Realism in International relations
1 Realism -中文譯名
2 Realism -原文
Realism is the target for other international relations theorists. It inherits the thoughts from classic theories created by Thucydides, Machiavelli and etc who did not call themselves realists.
If we restrict the term realism, we can find several elements shared by the realists. These are the basic one: a pessimistic view of human nature and others such as the inevitability of international conflicts which would ultimately lead to war; national security and state survival as top priority; nation state as the major actor in the international arena; anarchy as world order and denial of progressive change in the international politics.
These elements are not separate. They stand in a line following a logic sequence. According to their pessimistic view toward human nature, human beings have a desire to maximize their interests. They strive for competitive edge so that they can take advantage of others without being manipulated. Such a process of acquiring influence and advantage over others is actually a process of struggling for power over other men. And as Morgenthau said, 「…politics is a struggle for power over men…power is its immediate goal and the modes of acquiring, maintaining and demonstrating it determine the technique of political action.」 As power is the theme of politics, any rules or regulations are just expediencies for political maneuvers and absence of authority and regulation in international issues would lead to anarchy. In the state of anarchy, any international organizations are perceived less important or unimportant, so nation states are the preeminent actors in world politics. Because states are major actors, they are responsible for the security and welfare of its citizens, so national security and state survival is on the top of states concerns. And besides, national interests become the final arbiter in judging a government』s foreign policy. With power and interests as its top concern and without the restriction of morality and conscience, states would act to their own interests and the credibility of states is undependable. Therefore, there can be no progressive change in world politics compared to the developments that characterize domestic political life.
Realistic approach to international relations started early. We may find the strong words in Thucydides』 works about the Peloponnesian war, when Athens leaders said to the leaders of minor state Melos, 「the standard of justice depends on the equality of power to compel and that in fact the strong do what they have the power to do and the weak accept what they have to accept…」 In a state of anarchy, power is means and survival is end. States have to act according to the principle of power politics to insure their survival. Such understanding of relations between nations developed through middle ages and seventeenth century, the other two influential realists are Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes. To Machiavelli, the state』s prior concern is its independence and survival. To ensure survival, rulers or policy makers have to be both lions and foxes. Lion represents power, which is the only insurance for survival. Fox represents acuity and crafty, which are necessities for its pursuit of self-interest.
Twentith Century Realism
Such thoughts based on rationality and pessimistic view toward human and international society developed and was inherited by Hans Morgenthau. He made the best out of the former classical thinkings and became the leading modern classical realist. He epitomized six principles of political realism according to his understanding, politics is rooted in a permanent and unchanging human nature which is basically self-centered and self-interested; politics is 「autonomous sphere of action」 and cannot therefore be reduced to economics or reduced to morals. State leaders should act in accordance with the dictates of political wisdom; self-interest is a basic fact of the human condition: all people have an interest at a minimum in their own security and survival. Politics is the arena for the expression of those interests which are bound to come into conflict sooner or later. International politics is an arena of conflicting state interests. But interests are not fixed: the world is flux and interests change over time and over space. Realism is a doctrine that responds to the fact of a changing political reality; the ethics of international relations is a political or situational ethics which is very different from private morality. A political leader does not have the same freedom to do the right thing that a private citizen has. That is because a political leader has far heavier responsibilities than a private citizen: he is responsible to the people who depend on him; he is responsible for their security and welfare. The responsible state leader should strive not to do the best but, rather, to do the best that circumstances on that particular day permit. That circumscribed situation of political choice is the normative heart of realist ethics; realists are therefore opposed to the idea that particular nations—even great democratic nations such as the United States—can impose their ideologies on other nations and can employ their power in crusades to do that. Realists oppose that because they see it as a dangerous activity that threatens international peace and security. Ultimately, it could backfire and threaten the crusading country; statecraft is a sober and uninspiring activity that involves a profound awareness of human limitations and human imperfections. That pessimistic knowledge of human beings as they are and not as we might wish them to be is a difficult truth that lies at the heart of international politics.
Morgenthau is the most influential classical political realist in modern times. As IR theory develops in accordance with the changes of international politics, many other realists inherited and took some elements of the classical theory as starting point and created their refined form of IR theories. Such theories are called Neorealism. Neorealists ignore the ethics of statecraft and the influence of human nature and focus on the structure of the system. They believe that actors are less important because structures compel them to act in certain ways and structures more or less determine actions, compared with classical realists who think state leaders and their subjective valuations of international relations are at the center of attention. Thus neorealism is also called structural realism. Two of the most important branches of structural realism are defensive realism and offensive realism and the most preeminent and influential representatives are specifically Kenneth N. Waltz and John J. Mearsheimer.
Actually in Mearsheimer』s the Tragedy of Great Power Politics, he made a comparison of human nature realism (classical realism), defensive realism (what he called structural realism) and his theory which was called offensive realism. The essential points or questions he compared was what he thought could make a theory complete. Those were, one, what are the causes of the states for competing for power; two, how much power a state is likely to want. As he argued, what distinguishes human nature realism from defensive and offensive realism (which both can be categorized as structural realism) is its focus on human nature. Classical realism believe human beings have a 「will to power」 and based on its assumption that states are led by human beings, states have an insatiable appetite for power, so they will strive to maximize their power until they become hegemony. On contrary, structural realism focuses on structure. It believes that for the international society is in a state of anarchy, in order to survive, the states are compelled by the structure to gain power in the security competition. As to how much power is enough, defensive realism and offensive realism have different views. According to defensive realism, power is means and security is end and states are not inherently aggressive, so states are seeking enough power to secure a balance of power so that survival could be guaranteed. However, offensive realism says states need as much power as possible, for the more powerful they are relative to their rivals, the better their chances of survival. So it shares the same view with human nature realism on the second question.
As a classical and popular international relations theory, realism is often a target for other doctrines』 critiques. At the same time, new theorists inherit Old Ideas and make changes according to the critiques and the changes in international society. It is the refined elements of theory that keep realism on the theoretical arena.