WALTZ, KENNETH: Man, The State, and War (Notecard Sized Precis)

Thesis: The third image describes the framework of world politics, but without the first and the second images there can be no knowledge of the forces that determine policy; the first and second images describe the forces in world politics, but without the third image it is impossible to assess their importance or predict their results (p.238).

Note: The thesis listed above is taken verbatim from Waltz; however, this alone has the potential to miss an important aspect of Waltz’s argument – Waltz writes to advocate for the efficacy of the third image as a more practical approach in terms of explanatory (and possibly) predictive value. Waltz was writing at a time when he believed that interstate structure had been neglected in favor of the first two images.

The first image asserts that human predilections are at the root of explanations for war (and peace). This was espoused by “classical realists” like Hobbes, Morgenthau and Niebuhr. The second image looks more to the internal structure of states and their political character as sources for conflict (or peace). The democratic peace theory is one extension of the second image conception of international politics (democratic states generally do not go to war with other democratic states). Waltz asserts that international anarchy (third image) among states and the resultant structural balance/imbalance between states and alliances is also fundamental to explaining war’s roots (hence, “structural realism”). Importantly, anarchy does not mean chaos, randomness, or lack of order. It simply means that no governing authority exists to preside over the interstate system, and that naturally-occurring arrangements based on the state as a rational unitary actor emerge from this condition, sometimes resulting in phenomena such as balancing and arms races.

Man, the State, and War

Kenneth N. Waltz

Columbia University Press, 1954; Pages: 263

This review was written by some guy named Branislav Slantchev. It is more concise than anything I have seen or could have produced.

Waltz argues that the international system provides the most convincing theoretical explanation as a source of international conflict compared to human nature and the organization of states.

First Image: Human Behavior

1. Wars result from selfishness, from misdirected aggressive impulses, from stupidity. If these are the primary causes, the elimination of war must come through uplifting and enlightening men (p.16).

2. For pessimists, peace is at once a goal and a utopian dream, while optimists take seriously the proposition to reform the individual. Pessimists (Niebuhr, Morgenthau) have countered the theory of politics built on an optimistic definition of man but also expose the important error of exaggerating the causal importance of human nature. Since this nature is very complex, it can justify any hypothesis we may entertain. If men can be made good, then one must discover how to alter human nature. This expectation is often buried under the conviction that individual behavior is determined more by religious and spiritual inspiration rather than material circumstance. If man's evil qualities lead to wars, then one must worry about ways to repress them or compensate for them. Control rather than exhortation is needed, tends to assume a fixed human nature, which shifts the focus away from it, toward social and political institutions that can be changed (p.41).

3. Not every contribution the behavioral scientist can make has been made before and found wanting, but rather, the proffered contributions of many of them have been rendered ineffective by a failure to comprehend the significance of the political framework of international action. Social and psychological realism has produced political utopianism (p.77).

Second Image: Internal Structure of States

1. The internal organization of states is the key to understanding war and peace. Removing the defects of states would establish the basis for peace. Definition of a ``good state: (a) Marx - according to the means of production, (b) Kant - according to abstract principles of right, (c) Wilson - according to national self-determination and democracy. Hobbes, Mill, Adam Smith.

2. The use of internal defects to explain external acts of a state can take many forms: (i) type of government generally bad - deprivations imposed by despots upon their subjects produce tensions that find their expression in foreign adventure; (ii) defects in governments not inherently bad - restrictions placed on the state in order to protect the rights of its citizens interfere with executing foreign policy; and (iii) geographic or economic deprivations - state has not attained its ``natural frontiers, or ``deprived countries undertake war to urge the satisfied ones to make the necessary compensatory adjustments (p.83).

3. Liberal thought has moved from reliance upon improvement within separate states to acceptance of the need for organization among them. Rigorous application of this logic leads to asking to what extent organized force must be applied in order to secure the desired peaceful world. Arguing for a world government and settling for balance of power as an unhappy alternative reveals the limits of the second image analysis. Even though bad states may lead to war, the obverse that good states mean peace is doubtful. Just like societies they live in make men, the international environment makes states (p.122).

Third Image: International Anarchy

1. With many sovereign states, with no system of law enforceable among them, with each state judging its grievances and ambitions according to the dictates of its own reason or desire - conflict, sometimes leading to war, is bound to occur. To achieve a favorable outcome from such a conflict, a state has to rely on its own devices, the relative efficiency of which must be its constant concern (p.159). Machiavelli, Rousseau, Thucydides, Clausewitz.

2. In anarchy, there is no automatic harmony. Because some countries may be willing to use force to achieve their ends, and because there is no authority to prevent them from doing so, even peacefully inclined states must arms themselves. Goodness and evil, agreement and disagreement, may or may not lead to war. War occurs because there is nothing to prevent it: there is no automatic adjustment of interests among states and there is a constant possibility that conflicts will be settled by force (p.188).

3. A balance of power may exist because some countries consciously make it the end of their policies, or it may exist because of the quasi-autonomous reactions of some states to the drive for ascendancy of others. It is not so much imposed by statesmen on events as it is imposed by events on statesmen (p.209).


The third image describes the framework of world politics, but without the first and the second images there can be no knowledge of the forces that determine policy; the first and second images describe the forces in world politics, but without the third image it is impossible to assess their importance or predict their results (p.238).

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