A New Handbook of Political Science

By Robert E. Goodin; Hans-Dieter Klingemann | Go to book overview

Chapter 17
International Relations: Neo-realism and Neo-liberalism

David Sanders

THERE has been a dramatic increase in the diversity and range of theorizing about international relations over the past two decades. Not only has the analytical rigor of "orthodox" theoretical approaches been strengthened, but the introduction of additional perspectives has brought new theories, epistemologies and even ontologies to bear on traditional questions about inter- and intra-state behavior. This chapter focuses on the two main strands of the "orthodoxy": neo-realism and neo- liberalism. In particular, it seeks to assess how far the increased analytical rigor injected by game theory into the neo-realist/neo-liberal debate has contributed to our ability to "explain" or "understand" the behavior of state and non-state actors in the global system.

I approach this task, first, by reviewing the logic which led scholars to import game theoretic language and models into the analysis of international relations in the first place. I then identify a limited number of analyric weaknesses that stem from this importation. Finally, I conduct a "thought experiment" which attempts to specify what neo-realism and neo-liberalism might look like if their efforts to constitute versions of rational choice theory were substantially downgraded. I describe the combined result as "concessional realism"1--a simple but flexible set of propositions about nation-state behavior in the contemporary international system. The research program suggested by "concessional realism" is rather different from that engendered by the current neo-realist-neo-liberal debate. It implies a much more direct focus on the problems of categorizing and identifying national and transnational "interests." It also implies a much

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1
This description derives from Spegele ( 1983).

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