UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Towards realism in international political theory : a defense Griffiths, Martin


In the discipline of International Relations, the term "realism" has been severed from its association with ordinary usage, and is attributed to a school of thought according to which international politics is essential1y an asocial realm of conflict and struggles for security and power among states in an anarchical environment. The two main post-war theorists associated with this approach are Hans Morgenthau and Kenneth Waltz. This thesis argues, contrary to conventional wisdom, that realism is not a meaningless term in common parlance, nor is it redundant as an attribute of thought about international politics. I argue that it has been inappropriately applied to the work of these two "grand theorists" whose approach does not merit the label. Instead, this dissertation concludes that they are more appropriately characterised as idealists. In contrast to Morgenthau and Waltz, whose work suffers from the shortcomings of (in Morgenthau's case) nostalgic idealism and (in Waltz's case) complacent idealism, I argue that what is referred to as the "Grotian" approach to the study of international politics is more deserving of the label "realism." The argument is explicitly based on the interpretation of the meaning of the terms "political realism" and "political idealism" contained in Robert Berki's book, On Political Realism (London, 1981). Consistent with the logic of ordinary usage, Berki argues that realism is an attribute of thought which presupposes that "reality" is the dialectical interplay between necessity and freedom, constraints and opportunities. Idealism, in contrast, is the ontological denial of this presupposition, and the reification of either necessity or freedom. These abstractions are then imposed upon political practice leading to an evaluative stance of nostalgia and complacency, or revolution (the "idealism of imagination"). Realism transcends the false bifurcation between these extremes. In light of Berki 's analysis, Hedley Bull's theoretical approach to international politics - which recognizes its heterogeneity as a social and "rule-governed" domain - is defended as a more realistic starting-point for thinking systematically about the source and nature of order among states than that provided by either Morgenthau or Waltz.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.