Realism has arguably been the dominant approach to international politics.  Indeed, one can conceivably view alternate approaches to be a response to that Realist dominance.  From Thucydides, through Machiavelli and Hobbes, to E H Carr, Hans Morgenthau and the other 20th Century originators of the discipline, Realism has been regarded as the only way for responsible policymakers to approach the conduct of affairs within the international system.  A common view would be that: while those concerned with theory might come up with other idealistic ways of dealing with international relations, those actually engaged in policymaking, the statesmen and their officials, need to act more responsibly and Realism is their guiding light.  

In stark contrast to Realism, Liberalism is based on an optimistic view of human nature and the international system.  Essentially those adopting this approach believe that if only the conditions were right, man – including political units such as states – would live together in cooperative harmony.  Their optimism leads to the assumption that eventually, through increasing cooperation and fundamental change to the nature of international politics, the international system will be transformed; the struggle for power, in particular resort to war, will be a thing of the past.

No scholar working in the field of IR can do so without a thorough understanding of Realism and Liberalism, as well their strengths and weaknesses.

Seminar Discussion Questions:


* John Baylis and Steve Smith (Eds), The Globalisation of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations, Chapters 5 and 6.

E.H. Carr, The Twenty Years Crisis, Palgrave, 2001 (or any edition)

D Deudney and G J Ikenberry, “The Nature and Sources of Liberal International Order”, Review of International Studies, Vol 25 (1999), No 2, pp 179-196

Dunne et al., International Relations Theories, Chapters 3 and 5

Jackson and Sorensen, Introduction to International Relations, Chapter 3: pp 59-70.

J S Nye, Power and Interdependence: World Politics in Transition (3rd Ed), Little Brown, 2001.

K. Waltz, Man, the State and War, Columbia University Press, 1959

Suggested Movie: Failsafe (1964) - American planes are sent to deliver a nuclear attack on Moscow, but it's a mistake due to an electrical malfunction. Can all-out war be averted?

Week Two Power Point