On Kenneth Waltz

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.


5 thoughts on “On Kenneth Waltz

  1. I haven’t looked at this blog in quite some time, so imagine my surprise when I clicked through and came across this touching, short piece on Ken Waltz. I was lucky enough to have taken a couple of Waltz’s seminars when I was a PhD student at Berkeley in the late 1990s. The discussions were priceless, not only for the insights Professor Waltz brought to the table on IR theory, but for the personal anecdotes he sprinkled throughout, in order to tie theory back to practice. Him pausing a heated discussion amongst self-important grad students to recount his time as an infantryman in WWII – I’ll never forget those moments.

  2. Pingback: Kenneth N. Waltz a încetat din viață « Civitas Politics

  3. Having read this I thought it was rather enlightening. I appreciate you spending some time and energy to put this informative article together. I once again find myself spending a significant amount of time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!

  4. Can I simply say what a relief to find someone who actually understands what they’re talking about on the net. You certainly know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. A lot more people really need to check this out and understand this side of the story. I was surprised that you aren’t more popular given that you surely possess the gift.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s