John Soneff


A Historical Overview of Political Realism

international politics, like all politics, is a struggle for power” (25).




"If European democracy binds its living body to the putrefying corpse of the 1919 settlement, it will merely be committing a particularly unpleasant form of suicide"

"I do not believe the time is ripe...for the establishment of a super-national force to maintain order in the international community and I believe any scheme by which nations should bind themselves to go to war with other nations for the preservation of peace is not only impracticable, but retrograde".  

Carr described the opposition of realism and utopianism in international relations as a dialectic progress.[57] Carr described realism as the acceptance that what exists is right and the belief that there is no reality or forces outside history such as God

.[46] Carr argued that in realism there is no moral dimension and that what is successful is right and that what is unsuccessful is wrong.[46] Carr argued that for realists there are no basis for moralizing about the past, present or the future and that "World history is the World Court".[46]


“ A small knowledge of human nature will convince us, that, with far the greatest part of mankind, interest is the governing principle; and that almost every man is more or less, under its influence.” (4)

“Few men are capable of making a continual sacrifice of all views of private interest, or advantage, to the common good. It is vain to exclaim against the depravity of human nature on this account; the fact is so, the experience of every age and nation has proved it and we must in a great measure, change the constitution of man, before we can make it otherwise. No institution, not built on the presumptive truth of these maxims can succeed.” Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, Fifth Edition, Revised, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, pp. 4-15)


‘Agents and agencies act, systems as a whole do not. But the actions of agents and agencies are affected by the system structure. In itself a structure does not directly lead to one outcome rather than another. Structures affect behaviour within the system but do so indirectly’.15 States, as they are units acting within a system, are influenced by the structure of the system, but it cannot be said that this very structure obliges states to act in a certain way. Waltz put it this way: ‘Structures shape and shove. They do not determine behaviors and outcomes, not only because unit-level and structral causes interact, but also because the shaping and shoving of structures may be successfully resisted’.

“In the context of anarchy, each state is uncertain about the intentions of others and is afraid that the possible gains resulting from cooperation may favor other states more than itself, and thus lead it to dependence on others. “States do not willingly place themselves in situations of increased dependence. In a self-help system, considerations of security subordinate economic gain to political interest.” (Waltz 1979, 107).


Š       The sad fact is that international politics has always been a ruthless and dangerous business, and it is likely to remain that way.

Š       Chapter 1, Introduction, p. 2

Š       The liberal tradition has its roots in the Enlightenment, that period in the eighteenth-century Europe when intellectuals and political leaders had a powerful sense that reason could be employed to make the world a better place.

Š       Chapter 1, Introduction, p. 15

Š       In an ideal world, where there are only good states, power would be largely irrelevant.

Š       Chapter 1, Introduction, p. 16

Š       Preserving power, rather than increasing it, is the main goal of states.

Š       Chapter 1, Introduction, p. 20

Problematic fundamental assumptions made by realism

1. The international realm is anarchic.

2. The geopolitical or economic advancement of one country is necessarily a zero sum gain, by virtue of there being a finite pool of power and resources.


While realism is a descriptive explanation for nations actions, by arguing that these principles are absolutely true, one is justifying radical isolationism by saying that it cannot be another way.


I contend that, just as David Ricardo explained to us through comparative advantage over a century ago, nations can better promote their self-interest through cooperation with other nations.


N.A.T.O., The E.U., The Arab League, The IMF, The World Bank, and the United Nations are all examples of areas where nations can take actions that may cost themselves relative power or short term economic expenditures, in exchange for a safer and more economically prosperous global community.


  1. Globalisation allows every nation to use comparative advantage to both bolster its own economic prospects as well as every single one of its trading partners.
  2. Climate change is yet another area where not only can every nation benefit from cooperation, but only through multilateral diplomacy can anyone hope to ameliorate the problem.