Principle Confronting Power: In Memory of Hans Morgenthau
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
During the 1950s I grew up in a family who rooted for the success of African Americans in their just struggle for civil rights and full legal equality. At the age of 12 I joined the American Civil Liberties Union after I read in the evening newspaper that they had just won a big civil rights lawsuit for African Americans. I mailed them a $5 bill out of my hard-earned allowance monies in order to cover the membership dues.
Later that same year it was the terror of my own personal imminent nuclear annihilation during the Cuban Missile Crisis that first sparked my interest in studying international relations and U.S. foreign policy as a young boy: “My parents said this guy Kennedy was pretty good. But I think he’s crazy. The whole world is about to blow up and I’m only 12 years old? I can do a better job than this!”1
So I began to pay attention to what was going on in the world instead of just my own country. I devoured our family’s morning and evening newspapers. I watched CBS Evening News almost every night—a practice I continued until Walter Cronkite retired. After church on Sunday I used to watch the TV network news analysis programs, something I no longer waste my time doing. Today’s TV news is not much different from TV entertainment. Then along came Rupert Murdoch’s open-sewer otherwise known as the Fox TV network.
With the escalation of the Vietnam War in 1964 and the military draft staring me right in the face, I undertook a detailed examination of it. I eventually concluded that unlike World War II when my father had bravely fought and defeated the Japanese Imperial Army as a young Marine in the Pacific, this new war was illegal, immoral, unethical, and the United States was bound to lose it. America was just picking up where France had left off at Dien Bien Phu. So I resolved to do what little I could to oppose the Vietnam War.
In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson gratuitously invaded the Dominican Republic, which prompted me to commence a detailed examination of U.S. military interventions into Latin America from the Spanish-American War of 1898 up to President Franklin Roosevelt’s so-called “good neighbor” policy. At the end of this study, I concluded that the Vietnam War was not episodic, but rather systemic: Aggression, warfare, bloodshed, and violence were just the way the United States Power Elite had historically conducted their business around the world. Hence, as I saw it as a young man of 17, there would be more Vietnams in the future and perhaps someday I could do something about it as well as about promoting civil rights for African Americans.2 These twins concerns of my youth would gradually ripen into a career devoted to international law and human rights.
So I commenced my formal study of International Relations with the late, great Hans Morgenthau in the first week of January 1970 as a 19 year old college sophomore at the University of Chicago by taking his basic introductory course on that subject. At the time, Morgenthau was leading the academic forces of opposition to the detested Vietnam War, which is precisely why I chose to study with him. During ten years of higher education at the University of Chicago and Harvard, I refused to study with openly pro-Vietnam-War professors as a matter of principle and also on the quite pragmatic ground that they had nothing to teach me.
In the late summer of 1975 it was Morgenthau who emphatically enjoined me to become a professor instead of doing some other promising things with my life: “If Morgenthau thinks I should become a professor, then I will become a professor!” So here I am.
After almost a decade of working personally with him, Morgenthau provided me with enough inspiration, guidance, and knowledge to last now almost half a lifetime. What follows are remarks I delivered in his honor before the 75th Anniversary Convocation of the American Society of International Law in 1981, which was devoted--appropriately enough--to the general subject of Order, Freedom, Justice, and Power.3 As I described this trajectory of Morgenthau’s intellectual history at the outset of the Neoconservative Reagan administration, it bears even more compelling relevance today during the twilight of the Neoconservative Bush Jr. administration with its ruthless and unprincipled agenda to establish Pax Americana for the post-9/11 world at the point of a gun. It should also provide a frightened and weary world with some basic guidance about where we should go from here and how to get there:
Francis A. Boyle was recognized to memorialize Hans Morgenthau. It gives me a great deal of personal sadness to bring to the attention of the Society the death of Hans Morgenthau, who passed away in New York City on July 19, 1980 at the age of 76. It is the general consensus of his political-science colleagues that Hans Morgenthau was the most brilliant analyst of international relations to have taught and written in the post-World War-II era. And yet he was by training and temperament an international lawyer. Morgenthau was born in Coburg, Germany, on February 17, 1904, and took his early degrees in law at the Universities of Munich and Frankfurt. He was admitted to the bar in 1927 and practiced law for three years. He then became assistant to the law faculty at the University of Frankfurt and acting president of the Labor Law Court at Frankfurt. He went to teach at the University of Geneva in 1932, and when Hitler came to power in Germany the next year, Morgenthau decided not to return. He then became professor of international law at the Institute of International and Economic Studies in Madrid (1935-1936); instructor of government at Brooklyn College (1937-1939); assistant professor of law, history and political science at the University of Kansas (1939-1943); associate professor of political science, professor and finally Albert A. Michelson Distinguished Service Professor at the Universityof Chicago. He later became Leonard David Distinguished Professor at the City College of New York and University Professor at the New School for Social Research.
Shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, Hans Morgenthau authored one of the most significant articles ever published in the American Journal of International Law: Positivism, Functionalism and International Law, 34 A.J.I.L. 260 (1940). According to Morgenthau, by the late 1930s positivist international legal studies had reached a point where it partook of the worst elements of medieval scholasticism. The discipline had become so detached from the reality of its surrounding historical conditions that it lived in its own metaphysical world of delusions where theory had replaced fact as the ultimate raison d’être. A positivist approach to international law had to be replaced by a functional analysis that would first explain and then describe how to narrow the gap that exists between law and politics in international relations. By means of functionalism the theory of international law could be rejoined with its social context in order to survive and have meaning in a world organized around the twin principles of power politics and national interest. Only functionalism could revitalize international law studies for the postwar world.
Unfortunately, Morgenthau never wrote that follow-up article describing a proposed methodology for a functional analysis of international law that encompassed the realities of power. By the time the true horrors of the Second World War unfolded, he had become thoroughly disillusioned with the prospects of international law and organizations ever playing a meaningful role in international relations. Instead of developing a functional jurisprudence of international law, Morgenthau founded the “realist” or power politics school of international political science in his seminal work Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace (1948). Political realism essentially denied the relevance of international law and organizations to conflicts between states over matters of vital national interest. Indeed, statesmen who disobey the “iron law” of power politics and proclaim instead the need for more international law and organizations were said to invite destruction at the hands of aggressors and facilitate the elemental disruption of the extant world of public order.
It is a tribute to the genius of the man, however, that 30 years later Hans Morgenthau declared that power politics must be replaced as the intellectual basis for the conduct of American foreign policy decisionmaking.4 With nuclear weapons developed to the current level of technical expertise where the destruction of mankind was imminently possible, power politics had become fatally dangerous because it would ineluctably instigate a suicidal Third World War. The only alternative to this scenario was the formation of a world government.
In a thermonuclear age world government had become an historical imperative that required an end to power politics. For the immediate future states must actively participate in the creation of functionally oriented international organizations capable of coping with the subjects of primary concern to international relations. Through a process of gradual integration, the development of a larger number of specialized international organizations could eventually lead to the foundation of a world government. International law must play an important role throughout the course of this evolutionary transition. At the end of his career, therefore, Hans Morgenthau returned to the point from which he had started fifty years before: international law and organizations.
R. I. P.
1 See Noam Chomsky, Rethinking Camelot (1993); David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest (1969); Seymour M. Hersh, The Dark Side of Camelot (1997).
2 Francis A. Boyle, The Confrontation, Chicago Tribune, March 3, 1968.
3 See 75 Am. Soc’y Int’l L. Proc. 227-28 (1981). See also Francis A. Boyle, The American Society of International Law: 75 Years and Beyond, 75 Am. Soc’y Int’l L. Proc. 270 (1981).
4 See Francis A. Boyle, World Politics and International Law 70-72 (1985).