Complexity Science and World Affairs

By Walter C. Clemens Jr.
Foreword by Stuart A. Kauffman

Subjects: Political Science, International Relations, Comparative Politics
Series: SUNY series, James N. Rosenau series in Global Politics
Paperback : 9781438449029, 288 pages, July 2014
Hardcover : 9781438449012, 288 pages, December 2013

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

List of Figures and Tables
Stuart A. Kauffman
To the Reader
1. Why a Science of Complexity?
2. Basic Concepts of Complexity Science
3. A Crucial Test Case: Why the Baltic Is Not the Balkans
4. Culture and the Capacity to Cope with Complexity
5. Complexity Science as a Tool to Understand the New Eurasia
6. How Complexity Concepts Explain Past and Present Fitness
7. Hyperpower Challenged: Prospects for Americans
8. What Future for the American Dream?
9. Why Is South Korea Not North Korea?
10. Toward a New Paradigm for Global Studies
11. Challenges to Complexity Science
Afterword: Science and Art in this Book: Exploring the Genome Together
Daniel Kohn

Applies complexity science to the study of international politics.


Why did some countries transition peacefully from communist rule to political freedom and market economies, while others did not? Why did the United States enjoy a brief moment as the sole remaining superpower, and then lose power and influence across the board? What are the prospects for China, the main challenger to American hegemony? In Complexity Science and World Affairs, Walter C. Clemens Jr. demonstrates how the basic concepts of complexity science can broaden and deepen the insights gained by other approaches to the study of world affairs. He argues that societal fitness—the ability of a social system to cope with complex challenges and opportunities—hinges heavily on the values and way of life of each society, and serves to explain why some societies gain and others lose. Applying theory to several rich case studies, including political developments across post–Soviet Eurasia and the United States, Clemens shows that complexity science offers a powerful set of tools for advancing the study of international relations, comparative government, and, more broadly, the social sciences.

Walter C. Clemens Jr. is an Associate at the Harvard University Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Boston University. He is the author of many books, including Getting to Yes in Korea; Dynamics of International Relations, Second Edition: Conflict and Mutual Gain in an Era of Global Interdependence; and The Baltic Transformed: Complexity Theory and European Security.


"Clemens has written an outstanding book—the culmination of a half‑century's experience in and analysis of world affairs … [It is] bound to interest not only political and other social scientists but all thoughtful persons concerned with understanding and perhaps improving the human condition. " — from the Foreword by Stuart A. Kauffman

"…Walter Clemens makes a much needed and rare discerning intervention into the study of world affairs. " — Political Studies Review

"…an important contribution to theories of international relations with an effort to link concepts from the natural sciences to those of the social sciences. " — CHOICE

"This breakthrough book provides a new, promising general paradigm exploring and explaining the complexity of world politics. For scholars and analysts pushing the boundaries of our field, this is a must-read volume. " — Jacek Kugler, Claremont Graduate University

"Complexity can be overwhelming and complexity science can be daunting, and, yet, in Walter Clemens's skilled hands both become accessible, understandable, and useful tools for both scholars and practitioners. Once again, Clemens has shown that sophisticated academic theorizing only benefits from clarity, elegance, and wit. The book is ideal for graduate and undergraduate students as a supplementary text in international relations or comparative politics. " — Alexander Motyl, Rutgers University–Newark

"Clemens offers a fresh, even startling, paradigm and process for analyzing the seemingly unpredictable relations within and among human societies. With impressive clarity he proposes that 'the capacity to cope with complexity' has become a key determinant of success in our intricately interrelated world. Careful study of this capacity in specific contexts can lead to revealing analyses in comparative politics and international relations. A provocative and stimulating treatise!" — S. Frederick Starr, Johns Hopkins University

"Walt Clemens's provocative new book can be appreciated at several levels: as an analytical framework in international relations—complexity science—that offers a compelling alternative to realism and neoliberalism; as an incisive critique of the 'fitness' of the supposedly most developed societies to deal with our complex world; and as a humanistic value-set that provides better standards for assessing governments than do GDP, trade levels, or military spending. Clemens skillfully integrates theory and practice to explore US 'hyperpower,' the two Koreas, China, and other states from new angles, and with consistent objectivity. IR specialists should find this book exciting, while IR and international studies students will be challenged by the new paradigm it presents. " — Mel Gurtov, Portland State University

"Clemens proposes a powerful new way of looking at international relations and politics, and offers a productive method for assessing the fitness of societies in the early twenty-first century. " — Guntis Šmidchens, University of Washington, Seattle

"You don't have to be a political scientist to wonder why some states succeed and others do not, why some societies flourish while others suffer stagnation and conflict. Employing the relatively new tool of complexity science, Walter Clemens evaluates the 'fitness' of states and societies, i. e. their ability to cope with complex challenges and opportunities. He does so in a way that is erudite—how many studies quote Walt Whitman and Karl Marx in the same chapter?—yet clear and accessible. Clemens challenges both existing political science paradigms and policy perspectives. This is a stimulating, rich volume that can be read and re-read with profit and appreciation for its breadth and depth and most of all for its insistence that we see the world, and the states in it, in all their complexity. " — Ronald H. Linden, University of Pittsburgh