Quincy Wright (1890-1970)
QUINCY WRIGHT: AUTHOR OF A STUDY OF WAR
by Karl Deutsch, Harvard University
Man's history has long been a story of struggle against suffering and death. This struggle began when hunger and illness were no longer accepted as irresistible and foreordained by fate—when men began to act against them. Today millions of men and women in medical work and medical research carry on this struggle against death. But today war is a greater threat to human life than famine or disease. And in the entire world only a few hundred or thousand men and women are engaged in serious professional research on what causes war and on how war could be abolished.
Nothing less than this—the understanding of war and the possible ways to its abolition—is on the agenda of our time.
War, to be abolished, must be understood. To be understood, it must be studied. No one man worked with more sustained care, compassion, and level-headedness on the study of war, its causes, and its possible prevention than Quincy Wright. He did so for nearly half a century, not only as a defender of man's survival, but as a scientist. He valued accuracy, facts, and truth more than any more appealing or preferred conclusions; and in his great book, A Study of War, he gathered, together with his collaborators, a larger body of relevant facts, insights, and far-ranging questions about war than anyone else has done.
Quincy Wright did more than pile up information about war. He developed a basic theory of war. Summarized and in drastically oversimplified form, it might be called in effect a four-factor model of the origins of war. Put most simply, his four factors are (1) technology, particularly as it applies to military matters; (2) law, particularly as it pertains to war and its initiation; (3) social organization, particularly in regard to such general purpose political units as tribes, nations, empires, and international organizations; and (4) the distribution of opinions and attitudes concerning basic values. These four factors correspond to the technological, legal, sociopolitical, and biological-psychological-cultural levels of human life, respectively. At each level, conflict is likely, and violent conflict becomes probable whenever there is an overloading or breakdown of the mechanisms of arrangements that have controlled the interplay of actions and actors at any level and that previously have preserved some nonviolent balance or equilibrium.
Quincy and Louise Wright in New Delhi, c. 1958
Violence and war, according to Quincy Wright, are probable and natural whenever adequate adjustments or controls on one or more of these levels are lacking. Peace, as he saw it, is "an equilibrium among many forces." It is unlikely to come about by itself. It must be organized in order to bring it about, to maintain it thereafter, and to restore it after it has broken down.
Whenever there is a major change at any level—culture and values, political and social institutions, laws, or technology—the old adjustment and control mechanisms become strained and may break down. Any major psychological and cultural, or major social and political, or legal, or technological change in the world thus increases the risk of war, unless it is balanced by compensatory political, legal, cultural, and psychological adjustments. Peace thus requires ever new efforts, new arrangements, and often new institutions to preserve the peace or to restore it after its partial or worldwide breakdown.
The decades since 1942, the first appearance of A Study of War, have seen unparalleled changes sweep the world. These have been changes at all levels—in demography, in technology, in law, in cultures and values, and in social systems and in politics—and, consequently, the basic risk of war is now greater than ever. It follows that we must increase our efforts to create international organizations and practices capable of reducing this mounting risk of war to very low proportions.
Wright's conception of these factors was such that the changes in each are conceived of as, in principle. measurable. Technological change can be measured by statistical data about the explosive power of bombs, about the speed and range of delivery systems, and about the total energy supply of the national economies behind each military establishment. Changes in attitudes and values held by the masses of the populations, and in the possibly different values held by the elites of political decision-makers, may be measured by means of public opinion data and by the content analysis of major newspapers or by policy statements. Changes in the number and size of states of various types and in the number, scope, and observance of international laws, treaties, and organizations could all, in principle, likewise be noted. From such data, inferences could be drawn to estimate the speed and scope of processes increasing or decreasing the likelihood of uncontrolled large-scale conflicts and hence the size and power of the forces making for war or peace. These forces are seen as working behind and beneath the health or illness and the wisdom or folly of individual statesmen, leaders, or commanders. The decisions of such individuals still count for much in Quincy Wright's view of the world, but they must govern—either against or with—the current of large events made up of the changes of large systems and the changing values and actions of hundreds of millions of people. In the present age of dangerous transition, the problems before statesmen and peoples are in some ways similar to the difficult adjustments that European peoples had to make in the great transitions of the fifth and the fifteenth centuries, each of which, as Wright reminded us, was made successfully.
As a pragmatically oriented thinker, Quincy Wright sought more to be empirically comprehensive than to be mathematically elegant. At this stage of social science, his broad factors are not completely operational. They represent large categories and aspects of society and politics. Once we try to specify quantitative variables within each of these broad factors, their number soon becomes large and their analysis difficult. Much work is to be done here, but it will be aided and illuminated by Wright's grand conception. Details of this conception, applied to the historic past, as well as to the present and future, fill hundreds of pages of A Study of War. They still furnish suggestions for research for years to come. Indeed, seeing the world in this manner, Quincy Wright necessarily became one of the chief pioneers of modern peace research. In due time, more explicit, detailed, and sophisticated models will doubtlessly follow upon his pathbreaking effort, but they will bear a debt to the work he did.
Quincy Wright, left, and his brother Sewall with a portrait of their father, Phillip Green Wright.
But this book offers more than a fundamental education. It was and is a pathfinder in matters of substance; and its substantive concerns have been carried forward since the time of its first appearance in 1942. Quincy Wright himself did this by editing a volume on The World Community in 1948 and by writing his important text on The Study of International Relations in 1955, which marked a significant advance in the use of quantitative data in a larger framework of analysis (Wright, 1948, 1955). His work on the study of conflict has been the pioneer for such later work as the continuing research by many scholars.
His chapter in A Study of War on the balance of power showed the way in which a balance-of-power system may gradually turn into an international or supranational community.
Until now, to the best of my knowledge, the Nobel Peace Prize has never been given to a social scientist. In contrast to the policy of other Nobel Prize committees, in other fields, the Norwegian Parliament has awarded mankind's highest honor for contributions to peace only to men of political action or to other persons engaged in popular persuasion.
Recipients of the prize thus have usually been statesmen of national governments or international organizations or else writers, educators, or natural scientists trying to influence popular attitudes. In regard to the social sciences, the pursuit of more knowledge about peace thus far has gone unnoticed and unhonored at the highest level. On the day on which this changes, on the day when the crucial role of knowledge and of social science in the search for peace will be more fully appreciated than it has been in the past—mankind may well remember the pioneering contributions of Quincy Wright's A Study of War.
from The Journal of Conflict Resolution (Volume XIV, Number 4, 1970)
Other than A Study of War, Wright published a further 20 books and nearly 400 journal articles during his career. Several of his books became standard texts, including Mandates Under the League of Nations (1930) and The Study of International Relations (1955).
- The Control of American Foreign Relations. 1922. Macmillan.
- Mandates Under the League of Nations. 1930. University of Chicago Press.
- Research in International Law Since the War. 1930. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
- A Study of War. 1942. University of Chicago Press.
- The Study of International Relations. 1955. Appleton-Century-Crofts.
- The Strengthening of International Law. 1960. Academic of International Law.
- International Law and the United States. 1960. Asia Publishing House.
- The Role of International Law in the Elimination of War. 1961. Oceana.
He was a Unitarian:
Quincy Wright was a leading scholar and educator in the fields of political science and international law. He served on the faculties of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Virginia, among others. Wright spent the majority of his academic career at the University of Chicago, where he was professor of political science from 1923 to 1931 and professor of international law from 1931 to 1956. Wright provided legal advice to the U.S. Navy during the first World War and to the State Department during the second. In 1945, he served as technical adviser to the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. Wright was a prolific author and served as visiting professor at eight universities ranging from Cornell to Makerere University in Uganda.
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