Stephen Walt is the Robert and Rene Belfer Professor of International Affairs at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. He was previously on the faculties of Princeton University and the University of Chicago, where he served as Deputy Dean of Social Sciences. He is the author of books including The Origins of Alliances, Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy. He is a frequent contributor to journals including Foreign Policy and International Security. He was educated at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley.
He presently serves on the editorial boards of Foreign Policy, Security Studies, International Relations, and Journal of Cold War Studies, and he also serves as Co-Editor of the Cornell Studies in Security Affairs, published by Cornell University Press. Additionally, he was elected as a Fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in May 2005.
Stephen Walt: I do occasionally worry about the academic world, or at least parts of the academic world being really mired in what some friends of mine and I tend to call the “cult of irrelevance” – this idea of wanting to work on topics that are of great interest to you, and three of your friends, and two people at another university. And I think this is an abdication of our responsibility as intellectuals. We should be grappling with really big questions as much as we can, and questions that are of great importance. That’s why society allows us to have these very privileged positions as intellectuals, or college professors or whatever. And the way we should be paying society back is by using that to try and make the human condition better. Now we’re not all going to agree, but that’s okay because we’re more likely to collectively reach a wise position if we all think hard and then argue about it, and do so in public whenever possible.
Recorded on: 10/8/07