Is Anybody Still a Realist_ Essay
Realism, as we all know is the most outstanding theoretical paradigm that is involved in international relations; moreover, it is composed of many schools of thoughts that encompass a single idea. No matter how “unreal” or intangible the ideas may be, still, for many scholars, it plays a vital role in discussing international relations. In Jeffrey Lesro and Andrew Moravcsik’s “Is Anybody Still A Realist? “, the duo argues that the realist paradigm must rely on three basic assumptions because they said that many important and contemporary forms of realism lack rationality and distinctiveness.
To better understand their arguments, they discussed the assumptions first and reiterated the roles of realism in international politics and relations. In this paper, the two basically tackled the three most popular views of realism which are the institutionalist, liberal and epistemic. And having such argued about the characteristic and importance of these paradigms in international relations, consequently, they have emphasized that realism must remain distinctive from its institutionalist, liberal and epistemic counterparts.
The first assumption discusses the “nature of basic social actors”. (Moravcsik, 1999) Realism always assumes that in a society, there exists a “conflict group” in an anarchic setting. In a true realist fashion, they view this as a sovereign and rational group that always finds a way to meet their goals despite of restrictions caused by matters even out of their control. In this setting, the actors are able to have a thin line between anarchy and a sense of hierarchy between themselves.
In conjunction with the present condition of international relations and politics, this is similar to the fact that our present states are the prevailing form of political order in pursuing a foreign policy, thus, they are the “big actors”. As stated from the article, the way that the “actors” reach for their goal reminds us of Machiavelli’s dictum “the end justifies the means”. In a modern and practical setting and as we reach for our goals, we are exerting an enormous amount of effort to establish a possible, gracious and advantageous foreign relations.
Eventually, because of such relations, we are able to exert our assistance and power to other countries. Sometimes, these relations that we have are even advantageous for us. The second assumption that was presented was that states’ partiality is fixed and homogeneously conflictual. This assumption’s focus is on the distribution of resources. Leading realists believe that a state’s preferences are fixed.
And from this assumption, they believe that we are released from the “reductionist temptation”,–which causes for us to seek the behaviors of the states—”moralist temptation”—which influences the configuration of our present politics—”utopian temptation”—that states have naturally pleasant interests—and lastly, from the “legalist temptation”—which states that states can conquer power politics by tendering disputes to general rules and institutions. Since states agree on their respective “fixed preferences”, the real score is about the specific nature of such preferences.
For Waltz, states are most likely to seek preservation at their minimum preferences whereas at their maximum, they strive for universal domination. Now, if we examine closely this argument, it now negates the essence of fixed preferences. Overall, in the standpoint of this assumption, realists view the world as a source of constant struggle for control over scarce goods. The most vied goods are agricultural in nature, trade and allied tribute. In the real world, this appears to be more feasible aside from its generality.
The writers gave three reasons for such. First is that, in world politics, “zero-sum conflict nearly always coexists with positive-sum conflicts. ” (Moravcsik, 1999) Secondly, this assumption does not rule out most variants of so-called defensive realism. This argues that the fixed preferences of the states need not to be conflictual. Lastly, we are always assuming that the underlying preferences are fixed and conflictual but not taking into consideration the consequential state policies, strategies and systemic outcomes are necessarily conflictual.
In this part of the assumption, the main focus is the resources that the states need and want for themselves. It simply say that states have fixed and conflictual preferences. Economics, really, is the main point of this assumption. Their preferences are fixed in a sense that they know the amount of goods that they need for their state (and also for their population) and conflictual in a sense that most states’ drive to get their hands on these resources leads to conflict with other states’ needs.
In relation to international relations, it is good to know what we want and how to get it but in the course of reaching our means, states are faced with many problems along the way. Moreover, these conflicts sometimes come from other states. It is pleasant to acknowledge the presence of competition amongst other countries and thus, it drives us to really get what we want. The third assumption is that interstate negotiating outcomes reflect the relative cost of coercion and encouragement, which is then directly proportional to the allocation of material resources.
Realism therefore stresses the ability of the states without a common worldwide sovereign to impose or bribe their counterparts. The ability of the states to do this successfully is proportional to their underlying power. The two aforementioned assumptions are now being integrated in this final assumption. It just simply affirms that larger states will need more resources and consequently, they are more likely to prevail. From the beginning of the article, it was not evident that the authors are going into the direction of economics as with the relation of realism in international relations.
But, as the theories were proposed and arguments are presented, it slowly paved into the world of economics with the focus on the distribution of scarce resources and how these very same resources can be a great factor in being dominant in world relations. In a realist point of view, this easily conforms to their insistence that the control of the world relies on material sources. In relation to the second premise, Morgenthau and Waltz believe that realism rely highly on the fixed and uniform preferences of the state for its power and frugality.
Morgenthau said that most states has one specific goal—power—and through this, they have the intention of to expand. Waltz has another point of view. For him, survival is the ultimate goal of states. But, there are many realists that disagree with the two. They do not agree with the nature of fixed preferences and moreover, they even challenge the motion of why it is conflictual. Almost everyone else argue that that the behavior of the state is not just influenced by “power calculations” but also on the changeable points on the spectrum between the motivations of security and supremacy.
Because of such, some considerations of exogenous variation in the societal and cultural sources of state preferences arise. Now, as many realist try to argue about the different realist points of view and other events that was a factor to create a realist world, it is safe to assume that they have diverse points of view. One theory focused on the economic aspect of realism while others even went into history (and how it came to affect the present views of realism) and lastly the future that befalls realism.
In all of these theories, it can be observed that there remains a central focus of their respective arguments and that is the fixed and conflictual preferences of the state. As I read the article, this topic in undeniably dominant. But, in the course of the realist’s theory, these fixed and conflictual preferences become varied. There were arguments which view this as the material needs of the state whereas; there are also arguments that view these preferences as the power-need of the state.
Since there is too much focus on this part of the three assumptions, one cannot help but wonder if realism has an effect on international relations of a state. And, from the premises that were presented and discussed by the theorists, it surely does have but they were not able to really point the relation of this assumption to the first premise. But one good thing about the propositions and arguments that were presented and discussed was its explicit approach which primarily served to highlight their institutional, liberal and epistemic attribution. But, as the title of the article asks, “Is anybody still a realist?
” And as the article dwelled deeper on the essence and meaning of realism, we might ask ourselves again: is everybody now a realist? The two questions are indeed very different from one another and consequently, it came from two different points of views of realism. Either way, one thing is for sure: that realism is in need of reformulation. Realism’s real significance does not lie in the revival of its core premises but instead, on the pragmatic validation of assumptions that govern the present state of world politics that many realists traditionally reject.
Moreover, for many years, realism was mislabeled which masked the true essence of the author’s research—which was basically to express its importance in the area of security studies and international relations and the power of liberal, intitutionalist and epistemic theories. Because of the confusion that was created of realism, an enormous count of ad hoc arguments surfaced but in the end, it was still not enough to patch the anomalies that surround it but we must take into consideration the systemic arguments that was presented by existing alternative paradigms.
Instead of acknowledging this approach, many realists nowadays are encouraging us to go back to the early 1940’s (which we may consider as the grandfather of modern realist theories) wherein the international relations theory should just be between “realists”. Now, as with the advent of time and a call for change, this ideology inevitably branched out. Nowadays, not just “realists” have a piece of mind regarding the international relations theory. Many other points of view became involved because as one can see (and perhaps analyze) that the old definition is very vague and is dismissive of contemporary nonrealist theory.
Over the past years, with the improvement in the definition and function of realism, the international relations theory emerged and had its firm establishment and hence, there existed a subtle distinguished rationalist theory which then eventually became a variant of liberal, institutionalist and epistemic theories. And we cannot just deny that it posts as a competitor to the present realist claims. As I have mentioned earlier, realism needs to be reformulated so that we will not be confused in the future; but the authors say that it is too radical for a solution.
Instead, they have suggested that for both realists and its detractors to come into terms, both must observe greater accuracy in stating and implementing its premises (both classical and modern realism). They emphasized that “realism” is more than a belief in the rationality of the state and international anarchy but rather, it should conform to a commitment in exacting the rationalist theory of state behavior in anarchy and with a focus on the resolution of worldwide conflicts through the implementation of material power capabilities.
In the end, the authors are imposing to the reader their tripartite reformulation of realism because they believe that it would offer theoretical foundations that is clearly distinct from the other rationalist theories and thus, a crisper observed predictions and lastly, to contribute to a more accurate multicausal syntheses and at the end, they (the authors) continued to reiterate that it has a rightful place/role in the study of world politics.
The article presented mush arguments and they have supported it with enough validation for us to give a second look into their tripartite reformulation (or is it solution) of the overflowing theories on realism. As the old saying goes, there is no harm in trying; therefore, their arguments might be of consideration in international relations theory and politics.
But, as they said so themselves, we should not look solely or focus on these arguments but instead, it should be our initiative to look into consideration the other theories involving international politics and relations. This should be done so as we can have a bigger understanding of the concept itself and who would know, we might also be able to formulate our very own reformulations one day.
REFERENCES: Moravcsik, J. W. L. a. A. (1999). Is Anybody Still A Realist? International Security, 24(2), 5-55.