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It seems to me to be a credit to realism in international relations that many of its expositors have been historians (Thucydides, E.H. Carr & many lesser known writers such as my former professor, Ed Segal). Prof. Haslam is now only the latest historian to apply his pen (or wordprocessor) to the cause of realism. He is a welcome addition. Like all worthy historians, he has an eye for those long-forgotten details, ironies, and disappointments that often make histories a tantalizing read. For example, his account of Hans Morganthau's difficulties with Knopf publishing shed light on some of the conceptual inconsistencies in one of Morganthau's books. Prof. Haslam takes as his subject the historical and conceptual development over the last five centuries of the key tenets of realist thought (reasons of state, balance of power, etc). In this sense his book is a "history of ideas" (after the methodology of his colleague Quentin Skinner) rather than an account of diplomacy, the movement of armies, etc. This approach is especially rewarding in that Prof. Haslam gives full voice to obscure figures from the late Renaissance and the early British Enlightenment as well as the typical giants of the canon (Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Kant, Rousseau). By bringing to life minor figures ("minor" by our historical lens) Haslam is both faithful to his Skinnerian project, and avoids duplicating good work done elsewhere (see Carl Friedrich's "Constitutional Reason of State" for a treatment of realist themes by major figues of the Western canon). If there is one criticism of the book it is that it is pitched to two parties: one, those active in the affairs of states (a scholarly feat Machiavelli accomplished only after his death), and two, to those who are already committed realists. Prof.Read more ›
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Weaving a thread through a number of thinkers in different historical circumstances and times is not an easy task. Making it comprehensible and interesting for other readers is even more difficult. Jonathan Haslam writes exceedingly well in a nuanced tone and delivers on these counts. Not being a student of this particular field, one is unable to truly judge the quality of research but by all appearances it appears first rate and rather detailed: to take one example, Carl Schmitt "borrowed" ideas from his student Morgenthau, albeit without the latter's permission!
The material divides in to four principal themes: reasons of state, balance of power, balance of trade, and geopolitics. My one suggestion to the writer is that the conclusion, titled, 'The Relevance of Realism' could have discussed the relevance in context of present day issues at greater length, hence enhancing the topicality of the book. My one suggestion to a lay reader such as myself is that this text, which presents the realist point of view, should ideally be read in conjunction with one which presents a liberal perspective to enable a better informed appreciation.
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