Morgenthau’s Realist Theory (6 Principles)
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Morgenthau has explained six principles of his Realist Theory. These together constitute the essence of his Political Realism.
I. First Principle: Politics is governed by Objective Laws which have roots in Human Nature:
The first principle of political realism holds that “politics, like society in general, is governed by objective laws that have their roots in human nature.” It is as such necessary to understand these laws and build a rational theory of international politics. “These laws cannot be refuted and challenged. Taking these as the basis, we can formulate a rational theory of International Politics; Political Realism believes that international politics operates on the basis of certain objective laws.”
Facts of Human Nature:
For knowing the objective laws of human nature, we must analyze the facts of human relations. Human nature is fairly constant and therefore a review of the history of human relations and actions can help us to know these objective laws. These can be then used for evaluating the nature of relations. History of human relations can provide us facts for understanding politics. This review however, must be empirical as well as logical. This dual test alone can lead us to formulate a rational and valid theory of politics.
As such, the first principle of Morgenthau’s Realist Theory of International Politics holds that politics is governed by some objective laws which have their roots in human nature. By understanding these objective laws, we can understand and study International Politics. For knowing these objective laws we have to study the history of human relations. Through this an empirical and rational theory of foreign policy can be formulated which can guide the actions of states in international relations.
II. Second Principle: National Interest defined in terms of National Power:
The master key and the core of Morgenthau’s Realism is its second principle. This principle holds that nations always define and act for securing their national interests by means of power.
“The main sign-post that helps political realism to find its way through the landscape of international politics is the concept of interest defined in terms of power. This concept provides the link between reason trying to understand international politics and the facts to be understood.” —Morgenthau
It is this aspect which highlights the autonomous character of International Politics. Nations always try to secure the goals of their interests which are always defined in terms of power.
National Interest is always secured by the use of National Power. Each nation conceptualizes its national interests in terms of power and then acts to secure these by means of power. History fully supports this view. A national interest not backed by power exists only on paper and in imagination. The only correct way to conceptualize and define national interest is in terms of power.
History tells us that nations have always acted on the basis of power. Foreign policy- makers always regard power as the central fact of politics. Foreign policy decisions makers always formulate policies on its basis. Political realism assumes that “statesmen think and act in terms of interest defined as power, and the evidence of history bears out this assumption.” This principle helps us to analyze realistically all steps that state-men have taken or are going to take in future.
Little concern with Motives and Ideological Preferences. Political realism avoids two popular fallacies in respect of the behaviour of statesmen. These are:
(a) The concern with motives, and
(b) The concern with ideological preferences.
2. (a) Little concern with Motives. A study of foreign policy through a study of the motives of the statesmen is bound to be futile and deceptive. It would be futile because motives are most deceptive and distorted by the interests and emotions of both the actor and the observer. These are frequently beyond recognition. Further, history tells us that there is no exact and necessary correlation between the quality of motives and quality of foreign policy.
There are many instances which reveal that good motives have very often led to wrong and unsuccessful policies. Neville Chamberlains policy of appeasement was definitely inspired by a good motive—to prevent the outbreak of the Second World War, however, it failed. On the other hand, Winston Churchill’s policies were based upon national interest and power, and were more successful in actual operation.
Political realism does not give much weightage to motives of the statesmen. On the other hand it seeks to judge their actions on the basis of actual performance towards the securing of goals of national interest of their nations.
2(b) Little concern with Ideology. Political realism rejects the fallacy of equating the foreign policy of a statesman with ideological or philosophical or political sympathies of the statesman. Ideology is very often used as a cover or a smoke-screen to cover actions which are nationalistic and designed to secure or increase national power. A faith in the ideological preferences of the statesman as the basis for judging the actions of the state, is bound to be misleading.
Sino-Soviet conflict of 1955-65 was not really an ideological conflict, as it appeared to be. On the contrary it was a conflict of interests between these two communist states. The basis for the origin of Sino-Soviet conflict was neither the clash of ideologies nor the personalities of Mao and Khrushchev. It was really a clash of interests in world politics.
This also applied to the cold war conflict between the USA and the erstwhile USSR. It was basically a clash of interests with certain outward ideological manifestations. Chinese foreign policy always declares itself to be a policy of peaceful coexistence but in reality it has been a policy for expanding the influence (power) of China in world politics.
2(iv) National Interest and National Power as the Determinants of Foreign Policy. No doubt personality of the statesman, his ideas and prejudices do have some impact on the nature of foreign policy, yet in the main, the foreign policy of a nation is always based upon considerations of national interest conceived in terms of national power. A rational theory of foreign policy seeks to present a theory based upon experience and actual facts and not upon motives and ideological preferences.
Political realism is not totally opposed to political motives and moral principles in international relations. It accepts that these play a role in international relations. However, it regards national interest and national power as the key determinants of all decisions and policies. In it, the approach is that of a photographer who photographs whatever he actually sees and not of a painter who imagines the pose and paints the portrait.
The second principle of Morgenthau’s Realist Theory is projected as the master key to international politics.
“It imposes intellectual discipline upon the observer, infuses rational order into the subject-matter of politics and thus makes the theoretical understanding of politics possible.” —Morgenthau
The concept of ‘interest’ defined in terms of ‘power’ carries political realism into the arena of international politics and guides the path of the researchers.
III. Third Principle: Interest is always Dynamic:
Political realism believes in the universal validity of the concept of interest defined in terms of power. The policies and actions of a nation are always governed by national interest. The idea of national interest is the essence of politics and is unaffected by the circumstances of time and place.
However, the content of national interest is always changing in nature and scope. It is not static. It changes with changes in political and social environment. National interest is dynamic and has to be continuously analyzed for examining the policies and actions of a state. The kind of interest which determines political action in a particular period of history depends upon the political and cultural context within which a foreign policy is formulated.
The same observation applies to the concept of power. The national power of a nation is always dynamic and it changes with the changes in environment in which it operates for securing national interests. For example, security has been always a primary part of India’s national interest but the nature of security that India has been trying to secure from time to time has been changing. Similarly, the national power of India has all also been dynamic.
As such, national interest defined in terms of national power has to be repeatedly and continuously analyzed for realistically analyzing the course of international relations. Political realism stands for understanding the nature of international relations through a continuous and regular analysis of the factors of national power and national interest which always determine the nature and scope of relations among nations.
IV. Fourth Principle: Abstract Moral Principles cannot be applied to Politics:
Political realism realizes the importance of moral principles but holds that in their abstract and universal formulations these cannot be applied to state actions. The moral significance of political action is undisputed but the universal moral principles cannot be applied to the actions of states, unless these are analyzed in the light of specific conditions of time and space. Moral principles do not determine policies and actions of states. These are simply a source of some influence.
Realism believes that states are not expected to observe the same standards of morality as are binding upon and observed by men. The individual can say for himself, “Let justice be done even if the whole world perishes”, but the state has no right to say so. A state cannot sacrifice the liberty or security or other fundamental national interests for following moral principles. Politics is not ethics and the ruler is not a moralist. The primary function of a state is to satisfy and protect the demands of national interest by means of national power.
Prudence as the Guide:
However, this does not mean that political realism is devoid of morality. It accepts that moral principles can exercise an influence on state actions and as such their role and significance has to be analyzed and evaluated. But in doing so prudence has to be observed. Realism, considers prudence—the weighing of the consequences of alternative political actions—to be the supreme virtue in politics.” Universal moral principles must be filtered through the concrete circumstances of time and space and only then these should be prudently applied to the actions of states.
V. Fifth Principle: Difference between Moral Aspirations of a Nation and the Universal Moral Principles:
Political realism refuses to identify the moral aspirations of a particular nation with the moral principles that govern the universe. It refuses to accept that the national interests and policies of any particular nation reflect universally applied moral principles.
Each nation tries to cover its national interests under the cloak of several moral principles. An identification of national policies as the true manifestations of moral principles is bound to be misleading and politically pernicious. The US anti-terror policy is governed by its own national interest and not really based on the concept of making the world safe for freedom and democracy. A foreign policy is always based on national interest and national power, and not on morality,
(ii) Nations are actors engaged in securing their respective national interests and are not the followers of moral laws. The moral laws that govern the universe do not apply to their actions. Their actions are always based upon national interests as conceived in term of power. The policy of a nation as such cannot be equated and should not be confused with universal moral principles.
VI. Sixth Principle: Autonomy of International Politics:
Morgenthau Political Realism accepts the autonomy of International Politics as a discipline. On the basis of the above five principles, it is ascertained by Morgenthau that there exists a real and profound difference between political realism and other approaches and theories. Political realism has its distinctive intellectual and moral attitude towards political matters. It maintains the autonomy of the political sphere.
“A political realist always thinks in terms of interest defined as power, as an economist thinks of interest defined as wealth; the lawyer, of the conformity of action with legal rules and the moralist, of the conformity of action with moral principles.”
Political realism is neither idealistic nor legalistic and nor even moralistic in its approach to International Politics. It is concerned with national interest defined in terms of power as its sole concern. For example, political realism is not concerned with legalistic and moralistic angles of American decision to go to war against Iraq. It is concerned with the factors that resulted into such a U.S. policy and the actual consequences of this policy. It interprets this U.S. policy decisions on the basis of the national interests of the USA.
Realism seeks to study the struggle for power among nations in which every nation tries to maintain or increase its power. Thus, Political Realism has a distinctive approach and subject- matter. It stands for political standards for political actions and subordinates all other standards to political standards. Political Realism believes in the autonomy of International Politics.
To sum up, we can say, Political Realism regards international politics as struggle for power among nations whereby each nation tries to secure its national interest. It seeks to build a rational and realistic theory of International Politics and for this, regards the concept of “interest defined as power” as the benchmark.
It emphasizes the study of factors and consequences of political policies and gives secondary importance to motives in international relations. It refuses to use universal moral principles for judging state actions and instead advocates dependence on prudence for analyzing policies and facts of international politics.
Further, political realism believes that the foreign policy of each nation is really based upon national interest and not upon moral principles. The latter are used as covers to buttress the goals of national interests. Finally, political realism accepts and advocates the autonomy of international politics as a discipline studying national interest defined in terms of power.
It defines international politics as struggle for power. Regarding the question of securing peace, Morgenthau advocates recourse to peace through accommodation. For this he accepts diplomacy and devices of power management as the ideal and effective means.