Kritik Concepts 1: Inevitability is a Link not a Turn

It seems no matter what kritik is run in this day and age, the affirmative responds with some kind of gripe about “inevitability”. Realism inevitable is probably the most well known, but it has recently been joined by capitalism, calculation, patriarchy and many other children in the “it’s inevitable” family. And for good reason- the inevitability question is often not responded to well by the negative, and provides the affirmative with both a strong uniqueness claim and an indict of the alternative.

Claims of inevitability, however, are not as powerful as they appear. In fact they are often the strongest/easiest to articulate link to whatever K you may be reading.

The entire point of critical theory, and hence the kritik, is to examine assumptions that are otherwise taken for granted. A key part of this can be understood as realizing that what we often think of as descriptive, is in fact actually normative. A descriptive statement is one that, allegedly, reveals the world as it is. A normative statement is about how the world should be. If we take race relations as an example, prior to the civil war you could talk about slavery using either a normative or descriptive language.

Descriptive- Black people are slaves

Normative- Black people should be slaves

There is obviously a clear moral difference between these statements, in that the latter endorses slavery as a concept. This is a rather clumsy example, but it demonstrates clearly that if you have a normative belief, and couch it in descriptive language, you can hide what is really going on. Many racists have used this trick for some time in arguing that the “inferiority” of different races justified giving them less rights/privileges. Inferiority- like lower intelligence- is a descriptive claim, “x is not as smart as Y”. This is nothing more then verbal sleight of hand, the idea is to justify a normative conclusion through use of descriptive statements, instead of just making the normative statement outright.

Advertising uses this technique frequently. They don’t say “if you are cool and rich you should buy X”, instead that show you a series of descriptive statements that cool and rich people do buy X, and then you make the normative conclusion yourself.

The debate arguments around “inevitability” use this same technique. A common argument I have heard goes something like this:

“Realism is inevitable, it’s like gravity. Ignoring it only causes us to make bad decisions, like ignoring gravity and jumping off a building.”

When the negative responds “but realism is bad!”, the aff will say ” we don’t defend realism, but we must acknowledge that it is inevitable”. They use the language of inevitability to avoid taking any responsibility for the defense of realism while at the same time garnering the benefits of using realism as a system. Even the best negative’s that I have seen do a poor job of responding to this kind of trick. They will at best say “realism is a self-fullfilling prophecy, its only inevitable because you believe it is”, which is not  a bad argument.  Cards like this

Samuel S Kim, Dept of Poli Sci Monmouth College, Global Violence and a Just World Order, Journal of Peace Research, no 2, 1984 p. 187

This pacified and disarmed consciousness or alienation in Marxian terms – has allowed the managers of the national security superstate to shift both their military doctrine and hardware toward making nuclear war more thinkable, more fightable, and more ‘winnable’. The resultant expectations of nuclear war do not augur well, for, as social psychologist Gordon Allport put it: ‘The greatest menace to the world today are leaders in office who regard war as inevitable and thus prepare their people for armed conflict. For by regarding war as inevitable, it becomes inevitable. Expectations determine behavior’ (Allport 1968, p. 11).

do have strategic use.

As an argument, however, it fails to grapple with the critical rhetorical ploy of the affirmative- the sleight of hand of inevitability.  This is a mistake(IMO) that is often made by many critical scholars as well. In Global Gender Issues, Peterson and Runyan write-

The assumption that violence is largely the result of anarchic international relations–in contrast to supposedly “peaceful” domestic communities–obscures the question of the amount of and the way in which violence is deployed from the local to the global level. For example, domestic violence–the euphemism for the wide range of physical and emotional abuse suffered mostly by wives and children in families–is widespread throughout the world.13 Hence, it makes little sense to argue that the level and frequency of violent conflict is what separates international relations from domestic relations. It makes more sense to see domestic and international violence as intimately connected (see Figure 6.2) Through this lens, international violence is revealed more as an extension of domestic masculinist socialization designed to produce aggressive “men” (including some females). In addition, military security policies and practices can be seen, in part, as the pursuit of masculinist reactive autonomy that can tolerate no interdependent relations. Similarly, the definition of peace simply as the absence of the direct violence of war obscures the deep, structural inequalities that both give rise to and are the result of violence. Sustaining sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, and gendered nationalism has heretofore been vital to sustaining militarism and the “us” and “them” mentality that goes along with it. Thus, any serious attempt to end war must involve significant alterations in local, national, and global hierarchies.

Here they have persuasively argued that the claim that the international arena makes violence inevitable obscures the linkages between domestic and international violence. But they have glossed over the way that the language of inevitability is used to eliminate responsibility. Their critique is focused solely on causality, and not responsibility. This is a crucial difference, because this piece of evidence/this argument could just as easily reinforce realist beliefs as critique them. For example, take the realist claim that human nature is evolutionarily wicked. This claim could acknowledge that international violence IS connected to domestic or interpersonal violence, and use that connection as a legitimating factor in its explanation of the world.

Realists often base their pessimistic view of interstate relations on a similarly pessimistic view of human nature. The egoism of states is merely a reflection of the egoism of individuals, for whom self-interest is the overriding passion. The corruption and “wickedness” of human nature make conflict and insecurity inevitable features of human existence. Here Hobbes’ conception of the state of nature as a “war of all against all” finds its expression in the supposedly anarchic structure of international relations. While the anarchy of the state of nature can be restrained by establishment of the sovereign state, the relations between states still occur in an “anarchical society” due to the absence of an international hierarchical political authority.3 The international order, it is thought by realists, necessarily consists of a system of independent, self-interested states, each assuming the worst about the others and seeking to ensure its survival in a dangerous, “self-help” world. Realists reject the possibility of any positive conception of long-lasting peace in the circumstances of international relations conceived as anarchic. The best that can be hoped for is a tenuous balance of power, the maintenance of an ordered society of states brought about through the incessant contestation of opposing forces in world politics. In this system sovereign states continually find themselves in a perpetual “security dilemma.” In the search for protection from other states’ potential aggression, each state seeks to enhance its power, i.e., its military capabilities, either through its own means or with the limited assistance of allies and coalitions.


In this way, however, violence is structured into the very functioning of the international system. Given the realist paradigm of international politics as a struggle for power, it can be argued that the traditional national security paradigm is inherently deficient as a means to actually obtain the desired end of security. In a world structured around the dictates of political realism, an international sys tern based on the relative distribution of military and economic strength is better characterized not in terms of security, but in terms of global insecurity. The world of the realists’ making is marked by the instability of power struggles, the casual resort to military force, the pursuit of narrow self-interests, the hyperproduction of weaponry, and callous indifference towards the interests of persons beyond (and perhaps even within) the borders of each state. The limitations of the traditional view of security have become a central concern since the end of the cold war.

A better argument would acknowledge the rhetorical sleight of hand of inevitability claims. While the affirmative may be right that their 1AC didn’t make exclusively realist arguments, or that the plan may have non realist advantages, engaging in the rhetoric of inevitability is in and of itself a hidden justification for the system of realism. It is not a “passive” link- like “ooops, our econ advantage was realist, LOL our bad vote on the food add on”. It is an active instance where they participated in hiding the ideological and political processes at play/responsible for the global violence of realism, and as the negative you should take advantage of that.

Avowedly modernist in orientation, realism claims to be rooted not in a theory of how international relations ought to work, but in a privileged reading of a necessary and predetermined foreign policy environment. 28 In its orthodox form political realism assumes that international politics are and must be dominated by the will to power. Moral aspirations in the international arena are merely protective coloration and propaganda or the illusions that move hopeless idealists. What is most revealing about this assessment of human nature is not its negativity but its fatalism. There is little if any place for human moral evolution or perfectibility. Like environmental determinism—most notably the social darwinism of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—political realism presumes that human social nature, even if ethically deplorable, cannot be significantly improved upon. From the stationary perspective of social scientific realism in its pure form, the fatal environment of human social interaction can be navigated but not conquered. Description, in other words, is fate. All who dare to challenge the order—Carter’s transgression—will do much more damage than good. The idealist makes a bad situation much worse by imagining a better world in the face of immutable realities. As one popular saying among foreign policy practitioners goes: “Without vision, men die. With it, more men die.” 70 (continued) The implications of this social philosophy are stark. Tremendous human suffering can be rationalized away as the inevitable product of the impersonal international system of power relations. World leaders are actively encouraged by the realists to put aside moral pangs of doubt and play the game of international politics according to the established rules of political engagement. This deliberate limitation of interest excuses leaders from making hard moral choices. While a moralist Protestant like Jimmy Carter sees history as a progressive moral struggle to realize abstract ideals in the world, the realist believes that it is dangerous to struggle against the inexorable. The moral ambiguities of political and social ethics that have dogged philosophy and statesmanship time out of mind are simply written out of the equation. Since ideals cannot be valid in a social scientific sense, they cannot be objectively true. The greatest barrier to engaging the realists in serious dialogue about their premises is that they deny that these questions can be seriously debated. First, realists teach a moral philosophy that denies itself. There is exceedingly narrow ground, particularly in the technical vocabulary of the social sciences, for discussing the moral potential of humanity or the limitations of human action. Yet, as we have seen in the tragedy of Jimmy Carter, a philosophical perspective on these very questions is imparted through the back door. It is very hard to argue with prescription under the guise of description. The purveyors of this philosophical outlook will not admit this to themselves, let alone to potential interlocutors. [End Page 21] Second, and most importantly, alternative perspectives are not admitted as possibilities—realism is a perspective that as a matter of first principles denies all others. There is, as we have seen in the Carter narrative, alleged to be an immutable reality that we must accept to avoid disastrous consequences. Those who do not see this underlying order of things are idealists or amateurs. Such people have no standing in debate because they do not see the intractable scene that dominates human action. Dialogue is permissible within the parameters of the presumed order, but those who question the existence or universality of this controlling scene are beyond debate.

27 thoughts on “Kritik Concepts 1: Inevitability is a Link not a Turn

  1. gulakov

    How can the aff strategically leverage the advantage of making inevitability claims while avoiding being responsible for defending all of the assumptions of a given theoretical perspective? I am thinking of something like saying "policymakers perceive realism as true, so we must pretend it is to make arguments that appeal to them- key to change the system from within" or "realism's assumptions are true because of human nature- biology and evolutionary theory are on our side- this isn't fatalism it's just acknowledging empiricism- their wishful thinking otherwise will just cause the problem to recur." I tend to approach political theory not so much in terms of the question of "is this objectively true?" (because of the epistemic gap- we can't ever know what's objective since our knowledge is already subjective) but rather as "is it useful (in terms of pre-determined ends) to believe in this as if it was objectively true?"

    Here's a related article from Rorty:
    (email me if you don't have JSTOR access)

  2. Scott Phillips


    From what I have scene, affs who are really ready to debate social science methodology and defend it (empiricism, positivism, the enlightenment and rationality) generally crush these arguments because the neg doesn't understand enough to go to the next step/lacks the cards. So on things like evolution/biology, if you are actually able to go beyond Thayer most negs fold like a beach style chair.

  3. gulakov

    @Scott Phillips

    I like that analogy- also "fold the neg like paper planes." If one were to instruct debaters on answering the K, it seems what might be a more productive approach would be instead of grouping Ks by authors like Nietzsche-Foucault-Heidegger instead group them by the assumption that must be defended. Negs don't run the same K in the same way each time, so it might be more useful to learn to identify what assumptions a particular 1NC questions, then read your short "Empiricism Good" or "Science Good" blocks. I think the way I saw things in high school was more on a K-by-K basis instead of thinking as much about the larger picture. It would be interesting to outline the common aff assumptions to defend and then group K authors by which are responded to by each. I guess to preempt what the neg would say- something like "nonresponsive, we don't K all Enlightenment"- what the aff team would need to learn is to critique the K cards by pointing out the lines where these authors make anti-Enlightenment assumptions.

  4. Ellis

    here's the cites for these cards:

    Peterson and Runyan 1999 – *department of political science at Arizona University, **Professor, Department of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at McMicken College (V. Spike and Anne, “Global gender issues”, pages 227-228, Google Books)

    Patrick 2004 – Canada Research Chair in the Physics of Information at McGill University (Hayden, Human Rights Review, 6:1, “Constraining War: Human Security and the Human Right to Peace”, pages 37-8, EBSCO)

    Kraig 2002 – Communication Department at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Robert Alexander, Rhetoric & Public Affairs, 5.1, “The Tragic Science: The Uses of Jimmy Carter in Foreign Policy Realism”, Project Muse)

  5. Talon Powers

    If you want someone who makes these arguments explicitly concerning realism, look for the work of Richard Ned Lebow (who admittedly writes in defense of classical realism, but absolutely shreds neorealism in the process).

  6. Anonymous

    What would be the best generic 2AC block to all K's? Or rather what is essential in a 2AC to K's?

  7. Calum

    Of course it’s not “sleight of hand” if realism is actually inevitable. If violence is coded into human genes, and therefore will erupt at some place at some time, pretending that it’s not only allows aggressors to overcome their now-passive victims. This is the “DC” (sucker) result of the prisoner’s dilemma. Mearsheimer, Waltz, and other structural realists do not rely on the evil of human nature but rather the anarchic nature of state politics to explain why violence cannot be eradicated–even most classical realists argued that human beings were largely good, but that the problems of defection and fact that a small group could violently overcome others made caution necessary. This is partly why Mearsheimer describes great power politics as “tragic,” because humans may not be innately evil.

    The claim that violence is genetically coded is falsifiable, while the claim that realism is inevitable only because we choose to believe it is either a) non-falsifiable or b) disproved by the historical record. If defectors exist, one can simply say we didn’t “disbelieve” enough (after all, realists make the argument that one can never really know the mind of another). On the other hand, realism as an academic theory (as opposed to power politics as state practice) was almost entirely out of fashion between 1918 and 1939, which is why E.H. Carr wrote his seminal book on the interwar crisis. It saw heavy criticism again in the late 50’s and early 60’s, and again in the 1990’s, but failed to disappear as an academic theory, so pretending it’s not real seems to have accomplished little.

    To win that it’s inevitable because “we” think it is, and that an alternative could resolve that, one must win that academic IR theory has an actual effect on the practice of state politics. The evidence for this is weak; where academic theory influences state policy it is implemented in a haphazard and incomplete fashion.

    This is important: realists do not argue that the successful practice of power politics is inevitable. They argue that the existence of anarchic conditions and violence is inevitable. States may still chose non-realist philosophies, but they are unlikely to survive if they do so. This is a normative claim only to the extent that state survival is taken as a normative good. If not, then the theory really is simply descriptive, and all of this “sleight of hand” stuff is unfounded (which all of these arguments suggest it is anyway). As an aside, this is also why the inevitability of some violence does not absolve anyone of responsibility for their actions–violence may be inevitable to some degree, but state leaders can still minimize its occurrence. No specific act of violence is supposedly inevitable, so Germany (i.e. its relevant decisionmakers) is still responsible for the First World War; Germany is still responsible for the Second World War; Germany is still responsible for the Franco-Prussian war…and so forth. The theory’s focus on causality is supposed to describe the context of decisions so that responsibility can be assigned.

    All of the analogies assume that there is no evidence that realism is inevitable. It’s easy to disprove the “buy this product, it will make you popular” claim, but the defense of realism is more developed. People like Bradley Thayer argue that humans are genetically prone to violence; other thinkers used by realists like Thucydides, Machiavelli, and Hobbes made this same claim based essentially on historical evidence without relying on positivist/scientific claims. Waltz used extensive theoretical models and Mearsheimer used the history of great power wars from 1792-1990 to describe anarchy and explain the difficulty in developing alternatives. To win the argument that realism is inevitable only because we think it is, one must beat all the arguments that realism is inevitable for other reasons.

    Even if one disproved all of the theoretical ones, one would still have to contend with the historical record and provide an alternative explanation for war. Were one to do this, it still might mean that realism is hyperbolic–perhaps not inevitable, but still very likely, and negative consequences still adhere to the decision to ignore it. No IR theory is supposed to explain every event in history or make perfect predictions; they are only supposed to provide strong explanations. Arguing that realism is not a “strong” theory probably requires one to advance a theory with greater explanatory power, or else one is a) likely to be wrong and b) unlikely to displace realism, still the superior theory, only now qualified by a few objections.

    So to win the argument that realism is only inevitable because we think it is probably requires one to make an positive claim that realism is not inevitable. If one does this successfully (ie, beats all of the arguments I’ve related here), one probably wins anyway and doesn’t have to resort to an argument as bad as “inev because we think it is.” To say that that the claim “realism is inevitable” links to the critique accomplishes nothing besides establishing clash between the two–it means the critique rejects the theory of realism. Big deal. This just means the arguments clash with one another; for this to matter, the neg still has to win “realism bad,” and to do that in a meaningful way they also have to win that it’s not inevitable.

    The general claim about inevitability arguments might not be bad, but realism is a tough case, not an easy one.

  8. Scott Phillips


    Like many realist scholars you seem to cherry pick and choose your way through the arguments using contradictory theories when it suits you, making response difficult. A generic debate about the history of realism from Greece onwards is probably beyond the scope of this post/my attention span, but I would like to make a few points, and for the sake of my own time I will insert some cards instead of writing a bunch of crap.

    1. Whether the example is realism or not, the sneaky shift back and forth from descriptive to proscriptive is something people should be aware of. In your own pre-empt you pull this trick nicely when you say “of course realism doesn’t say that all states will act in their own interest, only that it will be devastating when they don’t” – an argument that is at the heart of the Kraig evidence in the original post. I am positive you are aware that even this definitional distinction about what realism is/does is not only hotly contested, but also was a political response to critics over realism’s alleged failure to predict the end of the cold war. “qualified by a few objections” seems a bit misleading given the list of realist explanatory failures in the last 25 years alone- end of cold war, rise of non state terrorism, neoconservative approach to the war on terror, nation building projects liberal humanitarian interventions like Bosnia/Kosovo, spread of free markets through trade agreements that reduce sovereignty, statistical strength of liberal and capitalist peace theory(which surpass any statistical proof of realism in terms of significance and scope of study), capitalist hybrid states like Russia and China, lack of successful balancing against US unipolarity, irrational US defense expenditure, continued ethnic conflict in over 20 countries in Africa, intrastate ethnic cleansing, existence of peace dividends, rise to prominence of MNC’s and their subsequent owning of a majority of national debt…

    dr. A. (Annette) Freyberg Inan Associate Professor, the Director of the Master’s Program in Political Science, Univ of Amsterdam, PhD in Political Science at the University of Georgia, USA. Her MA degrees in Political Science and English were obtained at the University of Stuttgart in her native Germany. Editorial Board Member: International Studies Review, Globalizations Journal, Advisory Board Member: Millennium, What Moves Man: The Realist Theory of International Relations and Its Judgment of Human Nature 2004
    The danger posed by biased motivational assumptions in realist theory is exacerbated by the fact that realism contains both prescriptive and descriptive elements. Contemporary realism follows Thomas Hobbes in arguing that it is reasonable to seek the most efficient means to achieve the primary end of self-preservation, now under- stood to consist in a strategic pursuit of power. Actions that do not correspond to this view of the nature of international actors and political realit y are discouraged and are at the same time treated as exceptions or errors. As Jervis points out, as a consequence of this dual strategy, failings to conform with the expectations of realist theory should be “not only those of individual states and statesmen but of the theory as well.”8 However, when states fail to behave in the ways predicted by realist theorizing, realists, rather than considering their hypotheses falsified, t ypically argue that the case in question constitutes one of those exceptions. If any explanation is given for such an exceptional case, it t ypically involves the suggestion that the state in question, for whatever reason, failed to act rationally, as specified (or, worse, left unspecified) in the theory. Perhaps it lacked the prerequisite information. Perhaps it reasoned in a way that the theory cannot account for. Once again we see that the dual usage of the concept of rationalit y as both an empirical assumption and a normative behavioral standard plays a crucial role in the defense of realist expectations. Whenever it ventures into the field of policy development, realism can be found to argue from “is” to “ought.” This is particularly disconcerting if the “realit y” that is explained deviates substantially from the one we actually experience. Realism in this case delivers prescriptions that are logically unfounded and beg justification. Michael Loriaux finds that the modern realist has tried to ground his skepticism regarding the progressive power of reason in assumptions of rational behavior. The effort is, to say the least, counterint uitive. It has weakened the realist’s claims to be a skeptic by making him a believer in rational strategic interaction. Thus the realist is dismissive of projects that aim at global reform through international cooperation because they require unwarranted assumptions regarding the behavior of other nations. Yet the realist embraces the doctrine of mutual deterrence though it requires the same assumptions.9 The considerable inf luence, which realist prescriptions may have, makes it necessary to examine their possible effects on the realit y of international policy making. (120-121)

    2. Your post is silent on the issue of metrics to measure a theories success or failure, switching back and forth between high and low bars when it suits you. That realism exists at all as a theory is proof that alternatives fail, but that realism fails to account for a majority of the historical track record is ok because it’s a best guess. A few sub points

    A. There is, obviously, no grand unified theory of realism. There are at least a half dozen major strains that exist right now. Facially, this fragmentation seems to deny “inevitability” since realists themselves cannot even agree on a unified theory of what exactly is inevitable. In fact realist theory has reacted and changed to critics for the last 100 years or so, your own example of neorealists being a prime example. The characterization that “all policy makers are realists, the K must change policy makers from being realists” is similarly essentialized. If policy makers are realists because of realist scholars that shows that since criticism has changed realist scholars, changes in policy makers should also occur. The alternative is that policy makers act totally independently of the scholarly community and instead act on their own ideas/impulses, which would make the K and the refinement of realist theory over time both exercises in futility.

    Jeffrey Legro, Chair, Foreign Affairs – U Virginia, and Andrew Moravcsik, Director, EU Center – Harvard, ‘1 (“Faux Realism.” Foreign Policy, No. 125. Jul. – Aug, pp. 80-82.)
    The Bush administration has coined a foreign-policy doctrine. President George W. Bush, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and Secretary of State Colin Powell herald “the new realism.” Think you know what they are up to? OK, then fill in the blank: The “new realism” is_____ If you find the blank hard to fill, don’t worry; so would most of today’s international-relations scholars. Indeed, one fundamental problem with the Bush administration’s new doctrine is that “realism” no longer has any real intellectual coherence. Until recently, realism was a venerable school of thought with a distinct thrust. Realpolitikers such as E.H. Carr, Hans Morgenthau, and Kenneth Waltz visualized world politics as an anarchic realm in which the struggle for survival required prudent management of material (generally military) resources, and where the balance of power ultimately determined outcomes. Realists chastised “liberals,” “legalists,” and “idealists,” who believe that material and military power are secondary to factors such as the form of domestic government (democratic or authoritarian), the mutual advantages of economic interdependence, the functional benefits of international institutions, and the sway of national and transnational beliefs. Yet a funny thing happened on the way past the Cold War. While still attached to the realist label, many realists have abandoned their distinctive realpolitik precepts. International-relations scholars today are far more inclined to accept that major trends—European integration, global trade liberalization, the surprising power of small countries in limited wars such as Vietnam, the impact of human rights and environmental norms, and the spread of a “democratic peace”—are not shaped simply, or even primarily, by power. Balance-of-power calculations are often trumped by imperatives rising from economic globalization, political democratization, particular belief systems, and the role of international law and institutions. Realists have broadened their definition of “realism” in an attempt to embrace this smorgasbord of factors. But the consequence has been conceptual incoherence.

    B. When reduced, as it seems to be in your post, to the idea that violence/anarchy is inevitable realism becomes a useless bumper sticker slogan, bereft of explanatory and predictive power. It is indistinguishable from the idea that “religion is violent and therefore global violence is inevitable due to widespread religious beliefs”. What many realist scholars, and your post, seem to miss is that critics of realism are running a PIC. The “fundamental” tenants of realism that are “inevitable” are nothing more than child like observations such as “states act in their own best interest”. I am unaware of any critique of realism which contradicts this claim. Critics object to the realist definition of rational, they object to whether or not states consider morality part of their interest etc, but the fundamental idea that states try to do more good than bad is an insight conceded by feminists, post positivists, postructuralists, critical geopoliticians, etc. etc. Objections to the inevitability of violence based on the structure of the state system don’t deny that state systems have produced violence; they only question whether this system has successfully minimized violence. This is what the above evidence is criticizing when it says realism self defines itself as the dominant system in every way from its choice of name (anyone who argues with us isn’t realistic) to the way it describes its tenants (we say states should do what is best, so if you argue with us, you are saying they shouldn’t do what is best and that would be dumb). The devil is in the realist details, not the broadstrokes.

    dr. A. (Annette) Freyberg Inan Associate Professor, the Director of the Master’s Program in Political Science, Univ of Amsterdam, PhD in Political Science at the University of Georgia, USA. Her MA degrees in Political Science and English were obtained at the University of Stuttgart in her native Germany. Editorial Board Member: International Studies Review, Globalizations Journal, Advisory Board Member: Millennium, What Moves Man: The Realist Theory of International Relations and Its Judgment of Human Nature 2004
    In the realm of international politics, the realist perspective leaves little possibilit y for mutually beneficial cooperation. As Forde observes, for both Thucydides and Machiavelli “the paradigmatic manifestation of realism is imperialism.”25 For Machiavelli, “the realist logic inevitably points in the direction of universal imperialism and the repudiation of all ethical restraints,” because “the ‘law’ that power rules the relations of states . . . points to expansion as constrained only by the limits of one’s own power, or by countervailing outside power. It certainly absolves such expansion of any moral taint.”26 This is why “Thucydides believes that international ethics can be furthered only by limiting and resisting realism, not by manipulating it in some way.”27 Forde observes that Thucydides as well as some of the classical realists raise the question how an “ethical good can be reconciled with the necessities of international politics and, indeed, whether it remains plausible in the face of a world characterized by immoral necessities.”28 He explains that “what the classical realists were acutely aware of, and what most if not all twentieth-century Anglo-American realism has lost sight of, is the fact that realism, at its core, poses the question not only of why ethics has such little effect on the behavior of states, but of why it should have any effect at all.”29 A realism that justifies imperialism clearly leaves little room for the pursuit of an international common good, on which peaceful relations among states depend. Forde points out that “the notion that realism can be employed as a science of peace rests decisively on the possibilit y of identifying an international common good, something that is in the interests of all states to pursue, and persuading them to embrace it.”30 Supporting Forde’s view are the attempts of Hans Morgenthau and other classical realists to encourage a rationally limited concept of the national interest, which avoids incorporating ideological and other irrational ambitions.31 Such a concept could function as a common denominator in attempts to coordinate the foreign policies of nation–states. Hegemony and regime theory as well as game theoretical approaches may also be viewed as attempts to identify the bases for a possible coordination of state behavior. However, a point of criticism which is frequently made is that what would truly be needed for the institutionalization of cooperative arrangements and the development of international communit y is a shared understanding of the moral or normative bases for political action. (123)
    Why has the realist paradigm been so successful over the years? Realists attribute its success primarily to its “inherent descriptive, explanatory, and predictive strengths.”12 In addition, they make the point that the realist image of the world “most closely approximates the image held by practitioners of statecraft.”13 The question is whether realism is realistic because it adequately captures a realit y that is independent of the theory, or whether it is realistic because it has such an impact on our interpretations of realit y that it can, in effect, function as a self-fulfilling prophesy. Realist responses to the suggestion that realism may function as a self-fulfilling prophesy have ranged from the fatalistic to the cynical. According to Paul Viotti and Mark Kauppi, realists may hold either that they have no interest in being policy-relevant, or that “there is nothing inherently wrong with being policy-relevant.”14 The first attitude is apparently assumed to absolve theorists from all responsibilit y for the consequences of their activities; the second fails to take seriously the risks introduced by realist biases. Critics of realism are commonly accused of basing their attacks on a selective reading of realist works, and it is never quite clear which works one would have to read to be able to criticize realism at all. Finally, as a last resort, realists rely on their pessimism, making the argument that, even if the critics were right, it would still be too dangerous not to counsel adherence to the dictates of Realpolitik. That, of course, begs the question. (144-5)

    2. Realism is a belief system. Beliefs are not natural or inevitable. A genetic predisposition towards violence, if there were one, would not without major mental arithmetic provide a justification for the belief that realism is inevitable. If we look at a few of the classic tenants of realist dogma such as “states are formed to protect/contain violence” or “states are rational and act in their own self interest”, it’s easy to see that both are mutually exclusive with the belief that genetics promote wanton outbursts of violence. You can’t deter a genetic proclivity towards random aggression. If humans are prone to violence based on genetics, it probably doesn’t make sense to make large scale state apparatuses armed with nuclear weapons whose use would also be “inevitable”. Almost all of the inevitability arguments- capitalism as well as the other big one- often rely on this sort of double turn, “people are violent, therefore we have to have a system where massive power is concentrated in the hands of a few and who rises to power is largely dependent on their own exercise of that violence/control”.

  9. Calum

    I think you missed the point of my post, which might be my fault. The arguments you make here are okay–there are good responses to them, but they’re all legitimate. The point of my post though was that saying “realism is inevitable only because we believe it” is a bad argument. All of this stuff about the predictive failure of realism and it’s problems of human motivation is fine, but my point was that to win the argument in the original post about self-fulfilling prophecy, you have to beat the various arguments I made in my post. I wasn’t saying “realism is always right, alternatives are wrong,” just pointing out the insufficiency of the understanding reflected in the first post. There is no “cherry picking.” There are examples of arguments one has to contend with to win the original “it’s only real because you think it is” argument.

    My post is TL;DR, so you can skip to the last two paragraphs and not miss much.

    As for 1, this is exactly what I meant when I said that one has to prove that the theory is not inevitable for reasons other than “we think it is.” So all the stuff you just said is what one would have to say in a debate; if you win all of this, then you beat realism. One can avoid the “only real because we think it is” argument, which should be done because it’s bad.

    You also pulled two phrases out of different parts of my post and misunderstood them both. The first is about the descriptive/prescriptive nature of realism. Yes, realism is “hotly contested.” This complicates the arguments of critics at least as much as its advocates. My explanation was that realism is not necessarily a normative theory–it is prescriptive only if one takes certain values, like state survival, as a normative good. I was pointing out that you ignored the “hotly contested” differences in realism by assuming that the theory must necessarily be normative. This is “sleight of hand”–realism is lumped together when it serves you, and a set of contradictory beliefs when your counterarguments are weak.

    All of these historical assertions are extensively responded to by realists, but they have nothing to do with the original point, which is that scholars have continued to use realism despite criticism. In other words, the theory has been “rejected,” and even faced with contrary evidence, yet persists, which is proof that (some) people refusing to believe it won’t make it go away. This is the second phrase you pulled out–“with a few qualifications.” The context of that phrase was not “realism is right with some exceptions,” but that people will continue to believe the theory unless an alternative exists–they will merely add qualifications to it which arise from criticism. This is in fact what has happened–hence the disputes over the meaning of realism.

    Subpoint B also does not defend the “inevitable because we think it is” claim. Critics do, however, deny the claim that anarchy and violence are inevitable. If this is a “child-like” observation, then many of the critics of realism are pretty slow children. The claim that violence is inevitable is actually contradicted by some democratic peace theorists and liberal institutionalists, as well as critical theorists who think that the state can disappear in the short- or medium-term. Advocates of international law often argue that states don’t have to act in their own interests as defined by realists (the definition of what national interests are is more significant than the claim that states pursue them). Others have argued that great power wars will not occur because of economic interdependence (as an aside, this is why many of your historical examples don’t apply to most theories of realism, notably offensive realism, as they are intended only to explain great power behavior). Various critics of realism are running “PICs,” but this does not defend your “only real because we think it is” post. It does do two inconvenient things for you: a) it suffers from the same problem of conflating somewhat different beliefs that you think my generalization of realism does b) it suggests that realism will not be displaced, since many of the critics adopt elements so significant that their theories are basically realist.

    Okay, so this Freyberg argument then doesn’t respond to my initial claim about how bad the “only because we think so” argument is. Her overall argument that realist theories of human nature or wrong might help you out with point 2, which I think is the part of your post that does clash with mine in a meaningful way. Freyberg acknowledges though that her own position is open to attack if realists are able to defend their ontological claims about individuals without referencing their results (anarchy) as proof. Her overall argument is that realist beliefs are tautological because they assert a violent human nature as a given, then say it produces anarchy, then use observations of anarchy as proof of their human nature beliefs. This does a good job of attacking people like Hans Morgenthau and Reinhold Niebuhr if they are examined alone. Freyberg acknowledges, however, that if realists could defend this concept of human nature with other evidence then her critique would be wrong. She mentions that Thayer might do this (page 158–she is referencing an earlier article by Thayer, before he completed “Darwin and International Relations”) but she doesn’t engage his argument at all, which is a serious problem given the way that it shores up many previous failures in the realist case by offering a scientific basis for their human nature claims.

    Point 2 is is a good one. It again seems to confuse the theory of realism with the practice of power politics. If there is a genetic disposition to violence and/or power politics are inevitable, then we may still be able to abandon the theory, it’s just likely to result in a relative decline in American power and a greater incidence of violence (which is bad if we value life).

    If the “arithmetic” is wrong, one would have to advance that argument well to win the “just because we think so” claim, so all this stuff here would have to be appended to the original argument. The realist (Thayer-inspired, and notably, Thayer claims that his genetic arguments bolster both structural and classical realist theories) response is this: there is no contradiction between the claims that states contain violence and the belief that violence is inevitable. As I said in the first post, the argument is not that every single act of violence is inevitable, just violent international relations in general–and particular acts can be contained by good policy. This distinction is particularly well-explained by Waltz in the first chapter of “Man, the State, and War.” The argument that states act in their own self-interest also doesn’t contradict a genetic basis. Rather, the evolution of human beings in conditions of resource scarcity explains why they do act violently in their own self-interest.

    “You can’t deter a genetic proclivity towards random aggression.” No, you can’t. But I think this is a gross misunderstanding. For one, the aggression is not “random,” it is calculated to benefit the aggressor according to Thayer (who also uses evolutionary psychology to defend rational-choice theory). There’s a difference between proclivity to violence and the practice of it. You might not be able to change human nature (although one argument one can use to attack Thayer is the transhumanist argument that we can, and will, do this), but you can raise the costs of it so it will be deterred. Thayer is very careful to argue that his argument is not one of genetic determinism, just the claim that genetics are significant, so we can’t ignore them (ignoring them entirely is the opposite extreme, which realist critics like Wendt seem to do by denying any human nature). So it does make sense to maintain that state apparatus, precisely because some people are predisposed to violence, and therefore must be deterred. It’s also inevitable because the mere suspicion of violence, combined with the inherent offensive power of states, however poorly armed, makes caution prudent. There’s no double turn then, unless you misunderstand genetic proclivities as genetic destiny. I’m not going to Godwin this thread, but we all know what cabbage-eating bratwurst enthusiasts did that. All of this just means that the practice of power politics is likely to continue, but if it does, then realism as a theory will likely continue too, if it explains those conditions well (which Thayer argues that it will).

    The other realist response to point 2 is probably to observe that it offers no contrary view of human nature, and thus suffers from the problems that other criticisms of realism do: they either cannot replace it because they don’t have an alternative theory, or they drift so close that they get incorporated and hence ignored (they are usually not so much “PICs” as “plan plus,” or they omit something that isn’t actually a central assumption of realism and thus don’t compete, to use your metaphor).

    So this is long, so here’s the synopsis as I see it:
    Original post: “You can say realism is only inevitable because we think it is.”
    My post: “To do that, you must prove that realism is not inevitable for some other reasons–those reasons would be these. If you do that, you the ‘because we think it is’ claim is unnecessary.”
    Reply: “But it’s not inevitable for those reasons.”
    My reply: “That doesn’t deny that you have to beat all of those reasons anyway.”

    I think my initial criticism of the “only because we think so” argument is still valid–it’s either not falsifiable, or has been disproved, because academics have tried to “reject realism” in past. The conflation between theory of realism and practice of power politics just adds another difficulty for this argument. Plus, it doesn’t matter what “we” think is inevitable, since most of us have no influence either on the overall belief in realism as an academic theory or on the actual practice of state politics. So to win that realism is not inevitable, one must make a positive claim: it’s not inevitable because…(globalization will displace states, international institutions are viable, etc), and do make these arguments about both the theory and the practice of power politics. All of the arguments you made here are valid objections to realism, but it’s necessary to make them, because the “inevitable because we think it is” argument is so easily dismissed.

  10. Talon Powers

    This post definitely got tl;dr, so I’ll try my best to sum it up in the last couple of paragraphs for people who want to skip past all of the literature review-ish stuff.

    While I think I agree with the general line of argument that Calum advances here, I think there is probably a more intelligent way to advance the “must prove that realism is not inevitable for some other reasons” style of argument. In Alexander Wendt’s 92 article “Anarchy is What States Make of It,” one of his basic conclusions is that while realism is descriptively correct insofar as the security dilemma has developed in the way that its normative and descriptive principles seem to suggest (with some obvious exceptions), he argues, following Rousseau, that this decision was not inevitable. In that state of “first anarchy”, states could have chosen otherwise, and selected cooperation over competition. In a world where the first step is made with a paranoid mindset, however, conflict over scarce material resources becomes inevitable.

    That argument is basically worthless because it just reaffirms the realist narrative (not biologically, but empirically), but it does set the stage for the later arguments by Wendt and Daniel Deudney that the security dilemma does not inevitably mean interstate competition. In Deudney’s formulation, the question of what constitutes the fundamental source of tension internationally cannot be reduced to a single variable. Instead, Deudney identifies two interrelated governing principles within international politics—the ‘anarchy-interdependence problematique’ and the ‘hierarchy-restraint problematique’. This approach extends beyond realism’s limited vision of security as only explicable through analysis of the distribution of power and instead orients its program around the concept of interdependence. The hierarchy-restraint problematique, by contrast, exists completely outside of realism’s theoretical purview, referring to the “relationship between variations in the size of government needed and variations in the security viability and types of hierarchical and republican government”. Deudney contends that when violence-interdependence is absent, government itself is unnecessary and even impossible, while when violence-interdependence is intense and threatens individual or collective survival, hierarchical political forms become a necessity. With advances in technology rendering warfare more and more deadly, however, the necessity of ever-larger hierarchical structures becomes a virtual necessity. Deudney traces the technological evolution of war over four epochs: the pre-modern period, the early-modern period, the industrial period, and the nuclear period. As technology progresses, hierarchical political organization must continually widen its territorial scope in order to protect against the increased intensity of violence-interdependence entailed by each subsequent epoch. As we reach the nuclear period, the very survival of states is called into question, which Deudney claims provides a basis for the creation of global hierarchies culminating in some form of global state to stave off the risks of nuclear annihilation, thus denying the “anarchy/realism inevitable, duh” style of argument.

    Similarly, Wendt’s “Why a World State is Inevitable” argues that order does not emerge merely through the “mechanism of mutation-selection-retention, but also ‘spontaneously’ from the channeling of system dynamics by structural boundary conditions toward particular end-states”. These boundary conditions manifest in both a bottom-up and a top-down fashion. The bottom-up process, which Wendt calls upward causation, is seen when the reactions of individual actors to local stimuli cumulatively self-organize into a coherent structure (e.g., the reactions of states to local threats becoming systematized in the balance of power system). The top-down process, which Wendt calls downward causation, consists of the boundary conditions that act to maintain the function of a system by punishing those actors who threaten to destabilize its operation (e.g., the ability of anarchy to ‘select’ those actors who balance power and eliminate those who don’t). Wendt argues that these systems necessarily have an end-point toward which development is directed, a stable attractor around which the system can become self-perpetuating. Wendt argues that the boundary conditions controlling the international system consist of the standard variable of material conflict and the more uncommon Hegelian concept of recognition. The material argument advanced by Wendt draws heavily on Deudney’s claim that the threat nuclear weapons pose to state survival necessitate the creation of global hierarchy. For Wendt, however, a purely materialist account like Deudney’s presumes that individuals and actors retain static identities as rational, self-interested maximizers both prior to and after the creation of a global state. To challenge this conception, Wendt complicates the discussion of interstate anarchy: “I agree that people want security. However, I think they also want recognition, which means that the logic of anarchy is also about a struggle for recognition”. It is Wendt’s contention that subjectivity and identity are rooted in recognition of the Self by the Other—in this way “…subjectivity depends on inter-subjectivity”. Wendt’s theory does not assume the primacy of the desire for recognition within state formation, but maintains it to be as important a constitutive factor as material security. Because political subjectivity and identity are conceived of as exclusive groupings, individuals encounter each other from pre-determined identity boundaries, and thus “…outsiders are denied rights and may even be killed not because of what they have done as individuals, but simply because they are members of a different group”. As a result, social groups attempt to achieve corporate recognition vis-à-vis other groups in order to secure the subjectivity of their collective identity as well as the subjectivity of all constituent group members. Based on this theory of recognition, Wendt concludes that the only stable systemic end-state possessing universal recognition lies in a monopoly of legitimate violence held by an inevitable global state.

    So what does this all mean? A few thoughts. First, while saying realism is inevitable only because we think it is may have been historically contestable, it’s likely not contestable in that sense any longer. The communities of IR scholars attempting to assemble against haven’t, in any strict sense, changed the basics of international politics. Second, the arguments put forth by both Wendt and Deudney do a pretty decent job answering the realist claim that there are a plethora of arguments that demonstrate the inevitability of realpolitik. If viewed either ideationally or materially, there are strongly warranted arguments that suggest that interstate competition is likely a stage in a larger evolutionary picture of international behavior. These arguments complicate, and if explained correctly, should demonstrate that the casual “realism inevitable, judge” style of arguments aren’t grounded in a priori theoretical truth. Finally, this argument greatly complicates the argument that “both the theory and the practice of power politics” suggest the continuation of realism. If you can persuasively argue that changes in the international system are coming (either in Deudney’s sense of nukes mean states can actually kill each other now, we probably need the global state Leviathan to keep states from killing each other, or in Wendt’s sense that states want to be recognized, and the only basis for consistent recognition lies in an end state that protects likeminded states and creates a monopoly of violence within itself), then you can demonstrate that policymakers will adapt to these changes and realism will no longer adequately describe the practice of policymakers in the international security context.

    Now ultimately I disagreed with the conclusions of these two authors because I think that they have a really difficult time with the teleological basis of their arguments, specifically in the sense that modern warfare has in many ways shifted its impetus downward to highly effective small arms and guerilla violence instead of up to World War II style tank wars and theater nuclear conflicts, and instead argued for a Braudelian analysis of overlapping mechanisms of war as a better predictor for changes in state and interstate patterns. But that’s neither here nor there. What is important is that I think there is a fairly decent way to answer inevitability claims that doesn’t have to rely on the simple but flawed arg that “realism is only inevitable because we think it is”.

    Articles/Books in case anyone is interested:

    Deudney, Daniel. Bounding Power: Republican Security Theory from the Polis to the Global Village. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.

    Wendt, Alexander. “Anarchy is What States Make of It: The Social Construction of Power Politics”. International Organization, 46(2), 1992, pp. 391-425.

    Wendt, Alexander. “Why a World State is Inevitable”. European Journal of International Relations 9(4), 2003, pp. 491-542.

  11. Scott Phillips

    "So this is long, so here’s the synopsis as I see it:
    Original post: “You can say realism is only inevitable because we think it is.”"

    I guess this is where we part ways. The original post was about how this argument is inadequate, not about how it was a good argument. "Even the best negative’s that I have seen do a poor job of responding to this kind of trick. They will at best say “realism is a self-fullfilling prophecy, its only inevitable because you believe it is”,"

    My point was only that the proponents of inevitability use several linguistic tropes to hide the ball, many of which were present in your response.

    Talon Powers,

    Constructivism is so 1997.

    Also, this has nothing to do with this thread, but it was linked when I was searching for that killer max power song.

    I do like the part "I don't have to be careful, I have a gun" in the context of realism

  12. Calum

    I'm saying that your solutions to this problem do not respond to the issue of whether realism is, in fact, inevitable. So when you say that this is a link to the neg's critique, you have not accomplished anything of strategic value. To make the neg's argument stronger, you have to have good reasons why realism is not inevitable, instead of saying "your strategy is used to justify realism," which doesn't mean anything if the aff wins that realism is an accurate and/or desirable description of a world that is unlikely to abandon power politics. This is one of the worst types of critical arguments in my opinion: "what you said justifies (instead of causes) something bad," which is even worse when the claim in question is that some practice is inevitable, unless the neg wins that the practice can be changed, in which case they probably win anyway.

    You say that the neg should say that "engaging in the rhetoric of inevitability is in and of itself a hidden justification for the system of realism," you have gained very little. Your argument that the claim of inevitability justifies irresponsibility is also bad unless one wins that inevitability is not true, which none of the arguments you made in the original post accomplishes.

    "You used a rhetorical strategy that justifies realism" is a lame observation. Of course I did. I was explaining how people justify realism. That's the problem with "your rhetorical strategy justifies the thing that you used the strategy to justify." You're maybe right that the aff can't avoid the link by kicking realist advantages, but if they make an attempt to defend realism substantively, the focus has to be on a substantive response.

    We definitely agree that constructivism is so 1997. Wendt is basically the Marcy Playground of IR theory. No one wants to admit that they bought his album anymore.

  13. Joshua

    I'm not too keen on these type of things so excuse me if these questions seem elementary.

    How could one argue that realism is not inevitable?

    It seems to me that the realism argument is basically that the alt can not happen.

    If the neg were to say to the aff the plan will not pass because existing political structures are opposed to that type of action the aff will just say " fiat". Could this apply to the negative as well?

    Also is there really any offense to winning realism inevitable besides getting the negative to defend any disads to the alt? " rorty-ish things" It seems to me the logic if " well there is always a risk" would apply in this scenario in a world where there is a risk the negatives alternative overcomes realism.

  14. Layne Kirshon


    "How could one argue that realism is not inevitable?"

    You haven't made an argument for why it IS inevitable

    There's pretty good evidence that it's not inevitable for both structural and biological reasons – scholars were caught w/their pants down when the soviet union collapsed, the existence of any and all collective security institutions (NATO, the UN), free trade, development assistance, Chinese liberalization

    biologically, anthropological studies show that nurture has a greater effect than nature since the brain develops a lot after birth – there's also not a gene coded to violence. people like gandhi, mlk, every hippy smoking pot on the side of the street w/a peace t shirt and a guitar in california are good examples of why it's not

    [[chime in scott/calum here to explain why my examples suck]]

    you probably can't "fiat" away realism?

    in response to your last question, if the aff wins realism is inevitable it's not just alt no solvo, it's a reason why the alt results in more violence b/c as calum would say "the red menace can just come and rape our moms"

  15. Talon Powers

    Neither Deudney's violence-interdependence arg nor Wendt's self-organization/boundary conditions arg is constructivist (well, Wendt's sort of is, but that's more a vestige than the core of his argument). In any case, arguments denying the thesis of inevitability on substantive/structural grounds are certainly better than "inevitable because you believe it is" (which, hilariously enough, is part and parcel of 1997's finest IR tradition).

  16. Nathan Ketsdever

    I think the only way you can "prove" realism is inevitable would be genetics–even then I imagine the data would only indicate a probability (and wouldn't necessarily deal with the counterexamples above). [the lack of realism in the interwar period Calum references above even hedges against this as an explanation]

    Also, while the argument for evolution leading to realism is interesting–it seems to potentially suggest we could evolve differently (in the same way that as humans we are evolving to far more closer human/technology relationships via mobile, internet, etc)

  17. Nathan Ketsdever

    I guess "X selfish psychological response inevitable based on science" and resource constraints (aka scarcity) might create prisoners dilemmas as well (but the later is hardly a standalone argument).

  18. Calum

    One could never really "prove" that realism is inevitable, but the argument is that evolutionary psychology provides a much stronger basis for realist claims about human nature. This argument does rely on statistics, as do all arguments about genetic proclivity. To say that we have a particular trait as a species does not mean that every individual has it (Gandhi, whoever), but that in a large enough population, a great number of people will possess the inborn tendency, and some number of them will act on it. Although environmental factors are significant, in a large enough pool, there will be people whose genetic tendencies are not overcome by conditioning. Thayer claims that the similarities between some human behavior–even fairly complex acts of war–and animal behavior (chimpanzee organized violence, warfare among ants and termites, all the terrible things dolphins do) suggests that we have similar built-in behaviors.

    That's one answer to "but there was Gandhi." Some people overcoming their natures (which of course they can do in this theory, as it tries to avoid determinism) does not mean that all people will, and for the security dilemma to occur, people just have to fear that others will betray them. Some will, and Thayer even argues that aggressive people who are prone to power-political thinking are exactly the kinds of people who end up running governments. Those California hippies are never going to end up in the Pentagon, unless they're getting tortured in the basement.

    There doesn't even have to be a single gene coded for violence. It just has be shown that the total set of human inheritance leads us to resort to it sometimes (many behaviors that appear across cultures cannot be linked to a single gene, such as incest aversion, at least not yet). In this case, one can argue that some exceptions really don't disprove the rule, since the claim was never so strong as "every single person does this." You should characterize the neg view as extreme, since they'd have to prove that violence can be overcome for basically everyone (and note that as large mammals go, we have an extremely homogeneous gene pool, perhaps due to the Toba eruption 100,000 years ago). If a plane crashes in the Andes with Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Sister Helen Prejean, and Jeffrey Dahmer, it doesn't matter that eighty percent of the passengers are pacifists. It just matters that Jeffrey Dahmer brought four kinds of barbecue sauce in his carry-on luggage. The fact that our society has changed dramatically from the conditions we evolved in (at least in some parts of the world) supports the genetic argument–our biological evolution hasn't kept up to our social evolution, so it tends to reassert itself even in places where it isn't appropriate, because biological evolution is a very slow process. So when scholars and some countries tried to reject power politics, they could eliminate them everywhere, and violence eventually resurfaced.

    These are the best counterarguments in my opinion: 1) Human genes code for cooperation rather than conflict. People always mention that we're 98% similar to chimpanzees, and that they are total bastards. True, but we may be even more closely related to bonobos, and they are much more peaceful. Read the parts of Thayer's book "Darwin and International Relations" and Steven Pinker's "The Blank Slate" where they answer the proponents of this view, and then cut cards from said proponents. We certainly did survive periods of great scarcity, but we may have done it by learning to share instead of murder. 2) Genes may code for conflict, but not for international violence. Competition can be channeled into other forums, like business or sports. Germany might be one example of this, although an imperfect one. They've replaced the national pastime of invading France with soccer and apologizing. 3) Genes may reflect the consequences of natural selection or the widespread existence of a practice in the past, but social conditions can still overcome them. The genes for prion disease resistance are so common in some populations that they suggest widespread cannibalism in the past, and one could use this as evidence that we're coded for the behavior. However, the practice has been basically extinguished except among individual social deviants, so the genes may be the consequence of a behavior, rather than the cause, and if they are the latter, they can apparently be overcome.

  19. Nathan Ketsdever

    Impressive scholarly thought. You’ve clearly spent over 10x more time than I have in the realism good literature at the history, psychology, and biological levels of investigation. Also, I deeply appreciate you taking the time to unpack the arguments on both sides of the debate.

    Your example was simultaneously helpful and frustrating:

    >>If a plane crashes in the Andes with Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Sister Helen Prejean, and Jeffrey Dahmer, it doesn’t matter that eighty percent of the passengers are pacifists.

    Great example. It helped me conceptualize how neat and tidy categories on a normal distribution curve/bell curve wouldn’t be perhaps as relevant as one might think. On the flip side–to suggest that only .05% of the population is violent and they end up in politics is all the pro-realist must prove is intellectually frustrating–because the spillover argument implicit in the example is a slippery slope style argument–especially as applied in international scope–although not a fallacy per se). I also think its easy (although not necessarily correct) to believe that one rotten apple spoils the bunch. Contrary to the above example, if Saddam or a “terrorist” was in a college classroom–its equally probable that people would cooperate against him (or at least thats what institutionalists would likely suggest–whether or not that is “realist” or “violent” is another question). After all, we’ve heard of similar examples in the case of both “terrorist” and criminal take downs. The statistical burden of proof on the issue of the proclivity of humans to violence seems gray at best–which adds to the above frustration.

    Does violence spiral down? Does nonviolence spiral up? Both.
    I think the potential for violence to great a “spiral down” is potentially contrasted by the ability of nonviolence, peace, and compassion to spiral up (all the examples cited in the airplane example are historical examples of nonviolence inspiring other nonviolence–ie a “spiral up” effect). Unfortunately, I don’t have comparative evidence on this point to prove that its equivalent.

    As an aside, I think the scale of the example (ie small) also prevents us from knowing if the movement could live on. Its far easier to kill 1 person in a closed space versus 1000s or 10,000s.

    Additionally, on a cursory Google scholar search I found Augustin Fuentes argument in which he characterizes this violent/nonviolent cooperative/noncooperative as a false dichotomy in “It’s Not All Sex and Violence: Integrated Anthropology and the Role of Cooperation and Social Complexity in Human Evolution” (page 717 seems to have the argument almost in full–see link to the article below) He cites the history of hunter-gatherers as more cooperative as well as integrating a more holistic historical perspective that suggest flexibility and dynamic “construction.” IMHO, this combined with a decent alternative card could get some decent traction versus typical realism arguments.

    Just click in the bio section on the correct article (sorry direct links to the article were far too long):

  20. Nathan Ketsdever

    Correction–not the bio section–its the External Links Section which is below the references section. Its the 2nd link in that second.

    Sorry for any confusion.

    Here is a short quote from Fuentes to give you an idea–which makes a strong argument for cooperation being critical to evolutionary survival in addition to larger scale argument about the flexibility of human psychology, motivation, and roles:

    The complexity in human communicative and material
    cultures may have facilitated the enhancement of a broad
    primate pattern of social affiliation and cooperation within
    human groups (see Tomasello 1999; Watanabe and Smuts
    2004). In fact, this trend may have been a prerequisite for
    the evolution of human patterns (Sussman and Chapman
    2004;Watanabe and Smuts 2004). This view of human evolutionary
    history as involving niche construction, potential
    facilitation, and the behavioral flexibility inherent in
    human social coordination is supported by data that suggest
    that the basal physiology and behavioral patterns for
    all primates include cooperation and social affiliation as a
    core primate wide trend (Sussman and Garber 2004). Recent
    survey research (Sussman et al. in press) indicates that primates
    engage in relatively little aggressive behavior and that
    most social interactions are in fact affiliative. This suggests
    that the majority of primates’ energetic output is in social
    interactions that are not competitively aggressive in content
    or context, suggesting a strong basal pattern of social
    affiliation rather than conflict as central in primate societies
    (Fuentes 2004; Sussman and Garber 2004). Even in modern
    human society today, when headlines seem to scream
    about death and destruction all around us—documenting
    not only large-scale competitive aggression (or war) but also
    case after case of interindividual aggression—the vast majority
    of humans still spend almost all of their lives getting
    along with others.

    You'll have to read the article for a fuller development.

  21. JImothy

    Monkey see monkey do, its called "mimesis" or internationally "altercasting". All truth claims are just stories. If the story we believe is that violence between states (remember that realism can't look inside the state, all states are "black boxes" to realism it does not matter what their political system looks like: they're all the same) is inevitable, then violence between states will be inevitable. Claims about biology have nothing to do with IR realism, because they are claims of individual behavioral traits, they have nothing to do with state action. So they are just a further link to kritiks of realism. They just show that you assume the state as heroic protaganist individual without even having to say it, Its already assumed as the undergirding of your argument! Do you understand why that re-entrenches us in a realist mindset without even making realism more desirable? If the kritik is of IR realism, than making arguments about individuals' behavioral motivation has nothing to do with international relations, it just shows you are so ignorant of the dominant paradigm(realism) that you assume individuals to be the same as states, drawing us further in to the realism trap.
    Also your game theory argument is a pile of shit, when the experiment was iterated people didn't snitch on eachother. And life is not a one time deal, life is a series of interactions. When you make game theory bs args, you just further link yourself to realism without making it desirable again. This is because realism cannot explain friends, family, love, or empathy (just to name a few). Think about it you have friends, family, love or empathy . If not you either already killed yourself or are a sociopath. So if life has any value and if we don't want to all end up sociopaths then breaking the chains of realism is essential. Now if you were confronted with the prisoners dilimna would you snitch on your friend or family? someone you were in love with? Someone you would see tomorrow and the next day? The answer is no, and the experiments prove this. Also game theory is still just a simulation story telling, so it has nothing to do with what is "real". Conclusions in game theory can never be fully translated to real life as we live it either, so realism as more real world doesn't work it suffers from the same problems of any radical or marginalized kritik. The gap between thought and action, word and life is still apparent in realism just as any codified position in international relations.

    All your arguments are just evidence that you think realism is neutral and true.

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