International relations theory doesn’t serve us well; on the contrary

Our understanding of the workings of the international system and international relations is still very rudimentary.

medical science

International Relations Theory is at the same level of ‘science’ as the medical ‘sciences’ during the Middel Ages: Both lack a scientific understanding of the phenomena they try – or pretend – to cure.

International relations theory (IRT) – considered to be a ‘field of political science’ – still does not meet the standards of a serious scientific discipline: Until now, IRT only consist of a set of dogmas – a set of established opinions and beliefs – that lack any scientific basis.

Opinions of ‘experts’ are confused with science and scientific theory. The same dogmas that were used centuries ago, still inform our thinking and decisions concerning international relations today.

The scientific revolution has passed IRT-practitioners: We are still stuck in an unscientific narrative approach to IRT. IRT is not (about) science, but mostly about justifying (dubious) decisions that need a sort of respectability because of the political interests that are involved.

We are fooling ourselves.

Not only are the dogmas as such wrong, but also the idea that a dogmatic approach could ever be effective, also given the constant change in and of the international system and of its dynamics.

IRT is characterised by ignorance. But despite its obvious shortcomings, IRT scientists/theorists are mostly content with the use of these dogmas. That these dogmas contradict even basic science is not an issue.

Consequently, no progress is made in IRT, while the most imminent challenges humanity now faces, should be the concern of this scientific discipline.

The current level of thinking – the level of ‘science’ – in IRT is about the same as the level of thinking in the medical ‘sciences’ during the Middle Ages.

As was the case in medical science during the Middle Ages, IRT-practitioners attribute the dynamics of the system to some vague notions of certain properties of the system that can be addressed by the wise – but unsubstantiated – advice of ‘experts’.

Instead of contributing to a solution, the short-sighted advice only contributes to more problems and further escalation.

It is about time for a scientific revolution in International Relations Theory, and for IRT-practitioners to start challenging their comfortable assumptions and to live up to standards of science.