Realism – everything you need to know

Realism

In this blog post, we are talking about realism, one of the central paradigms of the field of international relations.

We also talk about the defining elements of realism and what is neoclassical realism. 

What is realism?

Realism is one of the central paradigms of the field of international relations, structuring the understanding of events, the design and development of foreign policy, the configuration of international conflicts much of the twentieth century. 

It is basically based on a series of philosophical considerations on human nature: people are evil, selfish and subject to a natural inclination towards the search for power, domination; as such, people live in permanent insecurity, being marked by a deep distrust of people and a suspicion of others.

It follows as a consequence that both companies and institutions man-made will have the same peculiarities as this one. 

Realism - everything you need to know

However, political thinking in the field of international relations has been structured since the beginning of two great directions of philosophical thought, already developed by classical thinkers such as: Thomas Hobbes, Immanuel Kant, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Machiavelli and others.

These two big dominant philosophical traditions are realism and liberalism. 

Realism holds that man is evil, and selfish. Nature itself or the set of conditions in which man lives do him harm.

His nature is inevitably and fundamentally inclined to seek power in relation to others, of his domination over others. 

Such a vision leads to a war of all against all and the well-known Hobbes’s “homo homini lupus.”

As a literary current, realism manifests itself in the nineteenth century, starting in France and having as a basic principle the credible, plausible reflection of reality in its essential, objective data.

Aspect refers to realism too, which is a part of classpect.

Representatives of the realism paradigm

In the universal literature: Balzac, Flaubert, Stendhal, Gogol, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Dickens, Lampedusa, Thomas Mann.

Characteristics of realism

  • social issues: avarice, immorality, loneliness;
  • objective perspective the omniscient and ubiquitous narrator
  • the impersonal, neutral tone
  • the characters embody several social categories, complexly characterized (peasant, aristocrat, etc.) and represent human types – dominated by the main character trait (greedy, miser, etc.)
  • the detailed technique is used for a more accurate rendering of the environment
  • a close connection is made between the environment and the character
  • the presentation of the morals of an epoch
  • by making frescoes of the ages, the works become monographs of the world presented
  • the novel may have a genesis represented by real facts
  • real chronotype elements (places that actually exist).
Realism - everything you need to know

Realism in international politics

At the level of international politics, however, the following fundamental distinction has been made: 

In international relations, we work with two types of people – the person, the individual as a scaffold of the field of international relations, and the leader, the one who finds and leads the state. 

Through, therefore, at the level of international relations, we encounter a double determinism: on the one hand, unaltered human nature intervenes over the centuries, and on the other hand, they can intervene inclinations toward wickedness, evil intentions of the rulers themselves. 

For realistic authors, it does not exist any change in human nature, from which it necessarily follows that there is no progress.

From this point of view, realism is a conservative paradigm. 

Realism vs idealism

So realism, like idealism, in fact, ultimately seeks to investigate those fundamental concepts and frames of thought that we usually use to explain and express reality: power, reason, interest, etc. 

Moreover, their main premise is an essentially philosophical one – human nature (and certain specific considerations on it).

As such, he is entitled to what we call realism (like idealism), rather a philosophy of international relations.

The two paradigms must be considered fundamentally antithetical, having completely different themes. 

After the end of the First World War (1914-1918) and the peace conferences that took place, a series of international mechanisms were sought to make the war reprehensible

eventually to eliminate it completely, so that the world will never be confronted again

destruction and losses as great as those of the Great War. 

Wilsonian idealism argued precisely the thesis that man is not necessarily prone to conflict, but on the contrary, his natural inclination is rather towards peace.

By establishing the League of Nations, it sought the final elimination of war from the universally accepted instruments of the international relations

Realism - everything you need to know

Defining elements of realism

  • the narrator is omniscient, omnipresent, he knows what they think, what they do, what the characters are going to do. He decides their destiny, the narrative perspective being demiurgic (the narrator is omnipotent, he behaves like a God). The narrative perspective is a detached objective. These two characteristics give veracity to the work
  • the narrator is preoccupied with social issues, thus constructing frescoes of a society
  • the illusion of reality is created, by revealing some scenes, plausible images, detached from reality. The banal, the daily routine, the aspects of ordinary life are part of the painting of a realistic picture, which gives the impression of truth
  • the action takes place on several levels, it is created by facts, events and characters taken from the immediate reality
  • the beginning of the realistic literary work introduces the reader to the illusion of real life
  • the narration, the epic, is mainly used to the detriment of the analysis. They are told in a coherent, easy to understand way, events in the life of the characters, as well as the relations between them.
  • the characters in realistic works are representative of a human typology, are characters and are subject to the ethical and moral values ​​of the community of which they are part
  • the realistic character is drawn in close connection with the environment in which he lives; the characters are typical, in typical situations
  • the construction of the realistic novel is balanced, the precision, the detail, the veracity, the transparency are observed
  • artistic expressions, style figures have a characterizing role and not a beautification of language

The realistic prose

– The plausible, non-idealized character of the related facts

– Genesis – represented by real facts

– Social issues

– The monographic aspect

– The character of a fresco

– The beginner gives up conventions (such as the found manuscript or the confession of a character) and often consists in fixing the Spatio-temporal coordinates

– The conflict of social essence, consisting in the desire to achieve the protagonist, in his impulse to have a higher social status

– The individual-environment relationship (man is a product of the environment, the realistic character operating according to the logic of social determinism)

– Chronology of facts.

Coherence in the construction of the epic subject, by avoiding dramatic upheavals and by creating parallel, antithetical scenes, by grading the facts

– Symmetry and circular character of the novel

– The typical character in typical situations

– The definite outcome

– Closed / open end

– Detail technique (mimesis and plausibility)

– Narratological objectivity

– The narrator in the third person, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent.

Realism - everything you need to know

Neoclassical realism

Like classical realism, neoclassical realism explains the foreign policies of states, but integrates systemic-level variables, arguing that the latter plays a key role in formulating foreign and national security policy.

Proponents of neoclassical realism, like classical realists, pay more attention to the relationship between the state and society.

Neoclassical realism criticizes the theory of democratic peace from the point of view of the latter’s pluralistic view of the state.

 It is criticized as devoid of dynamism and undifferentiated, the vision of this theory on the democratic state (democratic states do not wage wars with other democratic states, democracies tend to win the wars in which they are involved and democracies are trusted actors due to institutional transparency). 

Theorists of neoclassical realism criticize liberal institutionalism (neoliberalism) for its pluralist view of the state, but also for its methodological inconsistency.

The theoretical model formulated by liberal institutionalism is not consistent and does not coherently explain international phenomena.

The theorists of neoclassical realism also adopt a critical point of view towards the rationalist theories of international relations, here is aimed at the theory of expected utility formulated by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and the negotiated model of war (bargaining model of war). 

The foundations of these theories are criticized in this case, which argues that policymakers have automatic access to all state resources, state leaders must not negotiate with societal actors for policy formulation and implementation and that they can not respond flexibly to variations in the balance of power in the international system. 

Innenpolitik and Marxist approaches do not escape the critique of neoclassical realism, arguing that foreign policy cannot be formulated or applied to ignore the constraints of the international environment. 

The relationship of neoclassical realism with constructivism is complex, the volume proving that both approaches are complementary. 

This complementarity between the two theories of international relations is due to their socio-biological foundation: human beings naturally form social groups, and according to constructivist arguments, social groups create and form links between individuals through common social practices, being thus created identities and institutions. 

Realism - everything you need to know

Neoclassical realism starts from the premise that international politics is a permanent competition between states for power and security in an environment dominated by uncertainty and where resources are limited.

The forces acting at the level of the international system challenge the states to find the most efficient ways to provide their security.

The distribution of relative power within the international system defines the behaviour of the state in relation to the other actors of the international system.

The peculiarity of neoclassical realism consists in the integration of the variables at the unit level (internal policy constraints or perceptions/preferences of the elites) within the explanatory model. 

These intermediate variables intervene between the independent variable, the structure of the international system and the dependent variable, the foreign policy.

Like other realist currents, neoclassical realism is a state-centric theory, but it is the first to formulate a theory of the state.

Neoclassical realism conceives of the state in Weberian terms as a territorial political unit that successfully exercises its legal monopoly of power.

The realistic neoclassical conception of the state starts from the idea of ​​tribalism and conflicting groups: human beings cannot survive as individuals in an anarchic environment, that is why they form groups.

Conflicting groups are the fundamental units of political and social life, not individuals. 

The social engine of creating conflicting groups and states is the fear of enemies (metus hostilis).

The nation-state is a product of the international system, the pressures exerted by international anarchy creating an imitative dynamic that led to the spread of this model of political organization.

Realism - everything you need to know

Conclusions

In this blog post, we talked about realism, one of the central paradigms of the field of international relations.

We also talked about the defining elements of realism and what is neoclassical realism. 

Realism holds that man is evil, and selfish. Nature itself or the set of conditions in which man lives do him harm.

His nature is inevitably and fundamentally inclined to seek power in relation to others, of his domination over others. 

As a literary current, realism manifests itself in the nineteenth century, starting in France and having as a basic principle the credible, plausible reflection of reality in its essential, objective data.

If you have any questions, comments or recommendations, please leave them in the comments section below. 

FAQ about realism

What is the theory of realism?

The theory of realism is one of the central paradigms of the field of international relations, structuring the understanding of events, the design and development of foreign policy, the configuration of international conflicts much of the twentieth century. 

What is realism and an example?

Realism is describing things as they are. An example of realism would be the illusion of reality is created, by revealing some scenes, plausible images, detached from reality.

The banal, the daily routine, the aspects of ordinary life are part of the painting of a realistic picture, which gives the impression of truth. 

When was the realism period?

The realism period Realism manifested itself in the nineteenth century, starting in France and having as a basic principle the credible, plausible reflection of reality in its essential, objective data.

What are the elements of realism?

Some of the elements of realism include that the narrators is omniscient, omnipresent, he knows what they think, what they do, what the characters are going to do; the realistic character is drawn in close connection with the environment in which he lives; the characters are typical, in typical situations; the construction of the realistic novel is balanced, the precision, the detail, the veracity, the transparency are observed.

Further reading

Realism: (Style and Civilization) (Style & Civilization), by Linda Nochlin 

Realism (The New Critical Idiom), by Pam Morris  

Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (Zero Books), by Mark Fisher 

References

Carr EH, 1978. The Twenty Years’ Crisis: 1919-1939 An Introduction to the Study of International Relations, Macmillan, NY. 2. Morgenthau, Hans, 1985. Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, Alfred A. Knopf Inc, NY. 

Realism and Truth, by Michael Devitt

Realism, Michael Dummett; Synthese, Vol. 52, No. 1, Realism, Part II (Jul. 1982), pp. 55-112

Realism - everything you need to know

Nadejda Romanciuc

Nadejda Romanciuc holds a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and a diploma in Addiction studies. She is part of the Romanian Association of Integrative Psychotherapy as a psychotherapist under supervision. She's practicing online counselling for over two years and is a strong advocate for mental health.