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Twenty Years' Crisis, 1919-1939by Edward H Carr
Synopses & Reviews
The Science of
The Beginnings of a Science
The science of international politics is in its infancy. Down to 1914, the conduct of international relations was the concern of persons professionally engaged in it. In democratic countries, foreign policy was traditionally regarded as outside the scope of party politics; and the representative organs did not feel themselves competent to exercise any close control over the mysterious operations of foreign offices. In Great Britain, public opinion was readily aroused if war occurred in any region traditionally regarded as a sphere of British interest, or if the British navy momentarily ceased to possess that margin of superiority over potential rivals which was then deemed essential. In continental Europe, conscription and the chronic fear of foreign invasion had created a more general and continuous popular awareness of international problems. But this awareness found expression mainly in the labour movement, which from time to time passed somewhat academic resolutions against war. The constitution of the United States of America contained the unique provision that treaties were concluded by the President" by and with the advice and consent of the Senate ." But the foreign relations of the United States seemed too parochial to lend any wider significance to this exception. The more picturesque aspects of diplomacy had a certain news value. But nowhere, whether in universities or in wider intellectual circles, was there organised study of current international affairs. War was still regarded mainly as the business of soldiers; and the corollary of this was that international politicswere the business of diplomats. There was no general desire to take the conduct of international affairs out of the hands of the professionals or even to pay serious and systematic attention to what they were doing.
The war of 1914-18 made an end of the view that war is a matter which affects only professional soldiers and, in so doing, dissipated the corresponding impression that international politics could safely be left in the hands of professional diplomats. The campaign for the popularisation of international politics began in the English-speaking countries in the form of an agitation against secret treaties, which were attacked, on insufficient evidence, as one of the causes of the war. The blame for the secret treaties should have been imputed, not to the wickedness of the governments, but to the indifference of the peoples. Everybody knew that such treaties were concluded. But before the war of 1914 few people felt any curiosity about them or thought them objectionable., The agitation against them was, however, a fact of immense importance. It was the first symptom of the demand for the popularisation of international politics and heralded the birth of a new science."
Purpose and A Analysis in Political Science"
The science of international politics has, then, come into being in response to a popular demand. It has been created to serve a purpose and has, in this respect, followed the pattern of other sciences. At first sight, this pattern may appear illogical. Our first business, it will be said, is to collect, classify and analyse our facts and draw our inferences; and we shall then be ready to investigate the purpose to which our facts and our deductions can be put.The processes of the human mind do not, however, appear to develop in this logical order. The human mind works, so- to speak, backwards. Purpose, which should logically follow analysis, is required to give it both its initial impulse and its direction. "If society has a technical need," wrote Engels, "it serves as a greater spur to the progress of science than do ten universities." 2 The first extant text-book of geometry "lays down an aggregate of practical rules designed to solve concrete problems: 'rule for measuring a round fruitery'; 'rule for laying out a field' 'computation of the fodder consumed by geese and oxen'" Reason, says Kant, must approach nature "not . . . in the character of a pupil, who listens to all that his master chooses to tell him, but in that of a judge, who compels the witnesses to reply to those questions which he himself thinks fit to propose"2 "We cannot study even stars or rocks or atoms," writes a modern sociologist, "without being somehow determined, in our modes of systematisation, in the prominence given to one or another part of our subject, in the form of the 9 questions we ask and attempt to answer, by direct and human interests." 3 It is the purpose of promoting health which creates medical science, and the purpose of building bridges which creates the science of engineering. Desire to cure the sicknesses of the body politic has given its impulse and its inspiration to political science. Purpose, whether we are conscious of it or not, is a condition of thought; and thinking for thinking's sake is as abnormal and barren as the miser's Accumulation of money for its own sake." The wish is father to the thought" is a perfectly exact description ofthe origin of normal human thinking.
If this is true of the physical sciences, it is true of political science in a far more intimate sense. In the physical sciences, the distinction between the investigation of facts and the purpose to which the facts are to be put is not only theoretically valid, but is constantly observed in practice. The laboratory worker engaged in investigating the causes of cancer may have been originally inspired by the purpose of eradicating the disease. But this purpose is in the strictest sense irrelevant to the investigation and separable from it. His conclusion can be nothing more than a true report on facts. It cannot help to make the facts other than they are; for the facts exist independently of what anyone thinks about them. In the political sciences, which are concerned with human behavior, there are no such facts.
E. H. Carr's classic work on international relations published in 1939 was immediately recognized by friend and foe alike as a defining work. The author was one of the most influential and controversial intellectuals of the 20th century. The issues and themes he developed continue to have relevance to modern day concerns with power and its distribution in the international system. Michael Cox's critical introduction provides the reader with background information about the author, the context for the book, and its main themes and contemporary relevance.
'...this book is a monument to the human power of sane and detached analysis. In its examination of the collapse of the international system, it is utterly devoid of national bias, or that bitter denunciation of governments and men which marks so much recent literature dealing with the crisis...In the development of his thesis, Professor Carr has produced one of the most significant contributions to the systematic study of the theory of international politics that this reviewer has seen in years.' -W.P. Maddox, The American Political Science Review
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