Its never a good idea to write a paper when you're in a 'fuck-it' mood, but I procrastinated this paper so much and for so long that I eventually had a three hour deadline to do it, so I just sat down and typed it out hastily in the library. I turned it in with minutes to spare and I just sat down, reread it, and laughed hysterically. One of the great things about words is that they can usefully hide the fact that nothing you're saying means or suggests anything important... Anyways enjoy.
The Road To Peace
Whenever we undertake the task of examining and ultimately explaining the International Relations system we, admittedly, are left with somewhat limited means to assist us in our endeavor to better understand an ever-changing, evolving, and vastly complex system. The only means available to us to accomplish this end are various and varying paradigms and traditions, inherited from the past, which we then adapt and modify to suit our particular modern context (our conceptions and convictions). These traditions/paradigms, which act like lenses palliating our myopia of ignorance, are, ironically, simultaneously liberating and limiting to our overall understanding. They are liberating because they offer an approach to and way of making sense of what we study; but, at the same time, they are limiting because they determine the approach we take and ultimate biases’ that we make, with regards to the interpretations we draw and the conclusions we reach. Moreover, these individual traditions/paradigms, once subscribed to, will ultimately influence and shape the very system that they endeavor to understand, as our textbook points out in quoting Kenneth Boulding when he presciently pointed out back in 1959, that “it is what we think the world is like, not what it is really like, that determines our behavior” (Stoett p.12). Similar to the ‘observer effect’ in quantum mechanics—the realization that the tools we use and the very act of observation can ultimately alter that which we attempt to study—in International Relations the paradigms we come to endorse effect the calculus of the decisions we make, which in turn effect the climate of the system we attempt to predict and understand. Thus choosing which tradition/paradigm you endorse is immensely significant. In this paper I will briefly sketch out the main tenets of the two dominant traditions found in International Relations theory and will then elaborate upon the implications of each, mentioning what I endorse and what I ignore in each particular paradigm/tradition. I will then conclude by summing up the appealing aspects of each paradigm and briefly elaborate upon my overall philosophy of and opinion towards international relations, that is to say, where it is or should be heading.
The first paradigm/tradition I will discuss is realism. Within this paradigm are varying ideas and concepts, but it, stereotypically, is based upon the following tenets: anarchy, state-centrism, recognition of state sovereignty, power as the primary means to pursue and protect state interests, and an interest-oriented theory that accounts for state behavior. Realists diagnose the international relations system as being anarchic, not in the chaotic (Durkheimien anomie) sense, but in the sense that there is no overarching entity capable of governing the actions of the individual parts: what realists assert to be sovereign states. Therefore, states must ensure their own security and pursue their own interests by their own means, which, to realists, is hard (military and to some degree economic) power. E.H. Carr, a famous disciple of realism, described his discipline succinctly when he said that it “tends to emphasize the irresistible strength of existing forces and the inevitable character of existing tendencies, and to insist that the highest wisdom lies in accepting, and adapting oneself to these forces and these tendencies” (Mearsheimer p.27).
Our textbook accurately points out the poignant pessimism embedded within this tradition, especially with regards to the notion of man one day achieving peace, since realists judge from the historical record that man's nature is inherently and determinedly competitive, selfish, and self-serving (Stoett p.14). This Hobbesian outlook on the life of man being “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” heavily influences the palliating prescriptions that realists offer: which are, namely, none. Realists determine the rot of the system— conflict, war, and violence— to be incurable features of the system and, therefore, irremovable— even to the good intentioned hands of idealistic men, whose efforts, while laudable, are in actuality (at least from the realist perspective), mere folly.
The realist diagnosis of the system is presciently and unflinchingly pessimistic, which you would think would make it unattractive to IR scholars, but its appeal lies in its practical applicability, since applicability often implies accuracy (in other words, if one's predictions are correct, than that often suggests that one's understanding is also correct). Realism's core conviction that humans are naturally competitive, selfish, and self-serving has yet to be disproved by the race it describes, and thus realism remains applicable. But, there is a growing consensus amongst men and women alike, united together in the conviction that we are not, in fact, inevitably prone to violence and conflict (perhaps a representative slogan for this conviction would be: blame the system, not the unit). The label of this more optimistic constituency is idealism (a word which has almost become a pejorative in today's IR discourse).
Idealism offers a much more sympathetic and teleologically hopeful view of mankind. Scornful towards the Hobbesian interpretation of human nature, idealism posits mankind's résumé in a much more positive light, as: “essentially cooperative political animals who are occasionally led astray be evil influences into war and conflict . . . have a natural affinity toward the communal, as opposed to the the individual, good” (Stoett p.12). Thus the underlying conviction in idealism is that man is manipulated by the system, or 'the institutional or structural setting in which they live', and as a result he is paradoxically both the helpless victim of and guilty perpetrator to the abhorrent violence and grievous war, which characteristically recur and systematically afflict the international system. The prescription that idealism provides to palliate the realist diagnosis is a healthy dose of international organizations, such as the UN, and conceptual entities, such as collective security, which can effectively and systematically promote peace (through cooperation and collectively bound interests) and harmony (through negotiation and treaties aimed at amelioration).
Both traditions provide a unique interpretation of the international system, use a particular calculus to predict state behavior, and offer a certain set of solutions to their respected system-view, but they are fundamentally different in each aforementioned respect. The observations drawn and the conclusions made with regards to the international system differ to such a degree that both disciplines have remained detrimentally divorced and disingenuously distanced from one another. The eagerness to point out the faults and shortcomings in the rivaling tradition, in order to strengthen the merits of one's own discipline, has only contributed to the overall divorced-ness and distance between the two paradigms. The critiques hurled at realism include: realism is anachronistic in scope, it neglects non-state/international actors and actions which are an important component in the international system; realism is a self-full filling prophecy, it legitimizes the states' right to protect itself and pursue its own interests by its own means (albeit military power, resulting in war); the list is long, but out of constraint of space, I will just mention those two. The main critique hurled at idealism is mainly that it is: Utopian and therefore hopelessly naïve. Realists suggest that the wishful thinking of cooperation and peace will always be shattered by the reality of competition and war which are endemic to the international system. According to realists the system cannot be changed and therefore the idealists' ought will never be acquainted with the realists' is.
I personally think that it is folly to imprison yourself within the framework of one tradition/paradigm in exclusion to all the rest. I prefer to synthesize certain aspects of particular traditions in such a way that best (in an accurate sense) describes and most beneficially (from the human standpoint) interprets the overall international relations system. Unfortunately best and most beneficial are not always one in the same in international relations, but I think that the best theory would be the one that aims directly between the two poles of is and ought, of best and beneficial, so that our predictions are pragmatic and our aspirations are idyllic.
I do not deny that the system is a certain way, but that in and of itself does not mean that it cannot be changed to what we determine it ought to be. In my opinion the realists seem to have the is part right. They correctly observe that anarchy is caused by a lack of an overarching body or entity that supersedes the sovereign state. Without law and a mechanism to enforce it, humans are left to their own devices. They are reduced to eye for an eye type justice, where an individual is responsible for punishing any perpetrator who commits a crime or wrong-doing upon him/her and, moreover, is also free to bully and exploit weaker individuals when the temptation arises. States, not surprisingly, operate under these same conditions. With no international organization or entity to enforce orderly conduct powerful states are free to exploit their own power, to accomplish their own ends, while weaker states inevitably suffer at the behest of their limited power. Thus every state strives to increase its power relative to the other states in the system, causing an unending security dilemma, which continuously manufactures arms races which erupt, every so often, in war. But this is is not, in my opinion, indefinite, nor is it immutable.
Idealists offer the most beneficial prescription to the intolerable problems rooted in the international system. The 'blame the system, not the unit' motto I referred to earlier to characterize a usefully imaginable idealistic slogan I think is a correct perception. While man may seem hopelessly and perhaps helplessly stupid sometimes, he seems to vindicate himself in his valiant resilience. He is slow to learn and change, but, helped by his habit, is quick to repeat and reify. The most provenly effective way to shape mans behaviors, beliefs, opinions, and convictions is through conditioning, and that conditioning is most strongly influenced by his continuous interaction with the system and environment he lives in. Change his system and you can, in essence, change him. This same concept applies on the state level. If you delegitimize unilateral military actions, in effect neuter all forms of aggression by establishing a system or organization which revolves around collective security, you will, effectively, end war. The collective security arrangement's appeal is its protective power, which is immensely strengthened by the collectively bound interest of maintaining peace. If states feel secure and if their interests are respected and protected in international forums and organizations then they will be less prone to fall under the security dilemma spell of arms races and warfare, which are otherwise the only available and effective means to ensure their own survival and pursue and protect their own interests.
The system man or states live in is, conceptually, the one they inherit from the academic traditions of the past, however, the systems potential for change may be, in some regards, indifferent to its unit's (man's) theories, as globalization has clearly done much to change the framework of the international system. Nevertheless it is our conceptual interpretation of the system that ultimately plays the heaviest hand in determining the nature of that system. If we change our convictions, if we abandon the realists suspicion that war and violence are endemic and immutable, if we can convince enough people that this 'ought' of a peaceful international system is a worthy and achievable goal to strive towards, then we will, indeed, change the very nature of the system.
Paint me as an optimist but I honestly think that if one were to plot the history of mankind on a graph it would look like a jagged saw of progress and regress, but the overall movement would be an upward linear movement towards sustainable progress: towards global integration, cooperation, freedom, and harmony. Perhaps not so much by man's choice, as by necessity, but the human race, nevertheless, appears to be getting better at tolerating itself. As Bertrand Russel once so wittingly put it “Man is born ignorant, not stupid; he is made stupid by his education.” To change our perceptions is to change our realizations. Peace is an achievable aim, but it will take a global effort, will require a concert of consensus, and will be difficult at first and full of rule breakers, but if we maintain our resilience and are resolute we will, indeed, succeed. And Peace, that illusive dream, will at last be ours to enjoy.