AND CLASSICAL IDEALISM AND REALISM
and slavery remains one of the many atrocities that man has carried out whose
effects are still deeply felt today. African states are just but a few
countries that were colonised who can trace most if not all their problems to
this day. What drove colonialists to colonise countries? What idea and value
drive them to do what they did? This paper will argue that classical realists
have a better understanding and offer a better explanation as to why states
make decisions compared to classical idealism.
idealism and realism are both founded on absolute truths about human nature
although they are quite the opposite. Classical idealists claim that humans are
fundamentally cooperative and interdependent. On the other hand, classical
realists claim that human nature is fundamentally conflictual and competitive,
hence there is war in the international arena. Another huge difference between
the two is classical realism is pessimistic while classical idealism is
optimistic. Each view history in a different light, one viewing it as cyclical
while the other views it as progressive.
seen through Norman Angell’s work in The
Great Illusion and Fukuyama’s The End
of History, classical idealists view human morality as universal. However,
E.H. Carr in The Twenty-Year Crisis he
claims that “morality can only be
relative, not universal” (Carr, 1981, pg19). This goes to show how colonialists portrayed morality as
subjective. Most countries like United States, who had once fought for
independence, subjected others to much more cruelty than they ever experienced.
Colonialists claimed that they were only trying to spread civilization yet
several of their actions was influenced by selfish and personal needs;
economic, strategic and political. Power is what drove them to concur
cooperation? Classical idealists will say that this is a process where states
work together to achieve a common goal. In Norman makes a premise that if
humans are fundamentally cooperative, and humans form states, then states are
cooperative. The issue with this premise is the purpose behind their
cooperation. The scramble and partition for Africa is a good example that shows
how cooperation can result in the deadliest results. During this new imperial
age, European nations and US sat down together during the Berlin conference and
discussed how African territories would be claimed. Their cooperation was based
on their harmony of interests which according to Carr is used “to justify and
maintain their dominant position” (Carr, 1981, pg75).
Fukuyama believes that it is because of our
human nature we struggle to ensure that we can impose our dignity on others and
build our self-identity. In his book he makes the following argument, “The end of history would mean the end of wars and bloody
revolutions. Agreeing on ends, men would have no large causes for which to
fight. They would satisfy their needs through economic activity, but they would
no longer have to risk their lives in battle.… Once our physical and mental
states are satisfied we no longer have any use for one of the things that has
been driving us toward an historical end. We no longer need to impose our
dignity upon others.” (Fukuyama,1989, pg311). Looking back at colonialism and slavery, states were pushed by
their desire for economic development as well as a need to spread their idea of
civilization. In many cases, economic activity is what has lead states to fight
and wrongfully imprison others.
addition, as mentioned before, classical idealists are optimistic. In their
perspective, history is progressive and that is why Fukuyama thinks that there
is a time when war will stop which he calls the end of history. A classical
realist will disagree and state that history is cyclical. If one is to analyse
the current relationship between a lot of former colonies and the states that
colonised them, one can see the clear indication that history is repeating
itself. The term neo-colonialism has been coined because states still control
other states due to power and colonial ties. Imperial empires and countries at
the end of colonialism ensured that they left a system of dependency. The still
have a large amount of power to the point where they can influence their
self-interests from their own home countries in the 21st century.
Hans Morgenthau talks about power in his book Politics Among Nations. According to him, ¨Power may comprise anything that establishes and maintains
the power of man over man … from physical violence to the most subtle
psychological ties by which one mind controls another” (Morgenthau, 1948, pg9).
conclusions, cooperation is based on the subjectivity of the situation. Even
though man/ states can cooperate and be interdependent, the question we must
ask ourselves is what the end goal is. Looking at other examples like WW1 and
WW2, states did cooperate but only because they wanted to fight a ‘common
enemy’. Like Morgenthau who stated that politics, which is comparable to society/man is and will be guided by
laws that are objective to individuals, I too argue that laws and cooperation
is dependent on subjectivity. Classical idealism fails to recognise this hence
my premise that classical idealism gives a better understanding about state
E. (1981). The Twenty Year’s crisis 1919-1939. London: Macmillan.
F. (1989). The End of History. The National Interest.
H. (1948). Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace.
New York: The Academy of Political Science.
(2017). online Available at: