I attended the lectures for that class on US-Soviet relations for four years perhaps and then the Berlin wall came down.  I doubt they have a class now on US-Soviet relations in political science; perhaps it’s covered in history. The collapse of the wall produced one of the more authentic teaching moments I have seen.  The professor who taught the course came in, sat on the table in front, and said that the collapse of the wall had really screwed up his course.  He was clearly nonplussed.

As I have indicated, objectivity seemed in those general education classes pretty hard to come by.  Such was the case with US-Soviet Relations.  The professor had been schooled by Henry Kissinger and his whole analysis of the situation was based in the realpolitic of, as we fondly called it, BOP or Balance of Power.  When the wall came down, the BOP between the US and the Soviet Union dissolved, and so did the Professor’s course.

Boy, did those realists gloat.  They wrote that the fall of the Soviet Union proved the realist philosophy since, in balancing against the USSR, we had forced them to collapse.  Professors, I mean guys with Ph.D’s, actually wrote, “The USA won the Cold War.”  To which I can only say, BS.  I mean who wins Armageddon. 

The Cold War was an incalculable waste of human energy, talent, lives, and money on both sides of the BOP equation.  The USSR, scared to death of being invaded given its history, spent 20% of its GNP on war and preparation for it.  They didn’t have money for other things—like consumer products—except maybe to send some poor lonely guy into outer space. I mean is the guy who comes out standing after a total debacle the “winner” and of what exactly, the debacle sweepstakes?

Mostly though I kept my opinions to myself.  So the students came out hearing nothing but the “realist” perspective.  True, the Professor did assign a book on something called the “reformist” position; but he did not lecture on that position and the book was a terribly written mishmash of this and that. 

What I gradually came to see was that, at least in the world of academia, the realist position was a way of establishing the disciplinary boundaries of political science at least in the realm of international relations.  The real enemy of the realpolitic in that realm was not something called “reformism,” but “liberal economics” (or more exactly, the Economics Department).

At the heart of the realm politics was and is the “nation-state.”  That’s what is balanced in the BOP; nation states in various entangling alliances against other nation states.  But liberal economics, following good old Adam Smith, opposes limitations on the free flow of goods from any one place to another.  And one of the limitations to that free flow has been and continues to be people who believe in the nation state and who might erect therefore economic policies designed to protect and favor the members of its particular nation state.

So the realpolitic wasn’t about nations fighting nations, but about political science asserting its right to study the nation state when liberal economics says most of that is just stuff that gets in way.  What this has to do with objectivity, I don’t know.

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