Political Science 1300 Realism vs. Idealism: A Closer Look

- Two main strands of thought, though as we will see, each has numerous subgroups within its broad grasp.
- Both have ancient lineage’s, with realism traceable at least back to Thuycides and the Pelopenisian Wars, and idealism at least back to Grotius (Dutch person who wrote on international law in the 17th century) and probably earlier.
- Each is a broad catch all category.
- Reflective of our personal perceptions, do we generally view humans in a positive light, see them capable of co-operation and of being capable of learning from their mistakes, or do you see people as naturally being competitive and seeking to gain advantages over others? This is the rough division between realism and idealism.
- I will spend the remainder of this class describing realism, idealism, their various off-shoots, and the Marxist variants.
As I mentioned earlier in the class, the search for systematic methods for the analysis of international relations is a relatively recent one, yet it can spark sharp debate. The disagreements over analytical models are often divided along ideological lines, with conservatives favoring realism or one of its modified forms, liberals favoring the pluralist model and marxists favoring either dependency or formal Marxist models.

A. Realism

As mentioned earlier in the semester, the events of WWII produced a reappraisal of the methods of analyzing International relations. The failure of the great powers to cooperate to contain the forces aggressively seeking change led to a belief that the central assumption was flawed - that states could not, and would not rely on others for their security, that states ultimately survived and failed based on their own efforts. Birth of Realism
This model holds that the world is made up of states that exist in an anarchic environment. This does not mean chaos, rather that there is a lack of a superior authority. What this means is that there is not any body in the world superior to the state, an absence of a world government. In essence that states are sovereign entities that are responsible for their own security. Since all states are responsible for their own security, all seek power to best preserve themselves from external threats.
Cooperation between states is seen as being possible, but this will be limited in scope due to the inherent suspicion that states have of their neighbors. Power is seen as being a zero sum game, meaning that all states are reluctant to enter into agreements with their neighbors for fear that this will yield greater benefit to their neighbors than to themselves. There is a greater concern with relative rather than absolute power - the key is that a state either maintain or increase its power re its neighbors. The absolute power is not as important.
- Hobbesian view of the world - war of all against all, cynical view of human nature.
- Preeminent spokemen - Hans Morgenthau and Henry Kissinger.

Morgenthau identified six main principle of classical realism:
1. Politics, along with society in general, is governed by objective laws that are derived from human nature. Foreign policy can only be evaluated by assessing actions and their consequences.
- Assumption that the statesperson is rational and by putting ourselves in his her shoes, we can detect which of the various policy options he/she is likely to choose.
2. It assumes that the statesperson acts in terms of interest, as defined by power. This quest for power is separate from, and takes precedence over other interests - such as economics, ethics, religion, etc. All states seek to promote the national interest - power.
3. Concept of interest as defined by power is not static - it is subject to change according to time and cultural contexts. Further this idea assumes that the nation state is not permanent, it may be possible to achieve the world government proposed by the idealist, yet this will require taking into account the laws of human nature and that these must be considered if any sort of transformation is to be achieved.
4. Realism does not propose to give credence to any higher morality than prudence. This is the careful weighing of all consequences before taking a course of action. It is prudence that is the highest form of statecraft and the principle standard of measurement for political action.
5. Realism sees all political entities as pursuing power and does not grant one particular ideology a monopoly on morality. All nations seek to cloak their actions in morality, however this morality is fundamentally subjective therefore the only means of analyzing nations fairly is through the lens of realism, which seeks to divorce states from particular moral claims. Morgenthau argues that states use the drum of ideology to attract public support and to promote some sort of moral legitimacy. Inherent danger in this is that it gives conflicts the aura of crusades - US/Soviet conflict. Makes wars more total, entire ways of life are now at stake.
6. All other interests are subordinate to politics and the pursuit of power. Morgenthau contended that the desire “to live, to propagate, and dominate are common to all men”.
- Within classical realism, the .states are the dominant actors in world politics - anarchical environment and a lack of overarching authority. Assumptions that the states make decisions in a coherent fashion and that these decisions override those of other actors.
- Limited attention paid to the idea of international organizations. For example, in the realm of security, for any collective security to exist, virtually all nations must be willing to wage war to oppose aggression.
- Failures - Italy, Japan in the 1930s. Serbs in Bosnia today
- Also, the idea exists that non-state actors are subordinate to the states and exist only at their sufferance.
- One of the key problems with this assumption is its underselling of the influence of non-state actors, not only io’s but also forced that transcend state boundaries - Terrorist Groups, Diaspora’s such as the Palestinian, Kurds. Also, presumes that the primary security challenges that states face are from other states, rather than from internal groups - Tamils, Quebecois, IRA, Red Hand of Ulster.
- Whole idea of the state as a monolithic entity is somewhat suspect.

B. Society of States - Neo-Realist in nature, sort of realism lite. Question of why the US and the Soviet Union were able to cooperate in the cold war, how are states able to come to agreement if this is really the war of all against all? Answer, both the US and the Soviet Union prized order above all else - under peaceful coexistence SU became a status quo power (more on that later) This view contends that while the system is anarchic in nature, there are bonds between states which allow for some sort of cooperation. In this method of analysis, the objective of the state is the promotion of order rather than the mere accumulation of power, while self interest is important it is stability that is the end goal of all states. Yet, it is states which serve as the primary promoters of order rather than international bodies. One of the leading theorists of this school, the late Hedley Bull asserted that the goal of order is common to all societies, 3 basic principles:
1.”life will in some measure be secure against violence resulting in death or bodily harm”
2. “All societies seek to ensure that promises, once made, will be kept, or that agreements once undertaken, will be carried out.”
3. “That the possession of some things will remain stable to some degree, and will not be subject to challenges that are constant and without limit.”

As these are common to all societies all will seek to achieve some sort of rules of engagement for international interaction. While there will not be any sort of world government, it is in the interest of states to promote stability so that they are less likely to fear for their existences. Agencies such as international law, diplomacy, managerial system of the great powers, war, and the balance of power represent ways in which states cooperate.
- Diplomacy - Need to maintain contact
- International Law - Codes of Conduct
- Managerial System of the Great Powers - US & France, Sovs & China
- War - as a means of punishing rogue states, those which seek territorial aggrandizement - Iraq
- Balance of Power - to prevent the emergence of a hegemon, or a single preponderant power which would rob the states of their sovereignty. Assumed that alliances would form in opposition to this power, so that a general balance could be preserved. Incentive is that if the balance is lost, then the dominant power would feel few constraints in forcing others to succumb to its will.
Ex. Chinese foreign policy
- States desire order because of the common goals of:
1. Preservation of the system and the prevention of empire
2. Maintenance of the sovereignty of the units.
3. Peace - that the absence of war between the major powers is a normal condition of interaction
4. Limitation of violence, the keeping of promises, and the stabilization of possessions.
- It is worth noting that order is not to be confused with justice. What happens when you have states that consider the present system to clearly be unjust. This is the difference between status quo and revisionist powers. The former are reasonably satisfied with the existing order, or are at least not willing to risk war to bring about changes, while the latter are violently opposed to the status quo.
- Perception of the Soviet Union
- China in the 1950s
- Key difference between the two
- Present Day - Fundamentalist Islam, poss. China.
- This policy emerged as a useful explanation for the behavior of the Soviet Union during parts of the cold war.
- Both Realism and the society of states see the state as the principle actor in world politics, operating in an anarchic environment, with foreign policy predominating over domestic politics.
Others see the division between foreign and domestic politics as being less clear, and they question realism and the society of state’s assumptions of the anarchical nature of world politics.

C. Pluralism

In terms of the roots of this school of thought, one should look to the idea of classical liberalism as promoted by John Locke, who saw humans as being imbued with certain natural rights simply by virtue of their birth - life, liberty, estate.
- The fundamental roots of liberalism are: human rights, democracy, free trade, and international cooperation. Just as humans came together to form states out of a desire to better their condition, so to will states come together to achieve mutual benefits.
- Hugo Grotius and the birth of natural law, all people are protected and bound by a certain natural law and enjoy basic rights.
- Justice as opposed to order.
Basic Defining Features of Liberalism
1. Based on the individual - after all this is the basis of the state.
2. Society is shaped through contact - yet there is a basic protection of rights and freedoms
3. Optimism that people can work together to improve their condition.
- Emphasis on IL, IOs, etc.
- Belief that cooperation is based on consent and mutual respect rather than fear.
- The prioritization of state interests is not as simply as the realists purport, there are a multiplicity of state interests and their rank is changeable over time.
- US-Japan in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet threat.
Interdependence - This sub-field of liberalism emerged as a result of the growing economic interdependence of the 20th century. It argued that due to the many links between states it was impossible to separate foreign from domestic politics - that is that economic and personal ties between nations have grown to such an extent that war and peace are no longer the only issues on the agenda, economic interdependence has made war less likely and more costly. They argue that domestic political needs play a prominent role in shaping foreign policy.
Ex. Japan and Haiti. The world is not as anarchic as the realists or even the society of states people would maintain, that linkages between states have increased to such a degree that states may no longer act in isolation, each of their actions must be weighed with respect to how it will affect their allies and that war has become much less relevant as an instrument of policy.
Ex. Japan and US’s trade frictions.

Keohane and Nye: Three Basic Assumptions to Complex Interdependence
1. Actors other than states participate in world politics and that these actors serve as channels to connect nations. Ex. IGOs, MNCs.
2. There is no clear hierarchy of issues
3. Military force is not used within a region or an alliance.
D. Marxist and neo-Marxist Schools- Other school of thought have emerged which draw their basis from Marxist thought. As Marx argued that society was stratified along class line with the bourgeoise controlling the means of production and therefore controlling the state. These analysts would equate the developing world with the capitalists and the developing countries with the proletariat, hierarchical. The countries of the developed world exploit the proletariat for their own gain.
1. Walerstein and World Systems - Core and Periphery States
2. Dependency - Comes from the developing world, groups of latin american economists who sought to challenge the Western notion that the failure of these states to develop was based solely on internal problems. . Neo-Marxist in its origins, this argues that the world is not anarchic, but rather that their is a clear hierarchy of nations - with the wealthy nations seeking to preserve their privileged positions at the expense of the poorer countries.
- This school of thought chooses to emphasize the inequities of the world capitalist system and the perceived efforts by the industrialized nations to preserve the unequal relationship between the developed and the underdeveloped countries. This assumes that the first world seeks to keep the LDC's in their role as the supplier of raw materials and the market for finished products. Further, it presumes that the world has a finite supply of resources, and that as the industrialized nations seek to preserve their over-consumptive standard of living, they conspire to see that all nations do not develop equally and therefore keep the LDC's in a subordinate position. The dominance of colonialism without the expense and the trouble - neo-colonialism; or the economic dominance over the LDC's. This is done through unequal terms of trade; with the support of the banks and International Organization’s; and the Multinational Corporations.
- Personally, I have a great deal of trouble accepting the conspiratorial nature of this school; however, these three points merit further examination, which will take place later in the week.

Summary of the Main elements of Realism and Idealism
- Origins of the State: Realists, Hobbes; Idealists, Rousseau.
- Realists, Nationalists; Idealists, Internationalists
- Realists Power; Idealists, Justice
- Realists Anarchical World; Idealists Co-operative
- Realists and International Law, Idealists favorable
- Realists and Ios
- Realists Competitive, Idealists – Cooperative
- Ask for their opinions

E. Pros and Cons of the Various Models
- Realism
- Society of States
- Pluralism
- Marxism