Posts Tagged ‘Karl Lamprecht’


Octopus Intelligence and the Tentacle State

March 31, 2017

I’ve mentioned Karl Lamprecht’s discussion of the tentacle state before

In 1903 Lamprecht was writing about the ‘tentacle state’ that national influence could no longer be thought of in terms of the narrowly defined territorial nation state but one also had to include overseas political organization, the diaspora, investment and ‘atmospheres of exports and ideas’. In writing a history of foreign public engagement it’s pretty clear that 20th century states have been ‘tentacle states’ (given that the octopus is a staple of propaganda posters maybe network state is better).

This fits very much with what I see in studying public diplomacies:  states are networks of networks and rather than seeing inconsistency as a malfunction it’s the odd occasions where things work together that needs to be explained – they work along multiple lines at the same time.

With that in mind I came across this discussion by Daniel Little of Peter Godfrey-Smith’s book on octopus intelligence, discussing how the octopus addressed not having a shell Godfrey-Smith says:

Octopuses have not dealt with this challenge by imposing centralized governance on the body; rather, they have fashioned a mixture of local and central control. One might say the octopus has turned each arm into an intermediate-scale actor. But it also imposes order, top-down, on the huge and complex system that is the octopus body.

This was done through developing a decentralized system of intelligence

much of a cephalopod’s nervous system is not found within the brain at all, but spread throughout the body. In an octopus, the majority of neurons are in the arms themselves— nearly twice as many as in the central brain. The arms have their own sensors and controllers….Even an arm that has been surgically removed can perform various basic motions, like reaching and grasping

So maybe it’s less that the rational actor model was wrong but that it was the rationality of the octopus we should have been seeing a model.



Recovering the Nation, Part 3: Why Doesn’t International Relations Have a Theory of the National?

September 1, 2014

I want to wind up this series of posts with a few thoughts on why we need to recover the nation at all. If it’s such an important piece of the architecture of the world why doesn’t it get more attention?

There’s an interesting clue in the story of Karl Lamprecht. Lamprecht (died 1915) was a German social historian, nationalist and advocate of Auswärtige Kulturpolitik. In advocating for world power without war (weltmacht ohne krieg) Lamprecht believed that through strategic application of German science, culture and economic resources Germany could achieve its rightful position in the world (Chickering 1993). In 1903 Lamprecht was writing about the ‘tentacle state’ that national influence could no longer be thought of in terms of the narrowly defined territorial nation state but one also had to include overseas political organization, the diaspora, investment and ‘atmospheres of exports and ideas’. In writing a history of foreign public engagement it’s pretty clear that 20th century states have been ‘tentacle states’ (given that the octopus is a staple of propaganda posters maybe network state is better) yet there’s been a gap between the theory and the practice (Conrad 2010: 398-9).

During the 19th century German history had been political history. At the end of the 1880s Lamprecht had started publishing a 12 volume history of Germany that shifted the focus towards ordinary people. This triggered a bitter struggle called the Lamprechtstreit. This was partly about method but it also reflected the tensions within Wilhelmine Germany. Most historians were supporters of the state and they feared that identifying the nation with the social as Lamprecht did under the influence of Herder would undermine the association of state and nation and open the way to socialism. Lamprecht was defeated and social history was to remain a minor part of German history until after 1945 – he was better received in France and can be seen as a forerunner of historians such as Bloch and Braudel (Breisach 2007).

The German effort to maintain the position of state/politics over society/the social echoed through the Weimar period as can be seen in Carl Schmitt’s efforts to define the political as a separate sphere. And from Schmitt we get to Hans Morgenthau and American realism. Realism is a pure theory of the state and states-system that lacks social roots. A central debate in American IR is then that between an apparently fragile political state and a cosmopolitan liberalism represented by transnational actors, non-state organizations, civil society, globalization, the internet etc, etc. The marxists have repeatedly pointed out that the realist state lacks social foundations but all they can offer is cosmopolitan class struggle.

This French Herderian theory is then quite different from realism because it’s based on the idea of national difference from below, the state as an expression of culture nation. It’s also different from the liberal or marxist critiques because nationality resides in the civil society.

The situation in sociology and social theory more broadly is a bit different. Up to around 1970 sociology followed, what was retrospectively labelled, ‘methodological nationalism’ that society defined by the nation state is the basic unit of analysis and that societies were self-contained organisms (Mann 1986, Wallerstein 1991, Robertson 1992). Subsequently the rise of globalization as a central analytical framework has done away with this. The problem is that there seems to have been an element of overkill here: getting rid of the nation-state as rigid analytical framework shouldn’t mean ignoring the way that nationalness is both a key institutional and cognitive and emotive element of the world – instead we tend to get a switch between the global and the local that obscures the national. Questions of nation and nationalism get shunted off into specialist research areas.

Given that one of the basic failings of Anglo-Saxon public diplomacy has been the tendency to underestimate the importance that foreign publics attach to nationalness this is of more than theoretical interest.


Breisach E (2007) Historiography : ancient, medieval, and modern. Third Edition. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

Chickering R (1993) Karl Lamprecht: A German Academic Life (1856-1915). Atlantic Highlands NJ: Humanities

Conrad S (2010) Globalisation and the nation in Imperial Germany. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, pp. 398-9

Mann M (1986) The Sources of Social Power. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Robertson R (1992) Globalization: Social Theory and Global Culture. London: Sage.

Wallerstein I (1991) Unthinking Social Science: The Limits of Nineteenth-Century Paradigms. Cambridge: Polity.



Edward Luttwak Explains Why China Should Be Nice to People

November 12, 2013

Edward Luttwak always writes interesting stuff – a couple of my favourites are his Strategy and The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire.  I’ve just come across his 2012 book on The Rise of the China vs the Logic of Strategy.  I don’t think that this is one of his best but there are a couple of public diplomacy angles that deserve comment.

The argument is that if China thinks that using its rapid economic rise to fuel its military build-up will increase its influence in the world it’s wrong.  In order to increase its influence China should minimize the expansion of its military forces and revert to a policy of peaceful development.

His argument is essentially the lateral pressure view that I wrote about here but put in a rather more pungent version involving fat people in a lift.  The economic rise of China affects other people regardless of what China does but coupling the economic expansion to a military one guarantees a negative reaction.

As others have done he points to the analogy with the rise of Germany before the First World War but he also points out the extent of German cultural, industrial and scientific prestige at the end of the 19th century.  What derailed Germany’s rise to world power was their decision to build a navy to challenge Britain.  In this argument Luttwak is echoing the debate that did take place in Germany before 1914; was it was possible to become a world power without war – the position advocated by Karl Lamprecht and which formed the basis for the post 1918 cultural foreign policy.  Although Luttwak does not refer to this debate he is arguing that weltmacht with and without war were not alternatives for Germany as it was only the peaceful version that would maximize influence in the world.

Does he think that China can learn from the German case?  The short answer is no.  In his view all great powers tend towards ‘strategic autism’ but China has some disadvantages.  Firstly, because it sees itself as the middle kingdom it lacks a well-developed understanding of how to deal with other countries as equals and as such fails to see how its actions appear to others.  Secondly, its much vaunted tradition of strategic thinking represented by Sun Tzu simply provides a set of stratagems that may have worked within the common culture of ancient China but which are much less effective in a context dominated by nation states.  Thirdly, China just isn’t very good at strategy which explains why it’s been ruled by foreign dynasties for so much of its history.   Luttwak also takes a dig at Henry Kissinger for being far too impressed with the claims of China’s ancient wisdom.

The result is that Luttwak expects China to keep on annoying the neighbours and for an anti-China coalition to emerge.  The second half of the book is a country by country examination of how this is happening.

Following on from yesterday’s post if we want to think about China’s public diplomacy we have to keep the structural dimension in focus.  Whatever CCTV or the Confucius Institutes say about China they are operating in an environment structured by the reality of China’s increasing weight in the world.  While communication and psychology matter in public diplomacy they’re not the whole story.