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Model of Analysis for International Relations

What Model of Analysis for International Relations is Best: Idealism or Realism?

Governing  a country is a delicate and demanding job; rulers are expected to make decisions that influence the lives of their subjects. These decisions may have positive or negative impacts or both. In this respect, choosing a method or approach toward leadership is critical, especially at this age where globalization and international relations have significantly influenced country’s system of ruling. Members of the international community have expectations of leaders in each state; thus, the pressure imposed on those in governance prompts them to come up with ways they deem fit to lead. Notably, their method of leadership is expected not to infringe on any laws, whether local or international. Realism and idealism are some of the methods of governing that some governments use. However, upon carrying out a critical analysis of both systems, it is right to say that a country’s governance is solid if both systems are used.

Scholars describe idealism stating that a country should try to enforce its internal political philosophy on the international scene. This means that the aims and targets a government has locally should be the same when it comes to international relations. As an example, if a country decides to end poverty locally, it should also engage in the same practice internationally. The sole purpose of doing so is to create a global society that is free from social issues, hence promoting utilitarian ethics (Pick & Bromke, 1967).

Main Principles

Man is a spiritual being. As a mode of governance, idealism is based on some key important principles which help in guiding its application or rather execution. To some extent, idealism promotes the view that man is a spiritual being. It asserts that the main goal of man is to develop himself spiritually; this is one of the ways toward achieving happiness, as emphasized in Kant’s utilitarian ethics. Markedly, it is this nature that helps to differentiate man from other living organisms (Kegley, 1995). In regards to this, the underlying principle in idealism is that, “Mind or spirit is the essential world stuff and that mind is not merely brain and its activity, but is in itself a real thing.” Hence, the emphasis is that reality exists in the mind of man and not really in the material or external world.

Ideas and values are important than the material world. Apart from this, idealism also suggests that the world of values and ideas is more important compared to the material world. Idealism proposes that the material world does not have a greater purpose compared to the ideas and values that people hold and live by. The focus is on how man develops ideas and values which guide his interaction with other people in the society. Positive ideas and values promote well-being of all individuals in the society, while negative ones bring about chaos and unrest. Hence, proposers of idealism encourage the use of this philosophy in guidance as it targets the greater good of all.

Emphasis on unity and diversity. Owing to its main target, which is promotion of happiness for all in the society, idealism lays much emphasis on the significance of unity and diversity. Supporters of this view believe that through unity and diversity, peace and harmony can be achieved universally. The idea of unity is brought about to enforce and encourage individuals to work together in a diverse world. Acknowledgeably, the universe is home to people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. In this respect, the only way to be united is to respect diversity through identifying and accepting it. In essence, individuals should develop competence toward the diversity of the university. Only through that unity it can be achieved.

Universal Mind. Idealists propose that the world would be governed more effectively through a common purpose and target. For instance, the idea of alleviating poverty locally should be made a priority in the international arena. Hence, in this respect, having a similar purpose would create a situation where countries are in unity following their drive toward alleviating a universal problem.

Tenants of Idealism

  • Promotion of ethics
  • Emphasis is on unity
  • Acknowledgement of man’s spiritual existence
  • Ideas and values surpass the material world
  • Universality of the mind
  • Promotion of personal well-being

As an ideology in itself, realism encompasses four major aspects: egoism, power politics, international anarchy, and political groupism. The idea is that rationality is the real architect of a realistic mode of governance. From the four faces of realism, the use of power bears most weight. This provides that realism is based on promoting what is deemed to be rationally right, even if there will be dire consequences for the subjects.

Main Principles

Objectivity of laws. Realism posits that objective laws are responsible for steering politics in the right way. Their essence is to ensure that political activities do not infringe on the lives of human beings. This explains why the laws are embedded in human nature. Thus, politics and society share the same root, namely human nature. In this regard, laws are said to be under the influence of human beings; simply put, individual reasoning is the foundation of a society’s rules and regulations (Gismondi, 2008). This means that laws and policies may be flawed since policy makers may have their own self-interests, hence interfering with the entire process.

Moral significance of political forces. Believers of realism assert that the ideology is conscious of the moral outcome of political forces. In this regard, realism promotes acts that are morally upright in order to avoid any kind of violation on human rights in terms of social, economical, and environmental spheres. Hence, morality is deeply embedded in realism. Supporters of this ideology are said to be keen on how it is practiced based on its connection with the moral requirement of the society (Hollis & Smith, 1990). 

Interest is defined in terms of power. Governance through realism promotes the use of power to fulfill an entity’s interests. Hence, the concept of interests or goals can only be achieved through the use of power. Notably, one should not misinterpret what it means to ‘use power’. From a rational and realistic point of view, use of power simply means that the governing body has authority to foresee achievement of goals which are geared toward meeting the needs of people (Hollis & Smith, 1990).

Believes in uniqueness. In a country, there are laws and principles that are enacted and which are applied to local people. These regulatory measures are created in such a way that they cater only for the domestic population, and hence cannot be applied in the international sphere. In this respect, realists believe that a country’s laws and principles cannot be used or identified with international laws. Therefore, political aspirations of a country cannot be placed on the international arena in order for them to be used. This means that realists believe in distinctiveness in governance (Gismondi, 2008).

Tenants of Realism

  • Use of military power
  • Individual reasoning applies
  • Laws base on human nature
  • Domestic political aspirations cannot identify with international laws
  • Power is the key facet
  • There is emphasis on the moral aspect of political activities


Idealism and realism are in some way connected with each other. For instance, one can identify that realists are conscious of the moral requirement of political actors. In this respect, governance should be based on methods and principles that adhere to the moral requirements and expectations of the society. It is, therefore, justified to say that from this view, realism is congruent with Kant’s utilitarian ethics. Similarly, idealism posits that unity and diversity are important factors to consider in leadership. Global society is home to people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds (Rothschild & Bromke, 1969). Therefore, finding a common ground on which each society can stand is imperative. This seeks to promote a society that is based on social cohesion through working together to meet common goals. This demonstrates a strong link between realism and idealism as concepts of governance which have significant influence on international relations.

However, there are notable differences between the two concepts of leadership. For instance, idealism proposes that the world should be governed through a universal mind. This means that countries should come together and discuss matters that are of great urgency. These matters can be related to social problems such as poverty, diseases, civil conflicts. Through working together toward alleviating these social vices, the universe will acquire a state of being free from issues that undermine the overall progress of the society (Carlsnaes, Risse-Kappen, & Simmons, 2013). In retaliation, realists believe that there is a system that ought to be followed. It looks at each country as an individual entity which has clear set targets and goals that are different from those of other countries. Hence, this means that there is no way a country can focus on its issues and still be able to have a universal impact on others. The individualistic nature promotes solving of local problems first before venturing into the international arena.

From a  rational point of view, realism acknowledges that there are countries which are developed and others which are developing. In this respect, there is no way these two groups can have similar thought processes toward alleviating social problems. In the first place, social problems are unique in each country, and even if they are similar, they vary in terms of prevalence. Idealism fails to view the world from this point of view, which is indeed quite critical.


A critical evaluation of both ideologies shows that there are certain elements in both of them that complement each other. On the other hand, there are aspects which are in conflict with each other. However, application of both styles in governance would have a much bigger impact compared to using either as the sole model of ruling. Where idealism fails, realism provides support, and where realism fails, idealism provides support. They complement each other in terms of their application. For this reason, both styles should be used to assess international relations. 



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