Strength and Weaknesses of Classical Realism

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Classical Realism, with its implication that humans are intrinsically evil, is often characterized as a pessimistic analysis of human nature. While this characterization is undeniably true, Classical Realism should not be reduced to merely a cynical view of politics. Philosophically, Classical Realism is the epitome of the modern philosophical departure from ancient Greek philosophy, especially under Aristotle who contends that human nature is a “tabula rasa.” As our worldview changes, so do our views pertaining to politics. In this essay, we examine some of the strengths and weaknesses of Classical Realism in international affairs. One the greatest strengths of Classical Realism is that it recognizes the similarities between the domestic political sphere and the global political sphere. In both, community and a sense of common values are pre-conditions for stability. Thus, Classical Realism gives us insight as to why violence has decreased dramatically since the beginning of the 20th century. Classical Realists contend that the decreased violence is the result of identity shifts through liberal democracies’ forceful integration of states into the liberal democratic “world community.” In contrast to Liberalism, Classical Realism asserts that the deterring of conflict is not correlated to the material effects of economic integration. Instead, it has to do with the shared feeling of community within the liberal democratic states. Democracies and advocates of liberal economies tend to expand and sustain this community through exercising their power in the name of justice and differentiating themselves from outsiders. Given the decreased amount of conflict in today’s world, there is still violence from those who oppose the liberal democratic “world community.” One may ask, how would a Classical Realist explain the “irrationality” behind these aggressors?? Unlike Liberalism, Classical Realism recognizes the need for theory to be in touch with concrete realties and distinctive contexts for different events. The expansion of democracy and liberal economy is in reality the exercising of power of a group of people who hold distinctive values. On the other hand, there will be other people, including the aggressors who hold different values that also will struggle for power. Thus, international relations is shaped by distinct communities with different values, history, culture and ideological doctrines etc. Owing to this division, there is no “universal rational” that explains aggression against the “world community.” Therefore, Classical Realism also warns us against the fragility of the balance of power and all other international arrangements. With such uncertainty in the behavior of states, states can easily miscalculate their capabilities and the capabilities of their adversaries, which could lead to nuances. Take the Japanese’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 for instance. The Americans were thoroughly shocked because the Japanese attacked while negotiations were still ongoing. Using the lens of Classical Realism, perhaps it is not all that shocking that the US who rose into a hegemon during the period, was targeted by the weaker Japan. Because Classical Realism takes into account the essential strength and weaknesses of human collectives, it discourages any form of destruction to mankind in alleged efforts to establish human utopias on a mass scale. Take Stalin’s Soviet Union for instance. In contrast to Stalin who justifies his revolution as necessary for the transition from capitalism to socialism, a Classical Realist would dismiss such thought as propaganda. The propaganda is merely a tool that Communists use to expand their own power and challenge the hegemony of the US. While Classical Realism helps explain some of the contentious issues in international relations, its weaknesses stem from its emphasis on the struggle for power. Human’s passion for power can neither be measured nor validated....
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