Edward H. Carr

Edward H. Carr books and biography


E. H. Carr

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Edward Hallett Carr (28 June 1892 – 3 November 1982) was a British historian, journalist and international relations theorist, and fierce opponent of empiricism within historiography.



Carr was born in London to a middle-class family, and was educated at the Merchant Taylors' School in London, and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was awarded a First Class Degree in Classics. He joined the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (diplomatic service) in 1916, resigning in 1936. In 1919, Carr was part of the British delegation at the Paris Peace Conference and was involved in the drafting of parts of the Treaty of Versailles. In the 1920s, Carr was assigned to the branch of the British Foreign Office that dealt with the League of Nations before being sent to the British Embassy in Riga, Latvia. During his time in Riga, Carr became increasing fascinated with Russian literature and culture and wrote several works on various aspects of Russian life.

In 1936, Carr became the Wilson Professor of International Politics at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and is particularly known for his contribution on international relations theory. His famous work, The Twenty Years' Crisis was published in 1939. He later served as assistant editor of The Times from 1941 to 1946, during which time he was noted for the pro-Soviet attitude. He was a tutor in Politics at Balliol College, Oxford from 1953 to 1955 when he became a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.

Carr's writings include biographies of Fyodor Dostoevsky (1931), Karl Marx (1934), and Mikhail Bakunin (1937), as well as important studies on international relations and his History of Soviet Russia (14 vol., 1950–78). During World War II, Carr was favorably impressed with what he regarded as the extraordinary heroic performance of the Soviet people, and towards the end of 1944 Carr decided to write a complete history of the Soviet Union from 1917 until the present comprising all aspects of social, political and economic history in order to explain how the Soviet Union withstood the challenge of the German invasion. The resulting work was his History of Soviet Russia. In Carr's view, Soviet history went through three periods in the inter-war era and was personified by the change of leadership from Vladimir Lenin to Joseph Stalin.

Carr is also famous today for his examination of historiography, What is History? (1961).

Contribution to the theory of International relations

Carr contributed to the foundation of what is now known as classical realism in International relations theory. Through study of history (work of Thucydides and Machiavelli) and reflection and deep epistemological disagreement with Idealism, the dominant International relations theory between the World Wars, he came up with realism. In his book The Twenty Years' Crisis, Carr defined three dichotomies of realism utopianism (Idealism), derived from Machiavellian realism:

In the first place, history is a sequence of cause and effect, whose course can be analysed and understood by intellectual effort, but not (as the utopians believe) directed by " imagination ". Secondly; theory does not (as the utopians assume) create practice, but practice theory. In Machiavelli's words, " good counsels, whence so ever they come, are born of the wisdom of the prince, and not the wisdom of the prince from good counsels ". Thirdly, politics are not (as the utopians pretend) a function of ethics, but ethics of politics. Men " are kept honest by constraint ". Machiavelli recognised the importance of morality, but thought that there could be no effective morality where there was no effective authority. Morality is the product of power. [Carr, 1939]

Carr's distinctions of Realism and Utopianism

In the second part of the book The Twenty Years' Crisis, Carr defined six distinctions between Realism and Utopianism. The first being two schematic descriptions of idealism and realism (utopia and reality). The utopian believes in the possibility of transforming society by an act of will. The main problem of the utopian is his/her lack of information regarding the constraints that the reality poses upon us. Not regarding these constraints seriously, the utopian cannot assess his/her current position and thus is unable to move from the actual state of affairs to his/her desire. You want a world in peace, but you have no viable plan of action to bring peace on Earth.

On the other hand, the realists take the society we live in as a historical consequence. The social reality is the product of a long chain of causality, a predetermined result. Thus, it cannot be changed by an act of will. The realist, taking things as they are, deprives him/herself from the possibility of changing the world.

The second distinction is that between theory and practice. For the utopian, we derive the answer to "what should be done?" from theory. The all important question is to be able to conceive of a utopia. Once the target is constructed in mind, all we have to do is to get there. Thus, utopian confuses what "is" and what "ought to be". When a utopian says "men are equal", he actually means "men ought to be equal". The difference is crucial and confusing in actual politics. For the realist, theory is derived from reality, the actual state of affairs. While the utopian tries to reproduce reality with reference to theory, the realist tries to produce theory from reality. Thus, for a realist, a theory based on the equality of men is simply wrong or wishful thinking. The realist theory is descriptive, and you cannot derive policy from that theory; it is not prescriptive.

For Carr, one has to see the interdependence of the two. Most of our reality is the product of some ideas that took shape in the form of institutions or applied rules. Every theory carries in it a part of reality and vice versa. The problems we face in reality forces us to think and imagine new ways of reality. The theory (solution) we produce changes reality and becomes part of reality. When that reality creates new problems, we come up with further theory to solve them and it goes on like this. That is a circle of causality.

The third distinction is that between the intellectual who derives the truth from books and the bureaucrat who derives it from actual experience. The intellectual believes in the predominance of theory and thus thinks of himself as the true guide of the so-called man of action. The bureaucrat is bound up with the existing order. He has no formula or theory that guides him. He merely tries to make the existing order within which he exists, continue to exist.

The fourth distinction is that between left and right. The left is progressive in the utopian sense while the right is conservative in the realist sense.

The fifth is between radical and conservative (left and right, though Carr notes, that not always radicals and conservatives represent those political orientation). Radicals are utopians, intellectuals, theoretician, while conservatives are realists, bureaucrats and people from practice.

Finally, the same distinction appears between ethics and politics. The utopian believes in the predominance of ethics as a guide to policy. The realist believes that ethics is derived from the relations of power as they stand. Thus, politics pre-dominates. For Carr, the ability to see from both angles is the right way to go about. <--

Two versions of Carr and Morgenthau

1. the textbook version that reduces most of the complexities, caricaturing the thinkers. Since people generally read these men from secondary sources, they mistaken what is said about them to be their original thoughts. the second version rests on their actual writings. It is said of Carr that he lacks a coherent theory, but that is not the case. Carr defines himself neither a realist nor an idealist. He first uses utopianism and realism as ideal types, secondly he criticizes both from each others perspective, thirdly he develops a utopianism that is endowed with the conceptual tools of realism. This "sound political thinking" is not realism per se.

In a nutshell: Three principles of realism according to Carr: 1. Determination 2. Practice determines theory 3. Ethics is a function of power 4. Adjustment of thought to purpose (interest)

On the last principle: according to the realist, theory is a tool in the service of its propagators. Example: harmony of interests in Carr, or the idea of peace that freezes a social organization based on slavery. If you are able to convince the slave that he is better off being a slave, you spare yourself from the bothers of a slave revolt!

Another example is the recent propaganda war during the War in Iraq (liberators from a democratic country coming to save the poor people of Iraq from a terrible dictator. The whole idea is that the democratic country is always the more benevolent one). -->

Criticism of Realism

Carr is consistently inconsistent. He does not believe in essential harmony, wherever there are human beings, there is politics. Politics brings about conflict of interests. His ideas are the polar opposite of what Hans Morgenthau calls 'rational philosophy'. His chapter on realism introduces the reader with a five pages long critique of realism, of which Carr is deemed a founder. This strong critique is mostly overlooked by the IR scholars, since admitting it would recognize Carr as a much more profound thinker with considerable theoretical depth.

He points at the toothless nature of realist critique: you can show the hollowness of the utopian edifice, but you cannot construct a new ideal with it. In its logical conclusion, relativism itself, and hence the realist critique itself serves an interest.

Sometimes the utopia veils reality. In that case, the realist critique serves the purpose of unveiling it. Sometimes, realism dims our ability to dream of alternatives. In that case, we need the utopianism to dream of such alternatives. Sound political thinking rests on both frames of mind, we use one or the other as necessity requires. politics in essence is the struggle between the proponents of status quo and its enemies. Politics is the struggle between change and status quo.

The Critique of the theory of Harmony of Interests

There is a common solution to all the conflicts of interest in a society, an equilibrium point (liberalism) or an end of conflict (Marxism). Liberalism defends the essential harmony between individual and general interests. The same holds true for Marxism. The current conflict is unavoidable, but its result is the classless society where conflict of particular interests is gone (because conflicting class interests are gone). The reflection of the liberal mould in international arena is the well known "balance of power". In reality, however, the whole idea covers the interest of the prevailing groups in society. For example, the alleged common interest in peace during the inter-war years merely veiled the interests of status quo powers.


  • Dostoevsky (1821-1881): a New Biography, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1931.
  • The Romantic Exiles: a Nineteenth Century Portrait Gallery, London: Victor Gollancz, 1933.
  • Karl Marx: a Study in Fanaticism, London: Dent, 1934.
  • Michael Bakunin, London: Macmillan, 1937.
  • The Twenty Years Crisis, 1919-1939: an Introduction to the Study of International Relations, London: Macmillan, 1939, revised edition, 1946.
  • Conditions of Peace, London: Macmillan, 1942.
  • Nationalism and After, London: Macmillan, 1945.
  • A History of Soviet Russia, 10 volumes, London: Macmillan, 1950-1978.
  • The New Society, London: Macmillan, 1951
  • What is History?, 1961, revised edition edited by R.W. Davies, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986.
  • 1917 Before and After, London: Macmillan, 1969; American edition: The October Revolution Before and After, New York: Knopf, 1969.
  • The Russian Revolution: From Lenin to Stalin (1917-1929), London: Macmillan, 1979.
  • From Napoleon to Stalin and Other Essays, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1980.
  • The Twilight of the Comintern, 1930-1935, London: Macmillan, 1982.


  • Abramsky, C. & Williams, B.J. (editors) Essays In Honour of E.H. Carr, London: Macmillan, 1974.
  • Davies, R.W. "Edward Hallett Carr, 1892-1982" pages 473-511 from Proceedings of the British Academy, Volume 69, 1983.
  • Deutscher, Tamara "E.H. Carr-a Personal Memoir" pages 78-86 from New Left Review, Issue #137, 1983.
  • Haslam, Jonathan "We Need a Faith: E.H. Carr, 1892-1982" pages 36-39 from History Today, Volume 33, August 1983.
  • Haslam, Jonathan "E.H. Carr and the History of Soviet Russia" pages 1021-1027 from Historical Journal, Volume 26, Issue #4, 1983.
  • Howe, P. "The Utopian Realism of E.H. Carr" pages 277-297 from Review of International Studies, Volume 20, Issue #3, 1994.
  • Labedz, Leopold "E.H. Carr: A Historian Overtaken by History" pages 94-111 from Survey March 1988 Volume 30 Issue # 1/2.
  • Oldfield, A. "Moral Judgments in History" pages 260-277 from History and Theory, Volume 20, Issue #3, 1981.
  • Laqueur, Walter The Fate of the Revolution : Interpretations of Soviet History from 1917 to the Present, New York : Scribner, 1987 ISBN 0-684-18903-8.
  • Trevor-Roper, Hugh "E.H. Carr's Success Story" pages 69-77 from Encounter, Volume 84, Issue #104, 1962.

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