International Politics

, Volume 50, Issue 6, pp 863–879 | Cite as

Waltz and the world: Neorealism as international political theory?

  • Adam R C Humphreys
Original Article


The recent recovery of an empirically and ethically richer realist tradition involves an explicit contrast with neorealism's more scientistic explanatory aspirations. This contrast is, however, incomplete. Although Waltz's theoretical work is shaped by his understanding of the requirements of scientific adequacy, his empirical essays are normatively quite rich: he defends bipolarity, and criticizes US adventurism overseas, because he believes bipolarity to be conducive to effective great power management of the international system, and hence to the avoidance of nuclear war. He is, in this sense, a theorist divided against himself: much of his oeuvre exhibits precisely the kind of pragmatic sensibility that is typically identified as distinguishing realism from neorealism. His legacy for a reoriented realism is therefore more complex than is usually realized. Indeed, the nature of Waltz's own analytical endeavour points towards a kind of international political theory in which explanatory and normative questions are intertwined.


realism neorealism Waltz IR theory international political theory 



A previous version of this article was delivered at workshop ‘Reorienting Realism: Context, Crisis and Critique’, held June 23-24, on ‘The Indispensable Theory? The Theory and Practice of Realism from the Scottish Enlightenment to the Present', University of Edinburgh, June 2012. I am grateful to the editors for comments.


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Adam R C Humphreys
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Politics and International RelationsUniversity of Reading, Whiteknights CampusReading RG6UK

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