Historians of the “new” Diplomatic History tend to clash with Political Science approaches to International Relations, and especially with Neorealists—who often depict states as “billiard balls” acting against each other on a global pool table.
Paul W. Schroeder, a prominent historian of the Habsburg Empire and European international relations, has heavily criticized Neorealism’s problematic vision of “great power politics” and structural anarchy. Other “new” diplomatic historians stress the importance of the cultural and social production of information and diplomatic activity. Diplomacy, they argue, must be understood through its gendered, religious-inflected, and culturally-bound languages, texts, and practices.
Yet, Neorealists forge ahead with their theories of “pure” nation-state politics, assuming that internal political and social changes are irrelevant. Neorealists largely believe that non-state actors (within, beyond, or between states) have no real influence on global diplomacy.
A recent Atlantic article by Robert D. Kaplan reassesses the legacy of one of the most important lines of Neorealist international relations theory: that of John J. Mearsheimer, Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago. Mearsheimer has been heavily criticized in the media over the past year or so, in response to his co-authored book on the “Israel Lobby,” but Kaplan focuses instead on Mearsheimer’s broader international relations work in this piece. Kaplan largely praises Mearsheimer’s theories in an uncritical article that lacks serious analysis of Mearsheimer’s arguments or his detractors’ serious criticisms.
Nonetheless, historians of diplomacy will be interested in this piece and its attempt to bolster Mearsheimer’s reputation and establish his legacy in international relations.