Realism, Spinozism, Secularism

Event details

IR Seminar Series

Date & time

Friday 19 October 2018


PSC Reading Room 4.27, Hedley Bull Centre (130), Garran Road, ANU
ANU Canberra


Dr Knox Peden, University of Melbourne


Mitch Clyne

In Man, the State, and War (1959), Kenneth Waltz identifies Spinoza as a “first-image theorist.” Alongside Augustine, Niebuhr, and Morgenthau, Spinoza holds the view, according to Waltz, that “political ills [are deducible] from human defects.” The description is disputable. And the inclusion of two contemporary thinkers alongside two classics cannot but provoke intellectual historians fearful of anachronism. But the real interest lies in Waltz’s suggestion that Spinoza and Augustine profess similar political views, and this despite Spinoza’s open hostility to the notion of original sin. Waltz’s view invites us to inquire into the historical and theoretical relationship between Spinoza and Augustine, which will in turn shed light on recent debates about the status of realism in IR theory. Recent histories of realism have taken the form of thinly veiled objections to its origins in early and mid-twentieth century challenges to liberalism rooted in theological premises. This paper will take a different tack toward the question of realism’s secular status by pursuing the implications of Waltz’s surprising juxtaposition.

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