Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date

1994

Abstract

Realism/Idealism are major rhetorical tropes of international relations. This paper attempts to generate a thicker specification of their meanings. Canonical international relations texts were searched for prototypic Realist and Idealist items. Expert coders evaluated the items for goodness of fit along Realist an Idealist dimensions. The items fell into four groups. Group 1, Realism but not Idealism, contained items that coders scored high on Realism and low on Idealism. As one might expect, these items included positive references to “power,” “sovereign,” “nation,” and “state” as well as “anarchical,” “armed,” “bad,” “balance,” “defense,” “fear,” “force,” “interests,” “military,” “struggle,” and “threat.” Group 2, Idealism but not Realism, included positive references to a number of themes including “agency,” “agreement,” “disarmament,” “environment,” “government,” “humankind,” “institutions,” “justice,” “order,” “organization,” “peace,” “reform,” “security,” “structure,” “transformation,” and “welfare.” Items in Groups 1 and 2 clarify the separate subjective dimensions of Realism and Idealism. They can be used to measure Realist and Idealist attitudes in content analysis, psychological experiments, and survey research. Group 3, Both Realism and Idealism, contained items that were functional and pragmatic, blending positive, balanced, moderate references to both schools. Items in Group 3 suggest that Realism and Idealism need not be dialectically opposed antitheses, as they often are presented in the literature, but can be joined in a constructive synthesis. Group 4, Neither Realism nor Idealism, contained items that were not explicitly linked to general theoretical concepts, but were heavily embedded in ideology, such as anti-Communism, or in specific contexts such as the Middle East. Items in Group 4 raise questions about the general applicability of international relations theory in concrete situations of foreign policy. The contexts of specific situations may contain their own powerful independent logics, activating local rather than global knowledge.

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