Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 September 2014
War and Change reflects in intellectual terms both the remarkable ambition and pessimistic inclination of Robert Gilpin. Although much of his academic reputation has rested on work in international political economy, Gilpin focuses in War and Change on what he considers the core problem in international politics, hegemonic war. He views power transitions as inherently dangerous and searches for the elusive formula for peaceful change. He appreciates the value of stable international orders, while his analysis consistently demonstrates that over time the “law of uneven growth” and an array of other factors ensure that orders do not remain stable. International order is the key theme running through Gilpin’s work – how it is created and sustained, how and why it inevitably breaks down, how to survive the breakdown without the catastrophe of hegemonic war, and how to reconstruct order after major war.
Gilpin is a methodological pluralist but at its core his approach is that of a classical realist. War and Change focuses on the great powers. It is about the always precarious predicament of dominant states in a competitive environment, and about the calculations and strategies of rising challengers. It is about the integration of economics and security; written when the professional study of international relations developed a division of labor across these two subfields, Gilpin insisted that their synthesis and interplay was vital to comprehend world politics. War and Change emphasizes both the material and non-material aspects of national power. It highlights relative material capabilities but continually returns to the importance of prestige, reputation, and legitimacy as driving forces in great-power competition. Rather than adhering slavishly to the international level of analysis, Gilpin finds room for the meaningful impact of domestic structures and politics on the calculations and strategies of competing states. William Wohlforth argued recently that had War and Change received equal billing alongside Waltz’s seminal work, “scholars would not have been bewildered by change, bewitched by the balance of power, [or] blind to numerous potentially powerful realist theories.”
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