What good is strategic culture?: A modest defence of an immodest concept
Haglund, David G. International Journal59.3 (Summer 2004): 479-502
Be that as it may, the debate between enthusiasts of Verstehen and advocates of Erklaren is an old one in the history of ideas, with echoes going back far longer than a century, and detectable even today in the manner in which the concept, strategic culture, gets used. Erklaren is associated with a Galilean approach to causal explanation in science (as in, "this took place because that did"), while Verstehen makes appeal to an Aristotelian approach, stressing teleological accounts (as in, "this happened so that that should occur"). But it was only in the late nineteenth century that the social sciences experienced their own "great awakening," with the emergence of a "positivism" displaying clear affinities to the Galilean tradition. Opposed to this would surface an antipositivism, a philosophy of science at times labelled "idealism," but one that would be better remembered as "hermeneutics." It was the German philosopher Johann Gustav Droysen who coined the distinction between Verstehen and Erklaren, with the former being said (by him) to be the method of the historical sciences, and the latter that of the natural sciences.(27)
By the very same token, [Colin S. Gray] is right to object to the dismissal of realists as "acultural, ahistorical" automatons. It is ironic enough to find constructivist tents pitched inside positivist epistemological campgrounds; even more ironic is the discovery of realists grazing in the pastures of interpretivism. For what else can this variety of realist be said to be doing when state action is ascribed to endogenous, identity-derived categories, rather than deduced from assessments of a systemic structure revealed through relative capability? Adrian Hyde-Price and Lisbeth Aggestam are on the mark when they note that realists of a non-structural kidney have been enjoying "a renewed burst of life, particularly as the limitations of Waltzian parsimony become ever clearer."(38) Some have seen fit to label this more reflective theoretical orientation "neoclassical" realism.(39) It is usually a bad idea to attach the prefix "neo-" to otherwise serviceable concepts, as witnessed by the tortured semantic career of "neorealism," which not only never was required as a means of conveying the meaning amply supplied by "structural" realism, but which completely reversed the original sense some did propose to attach to the "neorealism" that first appeared on the scene in the early 1980s, as an inventory of the accoutrements of sound policy in an era of "complex interdependence"--i.e., an inventory that denied the utility of an aggregate construe of power!(40)
It is, of course, one thing to invoke path dependence as the mechanism by which history can be said to continue to matter in the shaping of foreign (including security) policy, for instance in the general, and common-sensical, observation that choices made long in the past can go on limiting policy options in the future.(47) Yet it is quite another thing actually to tease out, or "trace,"(48) the process(es) by which path dependence manages to yield the context called strategic culture. Strategic culturalists exploring the behavioural component of context will find themselves being drawn ever closer to historical sociology, and will as a result have to come to grips with concepts closely related to path dependence. Among these latter, two stand out: temporal sequencing, and contingency. For path dependence cannot mean sensitive dependence upon "initial conditions;" rather, it must suggest a break point after which the ability of those initial conditions to shape the future altered substantially.(49) Some will label that break point "contingency," by which they will mean the development required to have set in train a new inertia, one in which the "path" led either to the efficient reproduction of cooperation (sometimes called "self-reinforcing sequences") or the reverse, the efficient reproduction of conflict and discord (called "reactive sequences").(50) Which it is to be, and why, can be expected to provide work for strategic culturalists who take their concept to mean the "context" revealed by behaviour, and who understand strategic culture as virtually indistinguishable from a country's historical record.