Theory in Action: Realism


A realist walks into a bar and orders a half-empty glass of vodka. The term realism I think gets
under people’s skin. It’s hard to compete with a paradigm
or perspective that’s called realism. So then you become an idealist, right? The idealist would walk into the bar
and order a half-full glass of vodka. Realism is a theory essentially about power and security. States relentlessly seek power and security
because they exist in a self-help system. You seek security, you seek prestige. And, most of all, a realist would say you seek autonomy. Because in a world where you can never trust anyone, you don’t want to be interdependent. Liberals believe in interdependence,
think that it leads to peace. But realists tend to be very skeptical about interdependence, because who wants to be mutually dependent in a world that’s very dangerous? Essentially, today’s friend could be tomorrow’s enemy. And to the extent that that’s true, you never know who’s gonna be aligned against you down the road, or who’s making plans against you now. So you can never have enough power. Like, how much is enough power? I don’t know. Who’s gonna be lined up against me in ten years? Realists don’t believe in sort of utopian muddle-headed schemes that would provide a perpetual peace in the world based on some notion of a natural
harmony of interests among states. Instead, realists see the world in terms of tragedy and evil, and essentially, the best you can hope for is that people choose the lesser evil and try to be as good as they can be in an evil world. I guess the bottom line is that realists may not be angels, but in the real world, angels often turn out to be brutes. Because if you’re moralizing, crusading, saying we don’t like your human rights policies and we don’t like your regime the way — it’s not democratic enough, it’s not liberal enough, well, then you’re going to get involved everywhere. And the problem with promoting democracy
is it doesn’t work, first of all, and second of all, it almost always leads to a quagmire. Again, there is no natural harmony of interests in the world. Realists understand that, so you just have to live with diversity. And I think liberals don’t understand that. Most of American wars have been — and particularly since the end of the Cold War, have been all about promoting democracy and human rights. And liberals would actually say that the only just
war is one that promotes human rights, whereas a realist would say the only just war
is one that promotes the national interest. And if there are no threats in the environment,
well, then you retrench. So essentially, if I had to give one sort of view
of how realism sees the world, it would be sort of a Hobbesian war of all against all, in a state of nature. The state of nature meaning there is no 911, there is no world government, it’s just everyone out for themselves. Which doesn’t mean that war always occurs; it just means that the danger of war is always lurking in the background
of all international politics.

Maurice Vega

100 Responses

  1. Simple is that!! my lecturer toke 3 weeks to explain Realism and i didn't understand it from him as much as i did from this guy in 3 minutes.

  2. Hi Frederik, you are right that any form of pure theory doesn't exist in reality – that's the nature of a theory, communism and the market economy, liberal and realist perspectives. I think the key issue is how far along any particular path do we go? Denmark and the United Kingdom whilst both democratic, European liberal democracies (to a large extent) conduct their policies considerably differently. My question, what makes that difference a reality>?

  3. I put my money on realist, destroying the earth…
    The race to ensure security by force escalates tension…
    What did the U.S. do after dropping 2 massive bombs on Japan?
    It took world security to a new level of fear….realistic fear.

  4. Realist play a game based on fear….take an example, a cheater…always suspicious always at edge…because the idea of someone playing the same game on him? Creates the monster he, is.

  5. essentially thats how we talk its our way of describing something by showing you that essentially it is what it is

  6. I'm a realist. I see a duck its a duck. I see a government who lies to its people. That's what I see. I see politicians dealing with businessmen who want oil. I see dead innocents. We have a system of elite lording over the rest of us. Is that right no. Does that mean as a realist I think everyone is out to get me? No, only the greedy elite.

  7. i somewhat disagree… i consider my self a realist. its not that the world is evil, its that the world in its current state, its dominated by evil.. we see the world for what it is and make decisions based on statistics and/or historical out comes.. quite often historically, things turn out bad so a realist is often confused as a pessimist.

  8. A realist walks into a bar and is immediately punched in the face by a neoconservative who views it as his fukuyama-inspired duty to spread democratic values through a knuckle sammich

  9. friendship's are fragile they break when a certain point of stress is experienced by it, the international system is anarchic however it is robust, nothing is antifragile in world politics though, so far from what I have been learning?

  10. Its not realistic to think America has fought its wars for human rights. In fact in many cases its the exact opposite.

  11. I am currently reading The Great Game which touches on two rival parts of the world. British India Company which later changed to become the British Government in India who were constantly in fear of being invaded by Russia and the latter was constantly trying to extend its powers and bargaining abilities with other nations. In each case, buying one off the other, sometimes involving Persia. This very much reflects the common fear of neighbouring khanates of today in Russia as they wonder realistically, where Putin is planning next to invade in his foreign adventures and extending his power thereof, probably bringing the West into another Cold War. Ukraine wants to be part of Europe but Putin clearly has other ideas. This book really gives an insight into the Russian state of mind and also clarifies the situation in Afghanistan plus its neighbouring countries. Realism can cause turmoil and one that we must be aware of as the conflict intensifies

  12. The author of The Great Game is by Peter Hopkirk and I cannot stress too strongly that it is a book that deserves a read but also some concentration as it is very complex

  13. Wouldn't a realist say that most of the wars America has fought from the Cold War to now have been on purely self-interest basis (be it securing the capitalist system or access to resources), only attempted legitimised by rhetoric of democracy and interdependence in a so called post-hegemonic world in the hope of gathering support in the UN? I'm wondering. Does a realist outlook drive realist policies, which then feed each other in a loop of "I told you so"? Sort of hard to tell. 

  14. I also had Dr. Schweller at OSU.  Please do take note:  when he mentions "liberalism" he is not talking of liberals or Democrats, he is talking abt Intl Relations theory of LIBERALISM: the idea that we can have values take front and center as a part of foreign policy.   Another term could be "Wilsonian values" the idea that you can create collaboration through interdependence or international institutions.   Many Republicans have been IR Liberals and many Democrats have been realists.  

  15. Well said.

    Though I'd argue that America's wars to promote democracy after WWII may not have been entirely ideologically driven.

    Ideology can be seen as a form of soft power as well, and by spreading your values and views to the rest of the world, you can make their goals and interests more aligned with your own.
    Democratic countries are more likely to help you(the US) than say; communist countries, after all.

    So although the rhetorics used to justify these wars may have been democracy, freedom for all, value of the individual etc; I think at the very core of these ideological wars lie a very serious, non-idealistic focus on national security & maintaining global dominance. 

  16. Its time for a more modernized theory if IR to emerge, one that states when too much corporate control in the world, states lose many powers such as decision making, war only happens for profit, mineral grabs, etc., the people have become slaves, revolution is needed.

  17. I'm getting sick and tired that everybody today is calling themselves "realist" when they do not know the true meaning of the world they basically saying that they advocate violence and war

  18. I would actually say Realist order a half cup of vodka for themselves and Liberals order half a cup for everyone (and run out of money).

  19. For idealists who say that we successfully spread democracy in Germany and Japan, know this: We succeeded in Germany because we terrorized the population into submission, pumped billions of dollars into reconstruction, gutted denazification, and played the people against a common enemy, the USSR. We allowed people who didn't share our values to take power, and in Japan we kept the Emperor on the throne. Democratization worked because no one naively thought democracy would naturally spring up.

  20. 'Really', this guy is not really wrong. Most of the people, even me too, we see Realism as an 'evil' approach.But in fact, if we consider that the conditions are pushing states in this kind of behaviour, the meaning we attach should be closer to neutral. The world is just seems this way. You can not know what happens tomorrow, even if you are ally with a state, when national interests turn upside down, you can just be gone away. The only solution for this kind of condition is seeking a self-help system and to spread your power as much as you can among others. Beside, in a world which every state seeks its own interests, the stability in international relations looks possible only when dominant power functions in its own way, because in long term the reality and interest of the dominant(s) can also become the reality and interest of others.

  21. I have seen the heart of man, and though we were designed to do what is right and good, we will ultimately do that which is in our own best interest. This is how we survive.
    It is Altruism that is the redeeming quality that we must cultivate, for in Altruism we receive by giving, and our needs are met by a form of synergy created by such acts. This is the way it was intended to be.
    When I do good I feel good. When I do bad I feel bad. I choose to do good, and that is my Religion
    Abraham Lincoln

  22. the reason why realists exist is because we live in such a damned needy world filled with mistrust where we can't afford to follow our true nature, which is to be good, BUT that's at the state level….a notion, a foreshadowing, a hint, of what the world can be like can be seen in a smaller sample, in society, in family, in friends, people need connections, they want to socialize they want to get along, and they want to love one another, that's a fact. But at the state level, you have people in power, with the responsibility of taking care that millions of lives have their future secured(except you know, dictators or PMs or Presidents who don't give a shit), and since it's hard for states to trust one another and realize that they all want the same thing, peace, nothing really gets done in the direction of world peace. It is BECAUSE we live in a needy world, a world where scarcity exists that states can't bring themselves to actually trust or believe in the idea we all want to work together, because we know that isn't actually possible when you consider the fact that we have limited resources for various things which would force us to compete, so, how can you honestly believe another state's intentions 100% when you're both on the same boat and you're quite aware of the elephant in the room.

    And the thing is, there are solutions, but at this point in time, implementing some of those solutions to head towards a world with cheap close to unlimited energy, or responsible agricultural practices(crop rotation for example), or diverting money to build a desalination plant which costs a ton of money, or anything else, any of these solutions to not live in a needy world anymore, but one with surplus, it would place any nation that follows through in a delicate situation, it would weaken them momentarily, it would put them at risk momentarily, it would place them in a situation where they question why they must take steps at a greater magnitude than other states like 'reducing emissions', limiting their energy output and thus their people's livelihood or economy, while spending money to build new energy sources that will take time to finish, things of the sort. I've tried to word out what I'm feeling and thinking right now.

    So yea, this is the reason why I believe realism even exists in today's world, because we live in such a needy one.

  23. i just love to hear this man speaking, i always come back to watch this video once in a while i just love this professor

  24. An realist enters into a bar, pulls up a gun orders the bartender to hand him the money in the cash register and all the alcohol, forces him to sign a paper where he -the bartender – agrees to do this every-time is convenient for the realist of risk to get shot.
    A idealist enter into a bar and order a six pack for him self and any possible other person who would seat near him.

    – Did he just say that Liberals don't understand diversity of Interest? He seems to really believe that the in the World there is actually a natural interest which he clearly asserts: "State of nation=(Hobbesian) everyone is interest of attacking one another""
    – who wants to be mutually dependent? when you are depending on what the other is going to do, then you are mutually dependent anyway.
    "I thought we all have been mutually dependent ever since the silk road era.
    -"Angels tend to brutes",defeats the theoretical definition of angels; one cant have it both ways, one either accepts that paradigms are unchallenged or not and if they are then no just one paradigm is it – less so a realist paradigm filled with so a overwhelming set of theoretical inconsistencies.
    so you don't believe in angles but yet, you believe in evil..how come? last time I checked the notion of evil only exist if there is notion of goodness.

  25. TRUTH is hidden and the Liberal does not care to seek it…therefore, the liberal dies, without Truth. Truth is The Eternal Kingdom of life.
    Creator is The Way, The Truth and The Life!
     A'Ho

  26. Almost every country that is democractic today had the ideas and institutions necessary for the system transferred to them, it's almost never a natural process. One could argue it was in Ancient Greece, England and the US. Everywhere else, South Korea, Germany, Italy, Japan, India, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Canada, Australia etc… all inherited the ideas and institutions from other powers that already had it.

    Spreading democracy can, and has, worked.

  27. This is pessimism. You must have a really screwed and miserable view of the world to think they are one and the same. Yes, reality can suck sometimes and people are inherently selfish but to project that onto everybody says more about yourself. Otherwise, this was a good video and made an interesting point.

  28. The holes in the idea of interdependence become glaringly obvious when a guy like Trump comes along. I'm sure Mexico, Germany and Canada will all come to the negotiation table holding hands and singing kumbaya while Trump follows through on his threats to tear up their trade deals

  29. 'I tried to type everything that I heard' Realist work into a bar and order half empty glass of vodka, the term realism I think is on people skin harder to complete with power, perspective that called realism and so then you become an idealist,The idealist would walk into the bar and order half four glass of vodka , realism is a theory essentially about power and security ,states will seek power and security because they exist in the self help system, they security, prestige, most of all a realist would say you seek autonomy , because in a world where you can never trust anyone. you don't want to be interdependent .Liberals believe in interdependence ,think that it leads to peace.But realist tend to be very skeptical about interdependence ,because who want to be mutually dependent in a world that's very dangerous essentially ,todays's friends could be tommorow's enemy .And to the extent that that's true, you never know who's gonna be aligned against you down the road, or who's making plans against you now. So you can never have enough power. Like how much is enough power? I don't know , who's gonna be lined up against me in ten years?Realist don't believe in sort of Utopian muddle-headed schemes that would provide a perpetual peace in the world, based on some notion of a natural harmony of interests among states. Instead ,realists see the world in terms of tragedy and evil, and essentially ,the best you can hope for is that people choose the lesser evil and try to be as good as they can be in an evil world. I guess the bottom line is that realists may not be angels, but in the real world, angels often turns out to be brutes.Because if you are moralising, crusading saying we don't like your humans right policies and we don't like your regime the way, It's not democratic enough,It's not liberal enough, well then you can get involved everywhere and the problem with promoting democracy is it doesn't work ,first of all, and second of all it almost always leads to a quagmire. Again there is no natural harmony interests in the world.
    Realist understand that so you just have to live with destiny and I think liberals don't understand that .
    Most of American war have been and particularly since the end of Cold War , have been all about promoting democracy and human rights .
    And liberals would actually say that the only just war is one that promotes human rights,
    Whereas a realist would say the only just war is one that promotes national interests.
    And if there are no treats in the environment, well then you retrench. So essentially if I had to give one sort of view of how realism sees the world ,It would be sort of a Hobbesian war of all against all, in state of nature
    The state of nature meaning there is no 911,there is no world government, is just everyone out for themselves.
    which doesn't mean that war always occurs, it just means that the danger of war is always lurking in the back ground of all international politics.

  30. thank u for the effort to post but this is not realism this is pesimism they are not at all synonamous.

    realism is just that reality is real nothing more and it only exists in opposition to the idea that life is some sort of simulation which is utter nonsence in my opionion. simmulations exist in reality yes but reality doesnt exist in a simulation.
    do i know my shit? yes. does knowing my shit pay the bills? no. becoming a priest who preaches idealism or some other nonesence does though ironically.

  31. Did he honestly suggest that American wars were 'liberal idealist' rather than 'realist' – did I mishear that? He thinks that the actual motivation for going to war in the Middle East was about 'promoting democracy and human rights' rather than say, realist objectives of securing natural resources

  32. well interdependency in a dangerous world is certainly the most interesting scenario and what else should be a starting point to think about ethics 🙂
    and hey prof. randall, I ask myself what you have personally gone through so you became a realist 😉

  33. This is not realism. It's pessimism, the expectation that things will always go wrong, that ultimately no one can be trusted. But we depend on interdependent relations all the time. If we didn't, we would each be individuals scrabbling out a bare existence in the woods. Human beings have progressed because they've been able to create big associations ("families," "tribes," "governments") that often for an extended period of time have proved stable and beneficial.

  34. Guys… can someone explain what does it mean in the beginning of the video?? like the bar and vodka things?? i really don't understand :s

  35. Wars that are being waged right now and will be waged in the future, are not about promoting democracy and human rights… that's just the pretence to mask an act of aggression, imperialism, neo-colonialism, establishing the liberal order.

  36. Realist accept reality and thats enough.
    Stay in touch with the shadow shelf, and young men and old alike..check out jordan Peterson.

  37. Question: If the National Interest IS democracy… then who is right, the liberal, or the realist? Is the problem all in the execution, the operationalization of theory, rather than in the theory?

  38. I’m a realist bc I was once a optimist and realized that no matter how great of an outlook you have on life it’s always going to disappoint you bc things most of the time never go as you imagined it would. You can say that life has broken my heart many times and it has. That’s why I’m a realist. Bc you can never be disappointed if you look at the world in a more realistic way 🙁

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