In This Review

A Cultural Theory of International Relations
A Cultural Theory of International Relations
By Richard Ned Lebow
Cambridge University Press, 2009, 774 pp

Over a distinguished career, Lebow has consistently challenged conventional categories of thinking about international relations. In this magisterial new volume, he lays out his own sweeping theory of society, history, and international order. Whereas realists start their analysis with states operating in anarchy and liberals start with societies in the modernizing world, Lebow starts with individuals, psychology, and human motives. Following ancient Greek thought, he posits that individuals build social order around a few core impulses of the human psyche: spirit, appetite, and reason. Across the ages, political orders have relied on different mixes of these primal impulses to achieve a stable peace. Drawing on philosophy, history, political science, social psychology, and theories of identity, Lebow builds a "paradigm of politics" that seeks to account for variations over time in the way governance has been organized. A rich intellectual feast ensues, as he depicts alternative world orders built around different combinations of spirit, appetite, and reason. Chapters on specific time periods explore how values and practices have evolved over the grand sweep of time, with spirit-based politics having given way to the shifting calculations of appetite, the conflict-prone sentiments of fear, and the restraining impulses of reason. Architectonic and provocative, this book will take its place alongside other major theories of world politics.