Monday, November 17, 2008


The Twenty Years' Crisis

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The Twenty Years' Crisis was written by Edward Hallett Carr (usually known as E. H. Carr) in 1939. A classic in International Relations theory, it is often seen as one of the first modern realist texts and follows in the tradition of Thucydides and Machiavelli. Carr's analysis begins with post-Great War optimism, as embodied in the League of Nations declarations and various international treaties aimed at the permanent prevention of military conflict. He proceeds to demonstrate how rational, well-conceived ideas of peace and cooperation among states were undermined in short order by the realities of chaos and insecurity in the international realm. By assessing the military, economic, ideological and juridical facets and applications of power, Carr brings harsh criticism to bear on utopian theorists and others inclined to imagine that lofty rhetoric conditions state behavior more forcefully than the exigencies of survival and competition.

Carr does not, however, consider the prospect of human improvement a lost cause. At the end of "The Twenty Years' Crisis" he actually advocates for the role of morality in international politics, and suggests that unmitigated realism amounts to a dismal defeatism which we can ill afford. The sine qua non of his analysis is simply that in the conduction of international affairs, the relative balance of power must be acknowledged as a starting point.

He concludes his discussion by suggesting that "'elegant superstructures’ such as the League of Nations ‘must wait until some progress has been made in digging the foundations’, perhaps a reference to the Marxist base and superstructure model.

The complexities of the text have recently been better understood with a growing literature on Carr including books by Michael Cox (academic) and Charles Jones.

Chapter Four

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