Millennial Reflections on International Studies > Realism and Institutionalism in International Studies
"Realism, the Real World, and the Academy"
John J. Mearsheimer
"Realism and the Study
of Peace and War"
"Institutional Theory in International Relations"
"Modern Realist Theory and the Study of International Politics in the 21st Century"
Joseph M. Grieco
"... I present ... ideas about some of the main contributions of modern realist theory to the study of world politics, a few of its main problems as an approach to international studies, and a sample of its most promising reas of future development....
[Realism] casts important light on both the problem of war and the problem of peace among nations. It does so by providing us with three fundamental insights into world politics. [First], modern realism helps us appreciate the impact of the anarchical structure of the international system on the preferences, strategies, interactions, and domestic institutions of states.... [Second], modern realism helps us appreciate the impact of inequalities on international affairs, and in particular inequalities of power.... [Third], modern realism helps us appreciate the importance of continuity in international affairs, but it also alerts us to the pervasiveness of change....
Modern realism provides us with powerful insights into world affairs, and is the starting point for all other important theories of international relations. However, as with every other approach, realism is flawed and in need of improvement. [This paper] mentions four problems or challenges before it, and [suggests] how modern realism might address each...."
"Realism and the Study of Peace and War"
"Appraising realist theories or evaluating the realist paradigm from which they are derived is a very important topic; indeed it is one that has given rise to intense debate within the field from time to time. It is, however, too broad and complicated a topic for a short essay like this one. Therefore, I shall focus on realist explanations of two specific topics—peace and war—with an emphasis on the classical realism of Hans Morgenthau (1948, 1978), the neorealist work of Waltz (1979) and Gilpin (1981) and the "offensive realism" of John Mearsheimer (1990, 1994/95).
If appraising theory and evaluating paradigms is going to lead to fruitful debate between the adherents of competing approaches, there must be some shared understanding as to what are appropriate criteria of adequacy. Most of these are widely shared across disciplines, even between those as disparate as the physical and social sciences. These include such basic criteria that explanations should be empirically accurate, that they should in principle be testable (i.e. that there should be at least some body of evidence that would be accepted as refuting an explanation). In addition, it is generally accepted that theories that are more parsimonious are better than those that include all possible variables, and that theories that have the power (ability) to explain a variety of phenomena and events are better than those which can only explain the minuscule (see Kuhn, 1970: 199).
Elsewhere (Vasquez, 1992; 1998: Ch. 10), I have elaborated and justified various criteria that can be used to appraise theory and paradigms. Here, I will briefly apply the following to assess the adequacy of realist explanations of peace and of war: explanatory power, empirical accuracy, and policy relevance. Empirical accuracy means that propositions and hypotheses derived from the theory must be true, in that they do not contradict evidence marshalled to test or assess the explanation. Explanatory power means that a theory is able to provide a plausible answer to the major question(s) that a field of inquiry is trying to answer. Explanatory power is separate from empirical accuracy; in other words, a theory may have great explanatory power in that one can adopt the "logic" of a theory's or paradigm's perspective to derive a plausible account of how and why certain things occur in the world, but whether this account is true must await systematic investigation. Thus, astrology has great explanatory power in that it can explain and even claims to be able to predict a great number of events, but many think it is not accurate. Policy relevance is defined here as the ability of a theory to provide guidance to the most pressing practical problems of the day. Explanatory power and policy relevance are particularly important because these criteria are often seen as strongest suits of realist analysis...."
"Performance and Perils of Realism in the Study of International Politics"
Department of Political Science
University of British Columbia
"... [This paper] conclude[s] with the proposition that any understanding of past, contemporary, or future international politics is incomplete without the problem selection, the insights, the generalizations, and the explanation of Realism. But any understanding of these based solely on Realism will be insufficient and incomplete. Realism is a perspective on politics, not the whole story. Even as a perspective, it suffers from serious descriptive, explanatory, and therefore prescriptive problems. But to pretend that it has nothing to tell us would be an immense error. In an age of academic fads, where it seems to be de riguer to begin theoretical discourse by listing the sins and omissions of Realism, and when many theorists have not even bothered to read the main texts carefully (and in some cases not to read them at all), there is intellectual peril in ignoring that which still has some important things to tell us. On the other hand, those who assume that Realism is the only story in town, and who insist that nothing has changed since 1756, 1914 or 1939, face the prospect of becoming sectarians rather than scientists. There are now important competitors in the field today, perhaps best expressed in the "English School", in liberal institutionalism, and in constructivism. They also have important things to say, so our students need to study them...."
"Realism and the Democratic Peace: The Primacy of State Security in New Democracies"
Manus I. Midlarsky
Department of Political Science
The spectacular emergence of theories such as the democratic peace is emblematic of the rapid emergence of liberalism to contemporary prominence. Yet a full appreciation of the significance of the democratic peace requires the geopolitical security setting suggested by realist thought. The perpetuation of democracy, a cardinal element of a widespread democratic peace, is hypothesized to be dependent on state security. This proposition is examined using the emergence of new European democracies in the interwar period as the empirical base. Alliances and numbers of sea borders are suggested to be substitutable variables adding to perceived state security. The systematic data and case histories are supportive of the dependence of continued democracy on state security, even when compared with competing explanations such as economic development or political culture. Elements suggested by more than one paradigm and emerging from both domestic and international settings are required in order to achieve inclusive explanatory power.
"Systemism and International Relations: Toward a Reassessment of Realism"
Department of Political Science
Iowa State University
"This chapter introduces the important concept of systemism as an alternative to the extremes of holism and individualism as a point of departure for theorizing about International Relations. Systemism means a commitment to understanding a system in terms of a comprehensive set of functional relationships. In the context of International Relations, systemism allows for a full range of connections between and among international and domestic 'matters'....Thus the approach stands in opposition to either a 'black box' or some form of reductionism, which result, respectively, from holism and individualism (Bunge 1996). As will become apparent from an assessment of realist theory, systemism also provides a coherent philosophical basis for scholarship, which gives it the potential to respond effectively to [a lack of reflection on the philosophical bases or premises of International Relations as pointed out by Biersteker].
...[R]ealism is by far the most developed school of thought within International Relations ... so extraordinary 'value added' may result from looking at its respective components through the new lens provided by systemism. Both theory and substantive insights could be recombined into a more effective foundation for further work.... Analysis of realism and systemism, the two concepts fundamental to this chapter, will unfold in several stages. The first section ... provide[s] a more detailed introduction to systemism. Second, implicit arguments for systemism ... [are] revealed within existing theoretical discussions of International Relations. The third and fourth sections focus on the problems and prospects of structural realism and neotraditional realism, respectively, in the context of systemism. Fifth, some ideas are put forward for re-articulating and combining realist ideas within a systemist framework. The sixth and final section sums up the analysis."
"Progress in International Relations: Beyond Paradigms in the Study of Institutions"
David A. Lake
"Progress is hard to measure, especially in one's own era. There is certainly no consensus on the general meaning of the term, even less so when applied to scholarly inquiry. Moreover, the implications of new ideas or concepts can take generations to become apparent. It is doubtful that many of the early experimenters with electricity envisioned the role harnessing this force would eventually play in modern life. Nor did Adam Smith, writing against the mercantilist orthodoxy of his day, expect economic theory to develop its axiomatic form or become the new orthodoxy two centuries later. As a subject, progress is as elusive as it is in reality.
Nonetheless, it is worthwhile periodically to take stock of where scholastic inquiry stands, where it appears to have succeeded, where it has failed, and which directions appear most promising at a particular juncture in space and time. Well aware of the pitfalls that await, I attempt such a stock-taking in this essay. I organize my reflections into three general questions. What is the nature of our enterprise and what should our standards be? Where has there been significant progress in the field in meeting these standards, and why? Why hasn't there been more progress? I address these questions, first, for international relations as a whole and, second, for the study of international institutions...."
"Transnational Relations, Interdependence and Globalization"
"In 1989, in the preface to the second edition of our book, (Keohane and I) observed how theories of international relations are susceptible to the influence of current events. We noted the revival of realism during the l980s "little Cold War", and how different the political climate was from the decade in which the book was written. Nonetheless, we argued that the perspectives on interdependence were still relevant. At the beginning of a new century and millennium, many aspects of world politics resemble the l970s more than the l980s, but it would be as much a mistake to discard the insights of realism today as it was to ignore insights of liberalism in the l980s. The consistent theme of our argument has been to combine the two great theoretical tradition
...I cannot pretend to predict the information revolution's and globalization's future directions or their effects on international institutions. They may take unpredictable turns: some aspects may be reversed by historical surprises, as has happened in the past. World war is unlikely but not impossible, and it is worth rereading Polanyi on the failures of politics in the last century to cope with the effects of economic globalization. My argument is that the tools and concepts that Keohane and I developed to understand transnational relations and interdependence three decades ago still help us to understand something about the new world politics. And contrary to the view that nothing is cumulative in research in this area, some scholars are using those tools. Maybe we were right before our time, or maybe like a stopped clock that is right twice a day, we are just back at a lucky phase of a cycle. In any case, we have enjoyed the ride."
"Are Institutions Intervening Variables or Basic Causal Forces?Causal Clusters vs. Causal Chains in International Society"
Oran R. Young
"How should we think about the roles that institutions play as determinants of the content of collective outcomes in international society? Many mainstream analysts, whether they embrace the precepts of neorealism or lean toward the tenets of neoliberalism, assume (often implicitly) that we can understand these outcomes by envisioning causal chains in which institutions emerge as proximate forces coming into play only in the later stages of specific chains. They conclude, on the basis of this perspective, that institutions should be treated as intervening variables in contrast to basic causal forces (Krasner 1983). But this is by no means the only way to think about the role of institutions in international society, and some alternative approaches assign a more fundamental role to institutions. Taking a fresh look at this issue, I argue in this essay that the question articulated in the title of this essay obscures some of the most important features of causation in international society and, for that matter, in most other social settings. To fill the gap left by this conclusion, I provide an initial sketch of an approach to causation in international society that highlights causal clusters or sets of interactive driving forces in contrast to causal chains...."