Realism is a form of theory in foreign policy; most if not all theories of international relations (IR) are rooted in realism. While ideal-type realism is not necessarily the prominent IR theory, most ideologies rely on some loose understanding of the general mechanisms of realism. Perhaps the form of IR most opposed to realism is ideology because, as the name suggests, realism is rooted in the reality of relations among states.Murray Rothbard wrote on this in his book For a New Liberty:
  • "We must never forget that we are all living, and always have lived, in a world of "international anarchy," in a world of coercive nation-states unchecked by any overall world government, and there is no prospect of this situation changing."[1]

Basic Tenets

  • The world exists in an anarchic order. The international order is without mediation or coordination; no governing structure exists to mediate relationships among states.
  • Because of the anarchic international order, nations try to maximize independence in all economic and social actions. Dependence is a weakness.
  • All nations act rationally and in unison.
    • Nations do not act on irrationality, including emotional, ideological, or intentionally short-sighted beliefs.
    • The primary driver of rational thought is national security and self-interest. Any relationship that would foster interdependence or sacrifice autonomy is an act that presents a potential harm to national security. Therefore, any international relationship should be viewed with skepticism.
    • Even though rifts may exist within the acting nation, in the end, there will only be one action emanating from that nation.
  • Power, conveyed primarily through economic and military means, is the primary factor in international relations.

While primary two camps of realism exist (offensive realism and defensive realism), principled realists tend to regard expansionist policies with caution because of its tendencies towards decreasing the power of the expansionist nation. One can argue that expansionist policies were a key reason for the fall of the Roman empire, for example.

Six Principles of Realism

Further Reading

  1. ^ Rothbard, Murray N. "Chapter 12: The Public Sector, III: Police, Law, and the Courts Police Protection." For a New Liberty. New York: Macmillan, 1973. Ludwig Von Mises Institute. Web. <>.