Political Realism and International Relations Theory

Political Realism and International Relations Theory

Convenor: Bertjan Wolthuis (a.j.wolthuis@vu.nl)

 In recent years, several critics of John Rawls’s political liberalism have begun to develop an alternative, more realistic approach to politics. These critics—the late Bernard Williams, Glenn Newey, Matt Sleat, among others—argue that mainstream liberal theory, with its limited understanding of disagreement and its commitment to “ideal theory”, is far from relevant to political practice. Political realists, as these critics have been referred to, do not evade normative issues but aim to confront them against the background of a realistic understanding of the circumstances of politics.

Although political realism is not yet as developed as the position it rejects, its advocates do not rely upon the realist tradition in international relations (IR) theory. On the contrary, political realists have made it a rule to claim—usually in one of the first footnotes—that the theory in question has absolutely nothing to do with the Realpolitik perhaps associated with IR theory.

IR researchers may, in turn, feel not too comfortable with political realism’s whole-hearted discussion of normative political issues. IR theorist William Scheuerman, for instance, dismisses Bernard Williams’s approach to legitimate politics—although it is quite minimal—and appears to adopt a normatively empty understanding of politics instead (Journal of International Politics, Vol. 50 (2013), 6, p. 807).

This workshop brings political realists and IR theorists together in one room in the hope of enhancing the mutual understanding between both disciplines. The workshop is based on the premise that both kinds of realists—one focusing on domestic politics, the other on international affairs—must be able to learn valuable lessons from each other. The workshop welcomes political realism papers and IR theory papers. The idea is that these papers will receive rich, interdisciplinary feedback, from advocates of both strands of realism. The differences and points of agreement between the two approaches can be explored en passant.

Academics interested in presenting a paper in this workshop are invited to send an abstract before the 1st of June 2014 to Bertjan Wolthuis (a.j.wolthuis@vu.nl), Department of Legal Theory and Legal History, Faculty of Law, VU University Amsterdam.

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