«The role of reason in international relations has been contested since the eighteenth century. The construction of a sphere of calculated state ...»
The insertion of norms and identity into the analysis of international relations has been taken by some as a direct assault on rationalist models of national policy and international interaction. That insertion has taken many different forms, however, and not all are incompatible with rational choice models. In part, the view that rationalist models are incompatible with the inclusion of norms or culture is the result of an unfortunate con ation of methodology and substance. Most cultural and normative treatments employ ‘‘thick description’’ or interpretive approaches to their subjects, in contrast to the deductive and parsimonious bent of rationalist models. The alternatives are critical of the methodological individualism that is coupled with rationality in these models of politics. Whether rationality and collective identity can be combined within a modi ed rational choice framework is one of the central questions posed by the recent turn toward identity and norms. To the degree that one can assemble common positions among a diverse group of theorists and researchers, four different criticisms have been leveled at rationalist models. These critical positions can be arrayed from those that complement modi ed rationalist models to those that suggest a much larger theoretical divide between rational and nonrational.
The treatment of preferences as exogenous and individualistic has been questioned by economists, social psychologists, and, within international relations, proponents of strategic culture as a determinant of behavior. For some, the absence of a theory of beliefs and preferences is simply a failure of explanation within rational choice models; if explanation occurs ‘‘when the mind is at rest,’’ standard rational choice models often leave restless minds in their wake. Herbert Simon has argued that without strong auxiliary assumptions (such as those in public choice theory) rational choice models are nearly empty of explanatory or predictive content.46 Others have questioned individualist assumptions regarding beliefs, preferences, and the information environment that seem to underlie many rationalist models. Kenneth Arrow has recently argued that both the rules of the game (in economic or strategic interaction) and much knowledge is irreducibly social.47 Arrow’s assertion can be tied to the assumption of common knowledge that underlies equilibrium analysis in game theory.48 Norman Scho eld situates this question at the heart of social (and by extension international) cooperation: ‘‘The theoretical problem underlying cooperation can be stated thus: what is the minimal amount that one agent must know in a given milieu about the beliefs and wants of other agents, to be able to form coherent notions about their behavior, and for this knowledge to be communicable to the others.’’49 Scho eld’s language and the problem of common knowledge that he raises provide a link to those who propose including social and cultural content in rational models.
46. Simon 1995, 50.
47. Arrow 1994, 5–6.
48. For a summary, see Morrow 1994a, 307–308.
49. Scho eld 1985.
934 International Organization Within international relations strategic culture is sometimes portrayed as an alternative to rational choice explanations. In fact, strategic culture is better seen as a modi cation or extension of those models, providing a source of organizational and national preferences. For example, Alastair Iain Johnston offers ‘‘a limited, ranked set of grand strategic preferences that is consistent across the objects of analysis...
and persistent across time’’ as the ‘‘essential empirical referent of strategic culture.’’ Strategic culture is proposed as a more powerful explanation for this ranking than variables such as ‘‘technology, threat, or organization.’’50 Elizabeth Kier also presents a ‘‘culturalist’’ approach to the choice of military doctrine as a means of endogenizing preferences, in contrast to structural or functional explanations.51 Jeffrey W. Legro, in another deployment of organizational culture (as an alternative to realist and institutionalist explanations), also uses the culture of military organizations as a means for explaining state preferences.52 In each of these cases, cultural explanations are a means of enriching models of state choice, not an instrument for overturning them.
Even these efforts to explain the collective or social content of beliefs and preferences may with extension suggest a deeper con ict with rationalism. One point of disagreement concerns the nature of culture itself. To the degree that organizational and strategic culture is de ned carefully, it is not seen as the result of individual interaction: through processes of socialization, organizational cultures are embedded in individuals and those individuals accept such cultures in a relatively unre ective way. Contrast this image with the rational and individualist model of corporate culture proposed by David M. Kreps. Although Kreps allows that corporate culture may be ‘‘rigid and immutable,’’ he offers a de nition of culture that is functional and evolutionary: a principle or set of principles that permit ‘‘relatively efficient transactions to take place and on which a viable reputation can be based.’’53 Although both views of organizational culture employ the word culture, the means by which culture is created and transmitted is very different.
A second point of divergence links culturalist explanations to psychological critiques described earlier. If culture implies ‘‘culturally dictated schemas which guide individuals to see, do, and want what is required of them,’’54 one may arrive at a view of choice so constrained by culture that little choice remains: to return to Elster’s original de nition, the feasible set is sharply constrained by culture, collective beliefs largely guide interpretation of the choice situation, and in the most culturally driven account, choice can hardly be said to occur. If this interpretation is placed on strategic or organizational culture, we approach a nonrational, norm-driven behavior that is described later.
This rst group of critics wishes to elaborate and ‘‘socialize’’ beliefs and preferences within reigning rationalist accounts. A second group is more concerned with
50. Johnston 1995b, 48.
51. Kier 1995, 67.
52. Legro 1995, 27–28.
53. Kreps 1990a, 127, 125.
54. Rosenberg 1995, 132.
Rationality in International Relations anachronistic or inaccurate auxiliary assumptions that have characterized too many rational choice models of political behavior. If the rst critics are concerned with the emptiness of rational choice models, the second set remarks that such models have been lled with particular assumptions about individual and state preferences, speci cally the assumption of a self-interested homo economicus. Using Ferejohn’s distinctions, the criticisms here are directed at ‘‘thick rationality’’ of the wrong kind (in the view of the critics) rather than the thin rationality that was the focus of the rst criticisms.
The inclusion of other-regarding or altruistic motivations in rationalist models has been the source of considerable controversy, much of it without direct relevance to international relations. On one side, it is argued that by emptying rational choice of self-interest narrowly de ned, the concept of rationality becomes so thin as to become a tautology.55 The opposed view is in favor of ‘‘broad,’’ not thin rationality, criticizing the narrow self-interest view of rationality as an unnecessary auxiliary assumption imposed by too many economists. Elster, for example, distinguishes between economic man ‘‘de ned through continuous preferences and narrow selfinterest,’’ and rational man, ‘‘who may have non-Archimedean preferences and be moved by concern for others.’’56 Although less concerned with altruism, debates within international relations revolve around similar issues: does ‘‘broadening’’ rational models to incorporate different beliefs about the world and nonmaterial conceptions of interest render the model so ‘‘thin’’ as to undermine its explanatory usefulness? The introduction of ideational variables into explanations of foreign policy, widespread over the past decade, does not seem to have weakened the explanatory power of essentially rationalist models.57 Ferejohn makes a convincing argument that even interpretivist accounts based on thick description of distant historical episodes, accounts that challenge some of the assumptions embedded in public choice and positive political economy models of political behavior, can be fruitfully incorporated into broader rational and purposive models of behavior. By drawing on both interpretivist and rationalist approaches the indeterminacies of each can be partially alleviated.58 This apparently happy complementarity may reach its limits, however, when the beliefs and preferences of another culture or another time challenge rationalism itself. Some argue that the worldviews of other cultures, such as Islamic fundamentalism, cannot be melded with an approach derived from the European Enlightenment.59 The reply to such arguments raises two questions: is this worldview, typically derived from the writings of intellectuals and clerics, shared widely by the population and re ected in its behavior? To the degree that action cannot be explained by a very thin rational model, how do these actors accomplish their political and religious ends (that is, are there costs or selective pressures imposed on nonrational operating codes)?
55. Monroe 1995, 5.
56. Elster 1984, 146. On less self-centered views of rationality, see also Sen 1994, 389.
57. See the contributions to Goldstein and Keohane 1993b.
58. Ferejohn 1991, 285.
59. Euben 1995, 157–78.
936 International Organization Rather than emphasizing the social and cultural content of beliefs and preferences, a third set of critics concentrates on the determinants of identity, which is held to be socially constructed and prior to any de nition of preferences or behavior. Once again, the elevation of identity undermines methodological individualism rather than rationalist models per se, but some interpretations of identity call into question rational choice assumptions as well. Social constructivism, which incorporates a diverse body of scholarship, emphasizes socially constructed identity and its implications as a core constituent of its research program.60 Sociological approaches to international relations also argue against a starting point of individual, rational agents. Instead, agents themselves, whether individuals or states, are shaped profoundl y by a dense institutional environment. The environment can not only alter choices, it can also constitute the properties of actors and even their existence.61 The sociological perspective accepts institutions as pervasive; although institutions ‘‘are certainly the product of human activity, they are not necessarily the products of conscious design.’’ They represent ‘‘collective outcomes that are not the simple sum of individual interests.’’62 The social constructivist or sociological view of a highly institutionalized environment shaping or even determining the identity of its constituent actors need not be incompatible with rationalist models. One could argue that choices are simply highly constrained by social and cultural determinants (as earlier criticisms alleged) and that socially constituted identities are an ontological issue prior to behavioral modeling along rational choice lines.63 As John Ruggie puts it, ‘‘a core constructivist research concern is what happens before the neo-utilitarian model purportedly kicks in.’’64 In outlining the effects of identity on national security policy, for example, Ronald L.
Jepperson, Peter J. Katzenstein, and Alexander Wendt point to two ways in which identity is prior to interests: states may develop interests linked to particular identities, or domestic identity politics may be re ected in foreign policy interests. In both cases, identity is prior to interests and may de ne those interests, but the pursuit of those interests could be incorporated in a rationalist model.65 Once again, however, extending or reinterpreting this concern with identity may produce con ict rather than complementarity with a rationalist approach. Identity may itself affect interests and behavior in a direct and unmediated way that is difficult to reconcile with rational choice models. Kristen Renwick Monroe’s sphere of ethical action, for example, proceeds directly from identity: ‘‘Certain kinds of political action emanate primarily from one’s perception of self in relation to others; this perception effectively delineates and sets the domain of choice options perceived as
available to an actor, both in an empirical and moral sense.’’ Or more radically:
60. See Adler 1997; and Ruggie, this issue.
61. Jepperson, Wendt, and Katzenstein 1996, 41.
62. DiMaggio and Powell 1991, 8–9.
63. Spruyt’s excellent account of the emergence of the sovereign territorial state combines an analysis of the success of one identity with a rational choice explanation for the emergence of the initial competitors. Spruyt 1994.
64. Ruggie, this issue.
65. Jepperson, Wendt, and Katzenstein 1996, 60–61.
Rationality in International Relations ‘‘ethical action does not result from conscious calculus.’’66 Identity may also undermine a rationalist calculus if it can be attached to different forms of rationality. Shawn Rosenberg contends that individuals may exhibit different structures of reasoning and different rationalities; at the level of collectivities, cultural arguments (described earlier in the case of non-Western cultures) could ascribe the same variation.67 Doubts remain, however: would selection produce some form of roughly similar rationality among individuals or collectivities; can the evidence of such radical variation in reasoning (drawn from experimental evidence) be transposed to social and political settings?