Portrait of Dr Seán Molloy

Dr Seán Molloy

Reader in International Relations

About

Seán Molloy joined the School as a Reader in International Relations Theory from the University of Edinburgh in May 2013. Dr Molloy has published two books: The Hidden History of Realism: A Genealogy of Power Politics (Palgrave Macmillan: New York, 2006) and Kant's International Relations: The Political Theology of Perpetual Peace (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2017). Kant's International Relations was awarded the Susan Strange Prize for the best book in any field of International Studies by the British International Studies Association and the Sussex International Theory Prize by the Centre for Advanced International Theory. Dr Molloy has also published in leading journals such as European Journal of International Relations, International Theory, Review of International Studies, Security Dialogue, Theory & Event, Journal of International Political Theory, and Cooperation and Conflict. Dr Molloy has also written for wider, non-academic audiences on contemporary international politics in The Scotsman, The Disorder of Things, and The LSE blog

Dr Molloy's research is critical-historical and interdisciplinary in nature, encompassing IR, political theory, philosophy, and political theology. Molloy's work challenges prevailing orthodoxies in IR by returning to the texts of authors such as Hans Morgenthau and Immanuel Kant and carefully reconstructing their ideas as a whole before contrasting these detailed interpretations against the 'mythic' functions they serve in relation to contemporary IR and Political Theory. The rediscovery, reinterpretation, and further development of these positions opens up unexplored avenues of inquiry that reinvigorate the discipline as a whole.

Dr Molloy has been awarded a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship from December 2019-December 2020 to investigate the role played by Marx and Hegel in E.H.Carr's theorisation of the role of ethics in IR. The fellowship will enable Dr Molloy to finish a book on Carr and ethics, the first of two books examining Realist ethics in International Relations. This project has also been supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Dr Molloy's research on Realism has also been supported by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and he was a Principal Investigator on the Leverhulme supported Classical Realism Meets Critical Theory international research network. 

Future book projects continue research on the connections between Philosophy and International Relations. The first of these books addresses Hegel's philosophy of politics as it applies to international relations. The second is an analysis of Hume's emphasis on the passions and how they influence political life, especially at the international level. A separate project is a cross-cultural investigation of how and why 'Realist' theories emerged in ancient Greece, China and India. Dr Molloy is also interested in the political theoretical dimensions of literature and has written articles and/or presented papers on Thomas Pynchon and William Shakespeare.

Research interests

  • ‘Classical’ Realist International Relations theory
  • Kant and International Relations theory
  • International Society/English School IR Theory
  • History of International Political Thought
  • Genealogies and other Critical-Historical / philosophical approaches to IR theory

Current Projects:

  • Kant and International Relations
  • Realist Ethics in International Relations

Teaching

Undergraduate:

Postgraduate:

Supervision

Seán is interested in supervising PhDs that critically interrogate IR theory, especially Realism, Kant and "Kantianism" in IR, and the international theory of Martin Wight and Hedley Bull. He is also interested in projects exploring political theology and IR, post-positivist IR theory and the work of certain philosophers whose work applies to IR, e.g. Nietzsche, Deleuze, Spinoza, Hume, Machiavelli. 

Professional


Publications

Forthcoming

  • Molloy, S. (2018). Academic Freedom, Democracy and Dissensus: Morgenthau on the Right and Duty of an Academic to Oppose Government Policy. European Journal of International Relations.
  • Molloy, S. (2018). Kant and International Relations: The Promise of Political Theology. In: Paipais, V. ed. Political Theologies of the International. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Article

  • Molloy, S. (2019). Realism and reflexivity: Morgenthau, academic freedom and dissent. European Journal of International Relations [Online]. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1177/1354066119868283.
    Primarily known as a pioneer of International Relations (IR) theory, Hans Morgenthau also wrote on a series of other political themes. Especially prominent in his later career is a concern with the right and duty of a theorist to exercise academic freedom as a critic of government power and, especially in this particular case, of US foreign policy. For Morgenthau the responsibility to hold governments to account by reference to the ‘higher laws’ that underpin and legitimize democracy in its truest form was a key function of the theorist in society. Dissensus and healthy debate characterize genuine democracy for Morgenthau who was perturbed by what he perceived to be a worrying concern with conformity and consensus among the political and academic elites of Vietnam War era America. This article investigates the theoretical and philosophical commitments that explain why Morgenthau felt compelled to oppose the government of his adopted state and the consequences of his having done so. For all the vicissitudes he endured, Morgenthau ultimately emerged vindicated from his clash with the political elite and his experience serves as an exemplary case of the effective use of academic freedom to oppose government policy by means of balanced, judicious critique. In the final section I argue that Morgenthau’s approach to theory, theorization and the role of the intellectual in society provides valuable insights into the nature of reflexivity in IR that are of relevance to contemporary debates in the discipline.
  • Molloy, S. (2014). Pragmatism, Realism and the ethics of crisis and transformation in international relations. International Theory [Online] 6:454-489. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1752971914000189.
    This article examines Carr’s work in The Twenty Years’ Crisis and Conditions of Peace in the light of an analogy that Carr draws between his work and that of the American pragmatist philosopher, William James. The article argues that one gains a greater understanding of the internal workings of Carr’s most important IR works if one understands him as operating within the pragmatist tradition (as James understood it). A further aim of the paper is to investigate the evolution in Carr’s ethical commitment to peace in The Twenty Years' Crisis and Conditions of Peace as a product of a pragmatist perspective on global politics. The article concludes with a section on how pragmatist Realist ethics complements existing theories of Realist ethics in IR by reference to Richard Ned Lebow’s The Tragic Vision of Politics and Michael C. Williams’ The Realist Tradition and the Limits of International Relations.
  • Molloy, S. (2013). Spinoza, Carr, and the ethics of The Twenty Years’ Crisis. Review of International Studies [Online] 39:251-271. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0260210512000356.
    This article reads Carr through the lens of Spinoza's ethics, and Spinoza through the prism of Carr's IR Theory. The argument of the piece is that there are significant parallels in the ethical projects of both writers, which upon further examination reveal important aspects of global political life and the nature and limits of ethics in International Relations. The close, critical examination of Spinoza ad Carr undertaken in this article also sheds light on the most controversial aspect of Carr's career, his advocacy of appeasement in Nazi Germany.
  • Molloy, S. (2013). An ‘All-Unifying Church Triumphant’ A Neglected Dimension of Kant’s Theory of International Relations. International History Review [Online] 35:317-336. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07075332.2012.761148.
    The purpose of this article is to examine the religious and theological elements of Immanuel Kant's work. This is an area of Kant's oeuvre that has been neglected in the history of international thought; this is problematic as it is in these works that Kant addresses many themes which are important to his international-relations project, for example, human nature, the corruption of society, the possibility of ethical community, and cosmopolitanism.
  • Molloy, S. (2013). ‘Cautious politics’: Morgenthau and Hume’s critiques of the balance of power. International Politics [Online] 50:768-783. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/ip.2013.37.
    This article explores the important parallels between the critiques of the balance of power offered by David Hume and Hans J. Morgenthau. The article presents the authors as both proponents and critics of the balance of power, depending on cir- cumstance. For Hume, the balance of power is useful as a means of preventing universal monarchy, but is also liable to be used inappropriately as a justification for vindictive politics. Morgenthau, more influenced by Hume than is commonly recognised in Inter- national Relations theory, also subjects the balance of power to a thorough-going critique.
  • Molloy, S. (2010). From The Twenty Years’ Crisis to Theory of International Politics: a rhizomatic reading of realism. Journal of International Relations and Development [Online] 13:378-404. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1057/jird.2010.15.
    The idea behind this article is to employ a series of Deleuzo-Guattarian principles, primarily the concept of the rhizome, to the articulation and development of Realism as a theory of IR. The article makes the claim that using rhizomatics allows those interested in Realism to reconceptualise the relationship between Realism and Neorealism. The article argues that the publication of The Twenty Years’ Crisis by E.H. Carr and Theory of International Politics by Ken Waltz represent two ‘intense’ moments in the descent of Realism. The article argues that despite the attempted ‘territorialisation’ of Realism into the static, paradigmatic Neorealism, Realism remains a heterogeneous set of concepts. The territorialisation process has met with some resistance; for example, just as Waltz was trying to territorialise Realism, his theory was being deterritorialised by Richard Ashley. The article also examines James Der Derian's attempt to save realism by deconstructing it, advocating an ‘affirmative leap into the imaginary’. The article concludes that despite the Neorealist moment, attempts to splice together constructivism and realism provide evidence that Realism remains mutative, heterogeneous, open and vital.
  • Molloy, S. (2010). Escaping the Politics of the Irredeemable Earth? Anarchy and Transcendence in the Novels of Thomas Pynchon. Theory and Event [Online] 13:1. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/tae.2010.0004.
    In her discussion of Orwell’s 1984, Judith Shklar makes a compelling case for the use of literature in political theory contra the Platonic opposition to the poets. She concludes that political theory is not tied to an external reality, but rather is part of the ‘languages of the republic of letters’ and that it is by ‘attending carefully to all imaginative and scholarly literature’ that one can ‘establish the historical identity of ideas’ (Shklar, 1985, 17). The advantage of widening political theory’s compass to include literature is that this allows a greater capacity to play out the potentialities inherent in political theory, as literature, ‘illustrates, dramatizes, personalizes, and raises the questions that political theory asks and the ideas it suggests. It even helps us to tell our stories, and indeed may even help us to decide what story to tell and how to go about it’ (Shklar, 1985, 17). Richard Rorty goes further when he states: ‘Fiction … gives us the details about kinds of suffering being endured by people to whom we had previously not attended. Fiction … gives us the details about what sorts of cruelty we ourselves are capable of, and thereby lets us redescribe ourselves. That is why the novel, the movie, and the TV program have, gradually but steadily, replaced the sermon and the treatise as the principal vehicles of moral change and progress’ (Rorty, 1989, xvi).
  • Molloy, S. (2009). Aristotle, Epicurus, Morgenthau and the Political Ethics of the Lesser Evil. Journal of International Political Theory [Online] 5:94-112. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3366%2FE1755088209000342.
    This article explores one of the key themes of Hans J. Morgenthau's moral theory, the concept of the lesser evil. Morgenthau developed this concept by reference to classical political theory, especially the articulation of the lesser evil found in Aristotle and Epicurus. The article begins by differentiating Morgenthau's work from that of E. H. Carr, whom he regards as engaged in a Quixotic quest to provide Machiavellism with greater ethical purpose. The article also contrasts the ethics of the lesser evil with Kantian ethics. Morgenthau places the lesser evil in the context of a modernity that has lost the capacity to think about the relationship between politics and morality and stresses the importance of coming to grips with the existential demands of love and power. Finally, the article argues that despite the ubiquity of evil, the existence of the lesser evil gives rise to the development of specifically political virtues such as prudence and moderation which raise the possibility of moral politics beyond mere expedience.
  • Molloy, S. (2009). Aristotle, Epicurus, Morgenthau and the Political Ethics of the Lesser Evil. Journal of International Political Theory [Online] 5:94-112. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3366/E1755088209000342.
    This article explores one of the key themes of Hans J. Morgenthau's moral theory, the concept of the lesser evil. Morgenthau developed this concept by reference to classical political theory, especially the articulation of the lesser evil found in Aristotle and Epicurus. The article begins by differentiating Morgenthau's work from that of E. H. Carr, whom he regards as engaged in a Quixotic quest to provide Machiavellism with greater ethical purpose. The article also contrasts the ethics of the lesser evil with Kantian ethics. Morgenthau places the lesser evil in the context of a modernity that has lost the capacity to think about the relationship between politics and morality and stresses the importance of coming to grips with the existential demands of love and power. Finally, the article argues that despite the ubiquity of evil, the existence of the lesser evil gives rise to the development of specifically political virtues such as prudence and moderation which raise the possibility of moral politics beyond mere expedience.
  • Molloy, S. (2004). Truth, Power, Theory: Hans Morgenthau’s Formulation of Realism. Diplomacy and Statecraft [Online] 15:1-34. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/09592290490438042.
    The purpose of this article is to reconstruct the political realism of Hans J. Morgenthau. The article traces the development of his thought from his earliest writings on social science and politics in English in the 1940s through to his formulation of political realism in the classic text Politics Among Nations. The Struggle for Power and Peace and finally to his reconsideration of this theory in a series of texts that have been neglected by historians of political thought, the most significant of which is Science: Servant or Master? which revisits the terrain first explored by Morgenthau in Scientific Man Versus Power Politics. The article demonstrates that one core concept dominated the thinking of Morgenthau, that of ‘truth,’ which conditioned his thought about the nature of politics throughout his career. It is Morgenthau's commitment to discovering the truth of politics that led him to formulate realism as a sceptical theory of power politics in contrast to the optimistic but misleading theories of international relations that he had attacked since his days as a graduate student. Despite changes in the details and even in the fundamentals Morgenthau retained this basic commitment to the discovery of truth.
  • Molloy, S. (2003). Dialectics and Transformation: Exploring the International Theory of E. H. Carr. International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society [Online] 17:279-306. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1023/B:IJPS.0000002998.70236.a0.
    This article examines the appeal of Carr's theory of international relations, which has enjoyed a longevity matched by few other bodies of work in a discipline characterised by faddism. I attribute Carr's success as an international theorist to his subtle use of philosophy, history, and political theory. Carr's holistic and interdisciplinary approach achieves its best expression in his employment of a critical dialectics of international theory in The Twenty Years' Crisis. The article does not confine itself to this element of Carr's writings as I also examine several works, such as The Future of Nations. Independence or Interdependence?, Conditions of Peace, and Nationalism and After,that consider the transformation of the international society. The latter works also employ a dialectic of power and morality in order to envision a world very different from the international system that Carr observed, an international order that approximates the emerging relations among states at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The article concludes with an examination of the role relativism played in Carr's theory scheme and the extent to which his dialectics of utopianism and realism is an important precursor of critical and postmodern theories of international relations.
  • Molloy, S. (2003). The Realist Logic of International Society. Cooperation and Conflict [Online] 38:83-99. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0010836703038002001.
    The purpose of this article is to reassert the importance of realist thought in the international theory of Martin Wight. Following Hedley Bull, it has become prevalent in international relations theory to present Wight as a rationalist thinker, and international society as a rationalist principle that offers an alternative or third way in international relations. I argue that international society is actually Wight's attempt to integrate two perspectives on international relations — the Realist and the Rationalist. I argue that this relationship is asymmetric — that international society is the product of realist impulses and logic which force the creation of a series of secondary institutional and legal mechanisms that can channel but not control the desire for power in international relations.
  • Molloy, S. (2003). Realism: A Problematic Paradigm. Security Dialogue [Online] 34:71-85. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1177%2F09670106030341007.
    This article explores paradigmatic representations of realism that dominate the theoretical assessment of realism, arguing that such representations in fact pervert realism in the name of parsimony and science. The first section examines the colonization of realist theory by theorists committed to the philosophy of science. The emergence of neorealism has had a devastating effect on the realist tradition in International Relations (IR), with earlier representatives of that tradition being co-opted retrospectively into a philosophy of science that they opposed. The second section highlights the abuse of Thomas Kuhn’s idea of the paradigm in relation to realism. Kuhn’s work has been used instrumentally to provide international theory with a philosophy of science gloss, a project opposed by Kuhn himself. The third section demonstrates the inadequacy of the paradigmatic interpretation of realism. When this interpretation is applied to the two most foundational realists, Carr and Morgenthau, they fail to meet its requirements for realism.

Book section

  • Molloy, S. (2018). Morgenthau and the ethics of realism. In: Steele, B. J. and Heinze, E. A. eds. Routledge Handbook of Ethics and International Relations. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, pp. 182-195. Available at: https://www.routledge.com/Routledge-Handbook-of-Ethics-and-International-Relations/Steele-Heinze/p/book/9781138840201.
    Molloy's chapter tackles the traditional, realist end of security studies. Instead of surveying this entire field, which would be a nigh-impossible task, Molloy opts to focus on one benchmark thinker, Hans J. Morgenthau. Molloy's intent is not to suggest that traditional or realist approaches can be reduced to Morgenthau. He is explicit that the traditional approach is a broad church that encompasses many different voices and contains many disagreements. This, he believes, is both a reflection of its vitality and a part of its charm. Molloy's rationale for focussing his analysis almost exclusively on Morgenthau is, rather, that he is indicative of the intersection between classical security studies and realist approaches to international relations, more generally.
  • Molloy, S. (2016). A Fine Bromance: Kant and Machiavelli. In: The Return of the Theorists - Dialogues With Great Thinkers in International Relations. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 110-116.
  • Molloy, S. (2008). Hans J. Morgenthau versus E. H. Carr: Conflicting Conceptions of Ethics in International Relations. In: Political Thought and International Relations: Variations on a Realist Theme. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, pp. 83-104.
  • Molloy, S. (2006). Security Strategy and the ’War on Terror’. In: Security Strategy and Transatlantic Relations. London: Routledge.
  • Molloy, S. (2004). The New Politics of Realism: Theoretical Response to Developments Within Transatlantic Relations. In: The Changing Face of Transatlantic Relations. New York: Institute of the Study of Europe, Columbia University.

Conference or workshop item

  • Molloy, S. (2018). ’THE FOUL STAIN OF OUR SPECIES’: IMMANUEL KANT’S POLITICAL THEOLOGY OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, SUSSEX INTERNATIONAL THEORY PRIZE 2018. In: Centre for Advanced International Theory Lecture Series.

Book

  • Molloy, S. (2017). Kant’s International Relations: The Political Theology of Perpetual Peace. [Online]. Michigan, USA: University of Michigan Press. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3998/mpub.5036715.
    Why does Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) consistently invoke God and Providence in his most prominent texts relating to international politics? This question animates this study of one of the preeminent philosophers of modernity. In this wide ranging study, Se n Molloy proposes that texts such as Idea for a Universal History with Cosmopolitan Intent and Toward Perpetual Peace cannot be fully understood without reference to Kant's wider philosophical projects, and in particular the role that belief in God plays within critical philosophy and Kant's inquiries into anthropology, politics, and theology. The broader view that Molloy provides reveals the political-theological dimensions of Kant's thought as directly related to his attempts to find a new basis for metaphysics in the sacrifice of knowledge to make room for faith.
  • Molloy, S. (2006). The Hidden History of Realism: A Genealogy of Power Politics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
    Challenging the received notions of international relations theory about perhaps its most central tradition - Realism, Molloy demonstrates how a belief in a mode of theorisation has distorted Realism, forcing the theory of power politics in International Relations into a paradigmatic strait-jacket that is simply inadequate and inappropriate to the task of encompassing its diversity. This invigorated new angle offers a counter-memory of Realism that re-asserts the originality and power of Realist insights into the nature of power and international society.
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