Stephen M. Walt: I changed my mind

The piece about Bill Clinton I wish I could take back, and nine other things about which I no longer hold the same opinion.

Stephen M. Walt in Foreign Policy:

ScreenHunter_1086 Mar. 17 17.51Changing my mind isn’t all that painful a process; in fact, it can be both liberating and enjoyable to realize that earlier beliefs were mistaken.

To inspire a bit more reflection and self-criticism by both academics and maybe even a few politicos, I offer here the Top 10 Things About Which I Changed My Mind.

No. 1: The origins of World War I

I’ve been reading and teaching about the causes of World War I since I got my first academic job, but my account of how and why the war broke out has changed significantly over the years. When I first started teaching in the mid-1980s, I was heavily influenced by Richard Ned Lebow’s Between Peace and War, which portrays the July Crisis as a series of misperceptions and tragic accidents, driven by both organizational and psychological pathologies. I also embraced the “cult of the offensive” explanation offered by Jack Snyder and Stephen Van Evera, which links the war to widespread European beliefs that conquest was easy and that the war would be very short and cheap. I also read key works from the “Fischer school” (which emphasizes German responsibility), but I saw that as a background condition rather than the primary cause.

But over the years, I began to rethink this interpretation, and my understanding was greatly influenced by my former student Dale Copeland’s detailed analysis in his book, The Origins of Major War. He pins the blame almost entirely on Germany — and especially Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg — and I have yet to see any account that does a better job of uncovering the central cause of the war. But given how historiographical traditions keep evolving, and given the ability of new theories to shape how we view the past, I could always change my mind again in the future.

More here.