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«The role of reason in international relations has been contested since the eighteenth century. The construction of a sphere of calculated state ...»

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A nal alternative to rational choice explanations of behavior, described by Elster as the only alternative that cannot be absorbed by even an expanded rationalist frame, is behavior driven by social norms.68 Behavior driven by social norms de ned in this way undermines both individualist and rationalist premises of rational choice models. The norms in question are social in two respects: they are shared by a population, and that population sustains them by enforcing them (through expressed approval and disapproval). Unlike rational action, which is determined by the instrumental pursuit of future outcomes, norm-driven behavior is not outcome-oriented. One easy guide to behavior governed by social norms (as compared to behavior driven by rational or optimizing behavior) is the response (when challenged) that a certain action ‘‘just isn’t done.’’ Norm-driven behavior is nonrational in a second sense, in its tie to the emotions: ‘‘Social norms have a grip on the mind that is due to the strong emotions their violations can trigger.’’69 Elster’s conception of norm-driven behavior is contested from both the rationalist and the social constructivist positions. Those deploying rational choice models seek to incorporate this sphere of human behavior within a rationalist perspective as well.

Russell Hardin, for example, challenges Elster’s de nition of norms as not outcomeoriented. For Hardin, following norms may combine elements of both rational selfinterest and nonconsequentialist motivation. The uid boundaries between normdriven and rational choice can only be assessed empirically.70 Social constructivists, on the other hand, would contest the methodological individualism of Elster’s de nition and seek to expand the scope of norm-driven behavior as against behavior explained through individual choice.71 Two separable characteristics of norms are at issue then: to what degree norms can be regarded as based in individual beliefs and behavior and to what degree norms are sustained by rational self-interest (de ned minimally as concern with the consequences of the behavior induced by norms).

More than in economic transactions (where there are strong norms regarding what money can buy), international relations has been portrayed as a setting of weak or nonexistent norms. Norm-driven behavior in the conventional or realist view is rare

66. Monroe 1995, 12–13.

67. Rosenberg 1995, 124–25.

68. The description here is drawn from Elster 1989c, chap. 3; and Elster 1989b, 32–35.

69. Elster 1989c, 100.

70. Hardin 1995, 108, 140.

71. On the individualism of Elster’s conception of norms, see Elster 1989c, 105.

938 International Organization or absent. Social constructivists have expanded attention to outcomes that appear to be explained by the evolution of social norms in international relations—norms that are often closely tied to identity. Nevertheless, most case studies of the in uence of norms in international relations, as responses to realist skepticism, have not been designed to establish norm-driven behavior as a nonrational alternative to rationalist, outcome-driven behavior described by Elster.72 Although social constructivists would reject an individualist account for the origins of norms, as Martha Finnemore and Kathryn Sikkink make clear in this issue, they would not in every case reject a role for individual or state self-interest in sustaining norms. On further investigation,

norms with a wholly nonrational basis may be discovered in international relations:

the attachment to national sovereignty may be one example. In international relations, however, the ability to assign an instrumental explanation for the power of many norms and the absence of an apparent affective or emotional linkage that sustains compliance through social disapproval in domestic contexts may reduce the scope of wholly nonrational, norm-driven behavior.

Just as deterrence theory has served as the principal site of contest between rational choice and psychological approaches, identity- and norm-centered explanations on the one hand and rational choice models on the other have challenged each other on the eld of ethnic or national identity since the end of the Cold War. In predicting the prevalence of ethnic con ict in particular, rational choice and cultural or eclectic models have competed for explanatory success. The competition is made more interesting by a mingling of normative and positive analysis. As Bernard Yack has argued, the familiar distinctions between civic and ethnic nationalism (good/bad, rational/ nonrational, peaceful/con ictual) combine unexamined assumptions about the sources of unfolding ethnic con ict as well as assumptions about desirable outcomes.73 Models of ethnic outbidding based on rational politicians have been widely employed; the instrumental view of ethnicity at the individual and the elite level is a powerful one. At the same time, those models appear incomplete or fail to ‘‘work’’ in the absence of a cultural (if not primordial) substrate that closely resembles Elster’s norm-driven behavior: suffused with affect and often unconcerned with outcomes.

All of the social and interpretive quali cations of rational choice models mentioned earlier are applicable here, as are the cautions regarding the easy leap from individual to group motivations and action.74 Prevailing theoretical eclecticism in the study of ethnicity and ethnic con ict, combined with a rich and growing set of historical and contemporary cases, suggests that this arena will provide not only some clear tests of the limitations and strengths of rationalist models and their competitors but also a site for bridge building between the theoretical and methodological camps. Whether those bridges are illusory or real is the subject of the concluding section.





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Reason and the Domain of International Politics International relations has always been a realm of reason only in part, claimed by both passions and interests. Perhaps the long coexistence of those who have tried to capture its elements of calculation and prudence and those impressed by the irrationality of international outcomes and processes has spared the eld from some of the battles that are underway between rational choice and its critics elsewhere in the social sciences. In the inconclusive great debates of international relations, those employing rational choice models could be found on either side, particularly in the most recent neorealist and neoliberal controversies. The image of rational and unitary state actors has been pervasive in the eld; strategic interaction is a given. As a result, rational choice and game-theoretic approaches have been easier to accept.

A certain familiarity with models drawn from microeconomics has not meant an absence of critical scrutiny for those approaches, however. Critics from a number of psychological perspectives—depth psychology, cognitive psychology, prospect theory—have pointed out important deviations from austere models of subjective expected utility. Psychological approaches have confronted rational actor models on a level playing eld: both accepted individualist premises. The long-standing exchanges between rational choice and its psychological critics demonstrate that arguments about scope must be framed precisely to move the eld forward. The hegemonic aspirations of rationalist modelers have often confronted equally broad claims regarding the prevalence of psychological distortions in decision processes. Many of those at the center of psychological research programs, such as Robert Jervis, Philip Tetlock, and Janice Stein, have argued for context-dependent or contingent theories that would specify when rational choice or alternative psychological models of decision should be applied. Unfortunately, such a theory has not emerged on either side.

Although the experimental results in support of prospect theory—the latest theoretical alternative championed by the psychologists—are robust, the translation of those ndings into decision situations comparable to those in international politics remains problematic. Psychological critiques have elicited a signi cant response by rational choice modelers and game theorists, however. Expected utility models rely on a rationality that is increasingly constrained, reducing the heroic assumptions that provided such an easy target for the psychologists. The incorporation of bounded rationality into these models and the development of evolutionary game theory have permitted more realistic de nitions of rational behavior and opened new research avenues.

In addition to the need for contingent statements of scope, rational choice and its individualist critics also share methodological shortcomings that could be explored together. Both rational choice and its micro-level critics have moved blithely from the individual to the organizational and governmental levels of analysis, accompanied by their rational and nonrational assumptions. The issue of appropriate aggregation or modi cation in order to preserve assumptions drawn from the individual level has seldom been broached explicitly. Under the in uence of neorealism and moves to ‘‘bring the state back in,’’ international relations, far more than the other social sciInternational Organization ences, was willing to attribute a circumscribed rationality to states and other international actors. Typically, the issue is dealt with through simple pragmatism: unitary actors are a useful assumption until proven unrealistic. Only recently has institutional analysis provided a rigorous means for identifying the constraints on domestic political actors and modeling both the international and domestic bargaining in which they engage.

A diverse set of critics who emphasize culture and norms exemplify a third strategy that is necessary for fruitful theoretical exchange: clarifying points of complementarity and con ict through careful de nition. Many of these critics have questioned the individualist assumptions of most rational choice models; their arguments have implications that are less clear for rational choice assumptions. By forcing implicit auxiliary assumptions to the surface, rational choice models have been broadened. By pressing for a theory of preference and belief formation and arguing for attention to the identity formation of actors, alternatives based on culture and norms opened questions that many rationalist models had mistakenly believed to be answered. As a result, new research agendas—driven by rationality, culture, and identity—have illuminated ethnic and identity politics and their in uence on international relations, the character of units—as de ned by themselves and by others— across time, and ‘‘knowledge politics,’’ the construction of social knowledge within and across national boundaries.

Arguing for inevitable convergence or accommodation between rational choice and its critics would be as naive as proclaiming peace in our time. Nevertheless, the conditions described provide a basis for intellectual exchange that promises to advance research agendas on either side rather than promoting fruitless and grandiose claims and counterclaims. Careful stipulations of scope, acknowledgment of joint methodological shortcomings, and precise de nition of perceived differences can be supplemented empirically by problem-centered research. If research agendas are largely theory-driven, selection biases will tend to favor research questions more tractable for rational choice or its critics. By accepting the ‘‘neutral’’ empirical ground of historical or contemporary issues whose importance is widely acknowledged, a level playing eld for theoretical competition may be established. Deterrence served this purpose and illuminated the differences between rational deterrence theory and its critics. Nationalism and ethnicity provide a similar competitive research frontier for social constructivist and rational choice models.

Full-blown alternatives to rational choice may arise from each of these critical alternatives. An evolutionary or selective model, endorsed by Waltz, would render micro-level rationality otiose. Prospect theory or another model of psychological processes may yet offer the breadth of application that rational choice has enjoyed as a model of individual decision. Social constructivism could produce a uni ed, normdriven model of international relations that will contend with the state-centric and rationalist predilections of both neorealists and liberal institutionalists.

What is more likely is further evolution of rationalist models in directions that accommodate at least some of these criticisms. Heroic and unrealistic assumptions regarding information and information processing will continue to be relaxed in faRationality in International Relations vor of constrained or bounded rationality. Models of linked domestic and international bargaining will eliminate the need for another set of unrealistic assumptions concerning unitary and rational states. Finally, rational models will be ‘‘collectivized,’’ as persistent cultural beliefs are incorporated into game-theoretic and institutionalist models.75 In light of past experience, valuable complementarities between rational choice and its critics will be more rapidly exploited by rationalist models.

Assumptions of rationality and criticisms of those assumptions have de ned research agendas in international relations; in the past they also de ned a normative stance in international relations. Rational choice provided a means to explore the most efficient means to pursue national ends, to attain collectively desirable international outcomes, and to avoid disastrous ones. Military strategy, at least since Clausewitz, has been designed to impose reason on con icts that threatened to spin out of control, to transform ghts into games. Deterrence theory, with its applications to nuclear policy and arms control, was perhaps the most striking demonstration of reason in the service of particular national and international goals, but one that demonstrated in the eyes of some the irrationality of reason’s offspring. Psychological dissents from rational choice were directed toward what was seen as the hubris of early deterrence theory, but the goal remained an undistorted set of rational beliefs and decision-making processes. The delicate balance of terror was rendered less delicate and less dangerous, but what many saw as the fundamental irrationality of mutual assured destruction remained.

The narrowing of reason’s import to a criterion of decision-making efficiency may have eliminated its status as a normative standard. The effects of misperception and other nonrational distortions on international outcomes are ambiguous; theorydriven behavior can have both positive and negative consequences. Rational institutional design (from the point of view of individual agents) may produce governmental deadlock and foreign policy passivity at the national level. And nonrational in uences, such as norms and national identity, may create both a community capable of forging a coherent and legitimate foreign policy and one that oppresses its own minorities and wages war against those outside the community’s pale. Reason’s role at the core of explanatory models continues to grow. Its status as a benchmark for judgment remains as uncertain as it was when Morgenthau attacked ‘‘scienti c man.’’

75. For an important example of such a strategy, see Greif 1995.



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