Realism & Neo-Realism

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International Relations is a subject which has become very critical in recent times. Since ancient times, this concept has played a role in the strategies and ties between nations. Wars and state policies had the most impact on the conditions of nations for a long time but the influential factors have become diverse in nature for every country and due to that, there is need for a determining theory of international relations which takes into account those varied factors and is modern in nature according to the current nature of circumstances. (Donnelly, 2005)
The theory of realism was the brainchild of Niccolo Machiavelli. The theory of realism has been the epicenter of international relations for the past 50 years or so. The changing times have led to the advent of a newly refined and structured argument of realism in the form of “Neorealism”. (Griffiths, O’Callaghan, & Roach, 2008)The part of the reason why neorealism is becoming the newly recognized form of international theory is that it claims to have a greater scientific basis than the earlier theories and a newfound relevance in the postwar world. There is a great need to analyze both the theories and what dimensions they bring to the table.

The roots of Realism go back to ancient Greece and its neighboring nations like Rome and Italy. The theory of realism draws its analyses from the human nature and the framework of international relations. The theory of realism derives its laws of behavior between nations in a political nature from both of these aspects. The roots of realist tradition go back in history even further than Machiavelli. Thucydides also introduced a theory involving moral questions in his work The History of Peloponnesian War, he raises questions regarding which of the forces are crucial to govern relations between nations.
There are certain preconditions or features in which accompany the theory of realism in international relations. The first precondition is that the human nature is a basis relations between nations. The environment of states (nations) is considered anarchic in nature and the absence of security is considered a central issue. (Thucydides, 1972) Morality has never been given a place in the international relations under realism. Even during the time of Thucydides, there was a debate between realist and idealist notions.
This classic set of notions was challenged by Machiavelli through his book The Prince and introduced himself as a political innovator. He separated politics from ethics and laid the basis for the concept of modern international politics. His version of realism applied to both domestic and international political affairs. He justified immoral actions by the states as a determinant of international relation but also considered them evil at the same time. Simultaneously, he considered that the good of the state has the highest priority and gave it the consideration of a state’s duty and right. (Machiavelli, 1985)
A further study of international relations was done by Hans J. Morgenthau and in his opinion, the maximization of the power of state was the given the position of ultimate importance. The ruler of state is determined to think always in the direction of the good of the state in his view. The ultimate strength of realist views derived by many scholars has been the historical proof of the countless events of wars in the past which surpasses the time period of centuries. The view of the idealists has remained to be that ethical considerations should have a place in international relations which also reflected in the views of Morgenthau where his beliefs suggest that moral values do not have a place in international relations but at the same time, he pleads for a system in which ethics have a place as the current situation was inverse. (Morgenthau & Thompson, 1985)

During the 1950s and 1960s there was a huge influx among theorists to rigorously theorizing international relations and to replace the classic realism theory with one that has a scientific basis and reasoning attached to it. Along with the changes in the international environment I which wars became uncommon, they study of international relations needed a theory which took relevant factors into account. (Forde, 1995) Contrary to the traditional approach in which the state was considered the primary actor in the events, due to the occurrence of international organizations like NATO and non-governmental organizations like the United Nations, the advent of neorealism was destined to happen.
Kenneth N. Waltz propounded the theory of International relations in his book Theory of international politics and provided a deeper insight on Morgenthau’s approach with a scientific basis. The only downside of the neorealism theory in comparison was that it cannot be applied to domestic affairs. Waltz focuses on the role of the individual but simultaneously takes into account the impact of constraints on the structure and moral and economic issues existent in all the nations. Anarchy is absent in this system and the non-state actors are recognized but deliberately ignored in his theory regarding neo-realism. (Waltz, 1979)
Waltz gave rise to the bipolar international system which considered the United States of America and the USSR as the primary actors of the system on which the equilibrium relied upon. Hobbes also has unique insight regarding the international relations and derives that despite the state has agential power at a domestic level, it has no value as an international agential power. Hobbes explained his view through six principles which suggested ideas like the classical theory depicted that the state had power over the international system but according to neo-realism, the international system is superior that its states. (Hobbes, 1660)
There is a fair consensus on the character of realism which is abolishes morals and pertains a negative character which has no place in the current arena of international affairs. Utopianism is still not a possibility considered in neo-realism but there is an active consideration of corporations and non-state actors having an impact on international affairs among the new pioneers of neo-realism.

In recent times, there have been fair re-examinations of the visions of Thucydides and Machiavelli due to the prevalent challenges through the exploration of other orientations. Morgenthau’s view were taken as a basis for the new theory of neo-realism which makes it an epitome of the fact that classic realism can also be flexible according to modern times. His opinion of the moralities having an impact on the international system that would have an ill-effect on the international system shows otherwise. (Behr & Heath, 2009)The embrace of a plural structure which align the moralities of states as well as takes the history into account would provide a better understanding of a flexible concept of realism.
Behr, H., & Heath, A. (2009). Misreading in IR Theory and Ideology Critique: Morgenthau, Waltz, and Neo-Realism. Review of International Studies, 327–349.
Donnelly, J. (2005). Theories of International Relations. New York: Palgrave.
Forde, S. (1995). International Realism and the Science of Politics: Thucydides, Machiavelli, and Neorealism. International Studies Quarterly, 141-160.
Griffiths, M., O’Callaghan, T., & Roach, S. C. (2008). International Relations: The Key Concepts. London: Routledge.
Hobbes, T. (1660). Leviathan. Indianapolis: Hackett.
Machiavelli, N. (1985). The Prince. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
Morgenthau, H. J., & Thompson, K. (1985). Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace. New York: McGraw Hill.
Thucydides. (1972). History of the Peloponnesian War. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
Waltz, K. (1979). Theory of International Politics. Boston: McGraw-Hill.


Posted on

March 8, 2018

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