An Interview with Robert Jervis – Reflections on Political Science, Politics, and Policy
In this episode of Horns of a Dilemma, chair of the Texas National Security Review Editorial Board Frank Gavin interviews political scientist Robert Jervis. In a wide-ranging interview that reaches all the way back to Jervis’ undergraduate days at Oberlin College in the late 1950’s, Gavin explores the factors which shaped Jervis’ career, the state of the political science field today, especially as it relates to security studies, and how political scientists deal with challenges ranging from the expansiveness of their theoretical claims to balancing political considerations in policy-relevant work. This interview was recorded during the University of Texas Clements Center’s Summer Seminar on History, Statecraft, and Diplomacy.
Gavin: Well, thank you, this is obviously an extraordinary honor and pleasure. I think Bob Jervis is the premier international relations scholar of the decades, [with books like] Logic of Images, Perception and Misperception, The Nuclear Revolution, my favorite book, System Effects — which I think is just one of my all-time favorite books. It completely has shaped the way not just one field looks at international relations, but had all sorts of effects on history, on psychology, your work with the policy world, especially the intelligence community, bridging disciplines.
And so this is very intimidating to think about how to structure a Q&A with you. And as I was thinking about this, I thought one of the real opportunities here is we have these amazing emerging scholars. And so if you didn’t mind, I thought what we would do is go back to Bob Jervis at the start of his career.
I was talking to Dan earlier about the great Oberlin College and all this international relations talent that was produced there — Ken Waltz, Richard Haas, our own great Diane over there, you. And so I wonder if you could maybe tell us a little bit about your time first at Oberlin, why you decided to get a PhD, and what graduate school was like for you as you started your career?
Jervis: Yeah, thank you, thank you for the kind words. It’s a real pleasure to be here and also to do what I can do to encourage the younger generation. I find at my age, there are more and more younger generations.
But one thing, there’s a myth about — I started at Oberlin in 1958 — the 1950s, that everyone was quiescent. That’s just totally wrong, at least for my milieu growing up as a teenager in New York. It was a very political era, both in terms of partisan politics, or the idea that people weren’t concerned about international politics. You’d had the Korean War, you’d had civil defense drills of all this. The Russians were coming.
Politics in general and international politics was very strong in the atmosphere, and Oberlin as a college always attracted people who were both interested in studying politics and a degree of political activism. We had political protests before political protests were invented, so it prepared me for Berkeley.
That was a very important part, and also an important part in how I got into this business. Although I’ve got to go back a little bit, as you know, from some of the interviews or biography I’ve done. That being born in 1940, and then starting being aware of the world when I was five, six and seven, you couldn’t avoid nuclear weapons, and also the beginnings of the Cold War.
And I remember pestering my parents, and this was one the historians may know, one of the American, what we now know, were spy planes, shot down along the periphery of the Soviet Union. And of course, I couldn’t believe that we’d do anything like invade Soviet sovereignty or do anything illegitimate. So obviously, if our plane was shot down, it was total wrongdoing on the other side.
But pestering my parents, “Well, should we shoot back?” The basic question of should you do conciliation or force — which ends up as one of the threads of the basic question that runs through things I’ve done research on, and we face today, with things like dealing with North Korea. I took those questions into Oberlin. And this was the era of the missile gap, which we now know, was a gap in our favor. And the stories of how we got there and that marvelous stuff about the role of intelligence in there.
But I wrote a paper just for my own benefit on the missile gap, and the question of what it meant. And it was an atmosphere that would really encourage that. In terms not so much, although some, of the interests of the faculty, but the interests of the fellow students.
And I’ve always been struck with the importance of what we now call peer relations, that I learned at Oberlin and at Berkeley. I had good professors, but I learned much more from my peers than my professors. Not because my colleagues were better than the professors, although they were very good. But just the intensive, prolonged, in-depth interaction you can get from your friends and people who are interested in the same things you are, and are roughly at the same level, that that is such an indispensable part of the education.
And I’m not sure we see it as much now, certainly, at the college level. I hope we see it at the graduate level. My sense of the undergraduates at Columbia, although I must admit, I teach two undergraduate courses, but they’re not going to tell me how they live. But my sense is, you don’t quite have that as much.
Gavin: It’s something I want to follow up on, because one of the things when you read your biography, and I’ve heard you talk about this before, is you’re someone who’s very politically engaged. I get the impression of the Jervis household being one where there was lots of political argument.
You were at Oberlin and then Berkeley at the height of the political disputes, political arguments. Yet, your scholarship, it’s been I think a point of pride for you to focus on the social science aspect, to be dispassionate.
And, in fact, I remember one of the things that you wrote. I disagreed with this, but the difference between historians and political scientists was that historians engage moral questions and political scientists don’t. I think that you just all are better at hiding it.
But how did someone who’s learning about these things at a time of political fervor and who was engaged in that, then turn around and develop this scholarly profile, that really, in such an admirable way, strove for being a dispassionate social scientist? How did you come to that and how have you thought about that over the years?
Jervis: Yeah, that’s a very important and large question, and two or three aspects of it. One is, I was always interested in, what are the intellectual sources of important political disputes?
And in fact, I got on my dissertation topic, which was in an odd way, that there was a big conference, quite an important conference in Berkeley. In, let’s see, ’64, I think, about deterrents. And there was, in the late ’50s and early ’60s, big debate about deterrents theory. If you know chapter three of Perception and Misperception, in effect, spiral versus deterrents. I won’t go through all that. But there was a very important conference that dealt with that. And Tom Schelling and Anatol Rapoport gave public talks.
And in hearing them, I came to the conclusion, which I develop in chapter three, debatable, I think it’s still essentially right, that the two of them did not have different general theories about the world. But had different views about the Soviet Union and what the effect of conciliation or threats would be in this particular situation, not generally.
And that helped focus what I’ve done a lot and what I’m working on now. One paper on differences in the grand strategies, the deep engagers versus the restrainers. Why do the people disagree?
And that I found a really useful perspective. Because then even when you come down on one side or the other, that I think can help do two things. It helps, that other route may be wrong, but they’re not ninnies. And that’s a useful way to go into the political dialogue, even if it’s hard to do today.
And then second, it leads to the social science question, okay, what do they differ on? What sort of theories might lie behind that? What evidence might we get to try to discriminate between the views? And that, I think, if you keep that perspective, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to then end up with strong policy views. But it does mean you can keep the focus on the social science.
The other part is that I’m often really ambivalent on some major policy issues that — take the one today of deep engagers versus restrainers to over-polarize it. I’ve got sympathy with both of those views. And in some ways, an ambivalence, which would not probably be helpful if I were a policymaker.
It may be useful then in getting the social science perspective of looking for the evidence on this. And I’ll just mention one, which just comes up, I did I read in the spring, the books by Steve Walt and John Mearsheimer, which are very, very interesting and very well done within their parameters.
But I was unhappy, and I’ve written a review essay that will come out in a security studies, arguing. And I think, to be fair to say pointing out that they both attribute what they see as the errors of American foreign policy. A position I generally agree with, to what Walt would call second image. Different age to a different version of second image. But it’s all second image.
And they provide no real evidence for why we should believe a second image, as opposed obviously to a third image, or even some other things. No engagement in counterfactuals, no use of the hypothetical deductive methods, that is saying, what would we expect America to be if my analysis of what America is like? And I think, do it that way, you see a very different picture.
So I think that my sense when I approach those books, and I agree with a lot of their description and some of their explanation. But the ambivalence then, makes it easier to say, wait a minute, wait a minute, look, we really should ask, do some, use some of our standard social science methods on this, to see how the argument stands up.
Gavin: I do think there is a very important thread here, where you don’t give yourself enough credit, which if it’s hard enough now for two leading international relations professors to hide their sort of prescriptive or not do proper social science, I can imagine it’s 1968, 1970, you’re writing Logic of Images. The pressure to maintain a social science perspective, I mean, in our field, in history, this was a time where arguably, you could look back to the scholarship.
And this is probably where you got your argument from, where in the midst of the Vietnam War, it was very difficult to maintain that position. So it’s actually more impressive that you were able to do this. And I guess, I’m sure, every young scholar here will face this. Did you have those pressures? And how did you deal with it when someone said, well, this is great that you’re talking about perception and misperception in this dispassionate way. But the American empire is ruthlessly killing people in Southeast Asia, you need to make a stand on it.
You’ve done that through your whole career, and it’s really impressive. How did you deal with those pressures?
Jervis: It’s interesting, I mean, Vietnam, of course, was the major issue starting in ’63. And interesting enough, I took a seminar with Chalmers Johnson. At this point, Chalmers was an extreme hawk.
It’s funny, he and Dan Ellsberg, somebody quite parallel, I don’t know if they knew each other. But that is they moved from one extreme to the other, without slowing down for the middle. But I did a paper on what we then called internal war, what we now call counterinsurgency, which convinced me that we could not win in Vietnam.
So I was always against the war, but not on the moral grounds. In a way, that made it easier, because I didn’t agree with the people who said the — partly, yes, the war is immoral, because you shouldn’t fight an expensive war, it kills a lot of you and other people, and you’re not going to win it. But I didn’t have the same feeling that the strong moralist group had.
And also, and I think this does get to what I still think is to over-generalize, the difference between a lot of political scientists, and a lot, not all, certainly, of the historians. Which is, by studying politics and political disputes, and by being political — I was in student government, that, and in the free speech movement. So I was used to playing these not big political roles, but that sort of sense of political.
And that meant that I was used to dealing with people who had the other side. I don’t mean to sound like Joe Biden. But, yeah, you had to deal with people who you disagreed with, and not see them as demons, or certainly not act toward them as though they were demons.
And also, my attitude toward American foreign policy, partly, thanks to Ken Waltz, and others and the third image, was that realism, countries do terrible things. One of my favorite operas, Così fan tutte, which is not a misogynist — it’s misanthropic. That is, the opera is not so critical of women, it’s critical of people.
So they all do it. And having the attitude that countries first need to expand their power, are willing to do terrible harm to others for that. That they’re hypersensitive on their security, that they make lots of mistakes.
So that led me to be able to think and say, well, the war is terrible. But then this doesn’t lead to what it led to many historians of that generation, to totally revise, I think, their views about political leaders, the American political system. And to produce a very strong moralistic tone in a lot of the scholarship of that time. That you still see, I think, on the writings, not all of it, but some of it on Vietnam.
There are not a lot of work of political scientists on Vietnam, which is too bad. Because I still try to work on that. I’ve written three papers. I think it’s fascinating, the way they deal with it and the way the historians deal with it.
Look at what happened with Mark Moyer’s book. Not a great book, but not terrible. Certainly, opened things up, did lead and should have led to taking another look at a whole series of questions. That’s not the way it was greeted by the historians. I think the political scientists, partly, if politics is sort of the thing you study all the time, and you live, I think it makes it easier and better to be able to separate.
Gavin: I would agree with your critique of historians, but I want to sort of push back a little on the political scientists and give you some credit. And that is I think one of the things that’s remarkable about your writings, is people like Waltz, people like Mearsheimer are hedgehogs. And we can talk about the sort of things that are done in the historical world in that there — the moralism.
But we could also spend a lot of time talking about the bludgeon that the Ken Waltzes of the world used to explain the world in such a way that’s not necessarily that helpful. You’ve already always managed not to be a hedgehog, right? So somehow you’ve become our greatest IR theorist, yet also you read more history than anyone I’ve ever met. You’ve got that great story. Perhaps you can tell them about Raymond Sontag when you were at graduate school.
Somehow you’ve been able to avoid the excess of moralism that you’ve identified in history, without committing the other sin of an absurd scientism and hedgehog-ism of some of your colleagues. Could you talk a little bit about that, and how you came to sort of be in this place, where you could take the best of IR theory, but also be very sensitive to context change in history?
Jervis: I think hedgehog and fox is certainly right. I mean, I certainly consider myself a Fox. I’ve done the things that are very different. And just one thing that I worked on a little, I want to go back to. The signaling book and the perception book are done in entirely different intellectual styles. Signaling is in a way, premature, rational choice combined with premature constructivism. It’s quite deductive, although no equations. And quite prescriptive in a way. Part of it is maybe a sense of never being sure what’s right. And Ken and John — I’m not saying anything you couldn’t repeat to them, I would say to them that they’re very sure …
Gavin: They will hear it soon enough on the podcast.
Jervis: Well, they’re very sure of their own views. And that in a way is very useful, because it leads them to go way down certain roads that they probably couldn’t, without that confidence. And then it leads to something comparable, drawbacks.
Whereas, I’m not sure that’s right. Let me try this. Let me try the other. That may mean that I don’t push some of the ideas as hard as they might be pushed. So it may just partly be sort of basic personality or view of the world. And I think on the history, Ken was certainly very intrigued and read a lot of history.
And I had the great fortune, that my first or second year, as what was claimed to be a postdoc, it turned pre-doc at Harvard. I’d send something to Tom Schelling, and he liked it. And we met and he said, come here for two years. I have all this money from the Defense Department I can it spend however I like.
He supported me and he supported someone who I hope some of you have heard of, who has overthrown more governments than the CIA — Gene Sharp. Gene was the one who systematized the work, he was a pacifist on civilian and non-violence. And Tom thought that was great, too. So I just want to put a plug in for one of my leading mentors, from whom I learned so much, and who supported both of us.
Anyway, Ken had a sabbatical, he was in the next office, and I was reading some stuff on pre-World War I, some marvelous books. And Ken said, oh, of course, I’ve known that for — I was going in and telling him stuff hadn’t known. Because what he was doing didn’t have much history in it. But I think he was a little more treating of the history instrumentally, whereas I’ve just always, even from high school, just been fascinated. Why did this happen? How did these things turn out?
And I think it just developed as I read more, but sort of can’t explain how I got it. And Tom didn’t have that attitude. I pressed him on certain things. He said something about the importance of reading history, but it was clear, he really didn’t mean it. That just wasn’t the way he thought. The way he thought was extraordinarily valuable. But I’ve always found both, just try to figure out what happened. There are going to be ways you can use that in almost anything you’re writing.
Gavin: Are you comfortable with the idea of saying you’re epistemologically modest?
Jervis: Oh, yeah.
Gavin: Okay, because then the question would be, one of the other great themes of your career is an engagement with the policy world. Policymakers, you talk to anyone in the policy community, you talk about who are the scholars that influenced them, you’re always at the top of the list.
And so I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how that relationship developed, both in terms of how you first got involved with policy, with the intelligence world. And how that interaction then shaped your scholarship, and perhaps with some lessons for the younger people here.
Jervis: There are two things, first, I think one reason why my scholarship has been useful, not to people at the highest level, but the working level, is that it does not try to make moral judgments on the people. And that it doesn’t try to pretend that we’re smart. We, in the academics, are smarter than the policymakers.
There is among too many academics, both political scientists and historians, I think, a real smart-ass attitude. And one thing, two historians at Berkeley, I audited a course, Jerry Feldman, who was a very good German historian. And the course was good, but there was the feeling that I would have done it better than those people.
And I think that’s just a terrible attitude. I mean, usually the answer is, no, you wouldn’t have. And why would you think that you would have? And I’ve always found that attitude offensive. And I think by being able to avoid that in the scholarship, that helps.
How I got in, well, first, I’ve never served full-time. And in a way, I very much do regret that. I don’t think I would have made anything better. I think I would have learned a tremendous amount, both about the process and about the substance. But what’s odd, well, maybe it isn’t odd, does not speak terribly well for the way the US government works. Somebody might disagree.
The involvement really was through personal connections. I was at Harvard as a pre-doc and then on the faculty for six years, I was at the Center for International Affairs, TA for Henry Kissinger. Interesting. And there was someone else who was head of the CFI, who you may not have known of, Bob Bowie, because Bob didn’t do a lot of scholarship. He was an international lawyer, he was in court during the ’50s.
Gavin: He just fought with Henry all the time.
Gavin: He just fought with Henry all the time.
Jervis: Yes, yes. He had offices across the hall and hated each other, big fight over the MLF.
But anyway, Bob worked with Dulles. And so had really partly been more associated with the Republicans, but was brought in by Turner and Carter. I don’t know who brought him in as, in effect, Deputy Director for Intelligence at CIA. Different title that time, but anyway.
And that Bob then asked me to become a scholar-in-residence, a program they’ve since abolished, various reasons that didn’t work out. But I became a part-time consultant and working on Soviet intentions. This was then in the fall of ’78, and Iran blew up. And Bob had testified in October before one of the committees that things were now under control in Iran.
And so how did it go wrong? So he asked me to do the post mortem. And that really started the involvement, which has been episodic, a lot of the involvement. Has been through my Derek and Colin Caul who, illness, can’t be here and others. A few of my former students who’ve gone in, and then when I go to Washington, I get a chance to talk to them and find out what’s happening and to share ideas.
I continued to do stuff for the CIA, put on a historical review panel that deals with declassification of historical documents. That kept the security clearance, and that mattered. Because when there was the Iraq intelligence failure, and then the Senate Select Committee produced its report, I looked through the report and thought, oh my God, it’s competent graduate students who provided their note cards, gotten the big questions all wrong, but they’ve done a good job of research.
And I was able to contact people I knew who were at the high levels of CIA, mostly John McLaughlin, who you’ll see, was really a marvelous guy. And say I could assemble a team of experts to take this and do some other stuff and do a much better job of what you did wrong and why you did it. And they said, yes.
But interesting for this and another case that I can’t talk about, I reached out to them. And they, especially the CIA, even the NIC (National Intelligence Council). It’s such an insular world. They don’t reach out.
Gavin: I think you talk to anyone in the IC, they can talk about what you brought to this process. But how did it affect your scholarship? First, doing it in the ’70s and doing it again with the Iraq War and intermittently throughout — how has this interaction, and again, as advice for the younger people here, how did it shape how you pursued both your teaching and your scholarship?
Jervis: Yeah. Well, certainly, I think it definitely enriched my teaching, because there are stories you can tell, and the stories are interesting in themselves. And to illustrate things about how foreign policymaking works. And bringing that into the classroom, I think, is extremely helpful, especially since a lot of the IR theory can be highly abstract.
I like the abstract theories, I do it. But it both brings it down to a level and it can get people really involved. And also, it can say, gee, this is some aspects about the way this thing works. I certainly learned an enormous amount from the two big postmortems, that is the fall of the Shah and the Iraq WMD.
And a couple of things that really mattered, one, when I did the fall of the Shah, I was looking for obviously the roots of various misperceptions, and I think there were some psychological things that I did find, that I think are important and right. But if you will, what was more striking was the sociology. How the organization functioned, what the incentives, both formal and informal were.
It’s only sociology, it’s so a more rational choice. How are people promoted? That, what really mattered was writing something at that time for the NID, the National Intelligence Daily, this was in the ’70s, the PDB (Presidential Daily Briefing) was not nearly as important. But to get your item in the NID really mattered.
The relation of the analysis you were to do with the reporting coming in. What you could and couldn’t say about that. All sorts of things that from reading the books, you’d be absolutely clueless. No way to figure that out. No theory was going to tell you that.
And in the Iraq WMD, through that, but other things. I’ll tell the ones, these are all public, and this one is in Why Intelligence Fails. The aluminum tubes, which I don’t pretend to know the full story, I don’t think anyone knows the full story because it’s in several parts.
But the degree to which idiosyncratic factors can matter, when we got the aluminum tubes, and we literally did get them. I mean, we can captured on the shipment that was going into Iraq and we intercepted it. And they literally came into CIA, and there was an analyst who had experience in centrifuge technology. And within a day and a half, he decided that these tubes were indeed for centrifuges.
And what was striking, part of it idiosyncratic, that he was the only one in the organization, in that organization, not the government, with particular expertise in that. And the informal pressures to be fairly quick, because there were other agencies that were analyzing, and you wanted to get the word to your boss, before people got to theirs.
And then once you’d made an analysis, and I want to see if the people in the government agree, and you’d put it to the president. This was before 9/11, by the way, so, no, it’s not an argument of politicization or anything like that. But this was an important issue even before 9/11.
Once you’d gone to the president and the top people and said that you believe these things are designed for uranium enrichment, it’s very hard to go back and say, hey, boss — now, in fact, they did back off between — this is the summer of 2011.
Jervis: 2001. Sorry, yes. And the year later, they did actually back off a little. And there’s some interesting things. At one point, Conde (Condoleezza Rice) says to Bob Walpole, Bob was the National Intelligence Officer, runs weapons of mass destruction, and this is right before the war, she said, gee, Bob, so where you’re putting it now is a little different than the way you’ve been putting it before and I wish you had told me earlier.
But I think it was very, I think, very hard, people to back off. Anyway, it’s a long way around it. We know that it’s difficult for people to change their minds, but seeing that play out in the government context, and also the importance of the process, of the dreaded interagency process. And the degree to which it works well or badly is first, very important.
Secondly, depends in part on the personalities. It’s a system that you think on paper, well, you set it up and it runs. No, no, and it takes minding at how important that is and the way it affects the policy. That was very valuable.
But that’s only from getting small glances. The people in this room who’ve spent years in there, have that and much greater and see a lot of other things. I’m not saying it’s a prerequisite to do good scholarship. I certainly don’t think that’s the case.
But I do find that both fascinating in itself, and enormously intellectually helpful. And also again, helps on the humility to see how hard the problems are, how scattered the intelligence is. Let me give just one, and the WMD. Conventional wisdom is the people who reach judgment, were either knaves or fools, and that’s the only debate. That is, did they cave in to evil Dick Cheney? Hey, I’ll sign off on that part. But did they give in to the evil pressure, or were they just complete fools?
And I think all of us, this was done from a team. My colleague Dick Betts, my former student, Jim Wurtz, have written on the intelligence failure. And Mel Leffler, because Mel was on HRP. And so he had code word clearance and so he could do it and he came at it a different way. So I wanted a person with very different perspectives. So we all came in sort of saying, were you fools or knaves?
And then we read not the NIE, but the backup material. We said, oh, and the material not all declassified. There is more, there’s a lot of smoke here. It wasn’t entirely crazy, look at this piece, look at this piece. And it gives you a good sense of humility.
Gavin: So that’s a great story. And in you telling how you went about this, what was so fascinating was not just your own humility and your respect for the policymakers, but the different intellectual fields, disciplines you brought to it, right? So you’ve got IR theory, you’ve got psychology, you’ve got sociology, you have history, which is not easy to do.
And so one of the other great hallmarks of your career, I mean, there’s a whole group of people who would know you only as an IR theorist. Others, who would know you only as a political psychology person. Someone who would think of you as understanding the sociology of organizations and I know you from the diplomatic history type of stuff you do, which is hard.
Now, I wonder if you could talk about how you thought about that, and how, especially for people starting their careers, and we all know that one of the challenges of the current academic environment is the incentives aren’t to be Bob Jervis, right? The incentives are to be a narrow hedgehog, which is not to be a curious, open-minded fox.
And so if you could talk a little bit about how you came to that perspective with the idea of guiding our emerging scholars here.
Jervis: Well, one thing is, it was much easier then. The academic world was much, much smaller, that a lot of us, once you’re a faculty member, even a junior, mid-level faculty, and the graduate students come in bitching about this and that. And you say, we did it, you can do it.
Well, it’s not quite correct, the environment is different. When I was in graduate school, there was one major journal, World Politics, which now does very little IR. It did mostly IR then, not much comparative. IO did the UN and other such fascinating international organizations. JCR was very exciting. It just started in I think ’56. So you had that. I now subscribe to, oh, at least 20 journals. How many journals does ISA put out for God’s sake? So none of those existed.
And then when I was doing the misperception, I realized a little late, I was lucky it was late, that I really needed a better grounding in psych. So I read through in a year, all the 10 or 15 years of the three or four psych journals. I wouldn’t read all of the issues. I’d look at every issue, and just look at the work that was relevant to perception. And that would be maybe one issue, one article.
So that, again, was something that was doable. You just can’t do that now. So it is much, much harder. Partly, one has to rely more on trying to do coursework, more on postdocs and some postdocs that may have a year, extra year of training. Work on more collaborations, there’s much more collaborative, either formal or informal.
And the postdocs are a great help. Because it takes a long time to absorb this. And if I look at the books in the Cornell series, but others as well, you see a lot of really good scholarship. And most of that just takes a good deal of time. And of course, it’s difficult with a tenure clock. It’s difficult with family life. And that’s a question of whether we’re setting the tenure clock all wrong, but that’s a different issue. But I think you have to recognize that it is harder now.
On the other hand, there are a couple of things that are shortcuts, that are legitimate first, if not last steps. There are more review articles. There are the roundtables, in H-Diplo and ISSF, that if we say so ourselves, are very valuable. It’s at least the first step before reading the book and sometimes–
Gavin: Even more interesting than the book.
Gavin: I’d say one you did this week, the roundtable was more interesting than the book.
Jervis: The one that came out was on Walt.
Jervis: The one on Mearsheimer is better. I just did the introduction to that. So it’ll be out. It takes a while, just the production, even though it’s never in print. So in the fall, look for the one on Mearsheimer. I think that’s even better than the one on Walt. So that’s really very useful.
And of course, it for the diplomatic history. Annual reviews of political science, a lot of review essays. When I did the preface to the new edition for Perception and Misperception, those of you who know the book, you don’t have to read all of the second edition, because I did not change the book itself. I did the 85 pages of what had happened in the last 40 years.
I could only do that, because I could not go through all the psych journals, it’d just be impossible. I went through Annual Review of Psychology, and some of sociology and political science and went back to some of the articles. But the point is, the review articles are a good crutch.
Also, a great shortcut, if you can, people, other graduate students or faculty, who are in other disciplines and just learning from them. But it’s hard, and it’s hard to avoid the blinkers that come. I think now, we expect much more from young scholars now than we did, certainly, when I was coming out. And even I think 30 years ago.
And in some ways it’s very good. I mean, you look at, again, the books, certainly in our series, but in the second tier, like Princeton and Cambridge, and the Oxford and Jim’s series. When people are doing historical research, they really go pretty deeply. It’s now standard for political science, at minimum, to have really good use of the foreign relations series. And usually, not always, depending how many case studies you’re doing, but usually going to archives as well. That’s really very impressive. On the other hand, it’s going to have a cost, as you know, that research is very time consuming.
Gavin: As you’re talking about this, I keep thinking, you’re still producing all this amazing work. But I keep thinking that the intellectual history of our field, you know it better than any. And I was thinking to myself, what would it look like if you wrote the intellectual history of the field? I’m not going to ask you that, because that would be, we could spend all night talking about that.
But your last answer seemed very optimistic. And I wonder if you could talk about where you see our field, broadly defined, security studies, grand strategy and international relations going. What are the things you’re seeing? What are the things you worry about? What are the positive things? What are the trends?
Jervis: Yes, and they’re obviously both positive and negative. Starting with the good news, I think there are various things people are bemoaning about the field. But I think if you look at the major book publishers, and just look at the monographs that are basically rewritten dissertations, the quality level.
In a sense, both of good self-conscious theorizing, usually a good recognition also of the limits of what one can say, at least an acknowledgement of alternatives. Sometimes done in I admit, a somewhat mechanistic way. And often, multi methods and again, for the overlap we’re concerned with, really quite impressive use of historical materials and on interesting questions. That, I think, is very impressive.
Jervis: Another good sign is increasing diversity in the field, a number of ways. The obvious thing is, gender, the percentage of women is still — what have we got here? Lower — oh, what do you have here?
Audience: Seven out of 20.
Jervis: And it’s interesting, when I check around the table, when I’m at academic meetings and government meetings, government’s done much better, which is interesting. I’m really struck by that. But I think that’s very much a good sign.
Racial diversity, we used to be at zero and now we’re at 0.5%. I mean, it’s still bad, especially if you think African-Americans and Hispanics, it’s close to zero, I believe. I think that’s unfortunate for our society. I think it’s unfortunate for reaching our students. I find a lower percentage of African-American students in the introductory IR course and I find a lower percentage than going on after that. So I find that quite discouraging. But more of that diversity, I think is gender, very encouraging.
I think the intellectual diversity, I think we handle the political disputes in the field really quite well. I mean, the engagers versus the restrainers, they certainly more than talk to each other, are willing to hire each other’s students. I don’t think you get the research in that way polluted by the political disputes. I think the tolerance again for different, if you will, paradigms, not my favorite, is really pretty good.
And say, I think, mostly the quality, when you’re reading any of the major journals, that there are always going to be things, some good and bad. But it’s hard to read an issue of one of the major journals, except for IO, which is pretty deadening. Many journals, finding one, two, or three articles, those are really, really interesting.
And to give a boost to our sponsor, that the Texas National Security Review has done some extremely interesting things. Also, the crossover in the history. The one on the Beirut decisions-
Gavin: We have the author right here. Dr. Alexandra Evans.
Jervis: That’s great.
Gavin: You should publish her book on it in your series.
Jervis: I’d like to see it. I think that article was extremely interesting and very well done. I won’t say typical of what’s done, but shows what is and can be done.
Okay, the bad news. Well, one thing about the universities as a whole, I think we being IR and political science, it’s a little better. But I think there is a problem of political diversity. And when I was president of the APSA, this was in 2000 and 2001, I tried to get panels on this in the convention, and I did some columns for PS.
I think my colleagues were in denial. I think we have to ask ourselves and the historians even more, are there any consequences for our scholarship? It isn’t about the teaching and our brainwashing. That’s bullshit, I think. We don’t do that, the humanities do that. But they’re dying anyway.
But back to your first question, the political spectrum, not on the foreign policy view, but general political orientation in the political science discipline, runs the gamut from a reasonable socialist to centrist Democrat, right? In my department, I’d say we usually try to have one Republican, but we don’t want two, lest we get a breeding pair.
Right now, I don’t think we have any.
Jervis: Does what? That’s right. Well, Tom’s an independent, and Tom’s not in the political science department.
Now, does this matter in the research we produce? I cannot fully establish that it does. And there’s a difference between domestic views and foreign policy, right? Quite a bit. But still, it worries me that our basic views about society, how they work, how they should work, what’s just and unjust, to say that this has no influence at all on the way we analyze world politics, that may be.
But offhand, that doesn’t look right and I find this troubling. There was a very good article in Social Psychology by Jonathan Haidt, is the lead. And I know Phil Tetlock, Phil is one of the authors in three or four others. They look at social psychology and they asked this question, and they, I think, demonstrate and I mean, demonstrate, it’s not speculate. They show how the research in that field is distorted, or at least affected by the consensus, the left liberal consensus.
I think a very important issue that we’ve not confronted. We had a discussion in my department, again, diversity, all that. And Dick Betts and I had the temerity to mention intellectual diversity. And I mentioned this article, and I said, I’ve got it on my hard drive and I’d be glad to send it to any of my colleagues who asked me for it, because it’s really interesting. You can guess how they asked me for it. I think this is a real problem.
The other problem and in IR, of course, is the security studies, is the embattled field. I think Steve Van Evera and John Mearsheimer may exaggerate a little bit, but not completely. Security studies is still viewed, for many of our special colleagues, especially more of the reformers is, if you study war, you must like it.
So especially, if you say, here, we have people who have analyzed genocide, strategically, who’ve said that many genocides — I think of Ben Valentino’s very good book, out of the strategic calculations of the actors at the time. That does not sit well. So that’s a real problem.
The stronghold of rational choice theories are a little — but is still a problem. My friend and former student John Mercer, whose book on reputation, maybe you know. You can argue with it, he couldn’t get a job for several years, because people would say, well, that was one colleague who I like, not in Columbia, but in the field, said, that can’t be right. If that view is correct, I have to give up too many of my basic views. Consider that. And we know that for many of the people, that is not something they really want to think about. So that’s a real problem.
The hold of statistical and large N studies, again, I think perfectly legitimate. That work has enriched the field. I don’t use it, I do read it, I work with students who do it, all that. But the belief by the people who do it, that that’s the only, not the best kind of evidence, which it often, for some questions, it is, often. But as the only, again, really, is a problem we face.
Ironically, it’s a little like Godzilla versus one of the other monsters. Help is on the way, in that if you thought the rational choice people were fanatics, you got to meet the experimentalists. And fortunately, of course, the experimentalists’ main enemy, are the large N people. Because for them, observational data isn’t meaningful data for causal analysis at all.
So I have somewhat enjoyed the clash of these two views, that both have something to say for each other, for themselves, but not nearly as much as they think they do. And that may open some space for other things.
But that is a problem. There is, I think, that sort of lack of tolerance. It isn’t impossible, but it makes sort of an uphill battle for the sort of students that you have here. But in a way, it means you have to up your game. And I think it is perfectly fair to say, look, someone’s going to ask you to pin down why you think that’s a causal relations argument, we were having before. That’s a perfectly fair question.
Questions of endogeneity are not only statistical, they’re broader here. So thinking about the objections that you’ll face for a paper you send out, or the job market, this is hard. But many of those questions are legitimate. So in a way, that is good, but it is still what we like to call a challenging environment.
But finally, again, back to the good, is that in a way, there’s a broader interest in IR and security and the broad issue, that as others were talking, in the break, policy schools, which didn’t used to exist. Now, not only exist, but are much more interested in good academic research. And that think tanks often have many more things like that.
Positions in the government, especially in the IC, a lot of room for people who think clearly and can bring theories to bear on evidence. So in a way, the landscape in that way, has improved, and gives grounds for optimism.
Gavin: So I want to end this conversation by asking you, or pointing out something that I think we all know, but getting your reflection on, and that is on mentorship. You have here, Derek Schillet, often Collin Caul is here, the number of students that you have trained who have become academics, have entered the policy world. Then, you yourself, talked about the benefits of the mentorship you received from Tom Schelling, Ken Waltz and people like that.
And truly, it’s one of the most remarkable aspects of your career. I wonder, do you have thoughts, is this just something that came naturally? Is it a lesson that you can give for the younger scholars here to think about, about the importance, the lessons you learned about mentorship, how you thought about it and came to it?
Jervis: Because, as I said in the piece for the annual review thing, Berkeley, we were free range graduate students.
Audience: We still are.
Jervis: Exactly. Good. Except for people who were doing political behavior with Herb McCloskey was very good. And some of the regional things that — we were turned loose.
In fact, when I got to Harvard, and people said, well, who are you studying under? Or, who’s supervising your dissertation? What? First, no one at Berkeley, none of the faculty would take the chair, because they didn’t know what I was doing and didn’t care. Fortunately, I had been an undergrad, when I was at Oberlin, Aaron Wildavsky in American, has taken a course with Aaron and Aaron had gone to Berkeley and Aaron said, I’ll be your director.
But it was a different way. That generation, by the way at Harvard, was worse. Peter Gurvich who some of you know, his marvelous work on the second image reversed, that he would get the chapter back from Stanley Hoffman, with, excellent, keep going. The Harvard people, even Sam, who changed, Sam Huntingdon, became more hands on. At that point, zero.
Anyway, so partly though, I found even at Harvard and then at UCLA, at Columbia, I really enjoyed working with my students, two of whom are here, and who I give copious comments on. Hopefully, encouraging comments. Also, it’s also really very interesting, because you get very bright people who are working on interesting questions. And working with them on it is something that’s always great fun.
But the important thing, I think, in a mentor, which some people who are even good mentors don’t do, is combining giving good comments and helping with realizing they’re going to do what they want to do. It’s going to succeed, or it’s going to fail, it’s not going to be because of anything you’re telling them.
And some people who are very good scholars, they say they don’t want to turn out clones, but they really do. Or, at least they feel they want people to do it their way. And one advantage of being a fox is, hey, lots of ways to do it well. And I think in trying to pick people as mentors, that’s one thing you really want to look for.
And it is unfortunate that some people who are good scholars and who care about young people, but just have a feeling that if you’re not doing what I’m particularly interested in, or the way I’m doing it, you’re not doing it right. But I think also, the level of mentorship in the IR field is really, I think, pretty good. I think most of my colleagues, and I say not only at Columbia where I can see and think people are good, but at other places, really are quite good.
But in the end, I have to say, I know when people look at some stuff and say, oh, the problem is we need more mentorship. There’s a real limit on that. Now, we at Columbia, every junior faculty, there would be senior mentors, tricks of the trade. Yes, write something good, submit it, when it gets rejected, send it somewhere else. There isn’t an enormous amount there.
And I worry a little that some of the mentor discussion is misguided, and is a way to avoid a very hard question that I can’t answer, that is, we can’t predict who will turn out very well and who won’t. Can’t predict it when we admit to graduate school. This is my favorite statistic.
In the old days, Columbia had very large PhD programs and very low scholarship, and we were making a lot of money for the university. So we would have 80 people in the entering class. And anyway, those are my jokes, and it’s true, the people we didn’t admit to the program got PhDs at a higher rate than those we admitted. How could this happen? Well, I will tell you. There were three cases when we rejected, but the graduate office pushed the wrong button on the computer. And they came.
All of them did very badly in my first semester IR class, one of them then dropped out, two continued and got PhDs. Now, there’s a trick here, it’s self-selection. There may have been a lot of other people who we admitted by accident, who didn’t come. So these people were probably very, very dedicated.
But you can’t predict. Even then you say, on high, junior faculty hiring, yes, there’s some prediction, far less than 100%. And then if you ask, the crop of newly minted associate professors, can you predict on the next level? Some, but not completely. Tremendously internally generated, very hard, I mean, some things in your personal life. My wife and I somewhat distribute the credit a little differently. But anyway, there is that.
There is things you just can’t tell, the inherent unpredictability. To talk about mentorship too much, I think, underplays the inherent uncertainty in the enterprise.
Gavin: Well, I think we could continue this for hours and hours longer, but we have another session we have to move to. I want to thank you, not just for talking to us tonight, but for all that you’ve done. Despite what you’ve said about mentorship, you’ve been a mentor to me, even though I wasn’t your student. Your example has been an exemplar to many, and so please join me in thanking Rob Jervis for everything he’s done.
Music and Production by Tre Hester