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Political Realism
In the discipline of international relations there are contending general theories or theoretical perspectives. Realism, also known as political realism, is a view of international politics that stresses its competitive and conflictual side. It is usually contrasted with idealism or liberalism, which tends to emphasize cooperation. Realists consider the principal actors in the international arena to be states, which are concerned with their own security, act in pursuit of their own national interests, and struggle for power. The negative side of the realists' emphasis on power and self-interest is their skepticism regarding the relevance of ethical norms to relations among states. National politics is the realm of authority and law, whereas international politics, they sometimes claim, is a sphere without justice, characterized by active or potential conflict among states. Not all realists, however, deny the presence of ethics in international relations. The distinction should be drawn between classical realism—represented by such twentieth-century theorists as Reinhold Niebuhr and Hans Morgenthau—and radical or extreme realism. While classical realism emphasizes the concept of national interest, it is not the Machiavellian doctrine “that anything is justified by reason of state” (Bull 1995, 189). Nor does it involve the glorification of war or conflict. The classical realists do not reject the possibility of moral judgment in international politics. Rather, they are critical of moralism—abstract moral discourse that does not take into account political realities. They assign supreme value to successful political action based on prudence: the ability to judge the rightness of a given action from among possible alternatives on the basis of its likely political consequences. Realism encompasses a variety of approaches and claims a long theoretical tradition. Among its founding fathers, Thucydides, Machiavelli and Hobbes are the names most usually mentioned. Twentieth-century classical realism has today been largely replaced by neorealism, which is an attempt to construct a more scientific approach to the study of international relations. Both classical realism and neorealism have been subjected to criticism from IR theorists representing liberal, critical, and post-modern perspectives. * 1. The Roots of the Realist Tradition

* 1.1 Thucydides and the Importance of Power
* 1.2 Machiavelli's Critique of the Moral Tradition
* 1.3 Hobbes's Anarchic State of Nature
* 2. Twentieth Century Classical Realism
* 2.1 E. H. Carr's Challenge of Utopian Idealism
* 2.2 Hans Morgenthau's Realist Principles
* 3. Neorealism
* 3.1 Kenneth Waltz's International System
* 3.2 Objections to Neorealism
* 4. Conclusion: The Cautionary and Positive Character of Realism * Bibliography
* Other Internet Resources
* Related Entries

1. The Roots of the Realist Tradition
1.1 Thucydides and the Importance of Power
Like other classical political theorists, Thucydides (460–411 B.C.E.) saw politics as involving moral questions. Most importantly, he asks whether relations among states to which power is crucial can also be guided by the norms of justice. His History of the Peloponnesian War is in fact neither a work of political philosophy nor a sustained theory of international relations. Much of this work, which presents a partial account of the armed conflict between Athens and Sparta that took place from 431 to 404 B.C.E., consists of paired speeches by personages who argue opposing sides of an issue. Nevertheless, if the History is described as the only acknowledged classical text in international relations, and if it inspires theorists from Hobbes to contemporary international relations scholars, this is because it is more than a chronicle of events, and a theoretical position can be extrapolated from it. Realism is expressed in the very first speech of the...
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