Traditional Political Realism and the Writing of History

Roger D. Spegele

in International Society and its Critics

Published in print August 2004 | ISBN: 9780199265206
Published online January 2005 | e-ISBN: 9780191601866 | DOI:
Traditional Political Realism and the Writing of History

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Part Two of the book begins with a discussion of realist and English School of International Relations approaches to writing international history, in which the author argues that the appreciation of history that underpinned early English School thinking was reminiscent of that which also framed ‘traditional classical’ realist approaches to the subject. The author refutes D. C. Copeland's (2003) structuralist critique of the English School and argues that the School's early thinkers may provide a teleological account of agent‐led historical change that could enable traditional realists to regain ground lost to the structuralists in the past few decades. Focusing on the conceptions of history of two distinguished members of the English School, E. H. Carr and Herbert Butterfield (although their views are in some respects diametrically opposed), he argues that both implicitly accepted different renditions of a teleological view of history. He advances a case for treating human actions as directed to the agent's – both individual and collective – goals and purposes, an idea that scientific empiricism would be obliged to reject but which may unite the English School and traditional political realism. In addition, he suggests that the mix of English School and political realism provided by Carr and Butterfield offers an understanding of history that can challenge dominant neorealist and neoliberal accounts in two principal ways: first, in that it offers an account of history that focuses on the intentional actions of actors, and second, because it provides a convincing method for identifying the causes of historical change by focusing on the reasons for change.

Keywords: agent‐led historical change; Herbert Butterfield; E. H. Carr; causes of historical change; English School of International Relations; historical change; international history; international relations; international society; neoliberalism; neorealism; political realism; structuralism; teleological view of history; teleology; traditional political realism

Chapter.  9691 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

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