Comparing Idealism to Reaiism

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Mathew Behnam
Intro to International Relations
Professor Waxman
Discussion Paper #1
Realist theory in International Relations

The theory of Realism has been the dominant theory in International Relations since the inception of the field of study almost a century ago. However over time the theory-which attempts to explain the actions of states, and the international system as a whole-has given rise to much criticism. Though it may have been the most rational way of looking at International Relations in the early 1900's, much has changed since then. The world has been through two World Wars, and many more regional conflicts and has seen how truly wrong things can go in the hunt for power. This in addition to the formation of the United Nations, NATO, and many other international organizations has made Idealism a more tenable candidate than Realism in providing a framework to explain International Relations.

Realists believe that states are power-hungry and self-interested, and that these characteristics are derived from human nature. There is no room for morals or ideologies in Realist theory because states act the way they do only in aims of being more powerful. To someone who argues that states do in fact use morals in forming policy, a Realist would rebuttal by saying that states are immoral and that any state who claims to use morals in forming a policy is just attempting to disguise its hunt for power. As a whole Realists believe that the International system is extremely conflictual and that international conflicts are only solvable through war.

Realism as a field of study was found within the past hundred years by a scholar name Hans Morgenthau, however one of the principle ideas of Realism was brought about long before then. Thucydides was a Greek historian who wanted to explain why Sparta had gone to war with Athens. He deduced that the war was caused for one very simple reason Sparta was afraid of the growing power of Athens and in order...
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