[IRTheories-Level of Analysis] Wolfers, Arnold (1962) Discord and Collaboration

[연구] Research 2014. 7. 10. 17:51

Overview (Wolfers)

The title itself, Discord and Collaboration, is a notable implication to Wolfers’ approach to international relations: Composed of two antonyms – discord and collaboration – the title implies Wolfer’s approach to both “ends” of a spectrum in understanding the behaviors of states (actors) in international relations. This “two-ends” approach is prominent throughout Wolfers’ chapters, where Wolfers illustrates the pros and cons of each contrasting(in a sense that A’s main assumptions differ/negate B’s: e.g. realist vs. idealist) theories and concepts in international relations. In Chapter 1, Wolfers provides critique on both the structural and individual/decision-making approach in international relations – the two main strands in the level of analysis debate in international relations; Chapter 2, the concepts of both “amity” and “enmity” are debated; Chapter 3 discusses the spectrum of both the internal and external forces in foreign policy; Chapter 4, terms like “perfectionist moralist” and “nonperfectionist moralist” in the discussion of “statesmanship and moral choice”; Chapter 5, “possession goals(national interest)” versus “milieu goals”(environment, “shaping conditions beyond their national boundaries”), “direct national goals” versus “indirect national goals” and so forth. With such critique on the “both ends,” Wolfers recognizes the danger of polarization and absolutism in IR: Single theory cannot be the answer to all; by critiquing the both ends of every spectrum, Wolfers argues for flexibility in our frame of thoughts, away from resting on one idea/theory to explain the rest.

One possible critique on Wolfers’ work may be this duality in approach itself, where the discussion of the both ends makes his perspective less evident. Nonetheless, a careful reading of his lines do illustrate Wolfers’ view that the world affairs have the tendency to slant towards quests for power – within the realist-idealist continuum, Wolfers’ view lies more close to the former. And this is more clearly marked again by his title, where “Discord” precedes “Collaboration.” 

Point on the Level of Analysis in IR (Chapter I)

- State Level Analysis or Further Down...(Individuals and Corporate Bodies)...?

In respect to the level of analysis debate, Wolfers provides a chronological overview of the debate in the first chapter: Departing from the “traditional approach” – “state-as-the-sole-actors” approach (especially after the Napoleonic Wars, discovery of nation-states, and the era of European “great powers”), Wolfers points out two newly emerged approaches in the field. First is the approach that emphasizes “human individuals” (which is soon followed by the decision-making approach) – the “humanizing” process of international politics, also called as “minds-of-men approach”, and second is the emphasis on international organizations (corporate bodies). Now the state is no longer a single actor/entity, but a collection of different individuals or corporate bodies: state is no longer a blackbox and thus its behaviors can be interpreted from forces “emanating simultaneously from individuals and corporate bodies.”

Wolfers' Take: State Level Analysis supplemented by the new approaches

(pg. 24)

“While it would be dangerous for theorists to divert their primary attention from the nation-state and multi-state systems which continue to occupy most of the stage of contemporary world politics, theory remains inadequate if it is unable to include such phenomena as overlapping authorities, split loyalties, and divided sovereignty, which were pre-eminent characteristics of medieval actors.”

ð  Traditional approach and the new approaches “must supplement each other” to draw the “realistic” realities in contemporary international politics.

*Note on Wolfers’ Interesting and Important Metaphors to explain which level of analysis is appropriate at different situations:


1) House on fire (pg 13):

“Imagine a number of individuals, varying widely in their predispositions, who find themselves inside a house on fire. It would be perfectly realistic to expect that these individuals, with rare exceptions, would feel compelled to run toward the exits. General fears of losing the cherished possession of life, coupled with the start external threat to life, would produce the same reaction, whatever the psychological peculiarities of the actors. Surely, therefore, for an explanation of the rush for the exits, there is no need to analyze the individual decisions that produced it. The situation would be different if one or several members of the group had not joined the stampede, but had remained unmoved after the fire was discovered or had even failed to perceive it. Such “deviationist behavior”, running counter to expectation would justify and require intensive psychological inquiry.


2) Overheated house (pg. 13-14):

“A different situation would arise if, instead of being on fire, the house in question merely were overheated. In such a case, the second prerequisite of compulsion – serious external danger – would be absent. The reactions of different inhabitants might range all the way from hurried window-opening and loud complaints to complete indifference. To formulate expectations concerning behavior in an overheated house one would need intimate knowledge of the varying individual predispositions and of the symptoms by which they could be recognized. Here then, the decision-making approach would become necessary to supplement vague generalizations about reactions to discomfort that might be deduced from human nature in general, and such supplementation would become the more necessary the less overheated the house.”


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