by Robert D. Kaplan
At Harvard, many students and faculty members alike are on the make, networking for that first, or next, position in government or the think-tank world. The environment is vaguely unfriendly to theories or bold ideas, Huntington being the grand exception that proves the rule. After all, social-science theories are gross simplifications of reality; even the most brilliant theories can be right, say, only 75 percent of the time. Critics unfailingly seize on any theory's shortcomings, damaging reputations. So the truly ambitious tend to avoid constructing one.
The best grand theories tend to be written no earlier than middle age, when the writer has life experience and mistakes behind him to draw upon. Morgenthau's 1948 classic, Politics Among Nations, was published when he was 44, Fukuyama's The End of History was published as a book when he was 40, and Huntington's Clash of Civilizations as a book when he was 69. Mearsheimer began writing The Tragedy of Great Power Politics when he was in his mid-40s, after working on it for a decade. Published just before 9/11, the book intimates the need for America to avoid strategic distractions and concentrate on confronting China. A decade later, with the growth of China's military might vastly more apparent than it was in 2001, and following the debacles of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, its clairvoyance is breathtaking.
excerpts from "Why John J. Mearsheimer Is Right *about some things" The Atlantic, January 2012, p.80