The twentieth century is an era worth study for an understanding of international politics because of the great conflict amongst nations as well as those within nations. But that century was hardly different from those that preceded it and is hardly likely to be different from those that follow it. For politics is at the heart of how groups of human beings arrange themselves or are arranged to achieve some order and predictability in the course of human endeavors, whether they are fortunate enough to govern themselves or must submit to government by a special designate few. Those who, by right, govern themselves, do so most usually through representatives, freely chosen, whose actions take place within arenas of conflict, that is, politics, reflecting the differences of view and purpose existing amongst those being represented.
Where an elite group governs with slight reference to those governed, the arena of conflict, politics, exists within the elite which acts to suppress opposition to the elite while promoting a consensus that secures the freedom of the elite to act as it sees fit.
If politics is at the heart of governments, it is also at the heart of relationships amongst governments. For politics is the organization and application of power to accomplish purpose.
Power is the capacity to do work, to accomplish physical changes in the world , to exert force, whether on people or on things. A free people expect the power of government to be exerted on their behalf to suit their interests and protect the rights that they possess in nature, not from the edict of kings or the decisions of government. But even among a free people politics is always at work. That there is accommodation, compromise and even appeasement only demonstrates politics to be conflict whether resolved in a civil fashion or by exertion of force.
International relations is an arena where politics is exercised by nations and other entities to accomplish goals and secure interests. The study of politics in that arena is a study of history: what has happened, how it came to happen with its consequences and therefore a guide to what can happen. The twentieth century so recently passed, provides vivid illustrations and experience of the exercise of politics whose consequences were monumental and painful and sometimes so decisive as to seem irreversible, or nearly so. Yet the great clashes of will that characterized the twentieth century did not originate the day before the century began but years and centuries before. What happened yesterday, is happening now and is about to happen can be better understood through the study of history.
One hardly needs an excuse beyond curiosity to study history both to see what happened and to read those who have written about it. It is simply interesting, aside from the knowledge to be gained and the insight that is stimulated, to know how things work, whether at a distance in time or yesterday and today. Read the rest of the essay here…