Man, the State and War Book Summary - Man, the State and War Book explained in key points
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Man, the State and War summary

Kenneth N. Waltz

A Theoretical Analysis

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Brief summary

Man, the State and War by Kenneth N. Waltz is a classic international relations book that analyzes the causes of war. It argues that the nature of the state, rather than human nature, is the primary cause of international conflict.

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    Man, the State and War
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    First-image thinkers assume that human nature is the root cause of war.

    Everybody has their own ideas about what causes war: economic crises, authoritarian regimes, power-hungry leaders and so forth. For one group of people, namely the first-image thinkers, war is a direct result of human nature. But not all first-image thinkers agree on what human nature is, which divides them into optimists and pessimists.

    The optimists believe human nature is malleable and improvable – and therefore see education as the cure for war. For them, if we change human nature through education, we will eliminate war.

    While optimists of the past placed their faith in religious and moral appeals, modern optimists – the behavioral scientists – place theirs in the study of human behavior. They aim to discover educational methods and forms of social organization that would eliminate aggressive behavior and violence.

    For example, in the time of World War I, English psychologist J.T. MacCurdy noted that preventive psychiatry – i.e., measures taken to prevent mental illness – was proving itself effective, and that it was therefore not illogical to hope that similar efforts could ultimately help prevent war. And Margaret Mead, the famous American cultural anthropologist, proposed that studying “primitive” tribes living in peace with each other could help us avoid war ourselves.

    In contrast to the optimists, the pessimists view human nature as unchangeable and essentially evil, which is why only external control can prevent humans from starting wars and killing each other.

    Take Augustine of Hippo, the Christian theologian and philosopher, who claimed that, in the absence of government, humans would kill each other until the whole species went extinct; or seventeenth-century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, who affirmed that humans are led by their passions and not by reason, which is why we need to find ways to repress and compensate for our volatile emotions.

    In the end, both the pessimists and optimists agree on the cause of war – human nature – though they disagree about the cure. While the optimistic first-image thinkers aim to figure out how we could strengthen the human characteristics that lead to a peaceful social existence, the pessimistic first-image thinkers believe in the control of human nature.

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    What is Man, the State and War about?

    In Man, the State and War, Kenneth Waltz develops a groundbreaking analysis of the nature and causes of war, offering readers a wide overview of the major political theories of war from the perspective of political philosophers, psychologists and anthropologists.

    Man, the State and War Review

    Man, the State and War (1959) is a thought-provoking analysis of international relations, providing valuable insights into the causes of war and the role of the state. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Offers a comprehensive framework for understanding international politics, exploring the relationship between individuals, states, and the international system.
    • Challenges conventional wisdom and offers alternative perspectives on the motivations behind conflicts, shedding light on the dynamics of war.
    • Engages readers with deep insights on the complexities of international relations, making the subject matter captivating and relevant.

    Best quote from Man, the State and War

    Goodness and evil, agreement and disagreement, may or may not lead to war.

    —Kenneth N. Waltz
    example alt text

    Who should read Man, the State and War?

    • Anyone studying international relations
    • Anyone interested in politics
    • Anyone curious about the long tradition of thinking about war and peace

    About the Author

    Kenneth N. Waltz was an American political scientist. He taught at Harvard and Peking University and the Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia. He is the author of Foreign Policy and Democratic Politics and Theory of International Politics.

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    Man, the State and War FAQs 

    What is the main message of Man, the State and War?

    The main message of Man, the State and War is that the causes of war can be understood by examining the nature of human behavior, the structure of states, and the international system.

    How long does it take to read Man, the State and War?

    The reading time for Man, the State and War varies based on the reader's speed. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in a matter of minutes.

    Is Man, the State and War a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Man, the State and War is a thought-provoking book that offers valuable insights into the causes of war. It is definitely worth reading for those interested in international relations.

    Who is the author of Man, the State and War?

    The author of Man, the State and War is Kenneth N. Waltz.

    What to read after Man, the State and War?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Man, the State and War, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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