Independent Reviews

David Lazer, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

Emergent Actors is an excellent book. At its core is what I would view as a right-minded attempt to dislodge the state from the sacred spot it holds in international relations (IR) theory. Drawing liberally on literatures of development, IR theory and philosophy of science it lays out a methodology to deconstruct - and then reconstruct - the state, outlining a modelling approach that I hope will be built on by future scholars. »»

Miriam Fendius Elman, American Political Science Review

These points aside, Emergent Actors in World Politics is an impressive book that nicely weaves cutting-edge formal modeling and counterfactual thought experiments with a diverse set of real-world examples. Cederman's empirical knowledge is particularly impressive. He effortlessly shifts from historical to contemporary cases, providing insights into nationality formation and nationalist reactions within the Habsburg Empire, the European Union, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union. Although not for the IR beginner, experts looking for an intelligent study that goes beyond the typical should find Cederman's book good value for the money. »»

Timothy G. Fay in International Relations, Volume XIII, No 5, August 1997

This book constitutes an innovative and refreshing synthesis of the current state of international relations (IR) studies. Unfortunately, it fails in its stated aim of service as the intellectual bridge over the metaphorical river separating the neorealist and neoliberal schools of IR thought. By complete dependence on computer modelling, code writing, and multiple variable and rule application, Cederman is hard pressed to demonstrate his model's independence from the classical neorealist position. It seems more probable that the quantity of criticism levelled at the realist school is Cederman's attempt to seduce the ever technology-wary neoliberals. Nevertheless, this text, and its unique use of advanced computer modelling techniques, should be considered an essential reader for the advanced IR student. The breadth and depth of the analysis presented effectively summarizes the science's core concepts and key authors without excessive reiteration. Especially effective is the application of Cederman's analysis of Deutsch's theory of emergent assimilation nationalism found in the second half of the study. While certainly not the Holy Grail of modern international relations analysis, Lars-Erik Cederman's innovative approach and concise synthesis are a welcome addition to the serious IR literature.
The initial three chapters are a useful review of the current state of the IR science. Cederman carefully constructs a convincing and logical justification for the use of modelling and simulation in IR analysis. He proceeds with a thorough explanation of his proposed computer modelling process, aptly labelled Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS). Other current uses for this modelling highlighted include the examination of cloud formation and weather patterns, and Cederman uses these examples to link CAS modelling to IR analysis. Cederman then carefully defines his terminology to prevent reader confusion and provide common reference. One example is his selection of the often-referenced Weberian definition of state and nation. While somewhat lengthy for an introduction, Cederman clearly manages to build an effective platform from which to launch his proposition. The only initially evident shortcoming is the synthesis of the IR science as a simple two-variable scheme. This synthesis encapsulates the entire IR theory landscape in a three-by-three opposing field of states and nations, with each characterized as either absent, reified or emergent.
While definitely illustrative if somewhat oversimplified, Cederman commits the same crime he alleges of the neorealists. This scheme notably lacks consideration for the evolution of the science and effectively freezes IR theory in a two-dimensional prison in a multiple dimension reality. In this theoretical framework, there is no possibility of evolution or self-education. Only complete categorical linear shifts are possible, implying distinctive limits on the possibilities and the desirable. This presentation does offer, however, a very neat and concise framework from which to construct the justification of CAS modelling in the following chapters.
In chapters four and five, Cederman finally introduces his Complex Adaptive System modelling and applies it to the development of an imaginary world with 400 initial states competing in a twenty-by-twenty grid. Predator and prey states are randomly introduced in varying proportions with a series of initially simple rules applied to model conflict outcome. Cederman categorizes the results and graphically summarizes the surviving number of states from each of the numerous iterations. He categorizes the resulting 'world' as either unipolar, bipolar, multipolar or more. It is here, after Cederman introduces the first iterations of his emergent polarity model, where he elects three basic neorealist propositions to test with his CAS modelling. The assumption is a bipolar or multipolar world in a world of power politics and power politics equates to stability and peace. The propositions follow: 1) anarchy promotes power politics; 2) domination by defensive military technology over offensive technology will increase the probability of power politics; 3) defensive alliances also increase the probability of power politics.
Interestingly, the initial iterations of the emergent polarity model support proposition one but immediately call into question the validity of propositions two and three. The various iterations seem to support the concept of defensive technology and alliances actually promoting hegemony, the opposite of classic neorealist expectations. Cederman is quick to highlight this seemingly contradictory result and suggest this should be no surprise to neorealists who often invoke classic economic theory comparisons in their discourse. Cederman reviews the negative impact of tariffs and protective regional trading blocs on overall economic efficiency as held in generally accepted classic economic theory. He then makes the metaphoric leap applying this argument to defensive technology and alliances in the political realm. Very simply summarized, Cederman supports the contention that defences and alliances provide an artificial time period of divided weakness which permits a single hegemon to expand unchecked by other potential rivals. These other potential powers do not have the opportunity to grow 'naturally' and hence challenge the hegemon due to these artificial system impediments. A real world example of this phenomenon is offered in the city-state alliance system of Renaissance Italy and the failure to confront growing hegemonic power outside of the system.
As he progresses, Cederman continually adds further variables in an attempt more closely to represent reality. Introduced are defensive alliances, modifiable sensitivity to perceived threats, actor adaptation and 'learning', modified resource distribution and eventually even the possibility of intra-state national succession. Each iteration and additional variable drives the CAS model further towards neorealist expectations of political behaviour. By the last iteration presented, the graphical bipolar and multipolar wedge Cederman defines as the reign of power politics is dominant. This result clearly begs the question regarding further model adaptation or variable introduction, but, unfortunately, this tantalizing prospect is not touched upon.
While an intellectually controversial topic of academic consideration, Cederman's manipulation of economic political theory application leaves him open to concerted criticism. The comparison of alliances and defensive technology with protective tariffs and regional trading blocs, while stimulating, may be difficult to sustain. The neorealists can equally make the claim that defensive alliances more closely simulate cooperatives, which can greatly increase economic efficiency and competition and impede the hegemonic monopoly of large business. Defensive technology could also be related as a product modification or market niche strategy or, better yet, a delaying tactic to milk economic 'cash-cows' in an effort to garner resources and launch an 'offensive' operation on another 'front.' Overall, it appears that Cederman's use of this metaphorical prescription is a masterful manipulation of the reader's subject matter knowledge with little detailed defence offered. This is a crafty grab for the reader's interest, if not concordance, which almost demands further discussion. It is with this elevated level of interest that the reader terminates with the emergent polarity model and begins with the most stimulating part of the study, Cederman's analysis of nationalism in a multinational state.
Cederman initiates this enlightening analysis with a definitive summary of the current variations of nationalism present in an evolving world. The differences between Western, Central-Southern, and Eastern European nationalism are effectively accentuated. This carefully constructed explanation is...