Who was Morgenthau?

Hans Joachim Morgenthau (February 17, 1904 – July 19, 1980) was one of the leading twentieth-century figures studying international politics. He made landmark contributions to international relations theory and the study of international law, and his writing “Politics Among Nations,” first published in 1948, went through five editions during his lifetime.

Also ReadWhat is International Relations?

Morgenthau also wrote widely about international politics and the US. Foreign policy for general-circulation publications such as The New Leader, Commentary, Worldview, The New York Review of Books, and The New Republic. He knew and corresponded with many of his era’s leading intellectuals and writers, such as Reinhold Niebuhr, George F. Kennan, and Hannah Arendt.

At one point in the early period of Cold War, Morgenthau was a consultant to the US. Department of State when Kennan headed its Policy Planning Staff, and a second time during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations until he was dismissed when he began to publicly express his position of dissent concerning American involvement in Vietnam. For most of his career, however, Morgenthau was esteemed as an academic interpreter of U. S. foreign policy.

Starting with the second edition of Politics Among Nations, Morgenthau included a section in the opening chapter called ” Six Principles of Political Realism.”

Hans. J. Morgenthau Six Principles of Realism are as following

  1. International Politics is Governed by objective Laws having roots in Human Nature.
  2. National Interest defined in terms of power.
  3. National interest is always dynamic.
  4. Abstract Moral Principles cannot be applied to International Politics.
  5. Difference between the moral aspiration of a nation and the universal moral principle.
  6. The Autonomy of International Politics.

Let’s go throughout the detailed explanations of each Principles of Morgenthau Six Principles of Realism.

First Principle – International Politics is Governed by objective Laws having roots in Human Nature

Political realism believes that objective laws rooted in human nature govern politics, like society in general.

Human nature on which the laws of polities must be based has not changed since time immemorial. Hence it is first necessary to understand the laws by which society lives.

Realism believes that the purpose of the laws of politics is to develop a rational theory that reflects these objective laws. Thus it believes in the objectivity and rationality of international politics supported by evidence and illuminated by reason rather than by subjective judgments. For realism, theory consists of ascertaining facts and giving them meaning through reason and testing this rational hypothesis against the facts.

It assumes that the character of foreign policy can be ascertained only through examination of the political act performed and the possible consequences of such acts. The foreign policy must also be examined from the possible rational alternatives.

Second Principle – National Interest defined in terms of power

The main signpost of political realism in international relations is the “concept of interest as defined in terms of power.” This concept provides the link between reason trying to understand international politics and the fact to be made understood.

It sets politics as an autonomous sphere of action from other spheres such as economics which is understood in terms of wealth, or religion understood in terms of ethics. Without such a concept, a theory of politics – international or domestic – would be impossible because we cannot differentiate between political and non-political facts.

The concept of power infuses rational order into international politics and makes the theoretical understanding of politics possible. It makes the foreign policy of a particular nation intelligible and eliminates popular myths such as motives or ideological preferences.

Third Principle – National Interest is always dynamic

Realism does not endow its key concept of interest, defined as power with a meaning fixed once and for all. The idea of interest is the essence of politics and is unaffected by the circumstances of time and place.

However, the kind of interest determining political action in a particular period of history depends upon the political and cultural context in which foreign policy is formulated. The goals that nations might pursue in their foreign policy can also be different. Similarly, the political and cultural environment determines the content of power and the manner of its use.

Fourth Principle – Abstract Moral Principles cannot be applied to International Politics

Political realism is aware of the moral significance of political action. It is also aware of the tension between moral command and the requirements of successful political action. However, realism maintains that the universal moral principles cannot be applied to the action of the states in their universal formulations. However, they must be filtered through concrete circumstances of time and place.

An individual can say,’ let justice be done even if the world perishes,’ but a state has no right to say so in the name of those who are under its care. The motto of the state is not morality.

Realism considers prudence – the weighing of the consequences of alternative political action to be the supreme virtue of politics. Political ethics considers all actions by its political consequences.

Fifth Principle – Differences between the moral aspiration of a Nation and the Universal moral principle

Political Realism refuses to identify the moral aspirations of a particular nation with its moral laws that govern the universe.

Realism distinguishes between truth and idolatry. All nations are tempted to clothe their particular aspirations and actions in the moral purpose of the universe.

On the other hand, for Realism, it is the concept of interest defined as the supreme power. It claims that if we look at all nations as pursuing their national interest defined in terms of power, we shall be able to do justice to all of them. In this way, we can judge equally and can pursue politics that respects the interest of all other nations while protecting and promoting one’s own.

Sixth Principle – The Autonomy of International Politics

Realism believes in the autonomy of the political sphere (just as an economist, lawyers, or moralists maintain their own).

The realist thinks interest is defined in terms of power (as just economics or lawyer thinks in terms of wealth or legal rules, respectively). It does not mean that the political realist is unaware of the existence and relevance of standards of thought other than political. However, he cannot subordinate his political standard to other spheres.

However, it does not mean disregarding other modes of thought. It implies that each should be assigned its proper sphere and function. Political realism is based upon the pluralistic concept of human nature.

The real man is a composition of economic, political, religious, etc., but to understand one of them, one has to deal with it on its terms. Every field should apply the standards appropriate to its thought. For politics, it is interest defined as power.

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