Is Neo-realism an improvement on traditional realism?
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Is Neo-Realism An Improvement On Traditional Realism?
Realism is a broad paradigm and varies from the classical realism established by Han’s Morgenthau through to Kenneth Waltz’s structural realism which introduced in 1979. Many theorists see classical realism and structural realism as two distinct theories, as Knud Erik Jorgensen claims structural realism can be viewed as a significant rupture with classical realist theory. Realist thinkers have seen human nature as acquisitive and aggressive. Machiavelli and Hobbes were both concerned with the struggle for survival in a harsh world. Unlike the philosophers of idealism, they believed knowledge could only be gained by experience and their experiences told them that the state, far from being a metaphysical concept, was merely a necessary instrument to control disorderly behaviour (Williams, 2008, pp 45-78).
Realism has long been one of the main theoretical approaches to the study of international relations. It is an intellectual tradition built on distinct concepts and arguments about what governs politics among states. As such, its fundamental precepts assert that the international system characterize by anarchy states are its principal actors, which are sovereign and rational acting on national interests, the main ones of which are security and survival. To ensure the latter, states are constantly in the pursuit of power, which ultimately leads to the security dilemma (Stephen, 1990, pp 34-56). Both realism and neo-realism are still among the leading schools of thought governing the study of international relations. In addition, they can be ordinarily invoked by politicians and academicians alike, not only to explain but also to justify state behaviour on the international scene (Schweller, 2009, pp. 90–121). Thus, increasingly, key realist terms such as national interest, security, real politic, and raison d'état (introduced by Cardinal de Richelieu during the Thirty Years’ War) as well as balance of power entered the lexicon of state foreign relations. World War I, however, brought a blow to realism: Woodrow Wilson, president of a country whose national historical experience had differed substantially from that of the European states, put forward 14 idealistic points aimed at permanently ending the war and establishing peace based on transparency, diplomacy, and honesty. It is also during this post-war era of optimism and pacifism that the study of international relations first established as an official academic discipline (in 1919) at the University of Wales. Thus, some argue, the climate surrounding its establishment also bestowed a responsibility on academia (and the branch of international relations in particular) to contribute to ending armed conflicts (Buzan, 2011, pp 90-112).
Differences between Classical and Structural Realism
The most important difference between the two theories is the determinants of state behaviour. Although some theorists believe that the importance of human nature in classical realism can be neglect, it is important to realise that this was just one amongst many factors which classical realists held to determine state behaviour. For all realists the struggle for power is the dominant motivator in political life, as Morgenthau wrote the will to power was unlimited. However, Morgenthau also highlighted the influence of nationalism, ideologies, imperialism in a variety of forms, the diplomatic skills of the domestic government and popular support both domestically and internationally. Thus, Morgenthau recognised a plurality of influences upon state behaviour, something for which Waltz is highly critical. Waltz maintained the importance of power politics and the centrality of the state however; he ignored the role of the...