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HomeGlobal Perspective & Critical ResearchWhy Do People Hate Realism So Much?

Why Do People Hate Realism So Much?

Author: Stephen M. Walt 

Affiliation: Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Policy 

Date/Place: June 13, 2022/USA

Type of Literature: Analysis

Word Count: 2015



Keywords: Realism, Realist, Hawkish Foreign Policy, New World Order




Although realism and realists were the ones who repeatedly warned about the Russia-Ukraine conflict before it happened, the author discusses why realism has been an unpopular and uncomfortable topic among foreign policy experts and politicians.  Because realism, more than any other school, analyzes the world for what it is—not the way we want it to be—it ignores the ideological labeling, and sees that conflicts between states or individuals cannot be solved permanently and that there must be an overarching central authority to enforce agreements and prevent state attacks, a proposition which isn’t possible for some people. Realists don’t see the globe as a division between “good” and “bad”, and so it sees that even the best democratic countries will do terrible things if they feel that their interests and goals are in danger (for example: what the Johnson administration did when it was worried that South Vietnam would become part of the communist world in the 1960s). The author defends against the accusation that realists have no moral or ethical consideration, identifying proponents whose motivations to act were grounded in morality despite their foreign policy forecasts being built on the realist framework.  But realism also knows that all countries compete with each other for safety and security in a flawed world.  Finally, realism isn’t popular in the US because it doesn’t accept the belief of American exceptionalism—that the US alone is moral and always acts for the good of humanity. Accordingly, all of these elements have led to many debates and disagreements on trusting realism or even following it. Realists see diplomacy and compromise as critical tools for resolving differences without the use of military force, in contrast to the idealistic liberals who blame all problems on evil leaders and propose that the only solution is to eliminate them—a policy that tends to get a lot of people killed and lead to wider conflict.  In the end, realism is unpopular because its proponents keep forecasting things correctly, and accurately calling out governments for their bad behavior.  


By: Sohaila Oraby, CIGA Research Intern



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