Realism, Idealism, and International Politics: A Reinterpretation

Realism, Idealism, and International Politics: A Reinterpretation

Realism, Idealism, and International Politics: A Reinterpretation

Realism, Idealism, and International Politics: A Reinterpretation

Synopsis

International relations is a discipline dominated by the debate between the realist and idealist paradigms. Martin Griffiths provides the most comprehensive critical review of the realist tradition to date. He looks closely at the terms "realism" and "idealism" in international relations and in doing so uncovers a broad range of interesting issues, such as the reasons that anarchy is seen as incompatible with society by political realists, and the connection of idealism with unfounded hopes for the future. Realism, Idealism andInternational Politicsargues, against conventional wisdom, that political realism is not a meaningless term. Martin Griffiths attempts to re-evaluate the terms "realism" and "idealism" through a detailed critical examination of the "grand theorists" traditionally associated with realism, Hans Morgenthau and Kenneth Waltz, and concludes that they could more properly be categorized as idealists. Morgenthau's work, he argues, suffersfrom the shortcomings of "nostalgic idealism" and Waltz's from those of "complacent idealism." Griffiths' book provides a compelling basis for conceiving international politics as a "rule-governed" arena among states.

Excerpt

The Anglo-American discipline of International Relations has been based on two fundamental assumptions. First, that there is a basic distinction between ‘domestic’ and ‘international’ forms of governance; second, that it is possible to derive broad explanations of long-term patterns of state behaviour from this distinction. Together, these metatheoretical assumptions form the core of the ‘Realist’ tradition in the field. Whatever their other differences, and there are many, all ‘Realists’ share a common premise; that the realm of state behaviour is sufficient unto itself for the purposes of explanation and normative justification. ‘Realism’ conjures up a grim image of international politics. Within the territorial boundaries of the formally sovereign state, politics is an activity of potential moral progress through the social construction of constitutional government. Beyond the exclusionary borders of sovereign presence, politics is essentially the realm of survival rather than progress. Necessity, not freedom, is the appropriate (realistic) starting-point for understanding international politics. A precarious form of order through the balance of power, not justice, is the best we can hope for in the international anarchy, an asocial realm of continual struggles for power and security among states. In the post-war era, Hans Morgenthau and Kenneth Waltz are the two main theorists associated with this approach to the study of international politics.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, this book argues that realism (with a small r) is not a meaningless term in common parlance, nor is it redundant and necessarily rhetorical as an attribute of thought about international politics. I argue that it has been inappropriately applied to the work of these two grand theorists whose approach

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