The Global Covenant: Human Conduct in a World of States

By Robert Jackson | Go to book overview

3 Recovering the Classical Approach

This chapter rejuvenates the classical international society approach by enlarging upon the argument that international relations is a human activity. It begins by reviewing three approaches to international relations scholarship: positivism, post-positivism, and humanism. It argues that only the third approach can correctly comprehend the human character of world politics. Pursuing that point in the remainder of the chapter, it calls attention to fourteen classical texts for studying international human conduct. It proceeds to interrogate two leading positivist theories of international relations with the aim of disclosing the shortcomings of excluding norms and values from the inquiry. It goes on to examine and reject a standard criticism of moral claims in political life: the so-called window-dressing critique. The final section prepares the way for a commentary on the craft discipline of humanist inquiry in the next chapter.


Retrieving the Human Sciences

The behavioural revolution of the 1950s and 1960s brought about almost a complete take-over of the discipline of political science, especially in the USA, by positivist attitudes and methods of research. 1 Traditional normative inquiry was abandoned to the care of the political theorists. With the missionary zeal of recent converts, the American behaviouralists recruited and educated a new generation of political scientists who had little knowledge of their classical predecessors and even less interest in knowing anything about them. All previous political science was obsolete and should not be taken too seriously. It was like Aristotle's biology: it belonged in a curiosity shop. That is more or less what the behaviouralists taught their students, and that is what their students who later came to dominate political science, especially in the USA, were evidently prepared to believe. That was emphasized by Kenneth Waltz in a guarded criticism of Martin Wight and Hedley Bull: 'they did theory in a sense not recognized as theory by philosophers of science'. 2 In other words, their theories were not 'scientific' theories in the positivist meaning of the term.

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