Truth and power, uncertainty and catastrophe: Ethics in international relations realism

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Abstract / Description of output

Realism is often understood as an amoral and unethical theory of international politics—a valorization of naked power. This chapter traces ethics in realist international relations (IR), from its seminal importance, through its attempted purge in the name of 'science', and finally to its contemporary rejuvenation. It shows that classical realists emphasized scepticism and the truth of power in order to confront irreducible moral tensions in foreign affairs. The supposed power of scientific truth helped neorealists subvert and transform classical archetypes into a purportedly 'value-free' theory. Neorealist science ultimately faltered against the perpetual ethical problem of nuclear war, a demoralized exception that only accentuates the rule of ethics in realism. IR realists have long been concerned with normative questions about limiting war, balancing state interests and moral principles, avoiding both radical evil and crusading hubris, the promise and perils of science, and the problem of thermonuclear catastrophe.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge Handbook of Ethics and International Relations
EditorsBrent J. Steele, Eric A. Heinze
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781315725932
ISBN (Print)9781138840201, 9780367580636
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jul 2018


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