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Type author

Dunne, Kurkinames
& Smith:
hereInternational Relations Theories 4e

Chapter 2
Classical Realism
Learning objectives

After this lecture you should be able to:


Appreciate the key principles and themes of
classical realism
Understand the main differences between
classical realism and neorealism
Apply classical realist themes to
contemporary world politics

Dunne, Kurki & Smith: International Relations Theories 4e


Problems of neorealism

Classical realism considers neorealism a


parody of science: it is overly parsimonious,
unfalsifiable and does not adequately
theorise key concepts such as polarity and
power
The decline of neorealism since the end of
the Cold War has resulted in renewed interest
in classical realist thinkers.

Dunne, Kurki & Smith: International Relations Theories 4e


Key classical realists

Key classical realists include:


Thucydides, Machiavelli, Von Clausewitz, Morgenthau
They have been interested in questions of order,
justice and change across 2500 years
They tend to
- advocate holistic understanding of politics
- recognise the close relationship of the domestic and
international
- acknowledge the role of ethics and community
- regard history as cyclical

Dunne, Kurki & Smith: International Relations Theories 4e


Domestic and international

Classical realists do not make a strong


distinction between domestic politics and the
anarchical realm of world politics
They see the cohesiveness of community and
shared norms as central in maintenance of
order and restraint and thus regard greater
variety in stability to occur in domestic politics
and international relations rather than among
them.

Dunne, Kurki & Smith: International Relations Theories 4e


Balance of power

Classical realists appreciate the importance


of balance of power in international relations.
However, they do not see it as an effective
deterrent of war but rather as a potential
cause of conflict
Order ultimately rests on strength of
community for classical realists.
For example, for Morgenthau it was norms of
international society rather than the
distribution of capabilities that maintained the
effectiveness of balance of power in Europe
during the 18th and 19th centuries

Dunne, Kurki & Smith: International Relations Theories 4e


Interests and justice

Neorealists emphasise interests as the


priority of state goals. Classical realists
emphasise justice as the foundation of
community and order
For classical realists justice is important for
two reasons:
1) Because it is the key to influence
2) Because it provides the basis on which
actors construct their interests

Dunne, Kurki & Smith: International Relations Theories 4e


Change and modernisation

For classical realists, change is associated


with modernisation, which brings about shifts
in identities and discourses, and hence
conceptions of security
In restoring order both Thucydides and
Morgenthau looked for a combination of old
and new to accommodate changes while
limiting their destructive potential

Dunne, Kurki & Smith: International Relations Theories 4e


Theory

Classical realists conception of theory is


distinct from contemporary realism:
Thucydides emphasised the context
dependence of foreign policy actions
Classical realism denies the possibility of
episteme, where general laws can be deduced
from first principles
Thers for classical Greeks was associated
with interpretive description of events and
processes.
History is regarded the vehicle for tragedy and
the teacher of wisdom.
Dunne, Kurki & Smith: International Relations Theories 4e
Case study: Iraq

Iraq war can be seen from a classical realist


perspective as a tragedy in the Greek sense
At the end of the Cold War US moved
towards unilateralism. Intoxication with power
led the Bush Administration to hubris
This can be seen in the case of Iraq: the
operation in Iraq was poorly prepared and
relied on hope more than reason

Dunne, Kurki & Smith: International Relations Theories 4e


Case study: Iraq

The failure of the Iraq operation reminds us


that great powers are their own worst enemy.
The chaos and instability this caused in the
region is now commonly regarded as
intrinsically linked to further conflict, including
the current threat of fragmentation of the Iraqi
state due to ISIS.

Dunne, Kurki & Smith: International Relations Theories 4e


Conclusion

The notion of tragedy captures the


contradiction between the ability of man and
his propensity to destroy with violence what
has been achieved
Classical realists were pessimistic of the
ability of the powerful to exercise self-restraint
but a key theme of classical realism is that it
offers prudence as an antidote to hubris

Dunne, Kurki & Smith: International Relations Theories 4e