The Great Powers and the International System: Systemic Theory in Empirical Perspective

Winner of the International Studies Association's Best Book Award, 2014.

Winner of the J. David Singer Book Award, 2014.

Runner-up, ISA International Security Studies Section Best Book Award, 2014.


Do great leaders make history? Or are they compelled to act by historical circumstance? This debate has remained unresolved since Thomas Carlyle and Karl Marx framed it in the mid-nineteenth century, yet implicit answers inform our policies and our views of history. 

In this book, Professor Bear F. Braumoeller argues persuasively that both perspectives are correct: leaders shape the main material and ideological forces of history that subsequently constrain and compel them. The result is "the first logically sound and empirically tested systemic theory of international relations"—a synthesis of Realist and liberal IR theory that far exceeds the sum of its parts. His studies of the Congress of Vienna, the interwar period, and the end of the Cold War illustrate this dynamic, and the data he marshals provide systematic evidence that leaders both shape and are constrained by the structure of the international system.


"Braumoeller has established himself as one of the great international theorists of our age and should be commended for his highly sophisticated and intellectually articulated treatise. At the same time, it is a book that is sure to become an instant classic in the field of international relations." -Michael Cairo, H-Diplo Reviews

"It's much easier to hit pitches the greats never even swung at—can you believe how little guidance extant lit offers when it comes to piracy off the coast of Somalia? Or the use of Twitter bots to sway public opinion regarding immigration?—than to score runs off curveballs they were lucky to catch a piece of. Yet, every once in a while, someone swings for the fences. A wonderful example of this is Bear Braumoeller's The Great Powers and the International System." -Phil Arena, Duck of Minerva

"The scholarship in this book is of the highest order as it is rich in novel ideas, impressive erudition, and sophisticated empirical analysis. It is one of the benchmarks on several levels: as a study of great powers, as a general theory of international politics, and as a multi-method approach for understanding the course of history." -International Studies Association Best Book Award announcement

"Each of the case studies in Chapter 4 is strong in its own right, but the example on the end of the Cold War is simply a tour de force. It is the single most convincing narrative on this topic that I have read." -John Agnew, Journal of Politics