There is a great demand for theories in international relations. The term “theory” has become so honorific that hypotheses, statements of fact, and intuitive guesses are often dressed up as theories. In part this longing for theory can be ascribed to a desire for the status of a “hard science” like physics, since the “hard sciences” are often viewed by laymen as the theoretical sciences par excellence. They have displayed their power in revealing the secrets of nature and, when applied to the affairs of men, have achieved notable practical successes like the construction of the atomic bomb.
On the whole this demand for theory is probably good. We cannot reason without generalization and, where matters are complex, the web of reasoning logically takes the form of a theory. Most historical investigations and case studies employ theories inexplicitly—often in the belief that the generalizations follow from the straightforward presentation of “purely factual” material. There is usually no recognition that interpretations of factual material can always be presented in a form isomorphic with theories from the sciences of economics, psychology, sociology, and so forth.