A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE AFTER THE COLD WAR
Kyle Erich Pressel
B.A., University of Colorado, 1998
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
This thesis for the Master of Arts
Kyle Erich Pressel
has been approved
Pressel, Kyle Erich (M.A., Political Science)
A Historical Perspective After the Cold War
Thesis directed by Professor Steven Thomas
Many observations and opinions were published in the early 1990s
related to the post-cold-war world. Initial research found that some of these
opinions failed to take the lessons of history into account.
The thesis body documents a potential reason for this lack of historical
influence in the articles cited by looking at the work of Hans Morgenthau and
his discussion of rationalism in classical liberal thought. It goes further to make
reference to historical examples of mankind failing to learn from history. These
failures are used as proof that when appropriate, we must learn from the
mistakes of the past.
Finally, the work seeks to determine precisely how common this lack of
a historical perspective actually is within the general body of literature published
at the end of the Cold War.
This abstract accurately represents the content ,of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
I dedicate this thesis to my mother for her constant support and understanding
while I pursued not only my B.A. but also my Master of Arts.
My sincere thanks to my advisor, Lucy Ware McGuffy for her patience, insight
and availability during the course of this work. I would also like to thank the
rest of my thesis committee, Professors Steven Thomas and Amin Kazak.
Finally to my father, Hans Pressel for the endless hours of revision and my
friend, Derrek Wardlow for his philosophical expertise.
Fools leam by experience, wise men learn by other peoples experience
1. INTRODUCTION........................................ 1
The Beginning................................... 1
Redirection and Purpose........................... 3
Outline of the Thesis............................. 6
2. THE AFTERMATH OF THE COLD WAR........................ 9
The Pattern....................................... 9
Examples that Include a Historical Perspective... 10
Non Historical Examples.......................... 17
Defining Historical Perspective................ 19
A Critique of the Approach....................... 20
3. CLASSICAL REALISM AND MORGENTHAU
ON RATIONALISM................................................ 22
Classical Realism................................ 22
My Experience.................................... 25
Morgenthau on Rationalism........................ 27
The Nature of Man and the World.................. 31
Rationalism and History.......................... 33
Rationalism and Power Politics.............. 36
Final Thoughts on Rationalism................ 37
4. HISTORY AND ITS LESSONS.......................... 39
Carr on History............................... 39
Napoleon and Hitler in Russia................. 41
Germans Invade France......................... 42
Energy Crisis................................. 44
5. WORLD WAR I AND A COUNTER ARGUMENT............... 47
Clues in History.............................. 47
Issue Uncovered............................... 50
6. CONCLUSIONS...................................... 52
Fukuyama Revisited........................... 53
The Data...................................... 54
The topic of this thesis began, as any other I am sure, with a seemingly
simple concept. In the early 1990s, being just old enough to appreciate the end of
the Cold War between NATO and Warsaw Pact blocks, I looked forward to a brave
new world. Household discussions, newspaper articles, the evening news and a host
of other formats entertained ideas about the future. The question what now?
interested many different people. Some viewed the collapse of the Soviet Union as
the ultimate triumph of democracy and capitalism over communism; the future
looked great and the world could only get better. After all, several generations of
Americans and Europeans had grown up under the threat of this haunting spectre.1
Almost overnight the Soviet Union disintegrated and its former satellite states were
free to go their own way. The cold war ended and the Warsaw Pact threat to NATO
members was all but gone. An optimistic view held that the world should finally
know a significant period of peace.
Other more skeptical observers noted with equal enthusiasm that the cold
war was over. However, for them this honeymoon period proved short as certain
questions, important to these people, went unanswered. For example, the Soviet
Union was no more, but her vast stockpiles of armaments still existed. What was
going to happen to them? To some, as conceptually dreadful as the cold war was, it
did after all provide for a degree of global stability. The United States and the Soviet
Union both carefully controlled their spheres of influence, diligently ensuring that
any conflicts that did arise remained locally contained. Though we came close to an
all-out war on some occasions, during the Cuban Missile Crisis for example, neither
side wanted another major conflict.
Additional questions continued to nag skeptics. In the absence of a larger,
NATO/Warsaw Pact contest, might not smaller, rogue states be left to do as they
please? Left, perhaps, to purchase arms from former members of the Soviet Union
or from Russia itself as the throes of a conversion from a command to a market
economy took place? Would China, no longer concerned with both the United
States and the Soviet Union, sell or distribute arms to countries it favored?
Questions such as these pointed to the potential for a more dangerous world rather
than a more peaceful one and therefore a more pessimistic outlook.
Hence, ten years after the fall of the Soviet Union this graduate student set
out to try and determine what actually happened. Had the optimists been right?
Were we edging, however slowly, toward peace on earth? Or did the disintegration
of the Soviet Union and the bi-polarity of a cold war world pave the way for a
different, though just as dangerous, global order with multiple foes replacing one?
From a theoretical standpoint, one could probably argue either way. Knowing this
to be true, I set out to find some concrete data with which to support a position.
Which position was irrelevant to me, as I did not set out to prove the validity of one
particular view. I wished only to see if I could prove either the optimistic or the
pessimistic view correct.
Despite my best efforts, I was not able to prove either case with any sort of
substantial statistical or scientific data. Though there is some research slowly
surfacing, which may in time provide a better basis for an answer to my original
inquiry, this research is far from complete at the time of this writing. It is this
authors best assessment that an additional five to ten years will be required before
enough reliable, published data can be accumulated for an genuine comparison of
pre- and post-cold-war global stability. In the meantime, we are left only with the
theoretical positions conveyed since 1989.
Redirection and Purpose
This was a cause for concern on my part. Everything had appeared so
straightforward until I could not find data sufficient for the task. The chair of my
thesis committee had pointed out from the beginning that though I may not, in the
end, be able to prove one view over the other, the effort and the results would still
be academically valid. We cannot, after all, always confirm a specific hypothesis.
Nevertheless, this fact does not make the effort worthless. So I had a choice to
make: Continue with what I had done and gut it out or see if perhaps during the
course of my research I uncovered some other facts or ideas that may lead to
different, though still interesting, conclusions.
Discussions with my chair soon led to another question. If I, ten years later,
could not prove either the optimist or the skeptical view correct, then how did they
arrive at those views at the end of the cold war? Could one, the other or both have
been driven only by perspective? This prospect raised some very interesting
possibilities. If post-cold-war predictions were based on perspective, instead of a
thorough examination of history and the facts, then we, as a country, could have
made some poor choices. To one degree or another, these predictions and
prescriptions did, after all, influence policy decisions made throughout the 1990s.
From budget allocations to foreign policy, decisions across the board could have
been made simply in deference to a perspective. Members of my committee
recommended some possible sources of information and back to work I went, at
once frustrated by my initial failure, but at the same time finding interesting
potential in this new direction.
Then the real turning point came. Some of the research I had done in
preparation for my original task uncovered a specific type of behavior; one with
which I was uncomfortable. Nearly everything I read was quite thorough when
dealing with the known facts of the time. Typically, as if the author were trying to
assemble a puzzle, he or she would arrange the recent facts and attempt to piece
them together into a greater whole. It struck this student, however, that consciously
or unconsciously they were sometimes working with only half the pieces. In certain
cases potentially key elements were missing from the discussion. The missing
elements were those of history and the lessons we may learn from it.
Historians, political scientists and philosophers alike have for hundreds, if
not thousands, of years incorporated history and its lessons into their observations.
Machiavellis writings are heavily influenced by history. Clausewitz, Morgenthau
and Kissinger, to name only a few more, often use historical examples within their
writings. The list is long and distinguished. It is said that a masters thesis should
seek fill a gap in existing literature where further information is desired, that it
should strive to answer questions unanswered by the usual sources. Though many
have expressed the importance of a general historical perspective, this thesis looks
specifically at articles published at the end of the Cold War. For this reason, the gap
in the literature that I seek to fill is one of repetition related to a specific case, not
substance. This substance, in terms of including a historical perspective, is
acknowledged and available. That said, my initial research of articles published at
the end of the cold war uncovered an approach whereby certain authors did not
include a historical perspective in their writings. It was beginning to appear as if a
sizeable portion of the literature published at the end of the Cold War did not
include an examination of history. It is my contention that this approach is flawed
and as long as examples (gaps) can be found, there are those who must continue to
point out the potential folly of such an approach.
The purpose of this thesis is then threefold: First, to explain the importance
of a historical perspective when dealing with politics and international relations. I
argue the importance of a historical perspective for two reasons: 1) By failing to
take history into account we risk repeating mistakes of the past. 2) By failing to
take history into account we risk missing potentially vital clues or concepts that may
benefit us in dealing with the problems of both today and tomorrow.
The second purpose of this thesis is to find a plausible explanation for why
some authors choose not to include a historical perspective in their writings. The
final purpose is to examine articles written following the end of the Cold War and
attempt to discern the degree to which a historical perspective either is or is not
Outline of the Thesis
The following is a brief summary of what the reader will be exposed to
within the following pages. I begin with an examination of six articles published
between 1989 and 1993. To summarize all of the articles I examined would be
unproductive and redundant. Instead, I believe these six articles adequately
represent the distinction between a historical and a non-historical approach. The
first four articles are built upon a solid foundation in history, the final two are not.
All six articles represent the thought and analysis of the individual authors at the end
of the Cold War. Twenty years from now it may be possible, with the benefit of
hindsight, to properly judge the accuracy of those articles. At this point however,
we are still in a period of transition, seeking new order for a post-Cold-War world.
It is my contention that the opinions expressed in the final two articles are not
necessarily wrong, for only the fiiture may decide that, but problematic in that they
do not include an analysis of history. Likewise, the opinions expressed in the first
four are not necessarily correct, for again only the future may decide that. However,
their foundation in history may allow them, as well as possible policy based upon
them, to avoid repeating mistakes of the past. Additionally, clues revealed in
history may provide these first articles with insight not considered by the other
I then turn to a brief description of classical realism. Classical realism is
important to this work because of its heavy reliance on history and its lessons. As I
argue the importance of a historical perspective, I am making a realist argument.
Because of this, some discussion of classical realism is vital to a true understanding
of this work. Additionally, it is only fair that the reader expect some plausible
explanation for why some authors choose not to include a historical perspective
within their writings. I find a reason within Hans J. Morgenthaus examination of
rationalism and its problems when dealing with social science. Discussion of
rationalism within this work is therefore intended to give one possible explanation
for a lack of a historical perspective within certain writings.
I continue with a look to history for examples of leaders repeating the
mistakes of the past. The first includes Hitler repeating Napoleons blunder in
Russia. The second examines the failure by the French to defend the Ardennes
Forest in both World Wars against the German military offensives. The last
example looks at the 1973 energy crisis in the United States and compares it to our
present situation. These examples demonstrate the importance of taking the lessons
of history into consideration. The second track of my argument in favor of a
historical perspective (clues in the past) is then addressed by a look at conditions
between the First and Second World Wars. Finally, I address the primary criticism
raised during discussions with my thesis committee and offer conclusions.
THE AFTERMATH OF THE COLD WAR
As I alluded to in the introduction, the period immediately following the
collapse of the Soviet Union was awash with discussion about the future. There
were many different views on the subject. However, a striking similarity appeared
within some of the articles this author initially researched. Articles published in
newspapers as well as acclaimed journals followed this pattern. The pattern simply
was that of a general unwillingness to look to history.
Some of the authors had amassed a suitable amount of facts and data, all
coincidentally related only to the present, and with the aid of those tools reasoned
answers, or at least opinions as to the future of our world. This type of approach is
characteristic of a mode of thought titled rationalism, which relies exclusively upon
human reason to solve the problems of both the scientific and social world.
At face value this is not an illogical or wholly unrealistic way to address the
problem. Attempting to consider all the facts before making a decision is only
prudent. What concerns me is that some of these people seem content to try to put
together a puzzle with only half the pieces; and the half they do have may be
skewed by the fallacies of rationalism. How can one hope to formulate an accurate
picture of the future by looking only to the present? Though rationalism is
discussed in detail following this chapter, I would like to take this opportunity to
first review the six articles around which this thesis revolves. These articles were
chosen because of all the works referenced, I feel these best represent the distinction
between a historical and non-historical approach to the end of the Cold War.
Examples that Include a Historical Perspective
In 1993 there appeared an article written by Jonathan Clarke titled America,
know thyself. The purpose of the article was to criticize the foreign policy of the
Clinton administration. Clarke is critical of policies he considers ill conceived and
products more of rhetoric than reality; in my own words, a policy that is reactive
rather than pro-active.
Clarke asserts that the best way determine what our foreign purposes are and
what out role in this new world should be is to know ourselves by way of knowing
our history. The author argues that contrary to popular belief America was not an
isolationist country prior to World War I. To act today in a manner consistent with
our behavior prior to 1917 is not a return to isolationism, because isolationism never
accurately described the policy of the United States of America. The author then
cites a large number of examples in American policy proving a disposition toward
geopolitical reality rather than isolationist neutrality. The isolationism of
America prior to 1917 is in essence a rhetorical myth.
Therefore, American policy prior to 1917 is relevant and should be analyzed
when considering our role in the 21st century world because many of the
geopolitical realities that existed then, still exist today. This, in conjunction with a
clear-headed analysis of American geopolitical self-interest2 is what is needed,
but not being accomplished. Instead, policy makers within the administration have
so blurred the lines between rhetoric and reality, means and ends that they are
floundering. They will continue to flounder until they accept a fundamental return
to the basics as a necessary precondition for future policy.
The second article I cite titled Recycling old ideas was written by Klaus
Larres and also published in 1993. Larres quotes former President George Bush
discussing the potential for a new world order in a speech to the American Congress
in September of 1990. The author is quick to point out that the concept of a new
world order is neither new nor particularly enlightening. Larres writes However, it
is often assumed that the new world order is something new, something which has
not existed before.3 The author goes on to explain similar new world order
attitudes evident after the Napoleonic Wars, World War I and World War II. As
statesmen begin to grasp that the old world order is coming to an end, imposition of
a new order becomes necessary. For example, following World War II
reconstruction in Europe and the East provided for a different order. How closely
the new order resembles the one of the past is a matter of historical record.
Nevertheless, the concept is one with which we are familiar.
During the Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815, the great powers worked
together to create a new order based upon state legitimacy that would help ensure
peacefiil coexistence. At the end of World War I leaders again met to forge a new
order, this time based upon the League of Nations and led by Woodrow Wilson.
With the defeat of Nazi Germany and the pre-1945 system in ruins leaders again
sought order. However, the ideological gulf between Russia and the West led to the
The author concludes that, based upon our historical experience, it is quite
natural for people to be thinking in terms of a new world order. Precisely what that
new order will be is open to debate and remains to be seen; for now, we are in a
period of transition.
Third is an article by John Lewis Gaddis titled Toward the Post-Cold War
World. Gaddis begins with the premise that America will be involved in global
politics following the end of the Cold War. It is how and to what degree America
will be involved that invites speculation. The author describes a world in which two
opposing forces are at work: those of integration and those of fragmentation. Forces
of integration include communications, economics, security, ideas and peace.
Forces of fragmentation include nationalism, protectionism and religion.
Neither integration nor fragmentation may be concretely labeled good, bad
or otherwise because both forces are capable of producing good or bad
environments. Integration, taken to an extreme, would cause problems.
Fragmentation, taken to an extreme, would likewise cause problems. The solution
then, is a new balance of power, not between opposing states, but between these
opposing forces. Gaddis states:
This suggests, therefore, that the United States and its allies retain the
interest they have always had in the balancing of power, but that this
time the power to be balanced is less that of states or ideologies than
of the processestranscending states and ideologiesthat are
tending toward integrationist and fragmentationist extremes. Instead
of balancing forces of democracy against those of totalitarianism, the
new task may well be to balance the forces of integration and
fragmentation against each other4
The concept is that some integration, mixed with some fragmentation is likely to
produce the most stable world order following the Cold War.
Gaddis concludes by looking at some ways in which American policy can
help balance these forces. It is here that the author uses history as his guiding light.
When speaking of the Soviet Union, he uses the peace treaties of 1815 and 1945 as
a foundation for dealing with the Soviet Union in 1990. When addressing European
security, he cites the failures of the 1919 Versailles treaty. When discussing
deterring aggression he cites the failures of Woodrow Wilsons attempt at
Finally, I cite an article written by John J. Mearsheimer, Back to the Future:
Instability in Europe After the Cold War, published in 1990. As the title indicates,
Mearsheimers forecasts are pessimistic in nature. The author attributes the near
total peace we have witnessed in Europe between 1945 and 1990 to the bi-polar
nature of the international state system during that period and the power of nuclear
deterrence. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, Europe
will now revert to a state of multi-polarity that the author claims to be inherently
less stable than a bi-polar system we have known for the last forty-five years.
One of Mearsheimers primary concerns with respect to a multi-polar
Europe is related specifically to nuclear weapons. The author poses four distinct
possibilities with regard to Europes nuclear future. First, that all European states
will completely scrap their nuclear weapons programs. Second, those now
commanding a nuclear arsenal will keep it, but that other states will not proliferate
their own programs. The third and fourth possibilities are those of rampant,
mismanaged proliferation versus well-managed proliferation.
Having established these possibilities, the author then turns to a more careful
examination of an explanation of the long peace (again, attributed to bi-polarity
and deterrence), the benefits and weaknesses of bi-polarity versus multi-polarity and
theories opposing his own. Linked directly to the discussion of bi-polarity and
multi-polarity are the topics of equality/inequality of power, deterrence and
nationalism. Equality/inequality of power, in standard balance of power terms, is
related only to the use of conventional warfare. If one country possesses military
might far surpassing another, inequality exists and the temptation by the strong to
resort to force is heightened. If two countries are rather closely matched militarily,
then equality exists and the risks of conventional war become much greater while
the rewards become less certain, thereby promoting peace.
Mearsheimer speaks of deterrence in terms of nuclear weapons. If one
country possesses nuclear weapons that it can safeguard against a first strike, then
that country possesses a degree of power related to that deterrence ability. If an
opposing force cannot with a degree of certainty disable that nuclear capability with
a first strike, then it is at serious risk for retaliation. Nationalism is included
because the author views it, and more specifically hyper-nationalism, as a primary
way in which leaders create mass conventional forces. Essentially, to create a large
standing army, one must to one degree or another ignite feelings of nationalism.
The author then explores three views opposing his assessment: Obsolescence
of war, economic liberalism and peace-loving democracies. Obsolescence, in
simple terms, states that Europeans have learned from the horrors of past wars and
now tire of war in general. The author finds no evidence to substantiate this theory.
Economic liberalism (represented in Europe by the European Union) states that
when countries cooperate and become economically interdependent, the chance of
war breaking out between them is greatly reduced. The author counters this
contention by citing two different worlds; one of international politics and one of
However, states operate in both an international political
environment and an international economic environment, and the
former dominates the latter in cases where the two systems come into
conflict. The reason is straightforward: the international political
system is anarchic, which means that each state must always be
concerned to ensure its own survival. Since a state can have no
higher goal than survival, when push comes to shove, international
political considerations will be paramount in the minds of decision
If political considerations come first, then the possibility of war between two
economically interdependent states cannot be completely dismissed.
Peace-loving democracies theory holds that democratic states are less likely
than authoritarian ones to go to war. History tells us, however, that democracies are
more than willing to participate in war, only less so with each other. Theoretically
then, if all states were democratic and democratic states are less likely to go to war
with each other, then the overall chances of war should be greatly reduced. There
are two problems with this claim. First and most obvious is that not all states are
democratic and at the time of Mearsheimers writing, the political fete of Eastern
Europe was still fer from decided. Second, mass publics imbued with nationalistic
or religious fervor may be prone to aggression, whether they are democratic in
nature or not.6
Having explored these issues Mearsheimer returns to the four possibilities
related to nuclear weapons and the future of Europe. After examining the likely
consequences of each, the author recommends well-managed proliferation as the
most stable policy to be pursued in Europe following the end of the Cold War.
Non Historical Examples
On the non-historical side I examined an article by Jeane J. Kirkpatrick titled
Beyond the Cold War. The first part of this article seeks to recap the changes we
have witnessed and reinforce that we now live in a different world. Above all
Kirkpatrick credits Mikhail Gorbachev for initiating these changes and thereafter
usually allowing them to take their course. These changes include the liberalization
of the Soviet Union and later Russian acquiescence to the individual needs and
wants of former Warsaw Pact members, essentially, allowing them without threat or
fear to go their own way. Of primary concern throughout the article is the subject of
Soviet/Russian expansion and aggression, which the author finds to be dramatically
From there the author asks not whether or not the United States should aid
Russia, but rather in what way we should aid Russia. According to the author, for
reasons not entirely clear, it is all but pre-determined that the United States must aid
the Russians during their period of transition. Pieces of advice are offered. For
example, that those Russian policy makers should think about the good of the whole
rather than their own individual good and that the United States should avoid
resource transfers are both recommended stances. Discussion along these lines
leads to thoughts on the future importance of the U.S. in Europe, the necessity (or
lack thereof) of NATO and what a post Cold War world might look like.
What follows is a general analysis related to alternative paths open for
consideration. The analysis is specific to a few problems of immediate importance;
such as will Americas influence in Europe decline? How does a united Germany
fit into the European picture? Is NATO still needed? Concrete answers are not
given (no fault to the author, they could not be given), but rather multiple scenarios
are examined based upon the best facts available at the time. The result is a
reasonable, though incomplete, discussion of the post-Cold War world.
Finally, one of my readers recommended I examine an article written in
1989 titled The End of History? Written by a United States Department of State
official named Francis Fukuyama and published in The National Interest.
According to my reader the essay was quite controversial. After examining both the
original article and several responses to it, I could understand why. Fukuyama,
loosely based upon the philosophy of Hegel and later Alexandre Koj6ve, discusses
the end of history after the cold war. By end of history Fukuyama means the end
of ideological evolution. As the author puts it:
What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or
the passing of a particular period in postwar history, but the end of
history as such: that is, the end point of mankinds ideological
evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as
the final form of human government.7
This is indeed a bold thesis. Fukuyama then makes what I term a last man
standing argument by citing four contradictions to Western liberal democracy and
then discounting them one by one.
These contradictions can be broken down into two forms: external and
internal. The external contradictions are those of Fascism and Communism and the
internal ones those of religion and nationalism. Arguments against the
contradictions listed above lead Fukuyama to assert the end of history and the
complete triumph of Western liberal democracy.
Defining Historical Perspective
As the entire thesis revolves around this concept of historical perspective, it
must be carefully defined before I may proceed. For the purpose of this work, I
define a historical perspective as follows: The author takes carefully into
consideration what has gone before and how, if at all, it relates to or affects the
present. This consideration is evident and explained within the article itself. Casual
remarks about the Cold War world, bipolarity, balance of power etcetera do not
qualify as a historical perspective. Claiming that the world is different now than it
was before does not qualify as a historical perspective. Sincere consideration and
analysis is required. With this definition in mind, two of the above articles do not
incorporate a historical perspective within their analysis.
A Critique of the Approach
I would like to restate, for this point must be absolutely clear, that the
purpose of this thesis is not to compare the substantive accuracy of the six articles.
History may eventually prove some or all of the six incorrect, however such proof
as will be required lies in the future. The purpose is to critique the approach to the
topic of the world following the end of the Cold War.
Jean Kirkpatrick speaks of the future of a non-Communist Russia and its
relationship with Europe. Fifteen or thirty years ago, the concept of an end to the
Cold War and an end to Soviet Communism went hand-in-hand (from a Western
perspective anyway). If this is true, then it seems reasonable to want to examine
Russias relationship with Europe prior to 1917. If we wish to figure out how a
non-Communist Russia will relate to Europe in 1995, then perhaps there is
something to be found in the relationship of 1905. Is NATO still necessary? There
were any number of military alliances in history that either outlived their usefulness
or adapted to the times. Might some of these earlier experiences shed some light on
the issue of NATO longevity? We cannot know unless we look. A historical
perspective is not evident.
Francis Fukuyamas essay is a purely theoretical analysis. At no point does
Fukuyama look to history and attempt to ascertain if there exists a precedent
contrary to his argument. Are we to accept that we are the only humans in the
history of mankind to believe we have found the ideal form of government? Have
not others in the past thought they had it right? If Fukuyama is indeed correct, then
100 or even 1000 years from now we can expect Western liberal democracy to be
universal the world round. However, who can realistically say what the future, and
in this particular case the indefinite future, has in store? I imagine the Spartans of
ancient Greece also thought their form of government would survive forever. Hitler
often spoke of the 1000 year Reich.
Perhaps Fukuyamas thesis will prove correct. I am not inclined to make
judgment one way or the other for that is not the purpose of this work. Once again
however, a historical perspective is not evident. Because of this, I can only
conclude that Fukuyama, like Kirkpatrick, is voicing an opinion about the future
without an examination of the past and the lessons we may learn from it.
At this point the reader has surely noted the four-to-two disparity between
articles including a historical perspective and those that do not. The details and
repercussions of this disparity are addressed in the conclusion when I disclose my
final findings. For now, it is fair for the reader to expect some possible explanation
for this lack of a historical perspective. The next chapter, after an introduction to
realism, provides one such explanation found in the philosophy of rationalism.
CLASSICAL REALISM AND MORGENTHAU
Classical realism is a theory that some use as a foundation for understanding
international politics. Realism relies upon history and certain beliefs about human
nature to further this understanding. The theory of classical realism can trace its
roots to a section of Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War titled The
Melian Dialogue.8 The dialogue is between the invading Athenian commanders
and the defending Melians (allies of the Spartans) during the Peloponnesian War.
The situation is such that the Athenians vastly outnumber the Melians and should
conquer them rather easily. Prior to the commencement of hostilities, the Athenians
approach the ruling Melians and ask them to submit rather than fight. The ensuing
dialogue revolves heavily around the concept of power. For example, the Athenians
.. .the standard of justice depends on the equality of power to compel
and that in fact the strong do what they have the power to do and the
weak accept what they have to accept.9
The Melians first propose that they remain neutral in the war between the Athenians
and Spartans. This offer is rejected by the Athenians as they claim such an
arrangement would show them (the Athenians) to be weak. The Melians then,
hoping for aid from Sparta, choose to fight rather than become slaves to the
Athenians. The Athenians proceed to conquer the Melians. This illustrates that in
at least some cases, the strong do indeed do what they have the power to do.
History is full of examples of the powerful conquering the weak. We witness this in
our own history with the American Indians. The theory of realism takes this
concept of power to heart.
Discussions of power along these lines can be found in the writings of other
authors as time proceeds. Machiavellis The Prince, for example, is based largely
on power relations. In time the theory began to develop more fully. Part of this
development lay simply in the fact that examples in history show, time and again,
this power relationship to be accurate; perhaps not desired, but accurate nonetheless.
That is, history validates that despite the objections of a moral approach, the weak
must often submit to the powerful.
A moral approach to power politics might argue that we should not wield
power simply because we can. We should not conquer other people simply because
they are weaker than us. The Athenians answer by saying:
Our opinion of the gods and our knowledge of men lead us to
conclude that it is a general and necessary law of nature to rule
whatever one can. This is not a law that we made ourselves, nor
were we the first to act upon it when it was made. We found it
already in existence, and we shall leave it to exist for ever among
those who come after us. We are merely acting in accordance with
it, and we know that you or anybody else with the same power as
ours would be acting in precisely the same way.10
A moral argument would no doubt find fault with this explanation. However, the
realist approach looks to what actually happens, not what various contenders argue
This is not to say the theory of realism is morally indifferent, but instead that
realism judges political action by its consequences, not its intentions. Edward
Hallett Carr states:
In the field of thought, it [realism] places its emphasis on the
acceptance of facts and on the analysis of their causes and
consequences. It tends to deprecate the role of purpose
Hans J. Morgenthau adds:
Good motives give assurance against deliberately bad policies; they
do not guarantee the moral goodness and political success of the
policies they inspire.12
When judged by their intentions some leaders may appear unusually moral. The
consequences of their actions however may be judged immoral. Likewise, the
consequences of action taken by seemingly less moral leaders may be judged
morally right. Good men may do bad things and bad men may do good things.
Power as the central force in politics and a strong reliance on history are two
of the building blocks upon which classical realism rests. A third building block of
realism is that of human nature. Realism contends that we live in a world of
opposing interests and that forces inherent in human nature create conflict among
these interests. When two men, two communities or two states each need or desire
something, which only one may possess, realism asserts that human nature assures
conflict between the two. Conflict does not necessarily mean a war of annihilation.
It means simply that each will oppose the other in one form or another. Because
some needs or desires are inherently scarce or limited (land, for example), realism
expects this cause of conflict to continue regardless of how civilized or enlightened
people believe themselves.
Finally, by the eighteenth century realism had come to embody a highly
state-centric approach. This is to say that when applying realism to international
politics, it tends to look first to the state (rather than individual people, groups, races
or religions) for both examples and answers. Realism views the state as both the
legitimate holder and wielder of power. To precisely what degree classical realism
plays a role in the views of the policy makers, diplomats and citizens of today is
open to speculation. Nevertheless, realism remains a valid foundation upon which
to approach social and political problems.13
Having witnessed the pattern I described in the introduction I began to
consider why it is that scholars were placing within their writings so little, if any,
emphasis on history. I grew up with a healthy interest in history and years living in
Europe furthered that interest. Because of this, I looked first to my own experience
as I tried to figure this out. My experience told me that many people believe history
to be less than useful when dealing with the complicated problems of today. The
world is so different now they would say. Because the world is so different today,
the facts and issues of 150 or 500 years ago are not helpful. One did not even have
to go back that far, even fifty years ago is unfathomable to some. Because of this,
many tend to focus only on the here and now, as history cannot possibly have
anything useful to add, or so they believe. Those that feel this way are often taking
a rationalist approach. Discussion of this rationalist approach is undertaken after the
following, brief remarks on neorealism.
Additionally, theoretical work done in area of neorealism since the 1960s
may have contributed further to this lack of a historical perspective. Neorealism,
though originally based upon classical realism diverges from its theoretical source
in several key ways. The most important of these divergences for the purposes of
this work is its added emphasis on a scientific, rather than intuitive approach. That
is to say that where the classical realist will often rely on the intuition, experience
and general knowledge of a given political leader or diplomat, the neorealist seeks
to replace this with a more scientific model. As Richard K. Ashley puts it,
.. .classical realist concepts... [are] too dependent upon the artful sensitivity of the
historically minded and context sensitive scholar.14 Inherent in this scientific
model is a more systemic approach. One need only peruse the contents of Man, the
State and War by Kenneth N. Waltz to get a feel for this shift.15 Waltzs second and
third images deal with the internal structure of states and the structure of the
international system. Some label this approach as either structuralist or systemic.
Supporters and opponents of neorealism argue back and forth as to precisely
how closely neorealism mirrors classical realism. Nevertheless, the more scientific
and systemic approach of neorealism causes it to pay less attention to historical
records and precedents. This shift in emphasis by neorealist writers may partially be
responsible for the apparent lack of a historical perspective contained within the
writings published at the end of the Cold War.16
Morgenthau on Rationalism
I have examined the problem as it relates to my own experience. For a work
such as this, however, that would not suffice. I needed something more established,
more concrete and not directly linked only to my experience. Though I do not wish
to promote the following as The Cause, it does provide a solid explanation for
why some people choose to ignore potential lessons in history.
While discussing rationalism with a friend of mine, who happens to be a
philosopher, he described a scenario of two men sitting around and trying to reason
how many teeth a horse has. They may have facts and data at their disposal, such as
the fact that horses eat X amount of hay each day, need to be able to chew and
swallow hay, generally have mouths the size of Y and so on. Through reason and
deliberation of the facts they come to the conclusion that a horse has 15 teeth. The
questions are: is that an accurate answer and, of equal importance, is that a good
way to go about answering the question of how many teeth a horse has in the first
In 1946 Hans J. Morgenthau published a work titled Scientific Man Vs.
Power Politics that dealt with the fallacies of rationalism as it pertains to the social
sciences. Morgenthau begins with the origins of rationalism and its potent influence
on what we now term classical liberal thought. According to Morgenthau,
rationalism is at the very foundation of this thought. Classical liberalism lives and
breathes rationalist philosophy. Morgenthau asserts that rationalism does well when
reasoning through the natural sciences, but when applied to the social sciences, it
Rationalism as a science examines the natural world in scientific terms and
attempts to ascertain concrete truths based on reason. Rationalism as a philosophy
views the social world in scientific terms and attempts to ascertain concrete truths
based on reason. With regard to the social world, these concrete truths are defined
as the rationally right answer. For a given action within the social world to be
rationally right, it must be ethically good. As Morgenthau puts it:
The main characteristic of this philosophy is the reliance on reason to
find through a series of logical deductions from either postulated or
empirical premises the truths of philosophy, ethics, and politics alike,
and through its own inner force to re-create reality in the image of
For rationalism, all truth, be it physical or social in nature, can eventually be
uncovered through reason. When applied to the social world, failure to correctly
ascertain what is rationally right is never the fault of rationalism as a philosophy,
but instead an ignorant and impassioned humanity.18 Rationalism does not fail; in
fact, the philosophy itself is by definition foolproof. Only the person attempting to
apply reason to a given problem may fail. In other words, if I sit down and attempt
to apply reason to the social problem of theft, rationalism will provide the rationally
right answer. If what rationalism shows me to be right proves unsuccessful,
ethically wrong, or different from someone elses rationally right solution, then
either he or I (or both) failed to properly apply reason to the problem. Our failure to
apply reason correctly accounts for the wrong answer, not some inherent fault
within reason itself.
Obviously this poses a problem in terms of the practical application of the
philosophy. Theoretically, within a few years we may all become smart enough to
properly utilize reason on a daily basis. However, it is equally plausible that human
beings may never reach the level of intelligence required to properly apply
rationalism to social issues. Rationalism deals with this problem in the only way it
can: further education. The proper education of each individual allows us to
properly apply reason and therefore make the rational choice. .. .education leads
man to the rationally right, hence, good and successful action states Morgenthau
while describing rationalism.19 If one does not make the rational choice, one needs
only more education to correct the problem. No re-examination for the purpose of
unveiling potential flaws in the theory itself is ever considered. Further education is
the only solution.
As stated, reason is the primary tool of rationalism. This tool is then applied
to the supposed universal laws of the natural and social world in order to provide us
the rationally right solution to any given question. Inherent in this mode of thought
is the belief that the world is governed by laws accessible to human reason. These
laws, as the name insinuates, are steadfast and unchanging. There exist only
natural, universal laws for both the physical and social world. Where Plato sought
comprehension of the Ideals through reason, rationalism attempts much the same
thing by using reason to ascertain the ethically good from universal laws.
This rationalist system is a cause of great concern for Morgenthau as well as
realist scholars because it propels mankind into a seemingly endless circle of
mistakes. If the theory has to be sound and all errors are the errors of unreason,
then most probably we are in for a very, very long ride fraught with disaster. In the
event that we, as a whole, do not quickly become intelligent enough to discern the
truths rationalism offers to uncover or, instead, re-evaluate the soundness of
rationalism as a philosophy (again, related to social science) then we face the
prospect of mistake after mistake after mistake. Having summarized the philosophy
of rationalism, I move now to Morgenthaus criticism of it.
The Nature of Man and the World
Morgenthau states that rationalism misunderstands the nature of man and the
nature of the world.20 First, rationalism ignores two-thirds of a human beings
nature: the biological and spiritual aspects. By failing to take into account, or even
acknowledging for that matter, anything but rational man, the philosophy can
never hope to accurately predict or anticipate human behavior regardless of the
amount of or quality of reason put into the effort. When Morgenthau speaks of the
biological aspect of human beings, he means in part instinct and unconscious
I have a personal example of this. Years ago, late one night while walking
home from downtown Denver, two friends and I were crossing a street. As I was
otherwise occupied, it was only my two friends that noticed an out-of-control car
coming toward us at high speed. What follows happened in an instant. Friend
number one dove for immediate cover. Friend number two instantly shoved me to
safety before moving himself out of the way. The unconscious reactions of my two
friends were completely different. How can rationalism as a philosophy deal with
this simple, yet insightful example of man as more than solely a rational being? The
fret is it cannot, because the above example was one of unconscious reaction, not
rational man. If man plays a part in political reality which, according to observation
as well as the theoretical analysis of men such as Kenneth Waltz, he does, then
rationalism is at best, on unsure footing when trying to deal with political reality.21
The spirituality of humans further disturbs this footing because there are any
number of examples whereby human beings have committed acts in the name of
religion that appear neither reasonable nor rational.
According to Morgenthau, rationalism misunderstands the nature of the
world because of inherent differences between the natural or physical world and the
social world. Rationalism finds that success in the physical world may be equally
applied to the social world, that social science emulates the natural model.
However, the cause-and-efifect model so well demonstrated in the natural world
usually encounters serious problems in the social world. To paraphrase
Morgenthau, the cause-and-effect of water boiling at 212 degrees Fahrenheit is both
easy to demonstrate and repeat. Nevertheless a cause, such as propaganda or
legislation, could have any number of different effects on different groups of people.
Not only could the effect be any variety of things, the cause:
.. .is itself a product of social interaction-the composite of a multitude
of physical and psychological causes of which we have no
knowledge and over which we have no control. Two substantially
identical causes, for instance, may produce different social results
because of a difference in dynamic strength, which is neither
detectable nor measurable except by the results.22
The enormous number of issues and influences present in the social world of cause-
and-effect leave the philosophy of rationalism at a loss to sort them out.
Here is one recent example to support Morgenthaus distinction between
cause-and-effect in the scientific world versus the social world. Several years ago
the Colorado Legislature was considering a bill for a statewide conceal/carry
handgun law. Citizen as well as representative support for the law was high enough
that many anticipated its passage. If nothing else, it should come close to passage.
Then we experienced the tragedy at Columbine High School in which two armed
boys shot and killed multiple students and faculty at the high school.
Now, at face value the proposed conceal/carry law and Columbine had
absolutely nothing to do with each other. Yet, local support for the bill immediately
vanished and the proposed law was scrapped altogether. A piece of legislation with
a decent chance of passing was defeated in one afternoon. This is what Morgenthau
means when he states that cause-and-effect in the social world cannot be determined
as it can in the scientific world and why rationalism as a philosophy cannot hope but
fail. Despite its aspirations, rationalism could not have predicted this sort of radical
and immediate change in public opinion.
Rationalism and History
Finally, Morgenthau asserts the following about liberal adherence to
Were its followers unsuccessful in politics, they still were convinced
of being right in both the intellectual and ethical sense; and it could
only be because of a particular wickedness of the enemy, the
irrationality of political interference, and the ignorance of mankind in
general that they failed. Therefore, they never learn from history.
For them, history is important only as confirmation of, or deviation
from, the rational scheme with which they approach the political
Failure to learn from history is the antithesis of classical realist thought and why I
consider Morgenthaus discussion of rationalism in classical liberal thought to be
applicable here. The aforementioned fallacies of rationalism Morgenthau describes
aside, this indifference to history is what concerns this work most directly. If
according to rationalist philosophy, one can sit down and reason through any given
social problem and upon the correct application of reason find the rational answer,
then history has very little, if any value when dealing with social issues.
To take that a step further, according to rationalism, reason is not a product
of the historic process. In fact, history is merely documentation of reason and
unreason struggling against each other through time. Reason is .. .one and the
same regardless of time and place and .. .before and above all history.24 The
implication of this is that history or experience cannot in any way influence what is
rationally right. They play literally no part in deciding a course of actioa Social
science includes the study and practice of international relations. In this analysis of
rationalism I had found something more concrete than just my personal experience
with which to address my overall concern.
I have summarized three different weaknesses in the ability of rationalism to
deal with the social world as spelled out in Scientific Man Vs. Power Politics. As
the title would lead one to believe, there is still the issue of power politics. The
realist school accepts and asserts the validity of the concept of international power
politics. That is to say that international politics, in its most simple form, is about
power. Though realism does not assert that the preceding must always be so, it
acknowledges what history shows us to be true.
The weaknesses of rationalist philosophy in dealing with social science
aside, rationalism, by its very nature is immediately at odds with international power
politics in a very significant way. Rationalism, at its core is first and foremost
concerned with what is rationally right. Let us assume for a moment that despite its
faults, rationalism may, indeed, show us the rationally right course in international
politics. What is rationally right, as intellectually desirable as it may be, is often
less than helpful when dealing with power politics. Morgenthau found an
interesting example of this:
A leading German liberal who, in 1866, after Bismarck had crushed
the Prussian liberal party, wrote this melancholy confession: We
unconsciously transferred scientific method to the practice of
politics...After having put our parliamentary motions on a
theoretical basis which could not be disputed from any quarter, we
thought that now the truth would win by its own inner force. Thus
discussion absorbed our best efforts: had we won in the debate, we
were contented, but when the one weak in argument showed himself
to be strong in actions we submitted to it as to an injustice of fate and
consoled ourselves with the thought of being at least right...,25
In this context truth (ethically good) and power are very different and likewise,
survival requires us to treat them as such. In terms of international power politics,
right is sometimes irrelevant and therefore must be kept in check when political
decisions are made; assuming of course that one wants to survive or even flourish.
Rationalism and Power Politics
Here are two examples. First is the concept of the pre-emptive strike.
Rationalism and classical liberal philosophy may argue that pre-emptive strikes are
neither just nor legitimate. Though Michael Walzer (among others I am quite sure)
dedicated some effort to establishing guidelines for legitimate pre-emptive strikes,
there remains a rather murky gray area.26 The concept of a just pre-emptive strike is
not a black-and-white issue. That said, the realities of power politics dictate
situations where a pre-emptive strike might be absolutely necessary, regardless of
whether or not its considered just or what rationalism has to say about it. For
example, I cite Mearsheimer in chapter two as arguing that .a state can have no
higher goal than survival.27 If a states mere survival is at serious risk, then a pre-
emptive strike might prove necessary. Another example could be witnessed during
the 1992 presidential campaign. Then Governor Bill Clinton took a hard line
against China and recommended suspending Most Favored Nation status based
upon its human rights record.28 Issues of human rights are closely tied to classical
liberal thought and for candidate Clinton the solution was simple: discontinue
Chinas MFN status. President Clinton however, renewed the status. The reality is,
we depend on trade with the Chinese and are not willing to alienate them over that
Rationalism and its influence on classical liberal thought provide us with one
reason why people may choose to ignore the lessons of history. Again, if the theory,
by definition, must be sound and does not require any sort of historical validation
then we are free to pursue the solutions to social problems without taking history
Final Thoughts on Rationalism
As described, the primary function of rationalism is to uncover natural law
through human reason. Rationalism, like any other philosophy, exhibits certain
characteristics that we may recognize it when we see it. Characteristics of
rationalism, each of which have been discussed already but not yet summarized,
include the following: 1) A general disregard for history. 2) Analysis of the facts
based solely upon human reason. 3) An inability to admit it may be wrong; Mures
are the product only of unreason or improperly applied reason, never rationalism
itself. 4) Education is the key to eradicating unreason. 5) Rationalism must be
right, therefore it must be made, through repetitive effort if necessary, to work.
It is not the intention of this author or this work to prove rationalism utterly
worthless. Nevertheless, it is my intention, with enormous help from Morgenthau
and Carr, to prove it unreliable as a method of dealing with social science,
particularly with respect to my argument that history matters.29 In the words of
Edward Hallett Carr Rationalism can create a utopia, but cannot make it real.30 It
is my belief that evidence offered by the authors previously mentioned and
summarized within this chapter accomplishes this task. That said, I now turn to
examples of humans repeating the mistakes of the past.
HISTORY AND ITS LESSONS
Carr on History
Edward Hallett Carrs book What is History? discusses how history is
written, the value of history and the biases of historians. Carr begins with the
contention that history is much more than just an accumulation of facts. Though
there may be a literal sea of facts available to the historian, history is determined by
which facts the historian chooses to recognize and develop. The historian may go to
this sea searching for this or that fact, while discarding others. Perhaps he or she is
simply fishing for facts of interest, without any preconceived expectations.
Nevertheless, some facts remain adrift in this sea, while others are plucked,
analyzed and developed into acknowledged history.31 If we accept this analysis of
history then it seems reasonable that historians will write history based either on a
specific agenda or simply upon what they feel interesting, relevant or worthy.
It is sometimes said that the victor writes the history. It is not difficult to
imagine that had Nazi Germany won World War II, we would likely have a
different view of that era in Europe today. I find it less likely that in the event of an
Axis Power victory we would read today about an evil Adolph Hitler and Nazi
concentration camps. This is what I mean by an agenda. It is possible that a
historian may utilize only the facts he or she finds useful in pursuing a certain,
though not necessarily accurate, version of history; conveniently ignoring any
facts contrary to the goals of the writer. This method may be used to formulate
propaganda or simply drive a given concept home.
In the event that the historians (honestly) have no specific agenda in mind
then it is only natural that they examine facts they consider interesting, relevant or
worthy. For example, it may be factual that in 1764 there existed a blacksmith in
the town of Nottingham, England who charged far less for his services than other
smiths in the area. This is a (hypothetical) fact adrift in the sea of facts. However,
according to Carr, until such time as this fact is examined, analyzed and
acknowledged by a historian it does not become part of history. Whether or not that
will actually happen is dependent on individual historians and their preferences.
The German word for history Geschichte translates quite literally to
Story. Therefore history, as consciously developed by historians, is the story of
humankind. If one is so disposed, there are lessons that may be learned from this
story. Though the past does not provide us an exact map of the future, it may
provide us a multitude of useful indicators, if only we are willing to look. The
following provides three historical examples of unheeded lessons.
Napoleon and Hitler in Russia
In 1812 Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Russia with an army of 600,000 men
intending to punish Tsar Alexander for his trade dealings with Britain. The Russian
army, choosing not to directly defend its borders, drew Napoleons army farther and
farther into the heart of Russia with various hit-and-run tactics. As Napoleon
entered the capital of Moscow a fire of suspicious origin broke out in the city,
leaving little but the blackened walls of the Kremlin palaces to shelter the invading
troops.32 In the hope that Alexander would surrender, Napoleon remained in
Moscow for more than a month. By the time Napoleon turned his army for home,
the harsh Russian winter had begun to set in and slowed his retreat to a crawl. Fully
half of Napoleons army perished in this campaign, most of them due to the winter
instead of direct conflict with Russian soldiers. Each day he left more of his army
dead around the previous nights camp.
In 1941 Adolph Hitler began a Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union named
Operation Barbarossa.33 Though successful along the western Soviet border, the
Nazi armies met with increasing resistance as they proceeded into the heart of the
Soviet Union. This slowed the Nazi advance. By the time the Germans surrounded
Leningrad and Moscow, the Russian winter had set in. As Stokesbury puts it:
They reached the suburbs of Moscow by early December. The
temperature then plunged to -40 F (-40 C). An unusually severe
Soviet winter had begun early. German troops lacked warm clothing
and suffered from frostbite. Their tanks and weapons broke down in
the bitter cold.34
Soviet forces mounted a counter attack that winter and managed to push German
forces back 160 kilometers from Moscow. Though the Germans managed a counter
attack of their own in the spring of 1942, directed primarily at Stalingrad and the
Caucasus region, winter would again set in before they could achieve victory.
Despite warnings from his generals, Hitler ordered Stalingrad held. Troops camped
in the region were supposed to be re-supplied by the German air force. However
Tew supplies landed. Each day, thousands of German soldiers froze or starved to
death. On Feb. 2,1943, the last German troops in Stalingrad surrendered.35
130 years earlier Napoleon Bonaparte lost 300,000 troops to a cruel Russian
winter and Hitlers army, coincidentally, lost the same number. Military operations
during winter in Russia have a poor track record. Harsh Russian winters proved the
downfall in both cases and Hitler Med to learn the lesson from Napoleon.
Germans Invade France
In 1905 Alfred von Schlieffen prepared an offensive plan for the German
armies to quickly conquer France.36 The plan called for German armies to attack
using a pincer movement, the main force of which would move through Belgium
and the Ardennes forest. French plans for defense prepared for an invasion over the
German-French border because they did not believe a serious offensive through the
Ardennes possible.37 In 1914, the German armies invaded France via the Ardennes
with much success.
After World War I France again drew plans for defense in the event of
another German invasion. Once again the French did not believe a serious offensive
through the Ardennes plausible. Moving the Panzer units and supply lines through
that area would simply be too difficult.38 Instead they constructed the Maginot Line
along the French-German border. As World War II began, the French considered
themselves well defended.
Nevertheless, history would repeat itself:
France had expected to fight along a stationary battlefront and had
built the Maginot Line for its defense. But German tanks and aircraft
went around the Maginot Line. The Germans passed north of the
Maginot Line as they swept through Luxembourg and Belgium and
into northern France in May 1940. They launched a major assault
against France on June 5. The blitzkrieg sent French forces reeling
Once again the primary German offensive would come through the Ardennes forest.
As I stated previously, though history may not provide us an exact map of the
future, indicators can be found. The fact that, despite French predictions to the
contrary, a German attack in World War I came through the Ardennes should lead
one to consider another attack along that same route possible. The French simply
failed to learn from the mistakes of the past.
Now for an example closer to home. In 1973/74 America endured a rather
serious energy crisis. Petroleum supplies in the United States and other countries
were severely limited by an Arab Oil Embargo. Professor of History Stephen
Ambrose states .. .a fuel shortage lead to reduced supplies of oil for home heating
and industry, and to gasoline rationing in a number of states.40 The hardship
created by this situation is still known and remembered by many Americans today.
However, once the crisis abated, it was business as usual in the United States.
Nearly thirty years later the U.S. is again facing a possible energy crisis.
Though it affects us all, states such as California are being hit the hardest.
Individuals and business alike all over America have experienced huge increases
(80 percent or more) in the costs of gasoline and public service. Comparisons,
contrasts and media coverage of this potential crisis have been extensive because it
affects us in so many ways.
This situation today might have been cushioned, if not altogether alleviated,
had our government produced a comprehensive energy plan following 1974. For
example, we could have chosen to lessen our dependence on foreign sources of
crude oil by encouraging exploration here at home and more aggressively exploring
alternative sources of energy. We may not even have to expand our production here
in the United States. Simply having the means to quickly increase production here
(drilling and refining capabilities) would lend us more leverage when dealing with
foreign oil producers and their prices. If we felt prices were unreasonably high, we
could threaten to increase our own production and purchase less from them, thereby
encouraging foreign sources to moderate their prices.
Our government could encourage citizens and business alike to drive more
fuel-efficient automobiles. An analyst appearing on Fox News stated that many of
the recent increases in the costs of gasoline (April 2001) were a result of state
regulations.41 Different states have different regulations and requirements that
producers must meet in order to sell gasoline in that state. Producing different
mixtures for sale in Colorado as opposed to California, for example, increases costs
dramatically; especially if the producer then has to create yet another mixture for
Utah, one for Illinois, Florida and on down the line. Federal standards for gasoline
sold within the United States would alleviate that problem. We could place more
emphasis on developing alternative sources of energy and so on. All of these
policies would of course be subject to the usual politics, but they are examples of
things we could have pursued, but by and large have chosen not to.
Instead, we are still largely dependent on foreign sources of crude oil over
which we have little, if any, direct control. We have regulatory issues within the
United States that make it costly for domestic refineries to meet the requirements for
each individual state. I am not arguing that we should immediately strive to become
self sufficient in terms of energy. However, it appears as if we are in much the
same situation now as we were thirty years ago and that the initial experience taught
us little. We seem to prefer tackling problems as they arise rather than learning
from the past and preparing in advance.
I have just cited three examples in history where policy makers failed to
leam from the mistakes of the past. There may be dozens, if not hundreds more.
Some examples are probably relatively benign in their consequences. Others could
prove or have proven utterly disastrous. We ignore these examples and lessons at
our own peril.
Nevertheless, this is only one thrust of my argument in favor of taking a
historical perspective. The second, as outlined in the introduction, is that there may
be indicators or clues within the past that could prove useful in analyzing the issues
of today and tomorrow. The following chapter examines this second thrust.
WORLD WAR I AND A COUNTER ARGUMENT
Clues in History
By the end of the nineteenth century rationalism had become a powerful
force in the realm of international politics. The more progress humans made in the
natural sciences, the more apt they were to apply the lessons of those successes to
the social sciences. In 1909 U.S. President Taft created a treaty, intended to be
signed by the United States and other Great Powers, that called for .. .the
compulsory arbitration of international disputes.42 When asked how any award by
the arbitral court would be enforced, Taft . .professed himself very little
concerned about this aspect of the matter.43 It was his opinion that no country
would dare defy a (rationally right) ruling handed down by this court and therefore,
no real aspect of enforcement was needed. Global public opinion would supply all
the enforcement necessary to ensure adherence to the courts decision.
Some would argue that rationalism as a philosophy witnessed the height of
its power and influence under the tutelage of Woodrow Wilson following the First
World War. There was at the time a general feeling of goodwill and rebirth. The
Allied powers had fought and won the war to end all wars and men such as
Wilson were determined not to lose the enormous opportunities afforded them at the
end of the war. It was their time and their chance to recreate much of the world
order, to make the world a safer, more peaceful place for all its inhabitants. It was
thought by these men that:
Reason could demonstrate the absurdity of the international anarchy;
and with increasing knowledge, enough people would be rationally
convinced of its absurdity to put an end to it.44
Rationalisms influence was as strong as ever.
The culmination of this effort, created in 1919 and spearheaded by Woodrow
Wilson, was The League of Nations. The League of Nations, in most simple terms,
was an effort to standardize international behavior between more than sixty known
states to prevent any further outbreak of war. These states, however, varied greatly
from one another in terms of size, power and political, cultural and economic
development.45 When asked if the League of Nations would work, Wilson
answered, If it wont work, it must be made to work.46 In other words, some had
discerned what was rationally right and were determined to make it function. It is
not difficult to assign several of the characteristics of rationalism that I outlined at
the end of chapter three to the statements of both Taft and Wilson.
Though the league survived until 1945, it never flourished. A history book
titled Western Civilizations states But in every dispute involving one or more
major powers, the league failed. and Thereafter , in every great crisis the
league was either defied or ignored.47 It is manifestly evident that despite the good
intentions of the league, it failed to prevent the outbreak of World War II.
Detailing the precise reasons for the downfall of the League of Nations is a
long and intricate story in and of itself. However, respected historian Edward
Hallett Carr in The Twenty Years Crisis. 1919-1939 lays most of the blame at the
feet of rationalism. In any event, there can be no doubt that rationalism influenced
both the political thinking and the political decisions of many actors between World
War I and World War II. This has been well documented.48
Is that to say rationalism caused World War H? Probably not directly.
Nevertheless, the concept of rationally right did influence the Treaty of Versailles,
which called for the creation of the League of Nations, full German responsibility
for the war, the ceding of German territory and massive German reparation
payments. In the aftermath of World War n, many blamed the Treaty of Versailles
for making the rise of Adolph Hitler and German nationalism possible.
If we are willing to look, the period between World War I and World II is
full of clues that may be helpful when attempting to deal with both the problems of
today and tomorrow. Have we sown Versailles like seeds with our resolution to the
Gulf War? Perhaps, perhaps not. In either case, these historic clues may prove
Over the course of that research there arose a consistent counter argument to
this thesis. Raised by colleagues and during my defense, it became evident that I
must address this concern. However, before doing so, I must reiterate a few points
made in the introduction as well as in chapter two during the review of the literature.
Nothing that I have discovered over the course of researching this paper leads me to
believe I can categorically prove any of the articles in chapter two wrong. That goes
for all six of the articles reviewed. The very first stages of my research focused
primarily on proving an optimistic or skeptical position empirically and historically
validated. As I stated, there is not enough evidence at this point in time to
objectively support one position over the other. Only time will tell us which
position was more accurate. Likewise, there is not enough evidence at this time to
prove any of the articles in chapter two deficient. Because of this, some have
argued that this work has little, if any real value. If I cannot prove the articles
deficient due to their lack of a historical perspective, then, what have I
First, though I fully concede that I cannot prove the articles deficient, any
opposition must likewise concede that they cannot prove the articles correct. In this
sense we have reached a stalemate. Neither side can prove itself correct and the
other erroneous. Nevertheless, experience supports my contention that history
matters. Rationalism in conjunction with a non-historical perspective failed us after
World War I and led us into the most horrific war the world has ever known. I have
uncovered no trace of evidence to suggest the same approach will fare better
following the Cold War. The philosophy of rationalism asserts that one must
continuously try the same approach until such time as unreason is overcome and
justice prevails. I argue in Chapter three, with enormous help from Morgenthau and
Carr that the philosophy of rationalism is seriously flawed when it comes to dealing
with social science. If that argument is even partially right, then an indefinite
continuation of the same failed approach will lead to failure indefinitely. To answer
the previous question, I feel that I have accomplished what I proposed in the
introduction: 1) Argue the importance of a historical perspective. 2) Seek a
plausible explanation for why some choose not to include a historical perspective in
their writings. 3) Examine articles published at the end of the Cold War to
determine, as best I could, to what degree authors were including a historical
perspective in their writings. Points one and two have already been covered. The
following conclusion to this thesis will address point number three.
Chapters three, four and five of this work revolved specifically around two
points. First, to demonstrate the importance of a historical perspective and second
to discern a plausible reason why some authors choose not to include a historical
perspective in their analysis. It is my belief that chapters three, four and five
adequately address those points.
There remains, however, one additional scenario which must be given due
attention. First, there exists the possibility that if history or experience is carefully
examined and afterward determined to be less than helpful, then disregarding the
past when dealing with the present is justified. My entire argument is that we
should consult history else we risk repeating the mistakes of the past or missing
some valuable clue that it holds for us. It is not my contention that history must
always provide the answer. It is not outrageous to imagine that in some cases
history may not be able to provide us with something useful. Nevertheless, I found
no indication in any of the articles I researched that this was, in fact, the case.
Articles researched either possessed (as defined in chapter two) a historical
perspective or they did not. Now that those points have been addressed, it is time to
take up where chapter two, on the six articles, left off.
I list Francis Fukuyamas article The End of History? in chapter two as
lacking a historical perspective as I have defined it. Nevertheless, now that the
philosophy of rationalism has been explored, it is my wish to add to my criticism of
Fukuyamas approach. For the purpose of reviewing, this is Fukuyamas argument:
What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or
the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of
history as such: that is, the end point of mankinds ideological
evolution and the universalization of Western Liberal democracy as
the final form of human government. This is not to say that there
will no longer be events to fill the pages of Foreign Affairss yearly
summaries of international relations, for the victory of liberalism has
occurred primarily in the realm of ideas or consciousness and is as
yet incomplete in the real or material world. But there are powerful
reasons for believing that it is this ideal that will govern the material
world in the long run.49
One could accurately rephrase this sentiment as follows. The rationally right has
been uncovered and though the world may not yet mirror this image, one day it will.
Western liberal democracy is rationally right. The enlightened among us realize this
and through diligent nurturing, the rest will tall into line in due time. Morgenthaus
description of rationalist thought comes eerily to mind:
The main characteristic of this philosophy is the reliance on reason to
find through a series of logical deductions from either postulated or
empirical premises the truths of philosophy, ethics, and politics alike,
and through its own inner force to re-create reality in the image of
Fukuyama has logically deduced that at this point in time the last remaining
contradictions to Western liberal democracy (Communism, Fascism, Nationalism
and Religion) have been defeated and therefore, the once contradicted now reigns
supreme. This is rationalism in 1989. Fukuyama has not created a theory that aids
in the understanding of the realities of international politics. Fukuyama has created
a theory through which to mold the future realities of international politics. For
Fukuyama, the theory precedes reality, not the other way around. So, beyond
showing that there is at least one published author making rationalist arguments in
the post-Cold War era, what, in the context of this thesis, does this really mean?
The answer as I will now explain is simply: very little.
As stated in the introduction my initial research of articles published at the
end of the Cold War led me to be concerned that there might exist a sizeable body
of literature written without a foundation in history. One purpose of this thesis then
was to determine if I had reason, beyond initial research, to be seriously concerned
about this apparent lack of a historical perspective; in essence to determine if in fact
that sizable body of literature exists.
As I seriously began to look at multitudes of articles published, the Infotrac
Expanded Academic ASAP through both the Auraria and Denver Public libraries
became at once my best friend and worst nightmare. This database contains
hundreds of thousands of articles published in journals and magazines between 1980
and 2001. A keyword search of Cold War (in title, citation or abstract only, not
full text) in articles between 1989 and 1993 turned up precisely 3071 hits.51 After
skimming the titles and abstracts of most of those hits, I decided I had enough data
to begin making conclusions in this paper, the pattern was clear.
I pulled from that database as well as a few other sources twenty-two articles
to be thoroughly examined for this work. Of those twenty-two, only two
(Fukuyama and Kirkpatrick) failed to include a historical perspective as I have
defined it. My initial concern turned out to be completely unfounded. We may not
always be giving the right advice or making the right choices. Nevertheless this
research makes clear that the vast majority of authors writing about the future of the
post-Cold War world are, in feet, including a historical perspective. Had I felt it
necessary, I have no doubt that I could have (honestly and legitimately) stacked the
ratio to look more like fifty: two. The rationalism of Fukuyama is significantly
outweighed by opposing views. My initial perception was wrong.
In the face of this evidence, my concerns that we may be lapsing back into a
1920s like mentality are dispelled. Nobody knows what the future truly holds in
store. Future historians may document a pattern of rather unclear thinking during
the time following the end of the Cold War. That is for the future and the future
only to know. At least however, they will not be able to document a widespread
outbreak of thinking that lacks a foundation in history.
1 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (London: Penguin
2 Jonathan Clarke, America, know thyself The National Interest Winter (1993): 25.
3 Klaus Larres, Recycling old ideas, History Today October (1993): 13.
4 John Lewis Gaddis, Toward the Post-Cold War World, Foreign Affairs Spring
3 John J. Mearsheimer, Back to the Future: Instability in Europe After the Cold War,
International Security Summer (1990): 44.
6 Mearsheimer, Back to the Future 49.
7 Francis Fukuyama, The End of History? The National Interest Summer (1989): 4.
8 Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War (London: Penguin Classics, 1954)
9 Thucydides 402.
10 Thucydides 40+405.
11 Edward Hallet Carr, The Twenty Years Crisis. 1919-1939 (New York: Harper &
Row, Publishers, 1964) 10.
12 Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace. 6*
ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1985) 6.
13 For a detailed description of Classical Realism in the 20th century, see Morgenthaus
Politics Among Nations as cited in note number 8.
14 Robert O. Keohane, ed., Neorealism And Its Critics (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1986) 260.
13 Kenneth N. Waltz, Man, the State and War: a theoretical analysis (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1959).
16 Keohanes Neorealism And Its Critics is an excellent source for comparing classical
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17 Hans J. Morgenthau, Scientific Man Vs. Power Politics (Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press, 1946. Midway Reprint, 1974) 3.
18 Morgenthau, Scientific Man 91.
19 Morgenthau, Scientific Man 13.
20 Morgenthau, Scientific Man 204.
21 Waltz, Waltz looks for the causes of war in three images. That of man, the state and
the international system. He concludes the causes of war may not be attributed specifically to
any one of the 3 images, but instead that all three may play a role. This note refers to man in
22 Morgenthau, Scientific Man 128.
23 Morgenthau, Scientific Man 37.
24 Morgenthau. Scientific Man 38.
23 Morgenthau, Scientific Man 31.
26 Michael Walzer, Just and Uniust Wars (New York: Basic Books, 1977) 80-85.
27 Mearsheimer, Back to the Future 44.
28 Transcript of 2nd TV debate between Bush, Clinton and Perot New York Times 12
Oct. 1992, National ed.: A16.
29 Carr, The Twenty Years*. Carrs general disapproval of rationalism is evident within
the first half of The Twenty Years' Crisis.
30 Can, The Twenty Years 27.
31 Edward Hallett Can, What is History? (New York: Vintage Books, 1961) Chapter 1.
32 Robert E. Lemer, Standish Meacham, Edward McNall Bums, Western Civilizations
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33 James L. Stokesbury, "World War n," Discovery Channel School, original content
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example, though not always directly cited, also comes from this source.
36 Edward M. Coffman, "World War I, Discovery Channel School, original content
provided by World Book Online, http://www.discoveryschool.com/homeworkhelp/
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37 Edwin Hanks, personal interview, 2 April 2001.
40 Stephen E. Ambrose, "Nixon, Richard Milhous," Discovery Channel School, original
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41 Your World, Fox News Channel, 23 April 2001.
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43 Carr, The Twenty Years' 31.
44 Carr, The Twenty Years* 26.
45 Carr, The Twenty Years* 28.
46 Carr, The Twenty Years' 8.
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49 Fukuyama, End of History 4.
50 Morgenthau, Scientific Man 3.
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