Man, The State, and War

This is one of a series of weekly review papers I had to write during my “Introduction to International Relations” course. It discusses Kenneth Waltz’s Man, the State, and War. In this book, Waltz groups the theories of war into three separate images, and I overview the first — that men are flawed, and those flaws lead to war. The second image (that the differences between governments impel them to war) and third image (that the international system is anarchist, and so war is rational) are not discussed.

Waltz’s Man, The State, and War surveys theories of why men go to war in a simple but highly effective fashion. He divides each proposed system into one of three “images” based on its simplest belief on the cause of war: whether war comes from men, from the structure of the world’s states, or from within the relations of the states. This division provides a simple yet effective lens for viewing proposed methods of preventing war, which let us determine the theoretical underpinnings and potential for peace of each remedy.

The premise of the first image is that men rather than their systems are flawed and create war. It is not that states inevitably collide like tectonic plates; it is not that states themselves are flawed and push men to make war; it is that the men within a state are flawed and drive their states to clash, no matter how the states may be designed to prevent such aggression. Waltz describes the views of many of those who fall within the first image to illustrate its beliefs, including Spinoza, Reinhold Neibuhr, and Hans Morgenthau.

Spinoza presents the most optimistic view of men within Waltz’s writing. In his viewpoint, men are motivated by self-preservation. It is a depressing viewpoint that he raises by his contention that the instinct for self-preservation rationally leads men to courage and high-minded behavior because they are the best way to achieve self-preservation. Reason leads men to be noble because nobility is the only rational course of action. Spinoza explains that the problem with men — the reason they do not live in harmony — is that men are sometimes ruled by passions rather than reason. Since men head states and are sometimes irrational and passionate all states must fear each other, lest they are caught unawares by a state suddenly irrational and enraged; states are thus natural enemies. If men could tame their passions and become completely rational creatures then war would cease, as men would not conflict with others and states would no longer need fear other states. Potentially, if man could advance far enough as a species he could master his passion and end not only war but the need for government.

Reinhold Neibuhr rejected Spinoza’s ideas and was more pessimistic; he believed that all of man was flawed and that each act or advancement had the potential for both good and evil. Society, as a formation of man, was therefore flawed but necessary to counteract the evil in all of us. Government provides security from threats both internal and external. The only way to end war is for love to completely conquer man’s innate sinfulness; this is unlikely to ever occur.

Hans Morgenthau also rejected Spinoza’s duality of man, and thought that man’s complete imperfection was evidenced by his “inexorable lust for power.” Yet he also believed that man desires power as a tool to achieve an end, not as an end in itself. This inconsistency is prevalent throughout his writing; nonetheless, Morgenthau, like the others, believes that conflict is caused not by societies but by the nature of man himself.

After discussing the first image, Waltz turns to the remedies it suggests for war. They are many, yet remarkably unvaried. All boil down to knowledge, whether of your enemies (that you may no longer fear them), of what is rational and best for the nation (that its leaders may be rational and avoid costly war), or of what right and wrong means at a societal level — educating people that it is possible for their society to be wrong and then removing war as a societal tool, just as dueling was removed from European societies. These solutions all have the same root idea, so they all suffer from the same problems: peaceful societal changes are by their nature slow; knowledge is never complete and so the best course of action is never known before an action is completed; all the solutions depend upon people actually wanting to do the right thing not only most of the time but very nearly all the time. The first image tells us that to reduce war in the world we must improve people, but it gives no practical way in which to improve people except to wait for them to improve themselves. It thus has little usefulness in demonstrating how we may prevent war, but it is very useful in determining courses of action that will not prevent war.