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Social Sci LibreTexts

19. A Contemporary Perspective on Realism

  • Page ID
    11280
  • Since the end of the Cold War realism has returned to its roots. Realist scholars show renewed interest in their foundational thinkers, their tragic understanding of life and politics, their practical concern for ethics and their understanding of theory as the starting point for explanatory narratives or forward-looking forecasts that are highly context dependent. Despite their different perspectives on world politics, the writings of Thucydides, Niccolò Machiavelli, Edward Hallett Carr, Reinhold Niebuhr, Arnold Wolfers, John Herz, Hans Morgenthau and Hannah Arendt demonstrate a remarkable unity of thought as they were driven by similar concerns about ‘perennial problems’ (Morgenthau 1962, 19). One of these problems is the depoliticisation of societies. Realists were concerned that, in modern societies, people could no longer freely express their interests in public, losing the ability to collectively contribute to their societies. Consequently, realism can be perceived as a critique of and ‘corrective’ (Cozette 2008, 12) to this development. It may seem strange at first, but one way to see how realism relates to today’s world is to look back to its roots – via its earlier scholars – rather than dwell on some of the later developments in realist theory, such as neorealism. For this reason, this chapter will revisit realism to offer a contemporary perspective on what is, most probably, the oldest theory of IR and, most certainly, IR’s most significant theory family.