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The Key Differences Between Realists, Morality Of State Theorists, And Cosmopolitans

1719 words - 7 pages

George Kennan says, “Morality in governmental method, as a matter of conscience and preference on the part of our people – yes.” He goes on to say that morality as a criterion for measuring and comparing the behavior of states is flawed. Morality is a preference, not a requirement to govern in the international anarchic system, Kennan argues. Ethics and justice in the international system are measured by how states satisfy varying moral requirements. These moral requirements are defined by a variety of schools of thought, including: Realists, Morality of States theorists, and Cosmopolitans. Realists may validate some action where morality of state theorists and cosmopolitans ...view middle of the document...

The notion that states’ interest carries far more weight than morality is a clear divergence from non-realist thought. Realists are deeply skeptical of the applicability of morality to international relations. Instead, realists hold that there is some basic idea about nature and requirements of morality, or moral intuitions that guide us (Beitz, 17). Even among realists, there are some with more extreme positions about morality and ethics in international relations. Machiavelli argues that morality can be broken when necessary in order to maintain the state, or perhaps even expand the state. To this end, the prince should be amoral and self-aggrandizing (Beitz, 21). Machiavelli is not justifying unwarranted cruelty, “The prince should not deviate from what is good, if possible, but be able to do evil if constrained” (Beitz, 21). Rulers are permitted to break the shared idea of morality when they are doing so in order to protect the state from intrusion or vulnerability in international relations. Machiavelli posits perhaps the most rigid realists perspective on international relations. The basic notion is that governments and individuals that have different moral responsibilities and individual responsibilities value morality much more than the state.
Kennan breaks moral responsibility down to two entities: government and individual. He argues, “Government is an agent, not a principal. Its primary obligation is to the interests of the national society it represents, not to the moral impulses that individual elements of that society may experience” (Kennan, 34). Kennan also argues that morality is only conceptually possible on the individual level, because there is no one set of moral principles that can be internationally accepted. Our morality is composed based on our unique culture and traditions, and as such, what may seem morally right or wrong to us, can be seen oppositely by other states. Failure of other states’ compliance to our moral requirements, when at odds with our national interests, can justify a retaliatory action (Kennan, 35). Realists offer a non-ideal theory for how the world operates, it’s a theory that encompasses the often-harsh realities of international relations. States are self-interested actors and thus should act amorally in order to self-preserve.
Morality of State Theory:
We are morally responsible first and foremost to the citizens of our own state, but we do have a moral responsibility outside of the state – an obligation to non-interference. Every state is an autonomous entity that has its own self-determination to create rules of the road that their respective citizens must abide by. This concept is referred to a social contract, which forms as a result of “shared experiences and cooperative activity” (Walzer, 43). Morality of state theorists argue for non-intervention, any action of this nature is the ultimate form of interference and is not permissible. States are bound by international law, and must...

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