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: Andhyta Firselly Utami : International Relations / 0906550373
: Richard Ned Lebow, “Classical Realism” in Dunne, Tim, Kurki, Milja, and Smith, Steve, International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity 2nd Edition, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 58-76
From Realism to Neorealism: A Development or A Declination? "…Neorealism, then, could be seen as a parody of science."—Richard Ned Lebow. That sentence, taken from his article “Classical Realism” in International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity, is—if not provoking—very bold. The writer believes that such conclusion should be elaborated in detailed argumentation and reliable reasoning. Otherwise, it too will be taken simply as an empty jargon. The sentence clearly shows Lebow’s stance in seeing Waltz’s version of realism, on how it is recognized as the nadir of the most dominant and influential theoretical tradition in the study of International Relations. The following passage is going to comprehensively explore the thoughts of two most important classical realists, Thucydides and Hans J. Morgenthau, in order to understand the fundamental base of classical realism. The writer will try to discover the similarities as well as differences that they share as two frontline of classical realism proponents, develop them by contrasting with neorealism’s (also referred as the structural realism) basic ideas, and in the end conclude this review with a proof to Lebow’s intriguing statement: whether or not classical realism is much more trustworthy in explaining phenomena in the international realm. In the introduction of his article, Lebow considers the final result of Cold War as well as subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union as the main factor that drove scholarly and public attention to a whole new paradigm. The failure of neorealism’s bipolar concept has encouraged many realists to return to their roots in search of conceptions and insights relevant to contemporary international relations, the classical realism. Neorealism is said to be ‘merely an unfalsifiable ideology with only superficial resemblance to science’. It is indeed contradictory to the primary aim of Kenneth Waltz—father of neorealism—which is to transform realism into a more scientific theory by developing a series of propositions that could be subjected to empirical testing and investigation.1 Differs from what neorealism upholds, classical realists do not make a firm separating line between international from domestic politics. Thucydides describes parallel developments in both realms and encourages us to understand them as the outcomes of similar and reinforcing processes. Morgenthau supports this notion by insisting that all politics is a struggle for power that is ‘inseparable from social life itself’. Their general idea is that nations always crave for unilateral advantage and relative power whose order lay on the strength of community. If there should be any difference to consider, it would be of degree, and not of kind.2
Dougherty, James E. and Pfaltzgraff, Robert L., Jr., Contending Theories of International Relations: A Comprehensive Survey, 4th Edition., (New York: AddisonWesley Education Publishers, 1997), pp.63 2 Richard Ned Lebow, “Classical Realism” in Dunne, Kurki, and Smith, International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity 2nd Edition, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 63
The main keywords in explaining this are balance of power, justice, and interest. Centuries ago, Aristotle once observed that ‘When people are friends, they have no need for justice, but when they are just they need friends as well.’ The writer reckons this as the basic assumption of alliance by the Greeks. Together with alliance, military capability is considered as the very foundation of security although classical realists call them as double-edged swords for they are as likely to provoke as to prevent conflict.3 In History of the Peloponnesian Wars, Thucydides confirmed that Athenian efforts to obtain a favorable balance of power were instead an instrumental cause of war. For Morgenthau, the concept of balance of power contradicts in the way that it might deter war if status quo powers outgunned imperialist challengers, yet it could also intensify tensions because of the impossibility of assessing the motives and capability of other states. The previous success of balance of power was said to be ‘less a function of distribution of capabilities’ and rather ‘of the existence and strength of international society that bound together the most important actors in the system’. Henceforth, for classical realists, both domestic and international order ultimately rest on the strength of cooperations, be it through daily contacts, negotiations, and occasional agreements. Justice, as a foundation of any relationship, plays a role in ‘influence’ inasmuch as it is basically a psychological relationship. For a classical realist, interest and justice are inseparable and mutually constitutive, and they are both foundation for a community. Oppositely, contemporary realists judge justice merely to serve a justification or mask for policies motivated by more concrete material interests, which is defined in terms of power. Classical realism does consider capabilities (e.g. economic growth and military might) as one source of power, but they do not equate it with influence. Although realism is often accepted as skeptical towards norms and values, Thucydides’ writings indicate his belief that coercion is a grossly inefficient and ultimately self-defeating basis of influence. To persuade, he said, leaders and hegemons must live up to the expectations to their own ideology and thus authority is obtained. To Morgenthau, power is theoretically raw material which, practically, may then be transformed into political influence.4 Another comparable difference between classical and modern realism is on how they determine a system change. The former associates the term ‘transformation’ with processes in which identities, discourses, and conceptions of security are shifted. The latter, instead, simply differentiates systems on the basis of their polarity, whether it is uni-, bi-, or multi-polar). Thucydides brought examples that reflected a change of goal: Athenian values were shifted from the goal of time to that of acquisition, and rule based on the consent of others was replaced by control exercised through threats and bribes. Morgenthau’s account was not dissimilar. Modernization—another name by which change is broadly known—led to misplaced faith in reason and undermined norms as a restriction to individual and state behavior. He drew more directly on how libidinal impulses are transferred to the nation in order to achieve
Ibid., pp. 64 Ibid., pp. 65
satisfaction of aspiration otherwise they should repress or could not attain. One understandable example is Stalin’s removal in the Second World War and the famous Holocaust. However, in the end of the day, all realists are unified in their pessimism about the extent to which it can be more peaceful and just, while focusing on the role of power.5 Power, is always considered crucial in human behavior. Thucydides’ “The strong do what they have the power to do and the weak accept what they have to accept,”6 also Hobbes’ “Man has a perpetual and restless desire if power after power that ceaseth only in death,” are two strong evidence to this premise. Up to this point, Richard Ned Lebow has shed light upon the main ideas of classical realism and given a slight comparison with structural realism. On the nature of theory, classical realism is considered possible to work only to the extent that human behavior is very context dependent; ‘similar external challenges provoke a range of responses from different political cultures’. Morgenthau himself explicitly denied the possibility of one general law. The best a theory can do, Lebow said, ‘is to state the likely consequences of choosing one alternative as over against another and the conditions under which one alternative is more likely to occur or to be successful than the other’. On the next chapter of the same book, John J. Mearsheimer wrote an article entitled “Structural Realism” which takes exactly the opposite side of Lebow. He instead shows the merits of neorealism. Mearsheimer praises the success of contemporary realism in explaining the need of states to gain power. The first assumption is, he underlined, that actors in world politics operate in an anarchic system. Secondly, all states possess some offensive military might in a various level. Third of all, the most important one, is that states can never be certain about the intentions of other states. Unlike military capabilities, intentions cannot be empirically verified.7 This explanation is followed by complementary assumptions: the main goal of states is survival and states will always act rationally, although miscalculations happen from time to time. Lebow’s critics on how neorealism couldn’t provide answers to the failure of bipolar system in Cold War period was further explained by Mearsheimer. According to his article, realists who think bipolarity is less warprone offer three logical supporting arguments:8
(1) There is more opportunity for great powers to fight each other in multipolarity. In a bipolar system, there
is only one great power versus great power dyad. Potential conflict dyads will increase as the number of great power increases. (2) There tends to be greater equality between he great powers in bipolarity since materials are expected to be more evenly distributed among the two countries.
(3) There is greater potential for miscalculation in multipolarity which may contribute to an outbreak of war.
There is more clarity about potential threats in bipolarity because there is only one other great power.
Burchill, S., et.al.,. Theories of International Relations, 4th Edition.( New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) Thucydides, History of Peloponnesian War, from Dougherty, James E. and Pfaltzgraff, Robert L., Jr., op cit., pp.63 7 Mearsheimer, “Structural Realism”, in Dunne, Kurki, et al., op cit., pp. 79 8 Ibid, pp. 85
Up to this accounts, the writer can see neorealism’s major arguments in saying that bipolarity can serve a more stabilized world system. True it is to say that in the end, Soviet Union’s collapse has shown that a bipolar globe is not the final answer to stability, security, or a perpetual peace. But, as Thucydides himself said, what is peace if not an armistice of war that is continuously going on? The two great powers i.e. United States and Soviet Union’s race of hegemony has given us 45 years of—if not stable condition—certainty. It has only been 20 years since the fall of Berlin Wall, thus the unipolar system, the writer perceives, has not proven anything to us about its stability so far. The following table sums up scientists’ general view upon substantial differences among realists: Statement
States are ‘selfish’ and will always struggle for power. State is the only entity that can be a study unit in international politics. One key to security is by creating balance of power. Norms, values, and justice are important soft powers. Anarchic condition is given, but system changes in the process.
It is human nature, the drive to be all powerful; behavioral approach. States’ cultural and regime type differences matter and influence actors in taking actions. It is something intended, states should put efforts to achieve it. Justice is a foundation of any interactions and is very important as the key to influence. System change is associated to the shift of identity and values.
System approach; The architecture of international system forces states. The system creates same basic incentives; states are functionally undifferentiated, except for their degree of power. It will always be automatically produced, through a distribution of power. Justice can serve to justify or mask policies motivated by more concrete material interests. System change occurs when the number of poles changes. (bi-, uni-, multi-)
Now that we already understand the main contrasting points of classical and neorealism, we finally come to the question that we posed in the very beginning of this writing: is neorealism a declination or development, compared to the classical realism? “A gun in friend’s hand and a gun in enemy’s basically share the same physical being, but they can mean totally different to you.” This wise proverb can actually deliver an answer to our inquiry. In the writer’s opinion, both theories can never be said as right or wrong. Their nature is to be functioned as a tool of analysis in examining trends and events in world’s history. Depending on whose ‘hands’ a theory (or ‘gun’) is used, it may produce a different output. Further study of a particular theory would eventually find a specific background behind it. Be it the period of time or their environment’s circumstance, these factors have influenced how, as well as what kind of, a theory is produced. Social science theories are never permanent. It changes through ages as because we like it or not behavior is one of the dynamic aspects in human to human (or state to state) interaction and history as social scientists’ laboratory.9 Again, a truth that we accept today may be a laughable joke tomorrow.
Quoted from Evi Fitriani’s lecture “Introductory to International Relations Theory I Class” on Tuesday, 31st August 2010.