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Neo-Idealism: A Practical Matter1

  • Charles W. Kegley


The classical realist world view places moral standards subservient to the power concerns of international actors. Realists did not make this valuation without some hesitation, as the issue of morality was addressed with seriousness and concern. The neo-realist thinking of today embraces with less hesitation the ultimate conclusion of the realist premises: statesmen never act according to moral precepts, thus such concerns need not be addressed by a political theory. Kegly argues the neo-idealist position that opposes this empirical observation: states consistently act according to values that are based on more than power concerns. Kegley's primary intent is to show that neo-realism ignores factors that influence international actors, and that a theory is needed that expands the notion of self-interest to include the moral sphere.



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This paper is a revised version of a paper that was delivered as the first annual Charles W. Kegley Memorial Lecture at California State University-Bakersfield, on January 13, 1987. This endowed lectureship was named to honor my deceased father, for whom the newly established Kegley Institute of Ethics has been named.



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2 Frost, Mervyn, Toward a Normative Theory of International Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

3 Banks, Michael, “The International Relations Discipline: Asset or Liability for Conflict Resolution,” in Azar, Edward E. and Burton, John W., eds., International Conflict Resolution (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1986) p. 13.

4 See Keohane, Robert O., ed., Neorealism and Its Critics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986).

5 See, e.g., Ashley, Richard K., “The Poverty of Neorealism,” International Organization 38 (Spring 1984) pp. 225–86.

6 Cohen, Marshall, “Moral Skepticism and International Relations,” in Kipuis, Kenneth and Meyers, Diana T., eds., Political Realism and International Morality (Boulder: Westview, 1987) pp. 1516.

7 Paskins, Barrie, “Obligation and the Understanding of International Relations,” in Domelan, Michael, ed., The Reason of States: A Study of International Political Theory (London: Allen & Unwin, 1978) p. 164.

8 Suganami, Hidemi, “A Normative Enquiry in International Relations: The Case of ‘Pacta Sunt Servanda,’” Review of International Studies 9:1 (1983) p. 35.

9 Gordis, Robert, “Religion and International Responsibility,” in Thompson, Kenneth W., ed., Moral Dimensions of American Foreign Policy (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1984) p. 36.

10 Kennan, George F., American Diplomacy 1900–1950 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951) p. 42.

11 Morgenthau, Hans J., Politics Among Nations (New York: Knopf, 1958) p. 9.

12 See, e.g., Waltz, Kenneth, Theory of International Politics (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1979) and Gilpin, Robert, “The Richness of the Tradition of Political Realism,” International Organization 38:2 (1984) pp. 287304.

13 See Kuhn, Thomas S., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962) and Lakatos, Imre, “Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes,” in Lakatos, Imre and Musgrave, Alan, eds., Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge (London: Cambridge University Press, 1978).

14 See, e.g., Mansbach, Richard W. and Vasquez, John A., In Search of Theory: A New Paradigm for Global Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981), Maghroori, Ray and Ramberg, Bennett, eds., Globalism Versus Realism: International Relations' Third Debate (Boulder: Westview Press, 1982), and Beres, Louis René., Reason and Realpolitik (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, D.C. Heath and Company, 1984).

15 See White, R.R. and Pillner, D. B., Summing Up: The Science of Reviewing Research (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984).

16 See Kegley, Charles W., “Observations on Legal Vis-à-Vis Moral Thought and Life,” The Personalist 51 (Winter 1971) pp. 5884.

17 Matt. 7:12.

18 Thibaut, J. W. and Kelley, H. H., The Social Psychology of Groups (New York: Wiley, 1959) p. 12.

19 See McGowan, Patrick J. and Shapiro, Howard B., The Comparative Study of Foreign Policy: A Survey of Scientific Findings (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1973) pp. 149–51, for a survey of findings emanating from scientific research that addresses this topic.

20 Phillips, Warren R. and Crain, R.C., “Dynamic Foreign Policy Interactions: Reciprocity and Uncertainty in Foreign Policy,” in Sage International Yearbook of Foreign Policy Studies 2, ed. McGowan, Patrick J. (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1974).

21 Deut. 23:1920.

22 Also see Raymond, Gregory A. and Skinner, Richard A., “An Extension and Replication of Findings on the Role of Third Parties in the Middle East,” International Relations 4:2 (1978) pp. 155–76 for an investigation that finds this attribute of interaction exhibited frequently in the conflict-ridden Middle East—an arena not conducive to the practice of retaliatory restraint.

23 Triska, Jan R. and Finley, David D., “Soviet-American Relations: A Multiple Symmetry Model,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 9 (March 1965), pp. 3753.

24 Ibid., p. 38.

25 See Edwards, David V., Creating a New World Politics (New York: McKay, 1973) pp. 1127.

26 Richardson, Neil R., “Dyadic Case Studies in the Comparative Study of Foreign Policy,” in Hermann, Charles F., Kegley, Charles W. Jr., and Rosenau, James N., eds., New Directions in the Study of Foreign Policy (Boston: Allen & Unwin, 1987) p. 170.

27 See Kegley, Charles W. Jr. and Wittkopf, Eugene R., World Politics: Trend and Transformation (New York: St. Martins, 1985) and Kegley, Charles W. Jr. and Wittkopf, Eugene R., eds., The Nuclear Reader: Strategy, Weapons, War (New York: St. Martins, 1985).

28 See Holloway, David, The Soviet Union and the Arms Race (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983).

29 Johnson, Kermit D., “The Illusion of Unilateral Security,” Christianity and Crisis (November 17, 1986) pp. 410–12.

30 Osgood, Charles E., An Alternative to War or Surrender (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1962).

31 See Etzioni, Amitai, “The Kennedy Experiment,” Western Political Quarterly 20 (1967) pp. 361–80.

32 See Axelrod, Robert, The Evolution of Cooperation (New York: Basic Books, 1984).

33 Keohane, Robert O., After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), Oye, Kenneth A., ed., Cooperation Under Anarchy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), and Soroos, Marvin S., Beyond Sovereignty: The Challenge of Global Policy (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1986).

34 Cohen, , op. cit., p. 17.

35 For elaboration, see Hare, J. E. and Joynt, Carey B., Ethics and International Affairs (New York: St. Martins Press, 1982) pp. 2427.

36 Gormley, W. Paul, “The Codification of Pacta Sunt Servanda by the International Law Commission: The Preservation of Classical Norms of Moral Force and Good Faith,” Saint Louis University Law Journal 14 (Spring 1970) pp. 367428 and Suganami, , op. cit., pp. 3554. In international law these norms reflect opposing principles; see Gould, Wesley L., Introduction to International Law (New York: Harper, 1957).

37 Small, Melvin and Singer, J. David, Resort to Arms: International and Civil Wars, 1816–1980 (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1982).

38 Isard, Walter and Smith, C., Conflict Analysis and Practical Conflict Management (Cambridge, MA: Ballinger, 1982).

39 Kegley, Charles W. Jr. and Raymond, Gregory A., “Normative Constraints on the Use of Force Short of War,” Journal of Peace Research 3 (September 1986) pp. 213–27.

40 Henkin, Louis, How Nations Behave: Law and Foreign Policy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979).

41 Thompson, Kenneth, Political Realism and the Crisis of World Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1960) p. 130.

42 Fried, John H.E., “For a New Image of International Law,” Main Currents in Modern Thought (May-June 1965) pp. 106–7.

43 Croce, Benedetto, Politics and Morals (New York: Philosophical Library, 1945) pp. 34.

44 Cohen, , op. cit., p. 25.

45 See Kaplan, Morton A., “Models of International Systems,” in Coplin, William D. and Kegley, Charles W. Jr., eds., Analyzing International Relations (New York: Praeger, 1975) p. 259.

46 Matt. 5:4445.

47 See Bainton, Roland H., Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace (New York: Abingdon, 1960) and Lasserre, Jean, War and the Gospel, trans. Oliver Coburn (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1962) for discussions of the Christian view of this topic as derived from its Hebraic origins.

48 Jervis, Robert, “Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma,” World Politics 30 (January 1978) pp. 167214.

49 David Singer, J. and Small, Melvin, “War in History and in the State of World Message,” in Coplin, William D. and Kegley, Charles W. Jr., eds., Analyzing International Relations (New York: Praeger, 1975) p. 234.

50 Midlarsky, Manus I., On War (New York: Free Press, 1975).

51 See Weede, E., “Arms Races and Escalation: Some Persisting Doubts,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 24 (1980) pp. 285–88.

52 Richardson, Lewis F., Arms and Insecurity (Pittsburg: Boxwood Press, 1960).

53 Intriligator, Michael and Brito, Dagobert L., “Arms Races Lead to the Outbreak ofJournal of Conflict Resolution 28 (1984) pp. 6384.

54 Morrow, James D., “A Twist of Truth: A Re-Examination of the Effects of Arms Races on the Occurrence of War,” presented at the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting, Washington, DC, 1984.

55 Singer, and Small, , op. cit., and Ned Sabrosky, Alan, ed., Polarity and War: The Changing Structure oj International Conflict (Boulder: Westview Press, 1985).

56 Kennedy, Paul, The Rise and Fall of The Great Powers (New York: Random House, 1988).

57 In Davis, Harry R. and Good, Robert C., eds., Reinhold Niebuhr on Politics (New York: Charles Scribner & Sons, 1960) p. 298.

58 Mansbach and Vasquez, op. cit., p. 14; see also Vasquez, John A., The Power Politics: A Critique (London: France Pinter, 1983) and , “Colouring It Morgenthau: New Evidence for an Old Thesis,” British Journal of International Studies 5 (October 1979) pp. 210–28.

59 Davis, and Good, , op. cit., p. 298.

60 Ibid., p. 252.

61 Morgenthau, Hans J., In Defense of the National Interest (New York: Knopf, 1951) p. 242.

62 Herz, John H., Political Realism and Political Idealism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951).

63 Keohane, Robert O., “The Study of International Regimes and the Classical Tradition in International Relations,” presented at the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting, Washington, DC, August 18–31, 1986.

1 This paper is a revised version of a paper that was delivered as the first annual Charles W. Kegley Memorial Lecture at California State University-Bakersfield, on January 13, 1987. This endowed lectureship was named to honor my deceased father, for whom the newly established Kegley Institute of Ethics has been named.


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