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Revising Realism. From Scientism to a More Empirical Approach

Revising Realism. From Scientism to a More Empirical Approach

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Published by Emanuel Copilaș
pages: 25-48.
pages: 25-48.

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Published by: Emanuel Copilaș on Oct 06, 2010
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ROMANIAN REVIEW OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, I, 1, 2009
R
EVISING REALISM
:
FROM SCIENTISM TO A MORE EMPIRICALAPPROACH
 
Emanuel Copilaș
*
 
Abstract
Realism is, without exaggeration, the most important theory of International Relations(IR).
1
 
It draws its significance from the fact that ‘it provides the most powerful explanation for the state of war’, which, embracing different forms and intensities, is the defining
 feature of world politics.
2
Regardless of its imposing theoretical position, or maybe becauseof it, realism is judiciously criticized by alternative approaches to IR, such as idealism or,more recently, social-constructivism. However, despite its most frequent imputations, likescientism, objectivism, dogmatism and, overall, the accusation that it provides a static andobsolete paradigm for the understanding of the relations between the international actors,
realism’s abilities to improve and readapt itself to the present theoretical requirements still
attracts many IR scholars. The stake of this paper is to prove that realism and its maintenets, like power, international anarchy and national interest - adjusted in order to complyto its most powerful and pertinent critics, can still be considered a valid and fertileapproach to the study of IR.
Key-words:
conservatism, realism, neorealism, neoclassical realism, idealism,social-constructivis
* Teaching assistant, West Universisty of Timisoara, Political Sciences Department. Main areas ofinterest: Theory and history of International Relations, Geopolitics, Theory and history of totalitarianregimes, Political history, Politics and Religion. E-mail address: copilasemanuel@yahoo.com
1
 
Dunne, Tim; Schmidt, Brian C., ‘Realism’, in Baylis, John; Smith, Steve; Owens, Patricia,
TheGlobalization of World Politics. An introduction to international relations
 , New York: Oxford UniversityPress, 2008, p. 91; Kolodziej, Edward A.,
Securitatea și Relațiile Internaționale
 , Iași: Polirom, 2007, p. 162;
Guzzini, Stefano,
Realism și relații internaționale
 , Iași: Institutul European, 2000, p. 38
; Burchill, Scott,
‘Realism and Neo
-
Realism’, in Burchill, Scott; Devetak, Richard; Linklater, Andrew; Paterson,
Matthew; Reus-Smit, Christian; True, Jacqui,
Theories of International Relations
 , New York: Palgrave,2001, pp. 70-102.
2
Dunne, Tim; Schmidt,
Brian C., ‘Realism’, in Baylis, John; Smith, Steve; Owens, Patricia,
op. cit
., p.91.
 
Emanuel Copilaş
 
Historical and philosophical premises
Occupying the central position among the theories of IR, it isunderstandable that realist attitudes have been reperable long before thestructuring of the realist theory itself. Starting with the Antiquity, authors likeThucydides recognized that power was the propelling force of the internationalsystem (reduced in those times to Athens, Sparta and the Persian Empire) and alsothe fundamental cause of war.
3
 In general, many scholars perceive Thomas Hobbes as being the mostinfluential predecessor of modern realism
4
and tend to overlook or minimize theimportance of Machiavelli in this regard. Indeed, the Florentine secretary offeredthe most powerful and striking distinction between the real and the imaginary
states. He wrote that ‘there are many who have
imagined republics and
principalities which no one ever saw and no one ever knew as existing in reality’,
and warned about the dangers which result from such a pernicious confusion.
5
 
Machiavelli’s tumultuous posterity hypertrophied
The Prince
 , withoutcontextualizing enough its teachings, in comparison to his other major work,
TheDiscourses
 , a reflection of his republican, rather than autocratic convictions.
6
 However, some authors argue that Machiavelli was a republican in the same extentthat he was a partisan of autocracy
7
: the social and cultural diversity of mankindrequired both political forms, each fitted to a certain civilizational context. But,when it achieves enough political maturity, every principality should develop intoa superior form of organization and this is the republic;
8
only this type of political
3
Thucydides,
Războiul Peloponesiac
 , București: Editura Științifică, 1966, p. 160; see also Thucydides,‘The History of the Peloponnesian War’, in Brook, David (ed.),
Search for Peace. A Reader inInternational Relations
 , New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1970, pp. 28-33.
4
Kolodziej, Edward,
op. cit
., p. 162; Miroiu, Andrei; Soare, Simona, ‘Realismul’, in Miroiu, Andrei;
Ungureanu, Radu-Sebastian (ed.),
 
 Manual de Relații Internaționale
 , Iași: Polirom, 2006, pp. 95
-104.
5
Machiavelli, Niccolo,
Principele
 , București: Antet, 2000, p. 56
.
6
Antoniade, C.,
 Machiavelli. Omul. Timpurile. Opera
 , vol. II, ‘Politicul. Istoricul. Patriotul’, București:Cultura Națională, 1932, p. 150
 
7
 
Crick, Bernard, Introduction to Niccolo Machiavelli’s
Discourses
 , Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1979, p.18.
8
Antoniade C.,
op. cit
., p. 116. See also Viroli, Maurizio, ‘Machiavelli and the republican idea ofpolitics’, in Bock, Gisela; Skinner, Quentin; Viroli, Maurizio,
 Machiavelli and Republicanism
 , New York:Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 144, 171, and Skinner, Quentin,
 Machiavelli
 , Chișinău: Arc, 2001,
p. 90
 
Revising realism: from scientism to a more empirical approach
organization can balance ‘the party of the strong’ with ‘the party of the people’ and
thus ensure freedom, the main condition and guarantee of a functional republic.
9
 Another major contribution of Machiavelli to the realist legacy resides inhis new and intriguing acceptation of morality. If in the medieval political thoughtmorality had to precede every political activity, now, morality becomes aconsequence of a successful political gesture. Utility and morality are congruent,not antagonistically opposed
10
 , for a Prince is responsible in the first instance forthe well being of all its subjects and only in the second place he is allowed tofollow its inner morality and conscience.
11
 Only after this brief introduction of Machiavelli we can adequately focusupon Thomas Hobbes. This philosopher stressed out the overwhelmingimportance that fear plays both in relation between humans and between states. Ifsocieties overcame their state of nature, partially renouncing their freedom in orderto gain security and thus constituting a superior political organization, the states,due to their sovereignty, find themselves inevitable trapped in the state of nature.
Therefore, war, ‘
consistent not in battle only, or the act of fighting; but in a tract of
time, wherein the will to contend by battle is sufficiently known’
12
becomes thenatural condition of the international system.
13
 
Realism adopted and ‘upgraded’
this anarchical condition of world politics stating that, far from being chaotic andviolent, international anarchy is only the consequence of the sovereignty andindependence of states and the absence of a global, centralized political leadership.Although Hegel is not usually mentioned as a notable influence for realist
thinkers, his ‘belief that the state’s highest duty lies in its own preservation isfound in realist theory’. Furthermore, Hegel insisted on the dissociation betweenthe state and his citizens which implies, like in Machiavelli’s case, a
differentiation
 between the ‘moral standards’ of the first in comparison with the norms‘acceptable within a civilized society’.
14
 
9
Sorohan, Elvira,
 Măștile Puterii
 , Iași: Institutul European, 1996, p. 133
.
10
Skinner, Quentin,
op. cit
., p. 42.
11
 
Idem
 , pp. 43-44; Balaci, Alexandru,
Niccolò Machiavelli
 , București: Editura Tineretului, 1969, p. 109.
See also Antoniade C.,
op. cit
., pp. 112-
113. For a distinction between ‘pagan’ and ‘Christian’ moralityin Machiavelli’s works, see Berlin, Isaiah,
 Adevăratul Studiu al Omenirii. Antologie de eseuri
 , București:
Meridiane, 2001, pp. 293-303 and Cassirer, Ernst,
 Mitul Statului
 , Iași: Institutul European, 2001, pp.
179-180.
12
 
Hobbes, Thomas, ‘On the Natural Condition of Mankind’, in Brook, David,
op. cit
., p. 4.
13
 
Bull, Hedley, ‘Hobbes and the International Anarchy’, in
Social Research
 , 48:4, 1981, pp. 717-738
14
Dougherty, James A.; Pfaltzgraff, Robert L.,
Contending Theories of International Relations. AComprehensive Survey
 , New York: Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers, 1997, p. 64.

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