The relevance of the Realist Paradigm in the age of globalization

AuthorShyamashree Roy
Published date01 June 2011
Date01 June 2011
Subject MatterArticle
The relevance of the Realist Paradigm
in the age of globalization
Shyamashree Roy*
Realism is considered as the most influential theoretical discourse which
dominated the study of International Relations, especially in the post
Second World War era. As its name implies, realism seeks to discover and
describe the world of international politics 'as it is', rather than how 'it
ought to be.'
The basic realist ideas and assumptions are:
1. A pessimistic and gloomy view of human nature.
2. The international system is governed by anarchy, i.e., absence of any
supreme regulatory authority.
3. Nation- states are the most important rational actors in world politics.
4. A high regard for the values of national interest and state survival.
5. A general skepticism about the relevance of morality in international
6. There is a sharp distinction between domestic and international politics.
7. International politics, like all politics is a struggle for power.
Realists are unified in their pessimism about the extent to which the
international system can be made peaceful and just. Realism accords that
the international realm is characterized by suspicion, conflict and
competition between nation states. Fundamental changes to the structure
of the anarchical international system are unlikely , and the nation states
which are living under the aegis of anarchy are selfish, self- centred, self-
contained units, struggling for power and security in world politics. There
is a general distrust of long-term cooperation or alliance between states.
For realists, the international politics is a world of conflict, competition,
aggression and power and not mutual interdependence or cooperation.
States are basically power-seeking units. Realism is usually contrasted with
Idealism or Liberalism, which tends to emphasize on values and
cooperation. Many have referred realism as the "billiard-ball approach to
* Lecturer In Political Science, S.A. Jaipuria College, Kolkata.
I^e relevance of the Realist Paradigm in the age of globalization 147
International Relations" (James 1989: 218-19) It assumes that the states,
like billiard balls, are impermeable and self-contained units, moving
smoothly and colliding with other balls on the competitive table. Thus,
sovereign states interacting in a system of international anarchy seem to
behave like a collection of billiard balls. Some of the most important early
realist thinkers were Thucydides, Machiavelli & Hobbes and the prominent
classical realists of the twentieth century were E.H. Carr, Niebuhr, Hans J.
Morgenthau & others.
However many believe that the sovereignty of the states are
disintegrating under the forces and pressures of globalization. We are
living in a world, which James. N. Rosenau has called a 'post-international
polities'. (Rosenau 1990: ch 1) States are less able to perform their
traditional assigned functions, since global factors are increasingly
impinging on all decisions that are made by governments. According to
David Held and McGrew, Goldblatt and Perraton in their book, 'Global
Transformations: Politics, Economics and Culture',
"...there is substantial disagreement as to how globalization is
best conceptualized, how one should think about its causal
dynamics and how one should characterize its structural
consequences if any. A vibrant debate on these issues has
developed in which it is possible to distinguish three broad
schools of thought, which we will refer to as the
hyperglobalizers, the sceptics and the transformationalists. In
essence each of these schools may be said to represent a'
distinctive account of globalization - an attempt to understand
and explain this social phenomenon." (Held et al 1999:2)
For the hyperglobalizers, globalization defines a new epoch of human
history in which 'traditional nation- states have become unnatural, even
impossible business units in a global economy'. (Ohmae 1995: 5) Such a
view of globalization privileges an economic logic and in its neo-liberal
variant, celebrates the emergence of a single global market and the
principle of global competition as the harbingers of human progress.
"Hyperglobalizers argue that economic globalization is bringing about a
'denationalization' of economies through the establishment of transnational
networks of production, trade and finance." (Held et al 1999: 3) According
to the "globalists, the impersonal forces of world markets are now more
powerful than the states to whom ultimate political authority over society
and economy is supposed to belong. The declining authority of states is

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