A summary of Kenneth Waltz's “The Anarchic Structure of World Politics.”

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Waltz begins this influential essay with an extended discussion about systems theory. He defines a system as "structured," that is, it has a

system-wide component that makes it possible to think of the system as a whole.

Within the system of international politics, he argues (as a realist) that ideologies, personal characteristics of world leaders, and other factors are largely irrelevant. Unlike domestic political systems, there is no formal hierarchy, and so the system of world politics is fundamentally "decentralized and anarchic." There are no well-defined roles for nations, and no nations are bound to obey; no nations are entitled by their position within the system to lead other nations. To explain how the system of world relations works, Waltz turns to what he describes as a classical economics model, the one pioneered by Adam Smith. In this way of thinking, a system exists even though everyone within it is an independent (economic) actor. People behave in predictable ways—to...

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