Critical Evaluation of Morgenthau Realist Theory

Critical Evaluation of Morgenthau Realist Theory:

These are the six principles by which Prof. Morgenthau has characterized his realist theory. His realist theory, however, is condemned and criticized by different writers on different grounds. Benno Wasserman is of the opinion that ‘no scientific progress can be made in the study of international politics so long as Morgenthau’s realist theory continues to have influence. Robert Tuckler criticized Morgenathau’s Theory because it is inconsistent both with itself and with reality. According to Stanley Hoffman, this theory is full of ambiguities.

Different points of criticism of realist theory, however, can be summed up as under-

(1) Theory cannot be concrete- Disagreement and disapprovals have been found in the scholarly circles regarding Morgenthau’s inclination towards a theory that is concrete or very close to realities. Writers have differed greatly with Morgenthau by contending that this theory cannot properly be made concrete; that abstractness is the essential quality of theory and also its chief virtue. It has been proposed that situations, structures, and systems that have never appeared in human history are worth serious consideration, if for no other reason than that they are theoretically conceivable.

(2) Incomplete- Morgenthau’s theory is also criticized by many writers on the ground that it is an incomplete theory. Thus Harold Sprout objects to Morgenthau’s theory because it neglects the objectives of national policy. Quincy Wright criticizes this theory for not having considered the impact of values on national policy. Raymond Aron objects to this theory for having ignored the relationship between ideologies and policies. Stanley Hoffman criticizes this theory because it ignores the discussion of ends.

(3) Prof. Said’s Criticism- Morgenthau’s critics have also pointed out that the use of unifying concepts of power and interest to explain all phenomena of international politics makes them lose all precision. “In effect”, writes Prof. Abdul A Said, “they become tautological, a closed body of concepts existing only to confirm one another”.

(4) State does not always seek National Interest– The realist theory is also criticized because it is based on the conviction that all men and all states seek their national interest defined in terms of power. It considers that a clash of interests is the sole aspect of international politics. If this is so, the question naturally arises what will be the fate of peace. For if all nations try to achieve their national interest, a clash of interests will then be an inevitable result and international politics will appear as an endless struggle for power. Moreover, the periods of peace will then be considered as deviations from the rule. As such critics point out that a clash of interests cannot be considered the sole aspect of international politics. They stress that other aspects such as co-operative are also relevant to international politics.

(5) Objective National Interest is Questionable- The idea of an objective national interest is also questionable. It makes sense only in the earlier periods in which the survival of the units of international politics is rarely at stake and in which the units pursue limited ends with limited means. But in the contemporary world society’s survival is always at stake. As such the concept of national interest is of no use in this unstable period because various courses of action can be suggested as valid choices for survival. In such circumstances, the concept of national interest becomes subjective. Thus in the formulation of national policies, there is a greater emphasis on subjective elements of survival than objective factors because it is impossible to evaluate the objective factors.

(6) National Interest does not carry its own Morality- Furthermore, Morgenthau’s conception that national interest carries its own morality also makes sense only in stable periods. It is because of the fact that the accommodation of national objectives is only possible in stable periods and it is the accommodation of national objectives that alone can give meaning to the morality of national interest. But in today’s changing world when one nation’s interest often resides in eliminating another nation. Morgenthau’s theory wrongly assumes that national interest carries its own morality. As a matter of fact, Morgenthau’s theory failed to explain the phenomenon of international politics in its entirely because this theory believed that whatever can be understood about the behaviour of states has already been understood. But the fact is that none can claim the knowledge of whole reality in today’s world of transition.

(7) Power is not immediate goal of every Nation- Prof. Morgenthau’s assumption that power is the immediate goal of every nation that engages in politics also seems to be an oversimplification. Power may be one of the most significant goals that nations pursue but it is not the only goal, and it is not always the principal goal. Nations may pursue other goals such as wealth, cultural welfare, security, sovereignty, prosperity, justice, the protection and promotion of ideology, aggrandizement and peace. They must pursue all these goals at one and the same time. Actually, one goal may be necessary to achieve another, and the same action may be meant for several other goals. Wealth may bring power, and power may bring peace, and peace may be necessary to preserve the cultural welfare of the nation.

(8) Inadequate- Also Morgenthau’s theory is inadequate because it lays too much emphasis on power which is a means towards some purpose. According to Prof. V. V. Dyke, “If power were always the end in itself, politics could be likened to a game the object of which is to select the current winner. It would presumably be a more bloody game than is chess or baseball, but still, the outcome would be without moral significance. The victory of one participant in the game would be followed sooner or later by the victory of another, and life would be made up of endless rounds of meaningless struggle. Each victor would have demonstrated his power and that would be that”. In fact the quality, as well as the quantity of power, is determined by the purpose to which it is put. Stanley Hoffman remarks, “It would have been more logical, to begin with, a theory of ends rather than with the notions of power, which is here both ambiguous and abstracted from its end”. Morgenthau’s theory, however, does not include those factors which influence the purpose. Thus the domestic considerations that affect national power, the nature of the regime, the nation’s goals and the statesmen’s motivations are either left out or brushed aside.

(9) Kaplan’s Criticism- Morgentahu’s theory is also open to criticism because it holds that there is hardly any relationship or activity that does not involve power. Morton Kaplan rightly points out that Morgenthau’s conception of power would hardly exclude any relationship (not even the relationship in families and business) that does not involve power and is not political. But there are certain non-political relationships and activities. Thus, the international sports events, circulation of books and other reading matters, private letters and telegrams etc. are not political activities. However, Prof. Morgenthau does not suggest any criterion by which political activities may be separated from non-political activities.

(10) Prof. Said’s Criticism- According to Prof. Abdul A. Said the approach of Prof. Morgenthau appears too deterministic. Since the perception of his objective realities is analogous to the shadows in the Platonic cavern, the partiality of his theory becomes apparent power; interests are not absolute, but like the shadowy perceptions in the intellect of the holder.

(11) Confusing- Furthermore, Prof. Morgenthau’s theory is very much confusing. One of his six principles is that the political sphere is as autonomous as the respective spheres of the economists, or the lawyers or the moralists. But he is not clear in his mind as to what type of autonomy he had been talking about. In his well-known book, “Politics Among Nations”, he points out that a political realist thinks in terms of interest defined as wealth; the lawyer, of the conformity of action with legal rules; the moralist, of the conformity of action with moral principles. Thus here he maintains that a political realist should only deal with a limited set of variables. But in his various other writings and particularly in his book “Dilemmas of Politics” he holds that politics must play the roles of the common, integrating core. Thus here he holds a different viewpoint that politics must be concerned with all the variables with which the other specialized spheres deal. So all this leads to more confusion.

(12) It views the world as Static- The fundamental ambiguity of Morgenthau’s theory lies in the fact that it views the world as a static field in which power remains the permanent goal of every nation for all times and places. In recent centuries, however, when international relations change their character from era to era, the static qualities of this theory lead to confusion. As such, it is quite logical to assume that Morgenthau’s theory can be stated not for all times and places, but instead for different parts of the world and for different historical periods.

However, there is no end to listing ambiguities and inadequacies of Morgenthau’s theory. But in spite of all these deficiencies, it is worthwhile to bear in mind that Morgenthau’s theory is a pioneering contribution towards the development of international theory. Actually, Prof. Morgenthau’s theory was the starting point for providing us with a theoretical orientation to the study of international politics. It was he who gave order and meaning to a mass of international phenomena which without it would have remained disconnected and unintelligible. This is the reason that Kenneth W. Thompson regards him as “the greatest of “our contemporary writers on world politics” and David Singer treats him as our most prominent theoretician”. In fact, the realist theory has achieved great success. It succeeds in focussing attention on the units which remain the principal actors in world affairs; the states. The theory also stresses the factors that account for the large degree of autonomy in International Relations, the difference between domestic and world politics which thwart the operation in the latter of ideas and institutions that flourish in the former, the drastic imperatives of survival, self-preservation and self-help which are both the causes and the product of such differences.

To conclude we may say that Morgenthau’s realist theory occupied the most prominent place in the study of international politics. As one might expect, not all realists have supported every statement made by Prof. Morgenthau, Charles A McClelland observed “Many differences in point of view and details exist within the realist school of thought; we must recognize, however, that the Morgenthau version of power theory of international politics occupies the centre of the stage”.

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