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While the battle has raged for decades, the work of Alexander Wendt has recently become a rallying point for reflectivists, now identified as Constructivists, to critique mainstream rationalists like Kenneth Waltz at a meta-theoretical level while also offering a compelling account of how international relations came to be as they are now. Constructivism is no longer on the margins of IR theory, where it had once been safely ignored.

Anarchy is not what states make of it; it is a condition that inevitably leads to a self-help international system. So long as anarchy holds, Waltz will apply.


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If not, then Wendt comes in. Anarchy, then, is the key concept linking Waltz and Wendt in the same theoretical framework. Given anarchy, states, as self-regarding political units, have to contend with and work within the distribution of their material capabilities, understood as military power. The differential distribution of these capabilities results in uncertainty, motivating states to ensure their security by maximizing relative gains in order to protect their position in the system.

Grieco States fear the power of other states, but have no recourse to any other body that can guarantee their security if conflict arises.

A Study of Self-Help in Anarchic International Systems

Hence, for Neorealists, self-help is a function of anarchy. Constructivists, led by Alexander Wendt, challenge this Neorealist logic by arguing that self-help is only one out of the many possible institutions that can be produced by anarchy. First, I explore the possibility of identity formation in isolation prior to interaction between states. Second, I trace the most logical dynamic of socialization that will apply once states begin to interact with each other.

Third, I analyze how anarchy affects the creation and maintenance of a functioning international system. In lieu of any other reasonable starting point, the argument begins with a single entity existing in isolation, precluding all interaction with any similar entities. Wendt rejects any possibility of this isolated entity acquiring an identity, since identities are only formed through socialization.

Because interests are functions of identity, an isolated entity that cannot have an identity naturally cannot have a fixed interest. I disagree with this analysis. In contrast, I believe that an entity is able to form a self-concept even in the absence of a peer entity.


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  • So long as an entity is able to define itself in opposition to uncertainty, it will be able to conceive a self. The cognitive understanding of uncertainty by any entity means that the entity is able to comprehend the concept of knowledge, implying the existence of a rational self. Rene Descartes makes the same point in more philosophical terms: Self-preservation is a fixed interest, exogenous of interaction.

    Constancy's Waltz

    I argue that survival is the fixed and fundamental interest of all entities able to conceive of selves. Some entities, like human beings, are biological.

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    A state, on the other hand, is a political entity. Although a state can be treated like a single unit, it is actually a conglomeration of individuals held together by political bonds that help unify the collective in the face of uncertainty. States are also not spontaneously generated. Even in a state of isolation, states are political entities that already have material capabilities, whether economic or military. Even without clear enemies, state comprehension of the dangers lurking in uncertainty, coupled with the survival imperative and its possession of material capabilities implies that states will continue to arm themselves anyway.

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    In anarchic conditions, will this institution necessarily take on the form of self-help? While various state interests are constructed endogenously through interaction, states retain a fixed, exogenous interest in survival that is logically prior to any kind of interaction. If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support? Constancy Grace Stafford never lived up to her middle name, but stumbling over a corpse turns into her worst trip ever. Danny Egan, town cop and master fiddler, defies a direct order and takes on the case.

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