While speaking with Roham this afternoon, we stumbled across what may be the perfect Oxford way to respond to a question about Kenneth Waltz. Obviously, the first step is to interrogate the question. What do we mean by ‘Waltz?’ I think we can analyze him usefully on the basis of three levels of analysis: the cellular, the individual, and the systemic. Clearly, parsimonious theory demands that systemic explanations be concentrated upon: in this case, the extent to which Waltzian theory is constrained and disposed on the basis of the system in which it exists: American academia. A fundamentally anarchical system, where economic power and the recourse to forceful argument is the ultimate arbiter, American academia effectively constitutes large parts of both the identity and interests of Waltz.
Indeed, while a systemic theory of Waltz may not capture all of the detailed minutiae of his history, or the internal processes by which his external policy is defined, it does provide good answers to the big questions of his fundamental behaviours vis a vis other academic actors. Consider the phenomena of bandwagoning and balancing, in response to Waltzian hegemony. Additionally, consider the emergence of counter-hegemonies in different parts of the system. All can be explained on the basis of the distribution of research capabilities, and the rational characteristics of academic actors.
While many would contend that in order to really understand Waltz, we need to go back to analysis at the individual and cellular level – with a particular focus on the cellular elite that comprises his central nervous system – the fact is that theory, once broadened to that extent, risks being overwhelmed with detail and particularity. If we can develop testable hypotheses about the behaviour of Waltz on the basis of systemic analysis alone – evaluated, of course, through rigorous statistical analysis – we will have developed a theory of Kenneth Waltz is both useful and parsimonious.