Debating the Six Principles of Political Realism

IN “Six Principles of Political Realism”, Hans J. Morgenthau elaborates his idea on how a state, a community, or even a man, take whatever action necessary to defend and protect its or his interests. Morgenthau sees that realism is a basic key in politics. A man, or a state, that has no courage and guts to look after what are considered and claimed as his or its belongings soon or later will be cornered and furthermore will be vanished and exterminated from this realm.

Morgenthau says that like other society in general, political realism believes that politics is directed and governed by objective laws whose roots in human nature. This is the first principle in Morgenthau’s principle of political realism. Thus realist must believe in the possibility of developing and improving a rational theory that reflects the objective law. In other words, Morgenthau argues that political realism has to differentiate what is the reality, fact and truth; and what is the image, fiction and opinion. A realist have to be honest at least for himself about “what is true objectively and rationally, supported by evidence and illuminated by reason, and what is only a subjective judgment, divorced from the facts as they are and informed by prejudice and wishful thinking.”

Second principle that has to be considered by actors in political realm is defining the concept of interest in term of politics, Morgenthau says. For statesmen it is the most important marker that can be used to find out what should be done throughout the international politics. It is obvious that not all foreign policies have followed the rational objective and unemotional pathway. There are many proves show how statesmen made policies based on his assumption without any verified measurement. Misleading in defining the judgmental opinion as the real objective, leads to the fallacy in finding the true national interests.

The third principle says that political realism does not assume the contemporary circumstances in international politics cannot be changed. It is clear that the relation between what is considered as national interest and the nations state itself is a product of history. He also says that politics is about power, and power is about man controls over a man. Whereas the next principle mentions that the political realism is conscious of the moral significance in political action, and that the political actors or nation states must judge political action by universal moral principles.

Nevertheless, political realism, as Morgenthaus says in the fifth principle, refuses to identify the moral aspirations of a particular nation with the moral laws that govern the universe. He argues that each nation state has its own values and beliefs in doing whatsoever its policies in international politics based on its respective interests.

By accepting this idea, each nation state will understand that at the same time the others nation state have their own values and beliefs, and so all nation states will somehow maintain the equilibrium of international politics. In the last principle, Morgenthau again says that even the difference between political realism and other school of thought is so real; nevertheless the political realism might have been misinterpreted and misunderstood.

He stresses, “Political realism is based upon a pluralistic conception of human nature” and that “a political man” would be a beast for he would be completely lacking in moral restrain, as “a moral man” would be a fool for he would be lacking in prudence, and “a religious man” would be a saint for he would be completely lacking in worldly desires.

Meanwhile, arguing Morgenthau’s principles of political realism is a set of masculinity values, rather than neutral values, J. Ann Tickner proposes to explore a question why international politics is perceived as a man’s world, where woman can only plays minor roles. Even women political scientists, Tickner says, likely to focus on soft area of international politics, such as international economy, regional relations, and distribution of justice and peace. Seems that in politics, the only duty for women is to maintain harmony among political entities.

Morgenthau’s elaboration so far, according to Tickner is simply a partial description of the international politics realm. Tickner firstly comes to the distinction between masculinity and femininity that refer to “a set of socially constructed categories which vary in time and place.” She implies that there is a relative judgment of what is considered as masculinity or femininity. In the West society, for instance, neutral conceptual dichotomies have been widely used as particles to attribute male or woman performance in daily life. More over Tickner argues that Morgenthau’s six principles of political realism are not based on the universal values.

From this understanding the Tickner moves to what she calls as the most important aspect in politics, which are power and security from a feminist perspective. Since the idea of the power as the control of the man over man is based on the masculinity world perception, citing Hannah Arendt, Tickner emphasizes that in women’s political world, power is described as an ability to act in concert and harmony, and to share similar concerns with the others. In other words, power in feminist political realm is “a relationship of mutual enablement.”

If in the traditional way of thinking security is defined similarly to the things such as military force and the use of it as a protection of national interests, Tickner argues that feminism approach see security as preserving stability by taking win-win solution model in bridging the gaps or different among the parties in the international politics realm. Avoiding zero-sum-game method is the most effective approach to achieve a resolution.

As a response to Morgenthau’s principle of political realism, at the end of his presentation Tickner lies down six principles of international realism from the feminism point of view. She says that human nature, where the objective laws take place truly consists of man and woman. It means that political realism is not only about political domination and the using of hard power. Moreover, the international politics is also about reproduction and development by implementing soft power. Second, national interest is multidimensional notion and cannot be defined solely in term of power. It also means, comes the third principle, there are possibilities to use power as a collective empowerment in international arena.

Next, Tickner mentions, “A feminist perspective rejects the possibility of separating moral command,” and “seeks to find common moral elements in human aspiration.” She believes that these stances can be used as the foundation to reduce international conflicts and build more understanding. The last principle of international realism from the feminist’s point of view, Tickner states, is denying the concept of autonomous in politics as it is correlated with the masculinity, and furthermore, consistent to her previous idea, is correlated to the hard power and domination.

Published by


Born in Medan, lives in Jakarta, loves Indonesia.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s