After thoughts: What I didn’t know about Realism

Basically, I’ve been reading a number of references for the study of International Relations (IR) and IR theories for the past few days. And in these same few days I’ve discovered a lot of things I previously didn’t know about Realism – practically the dominant theory of IR – and sort of ‘converting’ me back to being a realist.

Many of those things become more logical as I continue to delve in the prepositions. Some of the things that got my attention for the past few readings:

Realism is the mother of all IR theories

This may give an impression that realism is the main theory of IR, inasmuch as if there is no other IR theory. I think this is by all means true, because as I observed, in many ways early IR learners will easily become realists. The reason is simple: realism offers something as close as possible to reality (while it can’t explain all the things). Now the point of being the ‘mother’ of all IR theories is the fact that most – if not all – of other IR theories are merely answering, debating, or arguing what the realists are saying. Consider liberalism. Liberalists try to debunk a lot of realists’ propositions, e.g. the point regarding human nature, in which the realists believe that human beings are born fallen (e.g. due to sin, see Morgenthau’s Politics Among Nations), and the liberalists are in contrast more optimistic, that human beings are born good. Realism causes these debates, and therefore the emergence of all other theories are mostly caused by reactions to the realists’ propositions.

For realists, state is not the only IR actor

In various basic learnings of IR theories, it is often said that for the realists, state is the sole actor of IR. If you think about it, this point will sound very illogical, simply because you cannot deny the presence and role of other actors, for instance the international organizations (IOs) or the multinational companies (MNCs). A point of clarification, at least for me, is that realists believe that states are the most significant actors of IR, but not the sole actor of IR. In comparison to the other actors, realists believe that both the influence of the other actors are insignificant when compared to states, and that in most cases the influence of those other actors do matter because it is derived from states.

The thing about morality

Only after (re-)reading the various IR theories books I then understand what realists believe about morality. For realists, there is no such thing about ‘universal morality’, such as human rights. They believe that morality is particular, each states have their own morality, and it is impossible for states to create, or have, an universal sets of morality. An example of this would be human rights. Realists don’t bother discussing human rights because there is no such thing as universal morality.


Clearly, there are various things I am still learning about this IR theory – and others, of course. I am keeping this post rather short because these three points resonate well through the readings. See if I can learn some more ideas about the theories after I finish reading the books.

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