by Oliver Jütersonke, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. 212 pp. Hardcover $95.00 ISBN: 9780521769280.

Reviewed by Scott Kuzner, University of Maryland, College Park. Email: skuzner [at]


Oliver Jütersonke’s Morgenthau, Law and Realism is an attempt to locate the influences and development of international relations giant Hans J. Morgenthau through a ‘redescription’ of key career moments and concepts in Morgenthau’s writings. Ultimately, this study aims to move Morgenthau beyond his typical association with realism and place his early scholarship in the field of public law, specifically the German and US legal theoretical debates of the early twentieth century. What emerges is an apologist portrait of a disenchanted legal scholar with high expectations for the application of law in international affairs, revealing a new dimension to the flat, pessimistic force that Morgenthau is often depicted as in the realist-idealist conflict of International Relations (IR) theory.

Morgenthau’s reach throughout the field of international relations in American political science and the country’s political actors in foreign affairs is unparalleled. One need only look at two surveys from the late 1960s that Jütersonke cites in his final chapter: US State Department personnel involved with international law and foreign policy identified Morgenthau more than any other IR scholar (Outland 1970), while IR political scientists mentioned his undergraduate text Politics Among Nations (1948) more than any other scholarly works in their field – twice as many as the second-ranked work (Finnegan 1972) (pp.187–188). That said, Jütersonke is challenged with creating a new interpretation of a figure as popularized as Morgenthau.

Jütersonke is not looking for the ‘real’ or ‘right’ meaning in Morgenthau’s writings, nor a continuity, but views his ‘redescription’ of Morgenthau as a reading of “texts as communicative actions, formulated in a particular period that reacted with its descriptions to the society of that period” (pp.20, 190). This effort, which he indebts to approaches of political theorist Jürgen Habermas and sociologist Niklas Luhmann, unravels Morgenthau’s works chronologically as understood in the context of several past eras while simultaneously placing Morgenthau’s works in a dialogue with one another as his ideas and approach to political science evolve over time under institutional changes in the field of political science and environmental shifts in international affairs. In doing so, he hopes to demonstrate that the field of international relations and a ‘cottage industry’ of biographical works on Morgenthau have obscured the legal origins of the late scholar’s work.

Jütersonke’s positioning of Morgenthau as first a legal scholar is apologetic, as it softens the assumption that comes with the realist paradigm and its potentially dim outlook on human nature and the motivations of states. Criticism of realism can be dismissive of the scientific nature of what Morgenthau was observing in the [*257] behavior of states when they decide whether to comply with, or uphold, international agreements. The feeling one is left with when absorbing such an approach is akin in the field of public law when one first meets the ‘attitudinal model’ of analyzing judicial-decision making. This model asserts that in some contexts when Supreme Court justices vote on case outcomes they are merely reflecting their preferences on the content of legal policy based on what justices see as ‘good policy’ rather than sound law (Baum 1997, 6, 25). Morgenthau’s status as a realist in IR theory played a similar role of academic spoiler because any realist runs the risk of being seen as simplifying behavioral observations. This mode of thinking can be quite narrow, though one should not forget that a comprehensive understanding of any form of politics – the courts and public law included – recognizes the utility of all methodologies and perspectives. In Jütersonke’s work, we see a Morgenthau with a similar desire for unity and thoroughness in the discipline of political science, which we are to infer is attributed to his legal origins. Jütersonke’s study then contributes to a more well-rounded picture of Morgenthau that has emerged since his passing in 1980 (see for example, Fromkin 1993).

Morgenthau’s writings intersected the fields of international relations, public law, and to an extent, traditional teachings of political theory. This third point of intersection is a subject for debate, and in fact Jütersonke takes time to weaken Morgenthau’s connection to political theory, but it no doubt resides beneath the surface in Morgenthau’s writings and his early struggles in the mid-twentieth century at the University of Chicago. The study of international relations can be thought of as a combination of the art of political theory and the logical and dependent intentions of law. This holds true for Morgenthau, as his legal approach represents a more scientific or empirical element, while political theory presents itself in his advocacy for the art of statecraft and leadership. However, Jütersonke is uncomfortable placing Morgenthau alongside his fellow German-Jewish émigrés such as Hannah Arendt, Leo Strauss, or Herbert Marcuse who were political theorists of the same academic era as Morgenthau. To do so would be misleading: as “[v]ersed as he may have been in the literature, Morgenthau was not a political theorist, nor a philosopher” (p.5). Despite Jütersonke’s introductory caution, the reader – depending on their field and approach – may feel otherwise after reading his study. While it is unfair to compare the content in Morgenthau’s writings with the aforementioned political theorists, one should not forget that any realist is putting forth a political theory of the operation of international relations. As time passes and Morgenthau’s theories continue to ferment, it may become more acceptable to include Morgenthau in political theory’s discussion and reading of Thucydides, Machiavelli, and others. At the very least, Jütersonke demonstrates how Morgenthau can be read in the legal discipline’s study of the philosophy of law.

However, this is also one shortcoming of Jütersonke’s work – the reader has to work to make a fairly substantial inference to show why this discipline should be interested in studying Morgenthau. More development on the philosophy of international law would [*258] have benefited this text. In some respects this becomes a work directed at IR theorists to simply show the often overlooked origin of Morgenthau. The monograph’s purpose – demonstrating that Morgenthau was a legal scholar first – then turns into the premise for why Jütersonke’s leaves the reader with a disillusioned portrait of Morgenthau. Sure, we do see, for example, a discussion of the influence Hans Kelsen on Morgenthau but if the legal discipline is to be interested in Morgenthau, there could have been more of connection to the philosophy of law. Even with this underdeveloped aspect, Jütersonke still does a fine job with Morgenthau.

Jütersonke’s book is presented in six chapters that follow a chronological path of Morgenthau’s career through realism, functionalism, ‘disappointed historicism,’ and eventually to a state that Jütersonke refers to as the ‘Americanization’ of Morgenthau’s work where after acquiring his tenure track at the University of Chicago Morgenthau transformed from “the juridical analyst in the field of International Law” into “an external commentator of law” (p.143). It is not clear if we are to interpret this as an act of tenure privilege, a sign of resignation, or genuine transformation, or perhaps all of the above, but is nonetheless the final stop in a prolific career.

Chapter 1, “Hans J. Morgenthau in International Relations,” lays out a roadmap for tracing the origins of Politics Among Nations back to Morgenthau’s earlier work in international law. This chapter also provides Jütersonke’s understanding of realism; reviews biographical accounts of Morgenthau; and investigates the criteria for a classic IR text.

Chapter 2, “The justiciability of disputes,” examines Morgenthau’s dissertation which looked at the justiciability of international disputes within the context of the legal debates of Germany’s late-Wilhelmine and Weimar periods, finding that it led to a differentiation between disputes and tensions. Notably, this chapter also weaves in discussions of William E. Scheuerman’s ‘hidden dialogue’ between Morgenthau and Carl Schmitt and the likely influence Hersch Lauterpacth’s review of his dissertation had on Politics Among Nations.

Chapter 3, “Hans Kelsen and the reality of norms,” outlines Morgenthau’s work from 1934 and 1935 that addressed the use of sanctions to curb the ‘will to power,’ featuring a look at the influences of Hans Kelsen and Arthur Baumgarten on Morgenthau’s work. This influence included their research and writing styles, as well as their ideological approach to international legal theory. From Baumgarten, Morgenthau embraced the distinction between the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’ and a brief experiment in a writing style that employed few citations and references (pp.87-88). Kelsen’s influence arises in a realist view that international law could be quite primitive when decentralized from adjudication and enforcement, acting merely as a façade for the balance of power among forces seeking domination or maintaining a status quo (pp.99-100).

Chapter 4, “Legal realism and behaviouralist social science,” is by far the richest chapter in the book with much applicability across fields in political science. This chapter examines how Morgenthau’s ‘radical legal realism’ [*259] distinguished between metaphysics and positivism while also working out compromises between what Jütersonke describes as “Kelsenian conviction and US legal theory” and “the thought styles of international law and those of political science” (p.115). We see how Morgenthau made a place for himself in the study of US law, including attempts at making his work compatible with American political science, particularly his efforts at the University of Chicago where he confronted the challenges of behavioralist methodologies sweeping the discipline at that time. Many references are made to a pamphlet he published titled “Positivisme mal compris et théorie réaliste du Droit international.” The arguments in this pamphlet for a ‘radical legal realism’ that sought a connection between the science of law and its concern for empirically observable norms and juridical realities rather than natural law or metaphysics (pp.115–117), were later re-purposed by Morgenthau and indicative of his uneasiness in, and with, the discipline of political science at that time.

Chapter 5, “Legalism, romanticism and irresponsible statecraft,” discusses Morgenthau circa the 1950s and his (re)formulation of political realism and his critique of the work of E.H. Carr which Jütersonke links to the development of the concept of the ‘national interest’ and Morgenthau’s warning against Carr’s efforts to synthesize realism and utopia. Morgenthau’s work as a consultant with the George Kennan’s Policy Planning Staff of the US State Department between 1949 and 1950 is discussed in this chapter, as well as his rise to a patriotic public intellectual writing about his newly identified homeland, the US. Aside from the introduction of a lengthy discussion of Carr, this chapter reads much like the beginning of a concluding section. One also notices that Jütersonke writes in the first person a great deal in this chapter and often references previous sections that are snowballing at that point.

By chapter 6, “The legacy of legal formalism,” Jütersonke comes full-circle with his original goal of bringing the earlier works of Morgenthau into a dialogue with one another, reiterating that Morgenthau’s approach would have been considered ‘unscientific’ and no longer a part of the field of international relations had it not been for the Six Principles of Political Realism that were added to the second edition of Politics Among Nations. Among Jütersonke’s concluding remarks that help his audience’s to see another depth to Morgenthau is the idea that he would not have “endorsed a theory that made all political action into a struggle for power on the basis of material capabilities” (p.182).

Morgenthau’s close call with being understood as unscientific is indicative of his struggles at the University of Chicago, and even broader, the difficulty in determining where one political science field ends and another begins or whether there is a common thread connecting them. Jütersonke’s goal of positioning Morgenthau as a legal scholar first is an acknowledgment of this challenge. Morgenthau’s early interest in the relationship between the legal and the political represents the source of an inherent fault line in his work that later fractured and pushed the political nature of international relations to the forefront, leaving behind the more scientific, legal influence and creating the perception of a [*260] cynical realist. The reader is left to wonder if the inference to be made in Jütersonke’s work is that Morgenthau’s legal formalism made him a skeptic regarding what to expect from the international stage of politics. Legal discourse presents this as the question of what makes laws between countries binding without higher oversight. Enforcement takes on the form of either sanctions or violence, making the realist perspective an intuitive outcome from an IR scholar with a legal background.

Beginning with his dissertation’s exploration of the state’s motivations to pursue the international settlement of disputes, we see a realist understanding of power that places law as a secondary condition behind political philosophy and social science. Morgenthau did not see the legal and political as concepts in opposition – every state action could be considered political (p. 54). Reviewers of Morgenthau’s dissertation criticized its combination of objective and subjective limits of judicial settlement, for they did not want to hear, as Jütersonke summarizes it, that there “were certain political tensions which overruled, or preceded, international law’s claim of relevance in addressing inter-state disputes” (pp.55–57). A more forgiving analysis of Morgenthau’s work may be better understood as an observer of law’s durability and application in international affairs.

This is not to say Jütersonke’s work lacks moments when a flatter Morgenthau is presented. For example, in the ‘hidden dialogue’ with Carl Schmitt which takes issue with Schmitt’s friend-to-foe distinction of politics, Morgenthau refines his notion of the ‘will to power’ by looking at external relations of states, finding that all foreign policy is either policies of status quo, imperialism, and prestige, or put another way; maintaining, increasing, and demonstrating power. Here, Morgenthau reduced law to nothing more than one additional asset in a cache of resources, considering the willingness of states to follow international law is only based on the distribution of power (pp.63-64).

Jütersonke’s reading of Morgenthau’s texts as “communicative actions” can be found in several basic sociological influences mentioned throughout this monograph. One example of this is seen when he explains that Morgenthau saw Politics Among Nations as “written in the spirit of the times” attacking idealists “believing in law and international institutions as the driving force in the attainment and maintenance of peace in international politics” (p.157). A richer dynamic is found in following Morgenthau’s time at the University of Chicago when the state of political science turned institutional trends and his colleagues into interlocutors who shaped his work and possibly his temperament. At Chicago, Morgenthau experienced the difficulty in identifying oneself with ‘legal realism’ and eventually opted for ‘functionalism’ because it had a systematic understanding of the political and legal factors of international law (pp.129-130). Despite this attempt at scientizing his work, Morgenthau still labored to make his functionalist approach to international law compatible with a university consumed by the sociological behavioralism trend of the 1940s and 1950s. According to Jütersonke, he preferred to teach the ‘great books,’ advocated the need for ‘intellectual leadership,’ and saw politics as an art performed by the statesman, not [*261] a science guided with “the rationality of the engineer” (pp.135, 138).

Unfortunately, by the time the department of political science at Chicago did start to move in this direction, which was at about the time Leo Strauss arrived and was calling for the study of ‘true’ political theory, Morgenthau still felt neglected (p.141). Jütersonke cites Morgenthau as calling political theory an “intellectually and practically meaningless ritual which one had to engage for reasons of tradition and prestige before one would occupy oneself with the things that really mattered” (p.141). This tone of scorn – and I call it this because of the great books acknowledgment – may be displaced anger for a feeling that Morgenthau’s scholarship simply missed any relevance to academic trends during his time. This frustration likely stemmed from what Jütersonke sees as the paradox in Morgenthau’s agenda: he demanded an empirical element for studying international law, just not the methods being used in American social science at that time (p.143). Legal theory may be the necessary bridge for understanding this conflict. In this regard, Jütersonke’s work identifies a critical, missing element of philosophy of law – one based on observations of international behavior among states – in the analysis of Morgenthau’s writings. Unfortunately, this identification in Jütersonke’s work is largely implicit.

The expectation for an author known for the Six Principles of Political Realism and amplifying such notions as ‘the national interest,’ ‘power politics,’ and ‘the balance of power’ is quite large. With that challenge in front of him, Jütersonke still puts forth an admirable and comprehensive effort at retracing Morgenthau’s career to understand and reconstruct the process that led to the thinker’s major works and drawing attention to an overlooked aspect of his career. This book will be primarily of interest to graduate scholars in the fields of international relations and some in the subfield of public law. In addition, sections of the book that deal with the evolution of the discipline of political science itself would be of great value to graduate level scope and methods seminars. Traditional political theorists may shy from reading a text such as this, but Jütersonke’s work remains informative for understanding the legacy of classical realists.


Baum, Lawrence. 1997. The Puzzle of Judicial Behavior. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

Finnegan, R.B. 1972. “The Field of International Relations: A View from Within,” Towson State Journal of International Affairs 7: 1–24.

Fromkin, David. 1993. “Remembering Hans Morgenthau,” World Policy Journal 10 (3): 81–88.

Outland, J.W. 1970. “The Decision-Maker and the Scholar: Who Reads Whom,” International Lawyer 4: 859–870.

Copyright by the Author, Scott Kuzner.