Ken Waltz, arguably the most influential scholar in International Relations of the past half-century, passed away last night. He was 88. It is tough to find anything to say that does not sound contrived. Instead, I wanted to share a lasting memory of mine from John Mearsheimer’s seminar on realism at the University of Chicago. We were reading Waltz’s Theory of International Politics and after a couple of hours of discussing the basics most are familiar with (balancing, the benefits of bipolarity, etc.), we had gotten into some of the more obscure parts of Theory (there is a fascinating discussion of the meaning of power towards the end that is always worth a re-read). At the end of the latter discussion, John admitted that even though he had read the book countless times (and written insightful analyses of the work), the day’s seminar had brought out something new from the book for him. Years later, reading Theory for the nth for my comprehensive exam in IR, I finally understood what John meant. It’s amazing how much insight Waltz packed into one work. Every new reading truly produces something new for the reader. And this is true not only of Theory but also of much of his other work, including Man, the State, and War.
I met Waltz for the first and only time at a small conference at Yale last year. Not only was he incredibly nice to me and my fellow graduate students (always appreciated!) but tremendously incisive and sharp during the substantive portions of the conference. It was difficult not to be star-struck. Rest in peace, Professor Waltz: you will be missed by generations of students of international politics.