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Politician Comparison: Kenneth N. Waltz and Alexander Wendt Essay

The main purpose of this paper is the comparison of “The Anarchic Structure of World Politics,” written by Kenneth N. Waltz and “Anarchy is what states make of it,” written by Alexander Wendt. The main arguments of the two authors are identified, and the ideas of Waltz and Wendt concerning the mitigation of negative impacts of anarchy are determined. The schools of thought to which the authors belong are discussed, and the overall meaning of their works is described.

Main Arguments of Each Work

According to Waltz (2013), the structure is the most important feature one should pay attention to when it comes to an understanding of the world’s politics. The structure is what forms a system – the arrangement or order of the units. “The structure is the system-wide component that makes it possible to think of the system as a whole” (Waltz 2013). The author points out that a structure is to be viewed independently of the interactions between the units, their connections, and their behaviors.

The order in which the units are arranged is what matters. As an example, Waltz explores the structure of domestic politics, which has a distinct hierarchy, they are arranged like a pyramid where organs have departments they answer to. Discussing international relations, Waltz (2013) notes that such a hierarchy is absent between the units, “each is the equal of all the others.

None is entitled to command; none is required to obey”. The author describes such decentralized relations as anarchic. As a result, each state is prepared to use force to survive, has little desire to depend on other states, so conflict is possible at any time. The order in such a structure is established by means of specific organization which encourages certain behaviors, the units that do not respond to the encouragements are penalized (Waltz 2013). Self-help is viewed as a given of anarchic relations as it is generated naturally within each state’s survival mode.

In “Anarchy is what states make of it,” Wendt starts with exploring various points of view provided by realists, liberals, constructivists. The author mentions that the purpose of his work is to establish a connection between neoliberal and constructivist views, which he sees are rather close (Wendt 2013). The author also explains that he disagrees with the idea employed by realists concerning the nature of self-help. Wendt (2013) maintains that the individual interests of the states are not a given variable as they can be affected by certain factors, and so can be the identities of the states. A combination of constructivist and neoliberal approaches is required in order to detect how the identities of the states are shaped, what influences them, and what are systemic variables in this matter. Wendt considers international institutions as one of the main factors able to transform states.

Besides, Wendt criticizes the ideas of Waltz and mentions that self-help as a phenomenon does not occur due to anarchy, but due to interactions between the units, so self-help is an outcome of the process, but not of the structure. Wendt views political threats as socially constructed happenings. Wendt discusses collective identities as a transformation of self-help identities. In his opinion, after separate identities merge together to resist a threat and start functioning as a collective identity, it obtains a homogenous nature and will continue even after the threat is gone. This way, sovereignty may turn into a collective identity under the influence of cooperation evolution (Wendt 2013).

Mitigation and Cooperation

Both authors agree that negative impacts, threats and risk of a conflict outburst are present at any time under the circumstances of anarchic relations where there is no centralized power or hierarchy. Waltz views self-help as the way of the states to mitigate the risks and dangers. In his opinion, the anarchic decentralized structure of international politics is built on the relations of self-regarded units always ready to employ force as a self-defense means. In the work of Wendt self-help is viewed as a phenomenon which occurs due to the appearance of a predatory unit willing to create hierarchy in the decentralized structure. In order to prevent threats and risks the states turn to cooperation.

They collaborate in order to enforce their own safety. The author notes that such cooperation eventually evolves and the participants grow closer. As a result, their initially sovereign identities transform into a collective identity which continues to function harmoniously after the threat is handled. This way, Wendt expresses an opinion that political institutions where several units collaborate as equals are the means able to re-shape the identities of states, facilitate the evolution of cooperation, and create identities of a new kind.

It is interesting to think about the problem of political conflicts in this perspective because if the main force encouraging the states to join institution and cooperate is a threat of being taken over by another state, then can this action be called self-help? Besides, the political institutions which re-shape state identities are initially facilities with a hierarchical structure, so joining them do the states truly merge together with others or willingly accept certain rules and start to obey? It seems like cooperation is possible, but only under the circumstances of hierarchy and centralization.

Schools of Thought

In his work “The Anarchic Structure of World Politics” Waltz clearly speaks from realist perspective. First of all, Waltz employs the idea of statism viewing states as the main actors of international politics. Secondly, self-interest is another important concept discussed by Waltz. The author maintains that each state care for their own survival and sovereignty resisting the threats coming from other states trying to establish power-based hierarchy. This way, there is a conflict threat of conflict outburst within the anarchic structure. In order to survive is the world of anarchy the states are to employ self-help. Realists believe that cooperation with other units is unreliable means of survival.

The opinion of Wendt is very different, as cooperation is one of the main ideas his work “Anarchy is what states make of it” is built around. In the opinion of Wendt cooperation is not only necessary but also natural, and by means of cooperation the sovereign identities of the states can be transformed into the identities of collective character. This author obtains the constructivist approach and agrees that identities and interests of the states can be influenced by the structure. Threats are viewed as socially constructed phenomena defining the interactions of the states and their desire to protect themselves as well as their interest in preservation of their identity. This way, the whole character of international relations is socially constructed. Within constructivist perspective threats, reactions, assumptions and identities are recognized as ideas which can be influenced and transformed.

What Do the Texts Teach?

First of all, the comprehension, comparison and contrasting between the works by Waltz and Wendt allow the reader to test their own perspective on the forces that move international relations and dictate the development of major global events. History shows that all of the perspectives (realist, liberal, constructivist) are functional and applicable in different situations and all of them are powerful. Realist approach is the oldest, while constructivist and liberal ones are relatively newer. Realist point of view is easier to apply and understand. It views states as stable units with ultimate self-preservation instinct clashing together in a decentralized political structure of the world filled with threats and conflict risks. At the same time, the approach of Wendt views states as units influenced by socially constructed forces and reacting accordingly. This perception is rather complex and the whole idea has a flowing ever-changing character which is not easy to grasp at first.


In conclusion, the exploration of “The Anarchic Structure of World Politics” written by Kenneth N. Waltz and “Anarchy is what states make of it” written by Alexander Wendt is an extremely useful educational practice allowing the reader to study contradictory approaches, and exercise their own reasoning concerning this matter. Both approaches are powerful and applicable to a number of historical events and current happenings. They enable the readers to view the events from a new perspective, analyze their development, actors and moving forces behind them. In my opinion, Waltz’s realist view is easier to comprehend, while the constructivist approach of Wendt is deep and can be confusing.

Reference List

Waltz, K. N. (2013). The anarchic structure of world politics. In R. A. Art & R. Jervis, (Eds.), International Politics (pp. 124-130). New York: Pearson. Web.

Wendt, A. (2013). Anarchy is what states make of it. In R. A. Art & R. Jervis (Eds.), International Politics (pp. 73-80). New York: Pearson. Web.

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"Politician Comparison: Kenneth N. Waltz and Alexander Wendt." IvyPanda, 22 June 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/politician-comparison-kenneth-n-waltz-and-alexander-wendt/.

1. IvyPanda. "Politician Comparison: Kenneth N. Waltz and Alexander Wendt." June 22, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/politician-comparison-kenneth-n-waltz-and-alexander-wendt/.


IvyPanda. "Politician Comparison: Kenneth N. Waltz and Alexander Wendt." June 22, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/politician-comparison-kenneth-n-waltz-and-alexander-wendt/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Politician Comparison: Kenneth N. Waltz and Alexander Wendt." June 22, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/politician-comparison-kenneth-n-waltz-and-alexander-wendt/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Politician Comparison: Kenneth N. Waltz and Alexander Wendt'. 22 June.

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