of Classic Texts: An Essay on Political Theory, Its
Inheritance and the History of Ideas (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press,
1985).
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on Political Theory, Its Inheritance, and the History of Ideas, Political Theory 15 (1987),
269-73.
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