In Fathers of International Thought, renowned foreign affairs scholar Kenneth W. Thompson returns to the writings of sixteen thinkers in order better to understand the issues and problems that recurrently beset global politics. A companion volume to Masters of International Thought, in which Thompson analyzed the thinking of eighteen leading twentieth-century political theorists, Fathers of International Thought traces the ideas of earlier philosophers, theologians, and legal and political theorists who provided the foundations for the present century’s master thinkers.
Thompson begins by discussing the relevance of classical political philosophy to the field of modern international relations theory. He then presents lucid essays on sixteen of the most brilliant minds from Plato through the nineteenth century, focusing on the importance of their thought in contemporary international affairs. Besides Plato, the classical thinkers, whom Thompson refers to as the fathers, include Aristotle, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Niccolò, Machiavelli, Grotius, David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Montesquieu, Edmund Burke, Immanuel Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and Karl Marx.
According to Thompson, the interrelatedness of earlier and recent thought is undeniable for such concepts as authority, justice, community, regimes, and power. He shows how the ideas of the fathers have application to the current international scene, as with events in Eastern Europe and the Persian Gulf area, and political upheaval on the African continent. The lesson for policy makers, students of politics and international relations, and, indeed, all citizens is that a comprehensive philosophical approach to world politics can lead to the rediscovery of enduring political principles and our place in history. By considering the insights of earlier thinkers, decision makers may come to recognize most present-day problems as perennial issues, however changing the context. Understanding the classics may help them avoid unsuccessful patterns in foreign policy.
An introductory survey of early political philosophers and their relevance to our times is sorely needed by students and practitioners of international politics. Fathers of International Thought, by a man Foreign Affairs described as “one of the best teachers still active from the postwar generation of scholars that developed the discipline of international relations,” will be of lasting value in meeting that need.
Kenneth W. Thompson is director emeritus of the White Burkett Miller Center of Public Affairs, and J. Wilson Newman professor of government and foreign affairs. He served as director of the Miller Center from 1978 to 1998. He is the author of some twenty books and coauthor of another two dozen.
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