TUESDAY, JULY 10, 2012: Realism (One of the main Macro theories)
Strands of Realism:
o Classical- the earlier form of Realism, which paved the way for neo-realism.
Some aspects have made a comeback recently – “neo classicalism”
o Neorealism/Structural Realism (a more recent, popular and prominent
strand). Can be broken down into offensive and defensive realists.
o There are other, less prominent or well-known theories as well.
Anarchy- one of the major assumptions of the international system, neorealism
relies on anarchy a lot. Criticisms of realism are critiquing them on the concept
One of the oldest theories in politics
Hobbes, Machiavelli, Thucydides were the roots, but the modern father is Hans
It believes states are the most important actors in the international system and
the only ones with any real power because they are the only ones with
legitimacy through sovereignty. It believes institutions, NGOs, MNCs, etc. are
unimportant and matter only to the extent that they are made up of and made
by states. They do not fundamentally change how states behave.
States have all the guns, the money, and the military power- since classical
realism is all about power, states must be the most important because they have
all the power.
It sees the state as a unitary actor, and assumes/treats each country as “a billiard
ball”—for instance, when you play pool, the 3 ball and the 4 ball are all made of
the same material and act the same. The insides (religion, regime type,
institutions, leaders) of the states don’t matter for classical realists because they
believe it doesn’t have an impact on how they behave externally. All states act
It seeks to understand the basic law of human nature- a pursuit of interest
defined as “power.” “Limitless character of lust for power *as part of+ a general
quality of the human mind”—Morgenthau. They believe states, like human
nature, are selfish and act in self-interest in an unlimited pursuit of power. The
basis of the theory is in human nature. It assumes all states want the same
thing—more power, regardless of whether they are democratic or authoritarian.
*They are saying this is how states act; it doesn’t say that this is how states
should act. It aims to be a statement of truth.
Power: the ability to get others to do that which they otherwise would not. It
can be a means (it allows for them to get what they want—more power) and an
end (ultimate power).
For Morgenthau, power is anything that gives control over someone else, so it
has a lot to do with national capabilities. States care about relative capabilities. Some of these sources for power can be people (a large population, a larger
army, more people to drive industry, ex. China and India), arms and military
equipment, industry, technology (being ahead of the competition).
It assumes that states are rational actors. Instrumental rationality is using the
most efficient means to reach one’s goals, not an evaluation of the desired ends.
It is being prudent of mechanisms used to achieve goals and matching means to
ends. Rational does not always mean sane (ex. Hitler’s invasion of Poland was a
rational move because it moved Nazi Germany closer to control of Europe, but it
was not necessarily a sane move). Instrumental rationality is essentially making
a cost-benefit evaluation, or calculating the utility.
o Probability of each outcome:
Outcome A and Outcome B multiplied by value of each outcome (X and Y)
o X * a % >< Y * b %
o The one with the greater utility is the more rational choice.
o Uncertainty is not irrational, but part of the equation.
Weaknesses of Classical Realism:
o It is indeterminate. If all states want power, it is not clear what they want
power for (what is the goal). As a result, it does not predict too much. It
tells us that they all crave power, which leads to conflict, but it cannot tell
us why wars occur sometimes but not others.
o It makes questionable assumptions—can human nature really be applied
to states? If this nature applies to all states, why are there wars only
sometimes? If human nature is constant, it can’t explain the variations in
state behaviour. For example, Canada does not behave like its final goal
is power or control over states (ex. Gave up the option of having nuclear
weapons instead of developing them).
o It misses some important issues- including the role of International
Organizations (it assumes that they don’t matter at all), international
norms (and their power to shape state behaviour), domestic politics (and
its role in shaping state interests—are states really like billiard balls?),
The International System and the Neo-Realist Approach (also known as Structural
States are still the most important a