Human Nature in International Relations Theory: An Analysis and Critique of Realist Assumptions About Motivation

Dissertation, University of Georgia (1998)

This study is concerned with the assumptions about human motivation that are common to realist theories of international relations and foreign policy. It examines what those assumptions are, how they are used, and how their use may affect scholarly findings as well as the policy decisions informed by such findings. My approach involves a historical analysis of the use of motivational assumptions in realist theory. Based on this analysis, I present a three-pronged critique of the use of motivational assumptions in realist theory. First, I argue that realist motivational assumptions carry a bias in favor of a particular pessimistic view of human nature. Second, I argue that this bias has the potential of systematically affecting in undesirable ways realist scholarly findings and policies. Third, I argue that a necessary critical revision of realist motivational assumptions is impeded by the fact that the realist paradigm functions as a self-fulfilling prophesy. I claim that the assumptions concerning human motivation which are employed in realist theory play a crucial role in supporting an ominous tendency of the realist paradigm: the tendency to produce a pessimistic bias in our interpretations of political events, and thereby to provide the rationale for policies which make this very bias appear "realistic."
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