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on 14 September 2008
A vital debunking of realism and convincing alternative approach from a criminally under-rated thinker in International Relations. Justin Rosenberg makes a hugely convincing case for a historical materialist approach to International Relations as a discipline, the modern states-system and its variants. Its dismantling of realism is devastating, showing not only how ahistorical it is but also its propensity for circular argument, after-the-fact rationalisation and empirical blind spots.

Key narratives of the realist, and wider IR, canon (Machiavelli, Thucydides, the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia) are described in a detail which unmasks their supposed trans-historical relevance as empty. Sovereignty itself undergoes a convincing redefinition, as does the balance of power. The 19th century, and its role in creating today's states-system, is excavated. A research programme is outlined and possible theoretical difficulties assessed.

For all that, there are a few gaps. The strength of the argument occasionally seems to overstate Rosenberg's case, especially for the link between capitalism and sovereignty, and some important debates (namely over the relationship between imperialism and capitalism) are side-stepped. The tension between social relations of production as underlying mechanisms and the possibility of variation in political forms and ideological views resulting from them is not really explored. Perhaps most fatally, there is no reformulation of the questions of order and war in the states-system, which would be necessary for this analysis to be complete. But these can only be criticisms of a long-term research movement, not Rosenberg's relatively short manifesto, which is relentlessly engaging and hugely important.
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on 10 June 2011
don't have time for an extensive review....but very strong critique of realist view of international relations. he argues very well that realist focuses on "balance of power" and "anarchy" possesses pitifully minimal explanatory power. eg they take states in the state system as singular and common units. however, this completely misses the particular social configurations that vary within each state. crucially, the makeup of social formations will have an impact on the international system that realists cannot account for. he therefore calls for a "historical sociological" approach that combines the international (anarchy) and national (unique social configurations) as the only approach that can actually make sense of world politics today.

one weakness, though, is his assessment of the italian and greek state-systems. in these chapters it will become clear that he is a sociologist and not a historian. however, overall, a great book, and absolutely indispensable to anyone studying international relations
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