Bringing realism to American liberalism: Kenneth Waltz and the process of a cold war adjustment

M. Foley

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1 Citation (Scopus)


Despite being a period of reputed liberal ascendancy and settlement in the United States, the 1950s also marked a time of considerable uncertainty, not least in the matter of America’s own identity in relation to the rest of the world. Louis Hartz’s quintessential depiction of US development threw into high relief the problematic nature of a liberalism that fluctuated between the two poles of principled withdrawal and transformative engagement. This article examines the social and political context of Waltz’s Man, the State, and War in relation to the specific issue of the American liberal predicament during the emergence of the cold war. Waltz’s work tapped into deep political insecurities generated by the onset of an apparently unstable and dangerous international order that threatened to be exacerbated by America’s own indigenous ambiguity over its international position. Waltz illustrated a way by which it was possible for American liberalism, and thereby the United States, to achieve a stable and sustainable form of international involvement without falling prey to the violent swings between the Hartzian extremes of liberal overreaction. Waltz’s kind of realism contained a positive core that implicitly addressed the issue of American engagement in the international system. In effect, the dynamics of international bipolarity had enhanced the possibility of diminishing the chronic nature of liberalism’s own bipolarity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)313-327
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Relations
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2009


  • cold war
  • Louis Hartz
  • social science
  • structral realism
  • US liberalism
  • Kenneth Waltz


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