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Idealism And Realism In International Relations Pdf

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Critical Realism, International Relations Theory and Marxism

In the discipline of international relations there are contending general theories or theoretical perspectives. Realism, also known as political realism, is a view of international politics that stresses its competitive and conflictual side.

It is usually contrasted with idealism or liberalism, which tends to emphasize cooperation. Realists consider the principal actors in the international arena to be states, which are concerned with their own security, act in pursuit of their own national interests, and struggle for power. National politics is the realm of authority and law, whereas international politics, they sometimes claim, is a sphere without justice, characterized by active or potential conflict among states.

Not all realists, however, deny the presence of ethics in international relations. The distinction should be drawn between classical realism—represented by such twentieth-century theorists as Reinhold Niebuhr and Hans Morgenthau—and radical or extreme realism.

Nor does it involve the glorification of war or conflict. The classical realists do not reject the possibility of moral judgment in international politics. Rather, they are critical of moralism—abstract moral discourse that does not take into account political realities. They assign supreme value to successful political action based on prudence: the ability to judge the rightness of a given action from among possible alternatives on the basis of its likely political consequences.

Realism encompasses a variety of approaches and claims a long theoretical tradition. Among its founding fathers, Thucydides, Machiavelli and Hobbes are the names most usually mentioned.

Twentieth-century classical realism has today been largely replaced by neorealism, which is an attempt to construct a more scientific approach to the study of international relations.

Both classical realism and neorealism have been subjected to criticism from IR theorists representing liberal, critical, and post-modern perspectives. Like other classical political theorists, Thucydides c. Most importantly, he asks whether relations among states to which power is crucial can also be guided by the norms of justice.

His History of the Peloponnesian War is in fact neither a work of political philosophy nor a sustained theory of international relations. Much of this work, which presents a partial account of the armed conflict between Athens and Sparta that took place from to B.

Nevertheless, if the History is described as the only acknowledged classical text in international relations, and if it inspires theorists from Hobbes to contemporary international relations scholars, this is because it is more than a chronicle of events, and a theoretical position can be extrapolated from it. Realism is expressed in the very first speech of the Athenians recorded in the History —a speech given at the debate that took place in Sparta just before the war.

International relations realists emphasize the constraints imposed on politics by the nature of human beings, whom they consider egoistic, and by the absence of international government. Together these factors contribute to a conflict-based paradigm of international relations, in which the key actors are states, in which power and security become the main issues, and in which there is little place for morality.

The set of premises concerning state actors, egoism, anarchy, power, security, and morality that define the realist tradition are all present in Thucydides. Realists view human beings as inherently egoistic and self-interested to the extent that self-interest overcomes moral principles. The lack of a common rule-making and enforcing authority means, they argue, that the international arena is essentially a self-help system.

Each state is responsible for its own survival and is free to define its own interests and to pursue power. Anarchy thus leads to a situation in which power has the overriding role in shaping interstate relations. To attain security, states try to increase their power and engage in power-balancing for the purpose of deterring potential aggressors. Wars are fought to prevent competing nations from becoming militarily stronger. Thucydides, while distinguishing between the immediate and underlying causes of the Peloponnesian War, does not see its real cause in any of the particular events that immediately preceded its outbreak.

He instead locates the cause of the war in the changing distribution of power between the two blocs of Greek city-states: the Delian League, under the leadership of Athens, and the Peloponnesian League, under the leadership of Sparta. According to him, the growth of Athenian power made the Spartans afraid for their security, and thus propelled them into war 1.

This dialogue relates to the events of B. The Athenian envoys presented the Melians with a choice, destruction or surrender, and from the outset asked them not to appeal to justice, but to think only about their survival. Since such an authority above states does not exist, the Athenians argue that in this lawless condition of international anarchy, the only right is the right of the stronger to dominate the weaker.

They explicitly equate right with might, and exclude considerations of justice from foreign affairs. We can thus find strong support for a realist perspective in the statements of the Athenians. Political realism is usually contrasted by IR scholars with idealism or liberalism, a theoretical perspective that emphasizes international norms, interdependence among states, and international cooperation.

For the Melians, who employ idealistic arguments, the choice is between war and subjection 5. They are courageous and love their country. They do not wish to lose their freedom, and in spite of the fact that they are militarily weaker than the Athenians, they are prepared to defend themselves 5.

They base their arguments on an appeal to justice, which they associate with fairness, and regard the Athenians as unjust 5. They are pious, believing that gods will support their just cause and compensate for their weakness, and trust in alliances, thinking that their allies, the Spartans, who are also related to them, will help them 5.

Hence, one can identify in the speech of the Melians elements of the idealistic or liberal world view: the belief that nations have the right to exercise political independence, that they have mutual obligations to one another and will carry out such obligations, and that a war of aggression is unjust. What the Melians nevertheless lack are resources and foresight. In their decision to defend themselves, they are guided more by their hopes than by the evidence at hand or by prudent calculations.

The Athenian argument is based on key realist concepts such as security and power, and is informed not by what the world should be, but by what it is. The Athenians disregard any moral talk and urge the Melians to look at the facts—that is, to recognize their military inferiority, to consider the potential consequences of their decision, and to think about their own survival 5.

There appears to be a powerful realist logic behind the Athenian arguments. Their position, based on security concerns and self-interest, seemingly involves reliance on rationality, intelligence, and foresight. However, upon close examination, their logic proves to be seriously flawed.

Melos, a relatively weak state, does not pose any real security threat to them. The eventual destruction of Melos does not change the course of the Peloponnesian War, which Athens will lose a few years later. In the History , Thucydides shows that power, if it is unrestrained by moderation and a sense of justice, brings about the uncontrolled desire for more power. There are no logical limits to the size of an empire.

Drunk with the prospect of glory and gain, after conquering Melos, the Athenians engage in a war against Sicily. They pay no attention to the Melian argument that considerations of justice are useful to all in the longer run 5. And, as the Athenians overestimate their strength and in the end lose the war, their self-interested logic proves to be very shortsighted indeed.

It is utopian to ignore the reality of power in international relations, but it is equally blind to rely on power alone. Thucydides appears to support neither the naive idealism of the Melians nor the cynicism of their Athenian opponents. Idealism in international relations, like realism, can lay claim to a long tradition. Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero were all political idealists who believed that there were some universal moral values on which political life could be based.

Building on the work of his predecessors, Cicero developed the idea of a natural moral law that was applicable to both domestic and international politics. His ideas concerning righteousness in war were carried further in the writings of the Christian thinkers St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. Machiavelli — challenged this well-established moral tradition, thus positioning himself as a political innovator. The novelty of his approach lies in his critique of classical Western political thought as unrealistic, and in his separation of politics from ethics.

He thereby lays the foundations for modern politics. It represents the sum of the practical conditions that he believes are required to make both the individual and the country prosperous and strong.

Machiavellianism is a radical type of political realism that is applied to both domestic and international affairs. It is a doctrine which denies the relevance of morality in politics, and claims that all means moral and immoral are justified to achieve certain political ends.

Machiavelli justified immoral actions in politics, but never refused to admit that they are evil. He operated within the single framework of traditional morality.

It became a specific task of his nineteenth-century followers to develop the doctrine of a double ethics: one public and one private, to push Machiavellian realism to even further extremes, and to apply it to international relations.

Thus he overturned the traditional morality. Referring to Machiavelli, Heinrich von Treitschke declared that the state was power, precisely in order to assert itself as against other equally independent powers, and that the supreme moral duty of the state was to foster this power. He considered international agreements to be binding only insofar as it was expedient for the state.

The idea of an autonomous ethics of state behavior and the concept of realpolitik were thus introduced. These concepts, along with the belief in the superiority of Germanic culture, served as weapons with which German statesmen, from the eighteenth century to the end of the Second World War, justified their policies of conquest and extermination. Machiavelli is often praised for his prudential advice to leaders which has caused him to be regarded as a founding master of modern political strategy and for his defense of the republican form of government.

There are certainly many aspects of his thought that merit such praise. Nevertheless, it is also possible to see him as the thinker who bears foremost responsibility for the demoralization of Europe. However, before Machiavelli, this amoral or immoral mode of thinking had never prevailed in the mainstream of Western political thought. It was the force and timeliness of his justification of resorting to evil as a legitimate means of achieving political ends that persuaded so many of the thinkers and political practitioners who followed him.

The effects of Machiavellian ideas, such as the notion that the employment of all possible means was permissible in war, would be seen on the battlefields of modern Europe, as mass citizen armies fought against each other to the bitter end without regard for the rules of justice.

The tension between expediency and morality lost its validity in the sphere of politics. The concept of a double ethics, private and public, that created a further damage to traditional, customary ethics was invented. Perhaps the greatest problem with realism in international relations is that it has a tendency to slip into its extreme version, which accepts any policy that can benefit the state at the expense of other states, no matter how morally problematic the policy is.

Thomas Hobbes — was part of an intellectual movement whose goal was to free the emerging modern science from the constraints of the classical and scholastic heritage. According to classical political philosophy, on which the idealist perspective is based, human beings can control their desires through reason and can work for the benefit of others, even at the expense of their own benefit. They are thus both rational and moral agents, capable of distinguishing between right and wrong, and of making moral choices.

They are also naturally social. With great skill Hobbes attacks these views. They therefore inevitably struggle for power. In setting out such ideas, Hobbes contributes to some of the basic conceptions fundamental to the realist tradition in international relations, and especially to neorealism.

These include the characterization of human nature as egoistic, the concept of international anarchy, and the view that politics, rooted in the struggle for power, can be rationalized and studied scientifically. He derives his notion of the state of war from his views of both human nature and the condition in which individuals exist.

Political Realism in International Relations

Download your free copy here. In the discipline of International Relations IR , realism is a school of thought that emphasises the competitive and conflictual side of international relations. However, when looking back from a contemporary vantage point, theorists detected many similarities in the thought patterns and behaviours of the ancient world and the modern world. They then drew on his writings, and that of others, to lend weight to the idea that there was a timeless theory spanning all recorded human history. Other bodies exist, such as individuals and organisations, but their power is limited.

Idealism Idealist Approach and Realism Realist Approach have been two competing traditional approaches, each of which wants recognition as the sound approach to the study of international relations. Each advocates a particular view of the totality of international reality and believes that it can be adopted as the means for understanding and explaining all aspects of international relations. Both of these represent the classical tradition of the study of international relations. Both Idealism and Realism are normative approaches in essence and content. The Idealist Approach holds that old, ineffective and harmful modes of behaviour i. The Realist Approach regards international politics as struggle for power among nations and justifies as natural the attempts of a nation to use national power for securing the goals of its national interest.

Introducing Realism in International Relations Theory

Scientific Realism and International Relations pp Cite as. Recent years have seen the rise of different idealist accounts of IR theory, such as post-structuralism, reflectivism, interpretivism and constructivist idealism, the latter having been the most powerful among them. A Marxist social theory enriched by the principles of critical realism CR can provide a radical alternative to both the positivist and constructivist accounts of IR, which ultimately consolidate and reproduce the worldwide system of capitalism, along with its structured inequalities.

The discipline of International Relations IR is increasingly being criticized for ignoring and marginalizing states and societies outside of the core countries of the West. To many scholars, both inside and outside China, the relationship among the various Chinese approaches and their overall contribution to the IR field remain unclear. Without claiming to capture all their nuances and complexity, this article hopes to stimulate a conversation among scholars, Chinese and foreign, with a view to generate greater clarity and highlight their importance to the study of IR. I argue that while making important contributions, the Chinese approaches to International Relations Theory IRT also face a number of challenges. This includes the need for them to offer more convincing proof that the concepts and explanations they propose can apply to other societies and to IR more generally.

Show full item record. JavaScript is disabled for your browser. Some features of this site may not work without it. Date: Abstract: The debate between idealism and realism continues to mark the discipline of international relations.

In the discipline of international relations there are contending general theories or theoretical perspectives.

Realism and Idealism in International Relations

What is peace according to IR theory? This question appears to have been settled in favour of the liberal peace. Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF. Skip to main content. This service is more advanced with JavaScript available.

Scholars in one field have often developed the ideas and debates that emerge in the other field in interesting ways. Despite this cross-fertilization, scholars in. My aim in. This will be a survey class that considers the texts and major theoretical ideas of international political theory from Thucydides through the writings of classical political economists in the 19th century. This course surveys classical and early modern theories of international politics. It will cover the following topics and authors.

Skip to search form Skip to main content You are currently offline. Some features of the site may not work correctly. The debate between realism and idealism continues to mark the discipline of International Relations.

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