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Quincy Wright's article, “Realism and Idealism in International Politics”,

which is in World Politics, October, 1952, is a book review of

John H. Herz's Political Realism and Political Idealism: A Study of Theories and Realities.

First is given definitions of realism. According to Plato,

realism is what ought to be, and Machievelli said that realism is

the political doctrine of expediency.

And according to Herz, realism is thought which takes into consideration the

implications for political life of those security and power factors which are

inherent in human society.

These factors grow out of the security dilemma which flows from individual's

consciousness that others are seeking his destruction, and that he must be

continuously ready to kill them before they kill him.

Therefore, proponents of the doctrine of realism believe that the chief

interest of the state is to secure power in order to defend the

state against any foreseeable threat. They believe that all else, if necessary,

should be sacrificed in order to obtain this objective. In other words, if a nation

following this doctrine thought that it should wage a preventive war, it would not

hesitate to do so.

On the other hand, political idealism is defined as that type of political thinking

which does not recognize the problems

arising from the security or power dilemma or takes notice of

them in a perfunctory manner, not concentrating its interest upon national conditions

or rational solutions. Thus an extreme idealist would consider civilian scientific

advancement more important than military, and would probably not arm his nation at

all, due to the fact that if he did so other nations would do likewise, with the

consequence of an arms race and possible war. An idealist may give emphasis to

international values over the individual state's, following the creed that nations

are here and gone, and therefore the long-run objective should be a stable world.


The next point of discussion by Wright was to state that a philosophy which centers

around a distinction between realism and idealism would seem to have neither of the

useful features of providing for a better international order or making a secure

state, but would engender lethargy and inaction because it asserts that ideals are

not real, or despair because it asserts that reality cannot be ideal. Therefore, the

policies to be determ­ined, in the sense of propositions leading to a state's

probable action in given circumstances, is a function of both its power and values,

of both the means at its disposal and the ends dic­tated by its values.

To be specific, realism must take into consideration for prediction and control the

ideal symbols and propaganda men identify themselves, such as anti-imperialism and

democratic procedure, no less than armaments, potential and morale. They should not

over-emphasize the oppositional nature of nations, which they tend to do.

They should try to find those areas where nations can meet on common ground,

because unless one does this and therefore avoids antagonizing others, one may find

that all the armament one can accumulate wouldn't be enough, for other nations may find it necessary to band together and destroy the power-mad state.

Idealists, on the other hand, must not over-emphasize the cooperative aspect. They should not overlook the fact that power-mad individuals have, do, or will exist, such as Hitler and Mussolini, and that one must be ready to defend the interests of the state. One should not discard adequate armament despite one's hopes for a future disarmament program. Although one be­lieves that men of thought can contribute to the development of conditions in which "the dignity and worth of the human person," Justice, and respect for the obligations arising from. treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and one should not do this with one's eyes closed to present dangers to the state.

In conclusion, therefore, one must combine realism with idealism, for all terms of politics and power (policy, decision and action) involve both values and conditions, both human pur­poses and material instruments, both goals expressed by symbols and means manifested by procedures, weapons, and propaganda.

One should not be, too idealistic, for the safety of one's nation may be jeapordized, and yet one should not be too realistic, for atomic war could result. And yet perhaps one can say that a little more realism than idealism is practical, for the long-run pol­icies of the idealist must be based on future contingencies which are remote or merely conceived, and can only be justified by their desirability, until social scientists make possible pre-diction and control over longer periods with far more accuracy than they do today. Thus the known, actual, and present of the realist may tend to overshadow the desired, remote, and conceptions the idealist, but still one must agree with this quote of Pascal's:  

Justice without force is impotent. Force without justice is tyrannical. It is

necessary, therefore, to unite justice and force and make that which is just strong

and that which is strong just.

David C. Hakim
Pol. Sci. 281
Instr:  Dr. Singh
Oct. 31, 1962