The international theory of Leonard Woolf : an exposition, analysis and assessment in the light of his reputation as a utopian
Leonard Woolf was one of the most prolific writers on international relations in Britain during the first half of the twentieth century. In common with most thinkers of the time he is universally regarded as a utopian. This is largely due to his support for the 'ill-fated' League of Nations and his 'simple-minded' belief in the possibility of progress through reason. This thesis examines Woolf's thought in the light of this denigratory interpretation. First, an analysis of the way in which the so-called utopian school has been represented in post-War International Relations shows that the core or defining characteristics of the school are far from clear. It is argued that the label 'utopian' is more a term of rhetoric than a meaningful social scientific category. Second, to the extent that certain defining 'utopian' features can be identified, it is argued that they apply to Woolf's thought only partially. Woolf was a diverse thinker both in terms of the subjects he tackled and the conclusions he reached. He was also an eclectic thinker who borrowed from a number of intellectual traditions: Owenism, Cobdenism, Fabianism, Radicalism, and Functionalism. The thesis shows that although flawed in a number of respects, Woolf's thought in three key areas - international government, imperialism, and international economic organization - defies the simple designation 'utopian'. The complexity of the picture is complicated further when Woolf's response to Carr's landmark 'realist' critique of utopianism is taken into account. Although Woolf disagreed with many aspects of Carr's analysis - notably his 'worship' of power and his belief in the 'permanence' of conflicting interests - it is clear that the two men, contrary to conventional wisdom, had much in common. These commonalities demonstrate that the dichotomy between 'utopianism' and 'realism' which has prevailed in interpretations of the thought of the period is of doubtful descriptive and analytical value.