The ethics of anti-hubris in the political philosophy of International Relations: Hans J. Morgenthau
Hans J. Morgenthau – appreciated by both critical and mainstream scholars of the discipline of International Relations as probably one of the most inﬂuential, though widely misunderstood, ﬁgures of the post-Second World War discipline2 – was a ﬁerce, sometimes polemical critic of modernity. Morgenthau feared that, despite undisputable technological advancements, Western modernity would cause a dehumanization and depoliticization of the public sphere (Rösch 2013), a position which he held in common with prominent representatives of the Frankfurt School and critical theory, such as Herbert Marcuse and Walter Benjamin, as well as with Hannah Arendt. Political ideologies in combination with advancing positivist scientiﬁcation of the social sciences and the humanities3 had gained momentum in the twentieth century, in both domestic and international politics, as Morgenthau would argue, in a way that had caused self-reﬂectivity and a focus on the contingency of the social and political world to be replaced with a dogma of political engineering and historical determinism. The hubris resulting from this dogma was certainly fostered by the ability of “the West to export its solutions and [by] the conﬁdence in the possibilities of bringing history under the control of human will and public policy.” (Tjalve 2008: 142) For Morgenthau, political engineering and historical determinism would reduce human beings to a disposable quantity – to a quantité négligeable – but humans, being characterized by moral inconsistencies and intellectual limitations, could not be ﬁtted into positivistic frameworks. In light of the current crises in the twenty-ﬁrst century, which are ever more
being perceived as a result and the epitome of an advancing depoliticization in the Western world, many voices in International Relations increasingly reﬂect on the ethical implications of Morgenthau’s oeuvre in particular and on classical (or critical) realism more generally. (Williams 2005; Shilliam 2007; Tjalve 2009; Stullerova 2012) The present article contributes to these discourses by elaborating on Morgenthau’s ethics of anti-hubris. As Catherine Lu (2012) notes, it is this ethics in Morgenthau that represents, and connects to, a fundamental part of a much wider and classical understanding of
politics as caught up in an inescapable tragedy of human life. With such an understanding of ethics in mind, Morgenthau argued for a position of constant (self-)reﬂectivity, ethical self-restraint, and humility in both political theory and practice, a position that avoids universalistic and rationalistic fabrications of social and political spaces. Thus, Morgenthau’s ethics of antihubris is not only an account of republican virtue, but also argues for empathy with other people in an international and global context. To demonstrate this, we will ﬁrst discuss Morgenthau’s notion of (anti-)hubris by putting it into the wider context of classical and modern literature. As his thought was largely informed by Judeo-Christian thought and Greek philosophy, we will take this as our starting point. Second, we will elaborate on the spatial and temporal conditionality of knowledge and politics, Morgenthau’s core principle, ignorance of which would cause hubris and awareness of which is to be seen as an important step in averting hubris. Finally, we will consider speciﬁc consequences of hubris in Western democracies; particularly worrying for Morgenthau in this regard were a lack of self-reﬂection and politics aﬃrming a status quo, dominant attitudes among political elites and populations.