Model Citizens: Beyond the Realist vs. Idealist Divide

By Hadar, Leon | The American Conservative, March 10, 2008 | Go to article overview

Model Citizens: Beyond the Realist vs. Idealist Divide


Hadar, Leon, The American Conservative


THE DEBATE OVER the Iraq War has been portrayed as a clash between realists and idealists. According to this popular plotline, realists pursue security policy based on hard national interest, whereas idealists are committed to a diplomatic approach that advances more abstract concerns.

Thus realists such as Brent Scowcroft and John Mearsheimer insisted that their opposition to the invasion was grounded in the recognition that occupying Iraq would harm central U.S. geostrategic and geoeconomic concerns. Those pushing for war, like Paul Wolfowitz and Bernard Lewis, integrated their support into an ambitious narrative in which Iraq would be transformed into a model of political and economic freedom and a base for expanding Western forms of government in the Middle East.

Op-ed writers and media personalities, needing to condense arguments over complex issues into easy sound-bites, fall easily into the habit of using what the late German sociologist Max Weber referred to as "Ideal Type." As he defined it, "An ideal type is formed by the one-sided accentuation of one or more points of view and by the synthesis of a great many diffuse, discrete, more or less present and occasionally absent concrete individual phenomena, which are arranged according to those one-sidedly emphasized viewpoints into a unified analytical construct." Or, in simple English, typecasting is the last refuge of the pundit.

So the argument over America's foreign policy is portrayed as a realist-versus-idealist showdown, though many Realpolitik types often exhibit a powerful idealistic bent, while romantically inclined idealists frequently adopt survival-of-the-fittest strategies. Notice how Scowcroft and Mearsheimer sound idealistic when they insist that America should use its power to bring peace to the Holy Land. (They argue it's in U.S. national interest to do so.) Or you might find yourself facing an acute case of cognitive dissonance when you hear John Bolton and Richard Perle described as the sort of "idealists" who wanted to plant the seeds of democracy in Iraq. Aren't these the same guys who pride themselves on being hardheaded nationalists, if not cynical Machiavellians? And, indeed, the two stress that their support for Bush's grand designs in Iraq and the Middle East was based on unsentimental analysis of U.S. interests. (From their very unique realist perspective, U.S. national interests happen correspond neatly to Israel's.)

You may sound realistic, if not cynical, if you oppose the use of American military power to prevent genocide in Darfur, but then you're transformed into an idealist when you back the application of U.S. military might to protect democratic Israel and Taiwan. It all depends on how you define national interest.

But let's be realistic and admit that we don't have the airtime and newspaper space to discuss issues by referring to Scowcroft as the "proponent of war against Iraq when it invades Kuwait but not when it is gassing Kurds" or describing John Bolton as an "advocate of using military power to promote democracy in Iraq and Iran but not in Saudi Arabia or Egypt. Typecasting is cost-effective and in many ways entertaining since it assumes a confrontation between two "schools of thought" as opposed to "a somewhat dull debate involving many complex arguments over the use of diplomatic, military, and economic power."

Seeking a middle ground, historian Walter Russell Mead provided a nuanced typology of the foreign-policy debate in his Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World. He proposed four schools of American foreign-policy thought that he named after three U.S. presidents--Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Woodrow Wilson--and the first secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton. This election cycle saw each of these predilections ably represented in the Republican field.

Libertarians would find themselves at home and more importantly, not abroad, with the Jeffersonians, whose main concern is the protection of domestic liberty. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Model Citizens: Beyond the Realist vs. Idealist Divide
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.