Topic: The international system— fact, fiction, or made-up-stuff?

Prompt: Begin developing an informed opinion on how states behave as a system and which theory, if any, you believe best describes the system. The chapter approaches the nature of the system based on 1) how it is structured in terms of polarities and levels of power (see figures 4.1 and 4.2), and 2) how examples of changes in the system are used by competing theorists as evidence demonstrating the superiority of their claims. In other words, competing system theorists justify their truth claims about the nature of the system by arguing that they can explain change (or history) better than rival theorists (i.e., end of chapter text box, “Theory in Brief, Contending Perspectives on the International System.”)

Given competing explanations of the system, answer the following prompts in any manner you choose, integrated or separately:

  • What are the fundamental strengths and weakness of polarity as a tool of explanation for how the international system works? (Remember the Waltz MACAT video in Module 1?) Based on the history of IR since Westphalia, is some kind of polar structure a permanent feature of the international system, or does this feature seem merely contingent? Explain.
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of each of the system theories discussed in the chapter —realism, liberalism, and constructivism? In other words, what kind of evidence makes each theory more or less plausible?
  • Finally, Christianity arguably offers a ‘unit level’ explanation for (bad) collective behavior based upon the multiplier effect of individual sin. Briefly comment on whether ‘sin’ theory explains the behavior of the system and its parts as well as rival theories?



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