Rationality and history in political realism: The predominance of instrumentalism and the problem of theorizing substantive change

  • Nikolay Gudalov Санкт-Петербургский государственный университет, Российская Федерация, 199034, Санкт-Петербург, Университетская наб., 7–9


One of the main criticisms of political realism in International Relations theory has been that it poorly explains historical change. While some representatives of realism have paid a great deal of attention to historical alterations, realism, in general, does not offer a satisfactory account of substantive change. Interestingly, the same problem is largely faced by postpositivists, who, while criticising realists, appear to be not very well-prepared to offer a qualitative alternative. The present article aims at identifying some problems in the conceptualizations of historical change in realism, which are connected to too narrow treatments of rationality by realists. The linkage between the treatments of history and of rationality in realism has not been sufficiently covered in the literature yet. The problem was considered with reference to a wide range of examples of realist approaches which seem relevant and, to some degree, representative. The analysis drew on both classical and the most recent works of realists and their interpreters and critics. Besides, some contemporary philosophical views of rationality were examined. The article demonstrated that predominantly instrumentalist approaches to rationality have largely been prevalent in various realist conceptions at different stages of the development of realism. They have led, inter alia, to an unhistorical structuralism and/or to an understanding of change as limited to the succession of power relations, and to an underestimation of substantive change that is linked to rational social learning. The author pointed out some ways to correct the respective approaches, which aim at improving the concepts of rationality in International Relations theory.

Ключевые слова:

International Relations theory, realism, rationality, history


Данные скачивания пока недоступны.


Ashley R.K. The Poverty of Neorealism. Neorealism and Its Critics, ed R.O.Keohane. New York, Columbia University Press, 1986, pp. 255–300.

Guilhot N. Portrait of the realist as a historian: On anti-whiggism in the history of international relations. European Journal of International Relations, 2015, vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 3–26.

Walker R.B.J. Realism, Change, and International Political Theory. International Studies Quarterly, 1987, vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 65–86.

Carta C. Gramsci and The Prince: Taking Machiavelli outside the realist courtyard? Review of International Studies, 2017, vol. 43, is. 2, pp. 345–366.

Paipais V. Between Politics and the Political: Reading Hans J. Morgenthau’s Double Critique of Depoliticisation. Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 2014, vol. 42, no. 2, pp. 354–375.

Horkheimer M. Eclipse of Reason. London, New York, Continuum Publ., 2004. viii+130 p.

Putnam H. Reason, Truth and History. Reprinted. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1998. xii+223 p.

Steinberger P.J. Rationalism in Politics. American Political Science Review, 2015, vol. 109, no. 4, pp. 750–763.

Audi R. The Architecture of Reason: The Structure and Substance of Rationality. New York, Oxford University Press, 2002. xvi+286 p.

Rovane C. The Bounds of Agency: An Essay in Revisionary Metaphysics. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1998. viii+260 p.

Wolin S. S. Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought. Expanded ed. Princeton, Oxford, Princeton University Press, 1960, 2004. xxiv+761 p.

Machiavelli N. The Prince, transl. and ed. by P.Bondanella, with an introduction by M.Viroli. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005. li+133 p.

Molloy S., Hans J. Morgenthau versus E.H.Carr: Conflicting Conceptions of Ethics in Realism. Political Thought and International Relations: Variations on a Realist Theme, ed. D.Bell. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008, pp. 83–104.

Machiavelli N. Discourses on Livy, transl. by H.C.Mansfield and N.Tarcov. Chicago, London, The University of Chicago Press, 1996. liii+367 p.

Hobbes T. Leviathan, ed. with an introduction and notes by J.C.A.Gaskin. Reissued. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998. lvi+520 p.

Sen A. Ethics and the Foundation of Global Justice. Ethics & International Affairs, 2017, vol. 31, no. 3, pp. 261–270.

Dienstag J.F. Pessimistic Realism and Realistic Pessimism. Political Thought and International Relations: Variations on a Realist Theme, ed. D.Bell. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008, pp. 159–176.

Bell D. Introduction: Under an Empty Sky — Realism and Political Theory. Political Thought and International Relations: Variations on a Realist Theme, ed. D.Bell. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008, pp. 1–25.

Morgenthau H.J. Scientific Man vs. Power Politics. London, Latimer House Limited, 1947. 207 p.

George J. Realist ‘Ethics’, International Relations, and Post-modernism: Thinking Beyond the Egoism-Anarchy Thematic. Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 1995, vol. 24, no. 2, pp. 195–223.

Guilhot N. The Kuhning of reason: Realism, rationalism, and political decision in IR theory after Thomas Kuhn. Review of International Studies, 2016, vol. 42, no. 1, pp. 3–24.

Waltz K.N. Theory of International Politics. Reading, MA, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1979. 251 p.

Glaser C.L. Rational Theory of International Politics: the logic of competition and cooperation. Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 2010. xiv+314 p.

Jones D.M., Smith M.L.R. Return to reason: reviving political realism in western foreign policy. International Affairs, 2015, vol. 91, no. 5, pp. 933–952.

Ripsman N., Taliaferro J., Lobell S. Neoclassical Realist Theory of International Politics. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2016. xii+196 p.

Schweller R.L. Maxwell’s Demon and the Golden Apple: Global Discord in the New Millennium. Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press, 2014. xvi+196 p.

Kratochwil F. The Embarrassment of Changes: Neo-Realism as the Science of Realpolitik without Politics. Review of International Studies, 1993, vol. 19, is. 1, pp. 63–80.

Popper K.R. The Open Society and Its Enemies. 2 vols. Abingdon, Routledge, 2011. 760 p.

Johnson D.D.P., Thayer B.A. The evolution of offensive realism: Survival under anarchy from the Pleistocene to the present. Politics and the Life Sciences, 2016, vol. 35, no. 1, pp. 1–26.

Totschnig W. What is an Event? Probing the Ordinary/Extraordinary Distinction in Recent European Philosophy. Constellations, 2017, vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 2–14.

Nozick R. The Nature of Rationality. Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1993. xvi+226 p.

Kant I. On the Old Saw: That May Be Right in Theory But It Won’t Work in Practice, transl. by E.B.Ashton, introduction by G.Miller. Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1974. 85 p.

Patomäki H. Praxis, politics and the future: a dialectical critical realist account of world-historical causation. Journal of International Relations and Development, 2017, vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 805–825.

Как цитировать
Gudalov, N. (2018). Rationality and history in political realism: The predominance of instrumentalism and the problem of theorizing substantive change. Вестник Санкт-Петербургского университета. Международные отношения, 11(2), 200-215. https://doi.org/10.21638/11701/spbu06.2018.206
Теория и методология исследования международных отношений