Montesquieu's moderate statesmanship and the Sino-American relationship.


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This dissertation’s point of departure is the observation that many general theories of international politics have been unable to isolate a lodestar by which American statesmen can navigate the rise of China. A principal problem these theories face is an overreliance on parsimonious, abstract systems in their explanations and predictions of international behavior. The international political thought of Montesquieu is a fruitful alternative for statesmen. Rather than reducing international political life to a system of interaction between general causes, Montesquieu’s corpus shows that the real impact of general causes can only be understood as qualified by both particular circumstances—which find expression in the decisively particular political communities that span the globe—and human freedom. The infinity of particular circumstances and indeterminacy of free human actions will invariably frustrate attempts to solve international problems or predict international behavior with any certainty. Accordingly, Montesquieu demonstrates that a statesmanship founded on both intellectual and practical moderation, as opposed to a kind of mathematical certitude derived from abstract systems, is the best way to understand international political life. This dissertation illustrates Montesquieu’s contribution to international political thought through an ongoing discussion of how Montesquieu’s thought can help American statesmen navigate the contemporary Sino-American relationship.