Social Sciences

Start Free Trial

Editor's Choice

Please summarize the six principles of realism by Morgenthau.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles
  1. Politics is governed by objective laws that must be understood before society can be improved. These laws are rooted in human nature, which has not changed since the classical philosophies of ancient Greece, India, and China were formulated. Reason and experience must be used to test the viability of a theory of politics.
  2. Political realism is guided by an understanding of interest defined as power. Politics must be considered separately from other systems such as economics or religion. Examining the motives of statesmen is fruitless when analyzing their foreign policy, which must be understood as a possibly unattainable rational construct.
  3. The pursuit of interest underlying politics is influenced by time and place. Power encompasses any actions aimed at the control of man by man. The world can only be changed through using the forces that have persisted throughout history and not by attempts at making society adhere to abstract ideals.
  4. Political realism must not sacrifice the success of policy to moral principles. Political action must be weighed on the virtues of its consequences and not its adherence to abstract morality.
  5. Few nations have been able to resist cloaking their interest defined as power in a universal morality. Other nations must be viewed as pursuing their respective interest, which can be respected while following our own interest.
  6. The political realist views interest as power just as the economist understands interest as wealth and the lawyer sees interest as conformity with the law. The political realist recognizes the interests of these other spheres but rejects attempts to subject politics to their way of thinking. Different aspects of human nature such as religiosity must be considered in isolation from other ways of thinking and they must be approached on their own terms.
Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Hans Morgenthau was a leading figure in the study of international politics. Believing that science and technology were being overused as a way to find solutions to political problems, he put forth six principles of political realism. 

1. The first principle is that overall, politics and society are governed by rules that are rooted in human nature. This means that attempting to solve a political problem in a way that would require a party to act against their nature would be largely unsuccessful or unsustainable.

2. The interest of the parties involved can be defined as power. This means that no matter what issue is being investigated in the realm of politics, the main goal for the politician is to remain in control of his/her people. 

3. While the interest of the political leader is power, what "power" means can change. What keeps the party in control or having control over the population can change. The shifts in what constitutes power has to be addressed when negotiating. It is possible that one party may bring to the table a means of control that would no longer work for the other party, rendering the negotiations ineffective.

4. In politics, morality is relative. Options that may seem reprehensible at one moment can become workable at another time. Sometimes a situation may call for the lesser of two evils to be chosen, and while the best possible choice is made, it can sill appear amoral. 

5. Not all nations abide by the same moral code. As with the fourth principle, this indicates that context is necessary when determining the moral value of an event or condition. Not all cultures have the same values. A suggestion that seems casual and completely fine for one man may seem vulgar and insulting to another. This has to be kept in mind when dealing with the international community. 

6. Political realism is a distinct school of thought. While it recognizes human nature, it also argues that men in political situations do not always act by legal or moral means in the attempt to keep power, leading to the necessity of integrating human nature with the need for power when trying to solve and predict political problems. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles
  1. There are actual laws that govern international relations (like laws of physics).  We can't change these laws.
  2. International politics is all about countries trying to pursue their interests.  And their interest is in getting as much power as possible.
  3. The definition of power can change over time because power can be any way in which some people control others.
  4. States can't take morals into account when they act.  It's okay for people to die for a principle but states must not.
  5. Realists don't believe that any state's goals are more moral than any other's.  They don't believe in the idea of some country or other being on God's side.
  6. Realists believe that the political sphere stands alone.  It is governed by its own laws and its own concerns.  The concerns of other spheres are subordinate within this sphere.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial