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date: 17 November 2017

Summary and Keywords

Statesmen, salesmen, soldiers, and scholars have discussed international relations for hundreds of years—at least since sovereign states consolidated their presence along the North Atlantic rim. The Renaissance saw the rise of such discussions, triggered by gunpowder-based armies in Europe and discoveries of new lands in extra-European regions. The Reformation added arguments about the role of religion in interstate affairs—arguments echoed in peace treaties like those signed in Augsburg (1555) and Westphalia (1648). The Enlightenment brought more systematic efforts to explain the causes of war and the preconditions of peace. Two different arguments were drawn more sharply after the Wars of the Spanish Succession and the peace conference of Utrecht (1715): one argued that international order could be maintained by an equilibrium of power; another claimed that peace could be created through diplomatic cooperation and international law. Both arguments were elaborated during the Napoleonic Wars and informed the peace treaties signed at the Congress of Vienna (1814–1815).

In the wake of World War I, when the academic discipline of international relations (IR) was established—when scholarly institutions were sponsored for research and education about international issues—there existed a rich literature on the causes of war and the preconditions for international peace. It is argued here that this literature has not been managed particularly well. Few IR scholars have mined this literature systematically. New generations of IR scholars have been more preoccupied with current events than with recurrent patterns. They have been more busy with contemporary theories than with systematically arranging and assessing explanations from the past. If IR wants to become a social science, marked by progress and accumulation of knowledge, it is necessary to catalogue and manage its scholarly heritage in more systematic ways.

Keywords: accumulation, international relations, realism, science, empirical international relations theory, theory, theorizing, public sphere

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