Book Review: Rationality And The Analysis Of International Conflict

Rationality And The Analysis Of International Conflict, by Michael Nicholson

It ought to come as little surprise that this book is not strictly rational in its approach.  It is clear that this author has an agenda to push, and manages to have a surprisingly strident ax to grind against those who question the rational and scientific basis of the psychoanalytical school, for reasons that appear puzzling.  Although reading about international conflict and calls for peace is far from unusual for me [1], this book managed to be a bit strange by its desire to defend bounded rationality while also defending the legitimacy of psychoanalysis.  The author seems aware of the tension he is caught in, but his agenda of trying to discredit realism and neo-realism (a common issue among these writers from what I have seen) leads him to engage in dangerous fallacies.  What could have been a great book instead ended up merely being an okay book that sometimes overstayed its welcome by a considerable degree.  At least the book was not bad, and at times it was genuinely entertaining, but I would rather not waste my time reading globalist propaganda if I can help it.

The author takes about 250 pages to cover a variety of subjects The first part of the book looks at conflict, from concepts of conflict to social science and the study of conflict.  The second part of the book looks at rational behavior in the study of rationality and conflict, conflict and the paradoxes of rationality, zero sum games, emotion and rationality, the warping of rationality in international crises, followed by a brief assessment on rational choice.  The third part of the book covers some topics in conflict analysis like the statistical analysis of warlike behavior, arms and arms races, ecology and the free rider, and the theory of alliances.  The fourth part has the author dealing with his critics in classic straw man fashion and looks at the connection between social science and values.  Clearly, the author wants to say things about ecology even though these do not deal precisely with conflicts, at least not as they are described.  The author also wants to have his cake and eat it to, by presenting rationality in such a way that avoids moral judgments while also allowing himself to make moral judgments that support his own political worldviews while simultaneously showing a great deal of dislike for those who judge international relations by moral standards.

In all, this book is demonstration of the mental gymnastics that people do in order to behave like hypocrites.  No stone is unturned if it can help the author plead for his own particular narrow causes.  No reasonable opportunities are missed to make the author appear to be rational and statistical and to show off, even though in some cases this demonstrates just how dodgy the measurement of arms races and conflicts happens to be.  If the author is trying to show the legitimacy of social science approaches to international conflict as he so strenuously claims, he goes about it in a rather odd manner, and in one that alienates at least as many potential readers as it appeals to.  In fact, this is not a very appealing book at all, even if it is at least a reasonably decent primer on the way that statistical analysis works in the social sciences, and that is worth reviewing from time to time.  It is likely one can find more congenial and less hypocritical books to read and review, though.  This book finds the author more interested in scoring points than in being fair-minded, and that makes for a tough book to read for someone like me.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/02/24/book-review-the-idea-and-practice-of-world-government/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/02/24/book-review-international-relations-a-concise-introduction/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/02/11/book-review-passport-to-freedom/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/02/11/book-review-cosmopolitanism/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/08/18/book-review-civilization-and-its-enemies/

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About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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