Rethinking the World: Great Power Strategies and International Order

Overview

Stunning shifts in the worldviews of states mark the modern history of international affairs: how do societies think about—and rethink—international order and security? Japan's "opening," German conquest, American internationalism, Maoist independence, and Gorbachev's "new thinking" molded international conflict and cooperation in their eras. How do we explain such momentous changes in foreign policy—and in other cases their equally surprising absence?The nature of strategic ideas, Jeffrey W. Legro argues, played...
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Overview

Stunning shifts in the worldviews of states mark the modern history of international affairs: how do societies think about—and rethink—international order and security? Japan's "opening," German conquest, American internationalism, Maoist independence, and Gorbachev's "new thinking" molded international conflict and cooperation in their eras. How do we explain such momentous changes in foreign policy—and in other cases their equally surprising absence?The nature of strategic ideas, Jeffrey W. Legro argues, played a critical and overlooked role in these transformations. Big changes in foreign policies are rare because it is difficult for individuals to overcome the inertia of entrenched national mentalities. Doing so depends on a particular nexus of policy expectations, national experience, and ready replacement ideas. In a sweeping comparative history, Legro explores the sources of strategy in the United States and Germany before and after the world wars, in Tokugawa Japan, and in the Soviet Union. He charts the likely future of American primacy and a rising China in the coming century.Rethinking the World tells us when and why we can expect changes in the way states think about the world, why some ideas win out over others, and why some leaders succeed while others fail in redirecting grand strategy.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Legro makes a compelling case that strategic beliefs cannot be reduced to strategic circumstance. He ends by reflecting on the future of the Bush 'revolution' and argues that, absent further terrorist attacks, U.S. foreign policy is likely to tack back to the post-World War II mainstream."—Foreign Affairs, September/October 2005

"Jeffrey W. Legro delivers a thoughtful and very clearly written account of the conditions under which major powers change or don't change their visions of their status and role in international society. The book is yet another nail in the coffin of realist theory as it shows that power relationships, unfiltered by prior, collectively held ideas about cause and effect in international relations, tell us little about major power behavior. The book guides us in looking for and theorizing about important instances of 'new thinking' in world politics, and thus helps problematize the persistence of 'old thinking.'"—Alastair Iain Johnston, Harvard University

"What explains fundamental reorientation of the grand strategy of great powers? Jeffrey Legro moves beyond conventional accounts stressing immutable adaptation to the balance of power, random response to external shocks, or normative persuasion by inherently attractive ideas. He argues instead that big changes in how states view the world reflect domestic struggles to redefine the national interest, which are in turn shaped by contingent yet explicable interactions between ideas and events. This subtle theoretical synthesis marks an important advance in our understanding of the role ideas play in international relations, from which Legro draws important implications for the contemporary foreign policy of the United States and China."—Andrew Moravcsik, Princeton University

"The rapid pace of change in the fundamental features of international politics demands that scholars develop better theories of change. In recent years, many scholars and activists have argued that the force of new, persuasive, principled ideas can lead to fundamental change in the world. Jeffrey W. Legro's Rethinking the World looks at dramatic new departures in the thinking of great powers—America's and Japan's emergence from isolationism; Gorbachev's 'new thinking' that ended the Cold War; Germany's break with its Nazi past—and shows how external shocks combined with domestic politics and the pre-existing stock of ideas about the world to determine whether change would happen and whether the change would stick. This book's fruitful, balanced approach will be a welcome addition to my syllabus on international relations."—Jack L. Snyder, Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Relations, Columbia University

Foreign Affairs
In this impressive study, Legro argues that major strategic turning points are not simply the result of shifts in power and interests; they also involve the interplay of "collective ideas" within states about how to relate to the outside world. Legro explores many of the most important cases: the United States' turn to internationalism after World War II, Japan's decision in the 1860s to join the great powers, Germany's failed reintegration into Europe after World War I, Gorbachev's late-Soviet "new thinking." In each instance, shocks to old thinking — typically war or economic calamity — make possible a reorientation of foreign policy. And it is at these historical "pivot points," when the nation's interests are not clear and leaders are forced to puzzle about the future, that ideas and beliefs matter. The causal connections between power, interests, and collective ideas are not always clear, but Legro makes a compelling case that strategic beliefs cannot be reduced to strategic circumstance. He ends by reflecting on the future of the Bush "revolution" and argues that, absent further terrorist attacks, U.S. foreign policy is likely to tack back to the post-World War II mainstream.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801473838
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2007
  • Series: Cornell Studies in Security Affairs Series
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 857,936
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.16 (h) x 0.71 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeffrey W. Legro is Randolph P. Compton Professor in the Department of Politics at the University of Virginia. He is the author of Rethinking the World and Cooperation under Fire and coeditor of In Uncertain Times, all from Cornell.

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Table of Contents

1 Great power ideas and change 1
2 Explaining change and continuity 24
3 The ebb and flow of American internationalism 49
4 Germany, from outsider to insider 84
5 Overhaul of orthodoxy in Tokugawa Japan and the Soviet Union 122
6 The next century 161
App. 1 The transformation of economic ideas 189
App. 2 Analysis of presidential discourse 199
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