Realism as Living Near Drift
Richard W. Chadwick

"Realism" and "idealism" both have complex and perhaps multiple meanings in international relations theory. Below, I identify certain features of each, both to sharpen their differences and to show their complementarities.

"Realism" connotes an acceptance of certain features of historical international relations, for instance, the presence of incompatible goals, the use of coercive means in struggles to attain incompatible goals, and the belief that in such struggle, violent conflict is always a possibility and is often likely. But an acceptance of these features of international politics does not imply acceptance of one's position in the international arena. What is accepted is that the international system as a whole is unlikely--i.e., possibly but rarely--to be significantly altered by the policies and actions of any one actor. However, what is also accepted is that one's actions can change one's relative position in the international system. For instance:

Turning to examples of power bases for acquiring such capabilities: Thus it is the hope and aspiration of a "realist" to be able to change one's relative position in the international system, in such a way as to attain some goals, or come much closer to them, than would otherwise be the case, by the judicious use of one's resources (power) to that end.

What are the characteristics of a realist's goals?

Technical Note

For further discussion and reference:
Notes on a talk about realism
The GDA Model

Last revised December 14, 1994

Copyright 1994 Richard W. Chadwick / chadwick@uhunix.uhcc.Hawaii.Edu