A dissertation presented
Prof. Dr Hab. Janusz Ruszkowski
Szczecin Collegium Balticum
Often described as the dominant worldview in the study of International Relations (IR) (Forde 1992: 373), political realism has been implicated in every major debate in IR over the last 50 years. In describing and appraising the realist worldview, it is customary to differentiate realism from other worldviews and to separate realist theories into distinct subgroups. In this chapter, I first describe the contested antiquarian and classical roots of realism, before moving on to describe six varieties of twentieth-century realist scholarship. Despite their differences, they largely share the view that the character of relations among states has not fundamentally altered. Where there is change, it tends to occur in repetitive patterns. State behavior is driven by leaders’ flawed human nature or by the preemptive unpleasantness mandated by an anarchic international system. Selfish human appetites for power, or the need to accumulate the wherewithal to be secure in a self-help world, explain the seemingly endless succession of wars and conquest. Accordingly, most realists take a pessimistic and prudential view of IR (Elman 2001).
The roots of the realist worldview
Realists regard themselves as heirs to an extended intellectual tradition (Waltz 2002: 198). It is customary to trace realism back to antiquity, with claims that its arguments can be found in important works from Greece, Rome, India, and China. Smith (1986) and other surveyors, for example, suggest that Thucydides’ history of The Peloponnesian War illustrates realism’s skepticism for the restraining effects of morality. Thucydides (Strassler 1996: 416) notes in a speech attributed to the Athenians in the Melian dialogue that ‘right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must’. Realists also argue that Thucydides (Strassler 1996: 49) explains Greek city-states’ behavior by their power relations, famously observing that ‘[t]he growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Sparta, made war inevitable’.
Realist arguments can also be found in Kautilya’s Arthashastra from India, which, Seabury (1965: 7) argues, ‘is concerned with the survival and aggrandizement of the state’ and ‘clearly instructs[pic] [pic] [pic] in the principles of a balance of power system’. Haslam (2002: 14) similarly notes that ‘Kautilya focuses on the position of the potential conqueror who always aims to enhance his power at the expense of the rest.’12 Colin Elman Realists also claim Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527) among their number (Carr 1946: 63–4). Starting from a deeply pessimistic view of human nature, Machiavelli argues for strong and efficient rulers for whom power and security are the major concerns. Unlike individuals, such rulers are not bound by individual morality: ‘any action that can be regarded as important for the survival of the state carries with it a built-in justification’ (Smith 1986: 12). Realists also identify with Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) and his notion of a ‘state of nature’ where the absence of overriding authority allows human appetites to be pursued without restraint – individuals engage in constant conflict, with their lives being concomitantly ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’ (Hobbes 1962: 100).
Political realism’s prolonged existence gives it a distinct advantage over relatively youthful liberal alternatives. It is important, therefore, to note that realist interpretations of antiquarian writings are often contested. Garst (1989), for example, argues that...