POLITICS: The Work of Hans Morgenthau / Vol. 48, No. 4 (Winter 1981)
Arien Mack, Journal Editor
Stanley Hoffman and Kenneth W. Thompson, Guest Coeditors
As a rule, his emotions and passions were controlled, if not hidden, by the clarity of a very rational mind, always cooly alert to analyze and understand any given event or situation. This, of, course has been the hallmark of Hans Morgenthau’s political thinking, in a field all too often invaded by wishful thinking or unavowed preconceptions and biases.
Hans Morgenthau has been considered, by students of international relations, as the most forceful and incisive spokesman of the “realist” school. He was not the only one.. But Morgenthau was both a theorist and a fighter. It was he who on the very first page of Politics among Nations, proclaimed that the history of modern thought was “the story of a contest between two schools that differ fundamentally in their conceptions of the nature of man, society and politics” -idealists and realists.
The Cold War is the great drama of the twentieth century. In a sense it is much closer to the human drama than hot war, for it is more filled with pathos and contradictions, persisting problems and conflicting values; it reflects the need of learning to live with adversity.
“One does not show one greatness,” Pascal wrote, “by defending one truth, but by defending also the opposite truth and by filling the whole space between them.” It is difficult to find a better way to characterize the greatness both of Hans Morgenthau’s contribution and the task he left behind him.
No school of thought or “theory” concerned with international relations is closer to history, and more fully committed to the utility of historical antecedents for policy analysis and prognosis, than is political realism. Surely, the work of Hans J. Morgnethau is an abiding testimony to this close and enduring connection.
Hans Morgenthau was one of the greatest academic exponents of international politics in our times, and if a great deal of intellectual effort over the last thirty years have been devoted to taking issue with him, this is the measure of his importance. One way of looking at Morgenthau’s work is to see it as an attempt to restate the view of international politics constrained to the work of Thomas Hobbes -to make it fully explicit, to systemize it, to expound it in the idiom and to relate it to the preoccupations of another generation.
Confronted with an entirely unknown future, we are attempted to base our reasoning on apparently similar situations that occurred in the past. Whatever their intrinsic danger (and the historian knows that history never repeats itself), historical comparisons enable us to find precedents, a logical pattern, a principle of causality, all of which, if not explanatory, permit us at least to seize what is basically new in our time. On the contrary, a past event, simplified, idealized, rendered purely abstract, serves as a mythical rallying point as well as a negative or positive alarm signal.
Hans Morgenthau, a refugee from the Old World, brought its knowledge and experience to the New. At a time when American statesmen, and even more the American public, were tempted to underestimate the role of power in the relations among nations, he stressed that the post- World War II world would be no different in its basic elements from the one of the 1930s: there would be no rebirth of cooperation, but only a continuance of hostility and conflict.
As an approach to the study of international relations, the realist school once headed by Hans Morgenthau has three main aspects. First and most broadly, realists claim to offer a general theory explaining the essence of “politics among nations.” Second, the precepts of realism are applied--usually as a sober corrective to neo-Kantian hopes- to the problem of morality in foreign policy.
The formulation of the theme of this paper is intentionally ambiguous. It may indicate that the question it raises has become redundant because there exists a generally accepted solution. This was certainly so during the era of classical economics, and again from the Marginal Revolution until the end of the Second World War.
Of all of Talcott Parson’s prolific writings, none is more important than his first major synthesis,” The Structure of Social Action, published in 1937. Parsons refers to “the tracing of the development of a theoretical system through the works of… four men. “Its interest is not in the separate and discrete propositions to be found in the works of these men, but in a single body of systematic theoretical reasoning the development of which can be traced through critical analysis of the writings of this group, and of certain of their political predecessors.”