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Posted on July 27th, 2012, by

The term “realism”¯ is a complex multi-layered phenomenon with different shades of meaning, even applied to philosophy in broad sense, it has a wide meaning and concerns the objects of man’s knowledge and the independent existence regardless of their perception or thinking about them. Realism also referred to as political realism in terms of international relations brings out different theories and approaches which are mainly based on states’ aspiration for different kinds of power, security, military and economic ones in particular. It is also applied to as a synonym of classical realism. According to Philosophy overview of Ancient and Medieval Schools, the term itself is considered to appear at the beginning of the nineteenth century, though the adjective “realist”¯ goes back to the sixteenth century.

Since then on the term was used in different connotations and in various systems. The sources of the theory became evident in Thucydides’ Pelopennesian War. The ideas were followed by Machiavelli in his work The Prince, by Spinoza and was developed by other prominent thinkers.

Theorists of realism explained that any state is an agent while Marx concentrated on classes. Realism developed in two branches such as nationalist political realism and descriptive political realism. The former dealt with geo-politics, according to which the whole world is divided into superpowers with their own cultures such as East and West, North and South. The later political realism represents international community in the form of anarchy, as no power is sufficient and authorized to rule (Moseley, 1998). Realists consider that the humanity is self-centered and competitive; it is contrasted to liberalism in terms of international relations. There is a subdivision among the realism contrasted to liberalism. The former can be offensive, meaning that states behave aggressively towards each other and defensive realism, concerned mainly about security providing. Hence, realism is supposed to be one of the leading approaches to international relations along with liberalism and constructivism. The early writings on realism in international relations were made by such outstanding figures and strategists as Thucydides, Chanakya, Han Feizi, Niccolo Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, Otto von Bismarck and Carl Clausewitz. Among famous international relations’ theorists one can name Kenneth Waltz, Immanuel Wallerstein, Samuel Huntington, Robert Keohane, to mention just a few. But the formal discipline entitled realism appeared only in the twentieth century after the World War II. At that period realism became one of the dominant forces leading the international relations theory. The realist theory uses the states engaged in struggle for power as basis. It comes out for the use of power in the interest of a nation. The power of each nation, according to the theory, lies in possessing and use of such components as geography, natural resources, population, military power, etc. Nations have different territories are separated by mountains, water resources, deserts, etc. the US and Britain for example were protected from foreign aggression by water which also strengthens the power as it provides fast and easy transportation. A large landmass such as Russia has also gives a country an advantage. According to the theory, economy is dependent on military power and vice versa. There are certain variants of national competition: military versus economy, sustainable military versus overstretched military and economy versus economy (Morgenthau, 1978).

Thomas Gangale, Ops-Alaska and San Francisco State University Professor sates that realists find the state to be “a principle actor on the world stage”¯(Gangale, 2007). It concentrates on national security politics and the relations of superpowers, concerns great powers using their military potential on the international level. Realism considers state to be “a unitary actor”¯ (Gangale, 2007), striving to follow its own interest and pursuing national purposes. Security problems are of paramount importance in this respect. Gangale also gives several examples of realistic ideas outcome: “A world war might well have been averted if Britain, France, and the Soviet Union had banded together against Germany.Ā  The realist strategy of containment against the Soviet Union was successful for four decades”¯ (Gangale, 2007). But this point as well as the point, dealing with maximizing power by means of pursuing limited political objectives are rather controversial. Mastanduno considered that realism looked at history from cyclical rather than progressive point of view. Generally, in the context of international relations realistic theory believes that the world denotes reality of international politics represented by its earliest theorist Thucydides, working in the fifth century BC. States’ behavior is determined by the structure of international anarchy. It is based on the principle that as humans do their utmost to survive, they are dependent on welfare; no traces of altruism can be followed in their diplomatic behaviour. Power is means of ensuring survival and self-protection, the main instrument in which is military force.

Realists consider balance to essential in harmonious development of the system. The highest authority is state, pragmatically cooperating with others, but international organizations are not accepted as world ruling forces. They are just inessential participants in world politics. According to Realism is the Pessimism of International Relations Theory, a bright example of realists’ attitude towards international organizations was President Bush’s administration’s strategy during the Iraqi war and the United Nations relation to it.

Realism as any other theory may be contradicted and criticized, this trend has undergone criticism for its vague terms, inaccuracy of the idea of pursuing states’ individual power through international organizations, relation to the past, definite aggressiveness. For instance, democratic peace theory adherents consider that realism does not do for democratic states’ relations. Federalism also criticized realism theory as their principles were based on division of authority between sub-units, participating in central final decision-making.

Actually, realist theories are subdivided into traditional realist theories, neo-realist theories, soft realist theories which applied to slightly different approaches. Hence, realism in its various forms is a prevailing approach to comprehending international relations. According to International relations theory, realism being an economical and essentialist theory assists in accounting of historical events and is restricted when it should explain systematic change in future. Though there are different international relations theories which can be divided into positivist concentrating on state-level analysis and reflectivist or post-positivist ones more concerned with security. These different theories may contradict; some of them really do, such as Constructivism, Institutionalism, Marxism, etc.

Though the leading trends of positivism are Realism and Liberalism, but nowadays Constructivism is gaining popularity.

Having been one of the dominant forces guiding international relations, realism becomes more and more of a vista that is retreating in history. According to Thomas Gangale’s metaphor, realism, progressivism and liberalism are similar to methods of forming the universe and in this respect may be compared to various ways of modeling the physical universe. Realism, in particular, is “like Newtonian mechanics in that it treats states as unitary billiard balls, it describes a specific set of interactions”¯ (Gangale, 2007).

Nowadays in terms of globalization process the world can hardly be anarchic as realists supposed. The choice of the methods and theories of guiding international relations is determined through the analysis of definite issues and effective ways of their possible solution.

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