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Realistic Idealism

An Aristotelian Alternative to Machiavellian International Relations

Pedro Alexis Tabensky

Keywords: idealism; political realism; international relations; Morgenthau; Aristotle; teleology

In this paper I criticize political realism in International Relations for not being realistic enough, for being unrealistically pessimistic and ultimately incoherent. For them the international arena will always be a place where a battle of wills, informed by the logic of power, is fought. I grant that it may be true that the international political domain is a place where such battles are fought, but this alleged infelicitous situation does not in and of itself entail the normative pessimism informing their assessments of the international domain, and it does not entail the recommendations offered by political realists, particularly relating to balance of power concerns. Their lack of realism stems from total or partial blindness to the proper and coherent ideals that ought to be informing their analyses of the international domain. Such blindness does not allow them properly to grasp what actually is the case. As we can only properly understand what an eye is by knowing the ideal that defines eyes — proper vision — so too we can only properly identify the movements of the international political arena in relation to ideals that ultimately define this arena, ideals that stem from a proper understanding of the human person. Following an Aristotelian teleological technique of analysis, I show that ideals are a constitutive part of the international domain and I recommend an alternative to political realism, namely, realistic idealism (or, if you prefer, idealistic realism).

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