Realism and Neo-Realism in International Relations

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Realism and neo-realism in international relations

Ion Deaconescu

The realist theory, founded by Hans Morgenthau, Arnold Wolfers, Kenneth Thomson, E.H. Carr and Georg Schwarzenberger, is based on the will to consider man and social relations, and most particularly political relations, a state of affairs rather than ideal. Not wanting to diminish the importance and necessity of the building of a pacifist and harmonious international system of relations, these thinkers reject the utopian conclusion that the sine qua non conditions are guaranteed on a par with the functioning of international Peace Corps.

Carr, Morgenthau, Reinhold Niebuhr and George Kennan consider that international relations should be realistic, as opposed to the realistic ones, although, a few years later, R. Ashley discards realism because it is undermined by „international antinomies” and because it is far from being a „harmonious tradition”. M.J. Smith, Roger Speagle and K. Goldmann favour the same conclusion, claiming that this collection of ideas which are labelled „realism” is so vagne and incoerent that is wrong to believe in the very existence of Realism and of converging points of view.

Klaus-Gerd Giesen discusses ethical realism, founded in 1939 when idealism was denied for being an utopia and originating in the principles of man’s perfectibility and the high moral standards of international political life. At the time, the existence of the League of Nations and the International Court of Justice enhanced the generalization of everybody’s will (volonté générale) to common will (volonté générale). This was possible due to the restructuring of Rousseau’s ideas according to the new attitude towards international relations, organizations and jurisdiction, which were incorporated into the new global perspective of the complex reality so as not to distract our attention from real issues, as Kennan stated in „Realities of American Foreign Policy”.

Morgenthau, a former student of Rottenbucher, at the University of Munich, has the merit of incorporating Weber’s epistemology into the newly born realism theory. Weber suggests that science should be neutral to moral values, i.e. axiologically neutral, value free – a kind of the Realpolitik of perceiving the irrationality of social reality, consequently, the statesman’s virtue was caution. In his famous book „Politics Among Nations”, Morgenthau states that realism considers caution as the supreme virtue in politics as it is often equated to the cruel reality of the states will of power. With Morgenthau, power weighs heavily in the system of international relations, it can be compared to the atom energy in physics or to silver value in economy.

The concept of power as defined by realists is essentially Weber’s who says that peape involved in politics aspire to power and considers this a general truth. Friedrich Meinecke, the author of „Wirstchaft und Geseleschaft”, secs international politics as the field of elementary power leakage since power signifies the possibility of imposing, against all odds, the „flourishing” will on social relations, irrespective of the means.

Power dynamics, i.e. the relations betwen countries, allows for the balance of power during peacetime or for the power shifts during wartime. The balance of power is influenced by politics because foreign affairs imply the will to maintain, increase or exercise a country’s will; such affairs generallt have objectives value, i.e. they are universal, according to Morgenthau. The author also defines politics, stricto sensu, as the peculiar degree of intensity of the relationship that the state’s will of power establishes betwen itself and its objects.

Consequetly, the power and the will of power are the reference points of politics related issues, not only of the relations betwen states, whereas law and order are insufficient for the tendency of gaining and maintaining power. By virtue of their gaining and exercising power,...
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