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Unformatted text preview: EXPLAINING INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS SINCE 1945 Edited by Ngaire Woods OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS m 3 [a CHAPTER TWO HISTORY, SCIENCE, AND THE STUDY OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS John Lewis Gaddis ‘When I was very young,’ the historian E. H. Carr once wrote, ‘I was suitably impressed to learn that, appearances notwithstanding, the whale is not a fish. Nowadays these questions of classification move me less; and it does not worry me unduly when I am assured that history is not a science." If one were to deconstruct that statement, it would appear to have three possible meanings. One is that, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, history is indeed a science. The second is that it isn’t. The third is that Carr, like many English dons, develoPed the habit of sweeping away ambiguities, rather in the way Oxford and Cambridge college waiters, at high table, sweep away crumbs. The habit may be catching, for historians generally have been reluctant to specify whether what they do is science or not. All would claim to practise some kind of ‘historical method” with scientific attributes, but they can be extra- ordinarily imprecise in characterizing it. David Hackett Fischer had it right years ago when he pointed out the tendency of historians, when asked about their methodology, ‘to respond as Fats Waller (or maybe Louis Armstrong) did, when asked to explain the nature of jazz. “Man,” he said, “if you don’t know what it is, don’t mess with it.”’2 Political scientists operate very differently. Not only do they insist that there is such a thing as a ‘scientific’ approach to the study of world politics; most of them pride themselves on rigorously applying it. Methodological issues preoccupy, I am grateful to students and colleagues in the Contemporary History Institute at Ohio University. as well as to Ngaire Woods and Bruce Bueno dc Mesquita, for comments on earlier versions of this paper. iitably a fish. worry are to nings. .eed a nglish Ixford :nt to some extra— years their when hat it there ist of Supp crsity, 3f this HISTORY, SCIENCE, AND INTERNATEONAL RELATIONS 33 fascinate, and at times transfix practitioners in this field: indeed, one critic has complained, rather rudely, that the political scientists spent so much time arguing about how to study the Cold War that the Cold War itself ended before they had resolved the matter.3 Where political scientists are imprecise is with respect to the kind of ‘science’ they do. They tend to assume that reductionist, systemic, and quantitative ap- proaches constitute good science, despite the fact that physical and biological scientists are less and less certain of that. They seek to apply, within the realm of politics, methods that produced impressive results in the so-called ‘hard’ sciences from the days of Isaac Newton through to the end of the nineteenth century. But the political sciences have been slow to acknowledge that the sciences on which they modelled themselves have not, since that time, stood still. Students of international relations therefore face a dilemma. They can follow the methods of historians, but without any confidence that what they are doing qualifies as a ‘science’ at all: they may simply wind up producing interesting stories. They can follow the methods of political scientists, but without any assurance that today’s ‘hard’ scientists would regard these as valid: they may simply wind up propounding labour-intensive platitudes. Or they can attempt to navigate the slippery slopes of post-modernism, which sees all approaches to knowledge, in whatever field, as ‘constructed’: each person‘s mode of investigation is as good as any other.‘I 2.1. What is a Science? Perhaps it would help, in trying to work our way out of this dilemma, to get back to the question of what it is to be a ‘science’ in the first place. Neither historians nor political scientists give this issue as much attention as they should. They take it for granted that a scientific approach is a good thing, without specifying why that is so or what we should expect from such a methodology. We generally require, of any science, that it should do two things: (1) it should explain, which is to say'that it should help us to understand why things happen fie way that they do; and (2) it should forecast, which is to say that it should provide us with at least some means of antiEiEating how things will happen in the future. The two tasks go hand in hand. There would be little point in ex- plainng anything if one did not expect some future benefit from the explanation. But there can hardly be an anticipation of the future without some understanding of what it is that is being anticipated, and that in turn requires explanation. Now, science is hardly the only method of explanation and forecasting: throughout most of human history, a wide variety of non-scientific means have 34 JOHN LEWIS GADDIS been used, ranging from the examination of animal entrails and the reading of tea leaves up through claims of divine revelation. They all had pretty much the same purpose, though: accounting for things that had happened, and attempting to foresee things that were going to happen. The problem with these earlier methods was not so much that they failed to produce results, for they certainly did do that; it was rather that they did not produce widespread agreement 0n the validity of the results. The scientific method, in contrast, has shown itself capable of generating agreement across cultures, in different languages, and among highly dissimilar observers as to the validity of explanations and the probable accuracy of the forecasts that emerge from them. This is not to say that scientists agree on everything; if that were so, there would be little point in continuing to pursue scientific investigation. I mean only that science comes closer than any other method we have, or are likely to have, to building a consensus with regard to explanation and forecasting, in whatever field.5 Examples of scientific consensus pervade modern life. The structure of the DNA molecule appears much the same to researchers in Switzerland, Singapore, and Sri Lanka. Aircraft wings bear stress similarly whether the airlines that rely upon them operate as subsidized state monopolies or adventurous entrepreneurial enterprises. Astronomers of Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist persuasions have little difficulty in agreeing on what causes eclipses or how galaxies move. The key here is reproducibility: obServations made under equivalent conditions, no matter who makes them, are expected to produce closely corresponding results.6 When they don’t, as was the case not long ago with experiments on ‘cold fusion’,’ the theories that lie behind the observations are simply not re- garded as credible. 2.2. Scientific Method and Human Affairs Unfortunately, the scientific method does not work with equal precision, or command anything like universal assent, when it comes to the study of human affairs. The reason is obvious: consciousness—perhaps one should say wilful- ness—can override the kinds of laws that govern the behaviour of molecules, or air flows, or celestial objects. People, the political scientist Stanley Hoffmann once reminded his colleagues, are not ‘gases or pistons’.3 That fact considerably complicates the task of explaining and forecasting human behaviour. The social sciences have often sought to deal with this problem by denying its existence. They have viewed the realms of politics, economics, and society as not all ill ge eff “H of p: 1‘] l ti' “J ti ti 11 l: 1! h—h‘ilH IU HISTORY, SCIENCE, AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 35 all that different from the physical world; they have operated from the conviction that consciousness and the behaviour that results from it are subject, at least in general terms, to the workings of laws whose existence we can detect and whose effects we can describe. Once this has been done, social scientists have assumed, we will then be able to accomplish in the realm of human affairs at least some of the tasks of explanation and forecasting that the natural sciences routinely perform. Examples of this approach include: (1) ‘rational choice’ assumptions in ecod nomics. Which maintain that people calculate their own best interests objec- tively and on the basis of accurate information about the circumstances within which these exist; (2) ‘structural functionalism’ in sociology, which sees institu- tions as necessary components of the particular social structures within which they are embedded; (3) the ‘where you stand depends on where you sit’ argu- ment in organizational studies, which explains the behaviour of bureaucracies, large and small, in terms of an overriding concern with self-perpetuation; (4) Freudian psychology, which seeks to account for the behaviour of individuals by invoicing a set of unconscious impulscs and inhibitions inherited—by every- one—from childhood; and, of course, (5) ‘realist’ and ‘neorealist’ theories of international relations, which claim that all nations seek, in all situations, to maximize their power. _ These are, to be sure, gross oversimpljfications. They may stand, though, as rough approximations of how introductory university courses teach these sub- jects; and because these are hierarchically arranged disciplines which proceed from fundamental principles to more complex applications, such assumptions do still influence more sophisticated practices in the fields to which they per- tainmnot least in the training of graduate students. All of these assumptions, it is worth noting, have certain features in common. They tend to be reductionist, attributing human behaviour to one or two basic ‘causes’ without recognizing that people often do things for complicated combinations of reasons. They tend to be static, neglecting the possibility that human behaviour, individually or collectively, might change over time. And they tend to claim universal applicability, thereby failing to acknowledge that different cultures—to say nothing of different individuals—respond to similar situations in different ways. The social sciences make these assumptions of reductionism, stability, and universality for a specific reason: if they were to allow for multiple causes, or for the passage of time, or for cultural and individual diversity, explanations would proliferate and forecasting might become impossible. Social scientists, were they to proceed in this manner, would be functioning like historians; for although historians are good at explanation, they tend to resist making forecasts and they are notorWesenting their findings in such a way as to make them 36 JOHN LEWIS GADDIS useful to policy-makers.9 And what is policy—making, after all, but a kind of forecasting? How can one undertake it if constantly facing backwards? Social scientists, when they face forwards, have to make their own corn~ promises, though, and one result is that they wind up operating like teaching assistants in undergraduate physics laboratories. We were all told, when seeking to demonstrate Newton’s laws of motion, not to worry about friction, or air resistance, or other inconveniences whose effects would be difficult to calculate. Instead we were supposed to visualize ideal pendulums swinging in perfect vacuums, featureless balls rolling down impossibly smooth inclined planes, and feathers and stones that always fell to earth at the same rate—even if our eyes told us that things never quite happened that way. We were taught to make these assumptions to facilitate calculation: it was too hard to measure the effects of friction or air resistance, or to predict the variations in the results these might cause with each repeated experiment. So we were instructed just to ‘smooth out the data’ until they illustrated the basic law of physics that was being demon- strated. It didn’t matter if the actual results were a little messy: what was im- portant was to understand the underlying principles. But look what was happening here: the requirement to be scientific’ meant that we were asked to reject what our own powers of observation were telling us. It drove us towards a Platonic realm of ideal forms that had little to do with the real world. It didn’t even come close to predicting the actual arrival, on the floor or on our feet, of those feathers and stones we kept being told to drop. One of the basic techniques of sciences—calculation—had taken precedence over one of the basic objectives of science—the anticipation of what is actually going to happen. The forecasts that emerged from this scientific process, pre- dictably enough, never quite worked out. 2.3. The Social Sciences and ‘Physics Envy’ Something like this has happened in the social sciences, and for similar reasons. Actual economic history, it turns out, is filled with examples of people making irrational rather than rational choices on the basis of inaccurate rather than accurate informationf“ sociologists themselves have questioned structural functionalisrn because of its bias in favour of social stability and its failure to explain social change;“ organizational history shows repeated instances of bureaucracies and the bureaucrats that run them acting in ways that do not perpetuate their interests;12 Freudian psychology has been shown to provide a less than adequate explanation of human behaviour, especially when it is projected HISTORY, SCIENCE, AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 37 a kind Of across cultures and through time, or—increasingly frequently—when it is com- 15? pared with physiological explanations;13 and, of course, international relations rwn com— theory, which organized itself around the study of power, failed utterly to explain ’ teaming why the two most powerful nations of the modern era chose, at certain points n SCENES during the twentieth century, to relinquish power rather than retain it—the m’ or air United States in 1919—20, and the Soviet Union in 1989—91.” caklflale' But why are the social sciences operating—not in all instances, but in many— n perfect at roughly the level of undergraduate physics experiments? Why don’t the forecasts mes’and they make more frequently correspond with the reality we subsequently our eyes encounter? And why-don’t we get the kind of consensus—among individuals, : like these across departments, throughout universities, and in the wider world—that g fleas 0f botanists who deal with such lowly organisms as the slime mould regularly SE might achieve? 30th out It is not just that social scientists deal with molecules that have minds of their demF’n‘ own, although that is certainly part of the problem. I think a tendency has also was 1111' developed within these disciplines to allow a preoccupation with techniquem- , based on what I will argue is an outdated view of the scientific method—to meant overshadow what they are really supposed to be doing, which is explaining and 3 telling forecasting social reality. To put it bluntly, and in Freudian terms, the social do With sciences suffer from physics envy. on the The malady is nicely documented in M. Mitchell Waldrop’s book Complexity, 3 de- in which he describes a meeting between physicists and economists that took :edence place at the Santa Fe Institute a few years back: actually is, pre— As the axioms and theorems and proofs marched across the overhead projection screen, the physicists could only be awestruck at [the economists’l mathematical prowess-— awestruck and appalled. ‘They were almost too good,’ says one young physicist, who : remembers shaking his head in disbelief. ‘It seemed as though they were dazzling them- ; selves with fancy mathematics, until they really couldn’t see the forest for the trees. 50 3 much time was being spent on trying to absorb the mathematics that I thought they often weren’t looking at what the models were for, and what they did, and whether the underlying assumptions were any good. In a lot of cases, what was required was just ESQ-n8. some common sense?” .aking than Remember, this is a physicist talking about economists; but, as anyone who has 33331 tried to read the American Political Science Review or the International Studies ire to Quarterly or the journal of Conflict Resolution lately will understand, he could es of as easily have been talking about political scientists. The passage suggests that E 1' HOE social scientists might do well to reacquaint themselves with the. so-called ‘hard’ ids 3 sciences, where a quiet revolution has been taking place in the conception of g Ecte - what it is to be a science in the first place. 38 JOHN LEWIS GADDIS 2.4. The Historical Sciences Can there be a science that does not attempt to boil things down to a few simple variables? That does allow for change over time? That accommodates, rather than trying to gloss over, particularities and peculiarities? And that would still accomplish those tasks of explanation and forecasting that a science is supposed to perform? The answer, of course, is yep. Two excellent examples are modern geology and biology. Although both operate within a dominant overall paradigm—plaft-fifict‘onics and natural selection—neither of these sciences would insist upon a rigorous specification of independent and dependent variables in assessing causation, or upon quantification as the most authoritative way of characterizing it. Both would allow multiple causes for what takes place; both certainly take into account the passage of time; both have ways of accounting for, even if they cannot always anticipate, the role of contingency. It is true that a good deal is sacrificed along the way. Geologists and biologists Wm to forecast the future. They do not I e out that possibility by any means: geologists cam some precision where earthquakes will occur and with what approximate frequency; biologists can say with confidence that species will either adapt to changing environments or eventually die out. But they find it much more difficult to specify precisely when, how, and to whom these things will happen, or what the consequences will be. Within their respective paradigms of plate tectonics and natural selection, moreover, geologists and biologists allow for the impact—literally—fiof un- predictable events. We know now that comets and asteroids have frequently hit mmprofound ecological effects.16 We know that the Atlantic Ocean has opened and closed several times, but that it does not do so in each instance in just the same way.” We know that natural selection may work as much by luck—who was in the right place at the right time—as by the old principle of ‘the survival of the fittest’. The palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould has pointed out that the bilateral symmetry we all inherited through hundreds of millions of years of evolution was not the only way we could have evolved: if things had happened slightly differently in the Cambrian era, we could as easily have wound up looking like elaborate vacuum cleaners.18 Nor do geology and biology depend heavily on quantification. One still has to go out into the field, look at rocks or fossils, describe them and classify them in a way not greatly different from how it was done in Darwin’s day. Taxonomy—- careful comparative description—is still the accepted means of communication in these disciplines, and the basis upon which consensus is built.” Geologists and biologists, therefore, function largely without the capacity for o a few simple .odates, rather rat would still ce is supposed :s are modern inant overall .ciences would 1’: variables in itative way of as place; both if accounting Y. and biologists @iqlgims to ns: geologists 1d with what ies will either find it much :e things will ral selection, Elliizof un- requently hit lantic Ocean :ach instance as much by principle of has pointed ; of millions f things had have wound )ne still has lassify them Iaxonomyu .munication capacity for HISTORY, SCIENCE, AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 39 controlled reproducible experiment, without the reductionism, and without the propensity for quantification that provides the basis for verification in the other ‘hard’ sciences; but few people would conclude, because of this, that geology and biology are not themselves sciences. They are in fact, as Gould has pointed out, ‘historical sciences’, whose strength lies in explaining in great detail where we are and how we got there, but whose pretensions to forecasting are confined to much less specific observations about the overall framework within which certain known processes will occur. These sciences of process are not always valued as highly as the static structural sciences,” probably because of the tendency to confuse some of the techniques of the latter—especially quantification and rigorous calculation—with those larger functions of explanation and forecasting that are characteristic of all sciences. But Gould’s ‘historical sciences’ are still sciences, none the less. If that is the case, then there is no reaSon why the traditional historical approach to the study of human affairs cannot be at least as ‘scientific’ as our more con- ventional, but increasingly questioned, social-scientific approaches. For in his- tory too, multiple causes intersect, time passes, patterns coexist with singularities, quantification is not required, and explanation is far more precise—-and more reliable—than forecasting. It might even be that sciences of process provide the more appropriate model for studying human behaviour, despite the fact that the social sciences have sought far more often to emulate sciences of structure; they certainly accommodate more easily the phenomenon of learning. Since both are equally valid approaches in the ‘hard’ sciences, it is worth at least asking why the social sciences have tilted towards one, at the expense of the other, to the extent that they have (see Table 2.1). 2.5. History and the New ‘Hard’ Sciences There is yet another reason for not valuing structure over process, and that is that the structural sciences themselves have been changing over the course of this century. Even as the social sciences have sought to emulate the physical and natural sciences, those disciplines have been moving away from the rigorously quantifiable reductionism to which the social scientists so keenly aspire. There has been a methodological passing of ships in the night, with the result that ‘hard’ scientists are beginning to think more and more like historians. In order to see this, it might be useful to revisit the old debate between traditional social scientists and historians, and to examine why the first group tends not to regard the second as scientists at all. History, it is alleged: (1) fails to achieve objectivity, because its practitioners make no effort to flee themselves 40 JOHN LEWIS GADDIS Table 2.1. History and social science: a comparative summary History Social science Actors Often irrational, wiliul, Assumed to be rational ill-informed and predictable Events Multiple causes, role of Strict causation contingency important Patterns Some singular, some Generalizable generalizable Objectives of study Explanation aiways; forecasting Explanation and where possible forecasting from their own biases and preconceptions; (2) fails to agree on uniform stand— ards by which to measure phenomena; (3) fails to build sophisticated models, or even any modeis at all; (4) fails to take into account the extent to which its preference for description over quantification makes its findings unreproducible; (5) fails to iift itself above a preoccupation with contingencies and a correspond- ing neglect of generalization; {6) fails to collect evidence systematically, relying instead largely on intuition; and {7) fails to approach rigorous standards of proof, relying instead only on the use of rhetoric to persuade. Let me take these criticisms one by one, comparing them with what is hap— pening today in the ‘hard’ structural sciences. I will also suggest, along the way, some possible implications for international relations theory in the post—Cold War world. Objectivity All science, we now realize, operates within paradigms that cause preconcep— tions to interfere with the assessment of reality. As Thomas Kuhn has shown, these can persist long after sufficient evidence has accumulated to undermine them; but once that happens—and it can happen very quickly—-the old ap- proaches stand exposed as little more than reflections of their proponents” lim- ited perspectives. There is no reason to think, therefore, that the physical or social sciences have any less of an objectivity problem than do historians;11 indeed, given the commitment of energy, resources, and time required to con- struct a rigorous scientific paradigm,22 it is probably easier for ‘unrigorous’ his- torians to liberate themselves from an outdated intellectual framework than it is for ‘hard’ scientists or social scientists. HISTORY, SClENCE, AND lNTERNATlONAL RELATIONS 41 This point was brought home to me with considerable force several years ago whenl ran into a prominent ‘neorealist’ and asked him how well that theory of international relations had held up under the events surrounding the end of the Cold War. ‘Terribly,’ he immediately acknowledged. Then he added: ‘l‘rn still firmly committed, though, to neorealist theory.’ How come? At the time I was so astonished that I didn’t ask, but I suspect he was reluctant to give up the precision, clarity, and calculability that came from Picturing the great powers as featureless billiard balls, while neglecting altogether what was happening inside them. Apples and oranges might have been a better metaphor: at least it would have allowed for the possibility of asymmetry, irregularity, and internal rot. ..________‘_H Measurement Historians long ago repudiated the alleged view of Leopold von Ranke and his r..— followers that observationsde should be separated from the observer who is making them. e atmsm 1n 1With releot by accident: the most influential historical relativist, Charles A. Beard, was well aware of Albert" Einsmd knew abomeisenbermmphysicists’ discovery of the uncertainty principle—that attempts to measure phenomena can actually alter {phenomenafl—wOuld have come as no particular surprise to him or to most other historians. With the development of the new sciences of complexity, it is becoming clear that this problem of observation affecting reality extends throughout the physical world: that the results one gets when one measures something depend upon the instrument of measurement used. ‘How lon is the coastline of Britai ?’ Enng. It depends: measurements in miles, kilometres, metres, feet, inches, an centimetres will all produce different results, and the same problem would extend down to the levels of molecules and atoms.25 It is a commonplace now to observe that history has been ‘measured’, for centuries, with instruments that pick up the activities and influence of white males, while missing altogether those of women and of non-white males, rather in the way that measuring the British coastline in miles would leave quite a lot out.26 I wonder whether international relations theory, in its preoccupation with measuring and quantifying military and economic power, did not leave out certain other forms of power that helped to bring the Cold War to an end and are already defining the nature of the post-cold war world—namely the power of ideas, whether they relate to human rights or to human rivalries. Who would have thought that, at the end of the twentieth century, given the Opportunity 42 JOHN LEWIS GADDIS some people would choose to fight and even die in the defence of what appear to many others to be trival, esoteric, even medieval arguments about religion, ethnicity, language, culture, and race?” Obviously our ‘rational choice’ models have not been measuring rationality on a sufficiently precise scale;23 obviously our understanding of ‘power’ as well as of its limits has been too general. Modelling What is the ur ose of having a model in the first place? No scientific model dom‘Wr to replicate reality would be to defeat the purpose of having a model in the first place. It would be like trying to fold an entire country, rather than a map of it, into the glove compartment of your car. Models are therefore metaphors, and their sophistication is assumed to depend upon how well they balance accuracy against utility in yielding insights. Certainly this is true in the ‘hard’ sciences. When we speak of the famous Newtonian ‘clockwork’ universe, we are calling to mind the actual models—— orreries—that were built to represent it. For many years, the relationship between the atomic nucleus and the electrons whizzing around it was assumed to be ‘like’ a tiny solar system; our understanding of nuclear physics advanced signifi- cantly when it became clear that electrons can shift their orbits instantly, while planets cannot. And what are we to make of the discovery of the subatomic particles now known as ‘quarks’ (a term coined not by the physicist Murray Gell-Mann but by the author James oncezglee-objects no one has ever seen, but which regularly have such qualities assigned to them as ‘colour’, ‘strangeness’, and ‘charm’? Historians operate in much the same way. When they say that Pickett’s charge failed because the Union troops mowed down the Confederates like a scythe cutting through stalks of dry wheat, or that Franklin D. Roosevelt had a ‘flypaper’ mind, historians are not just trying to keep their students, or their readers, awake. These too are metaphors: they are ways of representing complex realities in forms we can more readily grasp than if we were to employ less vivid methods of description. The point of having a model in science or a metaphor in history, is much the same: it is a way of coping with complexity. In this respect scientists and his- torians, as well as novelists, poets, psychologists, sociologists, economists, and even political scientists, are in the same methodological boat: we all resort to models, or metaphors, not just for convenience, but because it is the only way we can understand reality ourselves, or try to communicate it to others. The historical narrative has exactly identical purposes to those of the scientist’s model; indeed, because it need not depend upon reductionism, because it does incorporate the passage of time, and because it accommodates and even relishes Langua Languag the ease posed l: problem that ma languag precise It is z for whi unpredi of varia someth very be take till 01' t0“ Con tit No sci: world— sensiti‘ 0f Chal beginn- operat do ——i: propo: can pi of suc Wh may n with I that v happe will It on inf not. 1 1ppear igion, iodels iously todel Iefeat - fold your id to ghts. 10115 :iS-—- veen 3 be nifi- 'hile mic fray but ess’, rge particularity, it may be—if thought of in this way—the most sophisticated model of all.” Language Language is itself a kind of model, a way of approximating reality. Apart from the ease with which quantification allows communication across the boundaries posed by spoken and written languages, there is—precisely because of the problems of measurement and modelling mentioned above—no reason to assume that mathematical expression comes any closer to performing the function of language than does taxonomy, with its reliance upon careful observation and precise verbal description.31 It is also worth remembering that there are in mathematics many problems for which there are no single solutions. Whole classes of equations produce unpredictable results, depending upon sensitivity to initial conditions, the number of variables in the system, and the phenomenon of feedback. And then there is something truly subversive called Godel’s theorem, which calls into question the very basis of proof in mathematics even where it is predictable, forcing us to take the whole thing largely on faith.32 The distance back to divine revelation— or to witch doctors if you prefer—may not be so great after all. Contingency No science that seeks to describe the real world~—as opposed to the laboratory world—can divorce itself from the problem of contingency. The concept of sensitive dependence on initial conditions, as it has emerged from the sciences of chaos and complexity, demonstrates that immeasurable perturbations at the beginning of a process can produce immense results at its end.33 Any system that operates with more than a couple of variables—and surely most social systems do—-is going to produce unpredictable reactions among those variables, a proposition easily illustrated with the simple three-magnet pendulum toys anyone can pick up at airport gift shops. The only way one can describe the behaviour of such a system is to trace its history. What this suggests is that the whole basis of forecasting in the social sciences may need to be rethought. Certainly we ought to embark upon that enterprise with much greater humility than in the past. But we may also need to realize that what we should be trying to forecast is not so much what is going to happen as what categories ofphenomene we are likely to confront: some of these will lend themselves to prediction but many—because of sensitive dependence on initial conditions or an excessive number of variables, or both—simply will not. A major task for the ‘new’ social sciences should be to sort out which HISTORY. SCIENCE, AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 43 44 JOHN LEWIS GADDIS problems are which, and then to confine our forecasts to those where we can expect at least some possibility of success. Intuition No science really works in the way that most textbooks on the scientific method describe it as working, namely through the patient accumulation of evidence, only after which insights emerge. Rather, the compilation of information and the emergence of insights are simultaneously occurring and mutually interactive aspects of the process, in which hypotheses determine the evidence one seeks, while the evidence one finds in turn reshapes hypotheses?‘1 Ask yourself this question: why did it prove easier to end the Cold War itself than to redesign the various massive data~collection projects, growing out of the events-data movement some quarter of a century ago, that were supposed to tell us how to formulate the policies that might bring about an end to the Cold War?35 It was, I think, because those projects tried to operate as empirical black holes, sucking in data without sufficient mechanisms for assessing standards of significance—one of the functions, after all, of theory. No wonder so few insights emerged. There is no such thing as a purely inductive or a purely deductive research enterprise, and we might as well acknowledge this too as we contemplate the post-Cold War era. Persuasion All ‘hard’ science has a rhetorical purpose, in that it seeks to persuade its ‘consumers’ that its conclusions are valid.36 That is how one achieves the consensus that makes the scientific method work. The same is certainly true in the social sciences and in history; indeed, a scientific, social-scientific, or historical account that is totally free from rhetoric of one kind or another is probably as unattainable as a purely ‘objective’ historical study would be. 2.6. Rediscovering Narrative None of this is to claim that one can or should try to do history, social science, and ‘hard’ science in exactly the same way. For although the phenomenon of ‘feedback’ probably exists in all sciences,” the possibility of conscious responses to circumstances confronts historians and social scientists with tasks of explana- tion and forecasting considerably more complex than anything physical and biological scientists face. I am suggesting, though, that if problems of objectiv- ity, measurement, modelling, language, contingency, intuition, and persuasion exist in tl the social 1855 ‘scier Capable c and valu historical justificat tardiscip is ahead standing The h hard sci- with net. in the fl out on They fiI of Moli been sp “the Great I inward- kind of of nan also th move 1 comfo: being This bound who at has to view t place; Not‘ NH H t; {l HISTORY, SCIENCE, AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 45 exist in the ‘hard’ Sciences, then it is difficult to see why we should regard either the social or the historical sciences, where these same problems also exist, as any less ‘scientific’. The ‘scientific method’, if understood in up-to-date terms, is capable of providing a common rationale, and hence a common basis for a new and valuable dialogue, across the entire spectrum of the natural, social, and historical sciences. It can, for this reason, provide us with a sounder intellectual justification than we have had, until now, for an eclectic, imaginative, and in— terdisciplinary approach to the study of world politics. The post-Cold War world is already proving to be an extraordinarily complex place. Our tools for under- standing it sh0uld be appropriate to the task. The historical narrative may well serve as a kind of bridge between the ‘new’ hard sciences of chaos and complexity and the ‘old’ social sciences. By sticking with narratives, the historians, who never bought into the ‘old’ social sciences in the first place, have achieved something rather remarkable: they have come out on the cutting edge of a revolution by persisting in a reactionary stance. They find themselves, at least in metaphorical terms, somewhat in the position of Moliere’s bourgeois gentleman, who was astonished to discover that he had been speaking prose all his life. Whether historians will recognize the central position they now occupy in the Great Interdisciplinary Chain of Being, though, I am not sure: they are an inward-looking community who have rarely suffered from ‘physics’ or any other kind of methodological envy. Fortunately, they have no monopoly over the uses of narrative: in addition to being the most sophisticated model available, it is also the most accessible. A rediscovery of narrative by social scientists could move us back towards that pre-professional era when intelligent people could comfortably involve themselves in, and learn from, multiple disciplines without being regarded as dilettantes. That, I think, would be no bad thing. This promise will materialize only if we can advance our thinking beyond the bounds imposed on it over three centuries ago by the followers of Isaac Newton, who sought to persuade us—falsely, as it has turned out—that science necessarily has to be reductionist, static, and universal in its applications. That particular view of science was itself the reflection of a particular time, if not a specific place; and time itself, as it does tend to do, has now most assuredly moved on. Notes 1. Edward Hallett Carr, What is History? [New York, 1961), 70. 2. David Hackett Fischer, Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought (New York, 1970), 13. xii. ' 14. 15. 16. l7. 18. 46 JOHN LEWIS GADDIS 3. 10. 11. 12. John Lewis Gaddis, ‘International Relations TheOry and the End of the Cold War’, International Security, 17 (Winter, 1992193), esp. 25—6. . For an acrid critique see Gertrude Himmelfarb, On Looking into the Abyss: Untimely "Thoughts on Culture and Society (New York, 1994). . John Ziman, Reliable Knowledge: An Exploration of the Grounds for Belief in Science (Cambridge, 1978), 3. lbid. 42—3. . Gary Taubes, Bad Science: The Short Life and Weird Times of Cold Fusion (New York, 1993). . Stanley Hoffmann, ‘International Relations: The Long Road to Theory’, in James N. Rosenau (ed), International Relations and Foreign Policy: A Reader in Research and Theory (New York, 1961), 429. . For some of the difficulties involved see Ernest R. May, ‘Lessons’ of the Past: The Use and Misuse of History in American Foreign Policy (New York, 1973); Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May, Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers (New York, 1986). W. Brian Arthur, ‘Competing Technologies, Increasing Returns, and Lock-in by Historical Events’, Economic Journal, 94 (March 1989}, 116-31. See also M. Mitchell Waldrop, Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Chaos (New York, 1992), 15—51. . Peter Burke, History and Social Theory (Cambridge, 1992), 104—9. The most obvious recent example is, of course, the peaceful relinquishment of power by Communist Parties in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. But there are also several interesting US examples: for example, the Defense Department’s strong resistance, prior to the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, to having its own budget increased, while the State Department was strongly advocating that course of action; also the Pentagon’s obvious reluctance to endorse the use of military force over the past decade, as against the frequency with which State Department and other civilian advisers have recommended it. . Burke, History and Social Theory, 114—15; also, for an example of new (and still controversial) physiological findings, see Simon LeVay and Dean H. Harmer, ‘Evidence for a Biological Influence in Male Homosexualitf, Scientific American, 270 (May 1994], 44—9. I have discussed some of the reasons for the latter event in John Lewis Gaddis, The United States and the End of the Cold War: Reconsiderations, Implications, Provocations (New York, 1992). For the failure of theory see Gaddis, ‘International Relations Theory and the End of the Cold War’, passim. Waldrop, Complexity, 140. Walter Alvarez and Frank Asaro, ‘What Caused the Mass Extinction? An Extra- terrestrial lmpact’, Scientific American, 263 (Oct. 1990), 78—84. R. Damian Nance, Thomas R. Worsley, and Judith B. Moody, ‘The Supercontinent Cycle: Scientific American, 258 (July 1988), 72~9. Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (New York, 1989). 19. 20. Hhfi.fl|\1 _..._.Hm 21. i 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31 32 ! Cold War’ is: Untimely f in Science [New York, .1 James N. search and st: The Use Richard E. r Decision ock—in by I. Mitchell I'lc, 1992), of power there are t’s strong : its own it course ary force lent and and still Evidence 70 (May dis, The ocations Theory Extra— ntinent V (New l9. HISTORY, SCIENCE, AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 47 Ziman, Reliable Knowledge, 43-56. 20, Gould, Wonderful Life, 280—81. I see the Bueno de Mesquite forecasting model, 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. discussed in Chapter 3 in this volume, as based upon the identification of certain decisionvmaking processes, into which specific variables are inserted. Despite its reliance upon quantification and calculation, it incorporates the passage of time and allows for the repeated interactions that structural approaches often exclude. lt resembles, in this respect, the work of Robert Axelrod (The Evolution of Cooperation, New York, 1934), and I suspect that their incorporation of process is why these two computer—based methods have a better record of successful forecasting than do most static structural models. For the historians’ problem see Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The ‘Objectivity’ Question and the American Historical Profession (New York, 1988}. Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd edn., enlarged (Chi- cago, 1970), 23—4. See Charles A. Beard, ‘Written History as an Act of Faith; American Historical Re- view, 39 (January 1934), 225. One of the best brief summaries of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle that I have seen occurs in lack Cohen and Ian Stewart, The Collapse of Chaos: Discovering Simplicity in a Complex World (New York, 1994), 44-5. Iames Gleick, Chaos: Making a New Science (New York, 1987), 9445. One of the best discussions is Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt, and Margaret Jacob, Telling the Truth about History (New York, 1994}, 146—97. Robin Wright and Doyle McManus, Plashpoints: Promise and Peril in a New World (New. York, 1991). was one of the first books to examine this trend; but see also Robert Kaplan, Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History (New York, 1993). Bueno do Mesquita suggests in Chapter 3 that one can find rational explanations for such behaviour. I agree, as long as one views such ‘rationalities’ as embedded within particular cultures, contexts, and circumstances. Murray Gell-Mann, The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex (New York, 1994), 180—1. This is what I had in mind when l suggested, in a now somewhat notorious article, that we might have done better, in seeking to anticipate the end of the Cold War, to have relied upon carefully crafted historical narratives rather than the structural systemic perspective with which the traditional approach to the study of international relations provided us {‘International Relations Theory and the End of the Cold War’, 56—8). Certainly in thinking about the post-Cold War world we ought not to neglect the importance of narratives—not least because they can help us to understand certain aspects of the pre-Cold War world that it may resemble. See also, on the inseparability of narrative and science, Donald N. McCloskey, ‘Once Upon a Time There Was a Theory; Scientific American, 272 (February 1995), 25. Zirnan, Reliable Knowledge, 55—6. Waldrop, Complexity, 328—9. See also Douglas R. Hofstadter’s highly adventurous Glidel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (New York, 1979). Gleick, Chaos, 11—31. 48 JOHN LEWIS GADDJS 34. Gould, Wonderful Life, 244. See also Steven Weinberg, Dreams of a Final Theory: The Search for the Fundamental Laws of Nature {New York, 1992), esp. 128, 130. 35. Gaddis, ‘International Relations Theory and the End of the Cold War’, 26. 36. Ziman, Reliable Knowledge, 21. 37. Note especially recent work on the capacity of both animate and inanimate systems for self-organization, in apparent violation of the second lavr of thermodynamica There is a good discussion in Waldrop, Complexity, 272—87. Further Reading CARR, E. H., What is History? (New York, 1961), and MARC BLOCH, The Historian’s Craft (New York, 1953] are the classic primers on the historical method that implicitly anticipate more recent developments in the ‘new’ sciences of chaos and complexity. Gannrs, JoHN Lawrs, ‘International Relations Theory and the End of the Cold War’, International Security, 17 [Winter 1992—3), 5—58, expands on the argument made in this chapter, that international relations theorists have been practising outdated science. GLEICK, JAMES, Chaos: Making a New Science (New York, 1987) and M. MITCHELL WALDROP, Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Chaos (New York, 1992). These two volumes, together, provide the best introduction for social scientists to the new developments in the ‘hard’ sciences that are creating the basis for a convergence of methods. GOULD, STEPHEN JAY, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History [New York, 1989). A brilliant palacontologist’s exploration of historical processes, making the case that history is indeed a science, but also that scientists need to think more like historians. KUHN, THOMAS S., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd edn. (Chicago, 1970) and PETER Novrcrc, That Noble Dream: The ‘Objectivity’ Question and the American His- torical Profession (New York, 1988) make the point that both scientists and historians find ‘objectivity’ an elusive concept. _ ZIMaN, IoHN, Reliable Knowledge: An Exploration of the Grounds for Belief in Science (Cambridge, 1978). An excellent introduction to the scientific method based on how it’s used in the physical and biological sciences; quite possibly the single most useful introduction for social scientists. ...
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Reading%201 - EXPLAINING INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS SINCE 1945...

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