Idealism and Realism in International Relations: Beyond the Discipline

Idealism and Realism in International Relations: Beyond the Discipline

Idealism and Realism in International Relations: Beyond the Discipline

Idealism and Realism in International Relations: Beyond the Discipline

Synopsis

The author argues for a revised conception of international relations that acknowledges the irreconcilability of realist and idealist theories, and concerns itself instead with important substantive issues.

Excerpt

It is customary to begin with an apology when presenting a “second-order inquiry” of International Relations (IR) (an investigation of the investigators and their techniques, as opposed to the actual subject matter, in world politics). This book makes no such apology. On the contrary, it seeks to demonstrate that the essentially contested and ambiguous nature of international relations as an academic subject is in large measure disguised by the innate sense of vocation exhibited by the majority of its modern practitioners and students. There is a thriving industry of theoretical surveys, and state-of-the-art assessments, in IR, to which I have no desire to contribute. Nor do I wish to indulge the equally fashionable and myopic practice of declaring the discipline “dead” (and Western, and modernist, versions of reason, truth, and knowledge into the bargain). Rather, this book argues that we cannot begin to make sense of the mood of crisis and uncertainty that has defined IR as a modern subject until we recognize the utter futility of adopting evaluative standards of disciplinary well-being developed in (and for) other fields. Like social and political theory in general, IR contains deep, irresolvable ambiguities, making its theories inherently contestable, something clearly understood and accepted by some of the very figures who are now counted among the discipline's “founding fathers.” Once this intellectual reality is accepted, or rediscovered, it is not the discipline of IR that goes out the window, but every attempt to conceive it as a unitary science. Consensus is neither a necessary nor desirable ingredient for intellectual progress, nor do disagreements about which substantive aspects of international politics to study, or why we should study them, preclude talking about IR as a coherent subject. Despite their evident complexity, theoretical accounts of international political life have always tended to bifurcate along a simple idealist-realist axis of contention. . .

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