Neorealism and hypocrisy 101

Sep 4, 2007

Note: A full citation of the piece is below the fold.

OK, so this is shameless self promotion. The September 2007 Perspectives on Politics, which arrived in my mailbox today, includes my article “Neorealists as Critical Theorists: The Purpose of Foreign Policy Debate.”

Editor Jim Johnson offers a brief explanation of the article in his “Introduction and Comments” piece at the front of the journal:

Rodger Payne seeks to catch the neo-realists among International Relations scholars in what we might call a pragmatic contradiction. He argues that while their own theory of politics discounts ideas and principles, they themselves peddle ideas to elites and the public. More specifically, he chides neo-realists for complaining in policy debates when political leaders dissemble, mis-represent, spin, and otherwise skirt the truth. Such practical complaints, Payne insists, seem to be consistently at odds with the theoretical expectations that neo-realists would have us embrace. In so doing, Payne advances what seems to be a fundamental challenge to the very coherence of the various forms of neo-realism on offer among our colleagues.

Here’s the abstract

The international relations field has recently taken a communicative turn. Social constructivists, for instance, regularly examine frames, persuasion, and other discursive mechanisms by which actors reach intersubjective agreement. Critical theorists add an overtly normative dimension by embracing the transformative potential of public deliberation. In contrast, realists and neorealists claim that outcomes are determined by the distribution of material power—political communication and discursive ideals are virtually meaningless elements in international politics. Put simply, talk is cheap. Given this view, it is puzzling that many prominent realists participate actively in national foreign policy debates and in that context both implicitly and explicitly embrace views about political discourse that are remarkably consistent with those held by constructivists and critical theorists. In the recent Iraq debate, the realists reveal lies, political spin, and other distortions of the debate promulgated by government elites and their allies. They challenge the legitimacy of established policies and critique excessive secrecy. Most importantly, these neorealists seek to transform public and elite consciousness so as to produce social pressures for alternative outcomes. Realists have apparently rejected their own theoretical presuppositions about the meaning and role of political communication, which has important implications for both policy debate and IR theorizing.

Ultimately, I discuss some scholarly activity similar to what Patrick addressed in his post on “Weberian activism” back in March. Patrick accurately described PoP as a:

journal that isn’t precisely a research journal (although it does publish pieces that I can only describe as “research notes”), although it is peer-reviewed. PoP, as it is sometimes called, is the place designated by the APSA for the publication of articles that do a bit more meta-reflection on the study of politics and the practice of Political Science

Feedback is most welcome.

Update: The article can be found here. According to the journal copyright agreement, I have:

The right to post the definitive version of the contribution as published at Cambridge Journals Online (in PDF or HTML form) on their personal or departmental web page, no sooner than upon its appearance at Cambridge Journals Online, subject to file availability and provided the posting includes a prominent statement of the full bibliographical details, a copyright notice in the name of the copyright holder (American Political Science Association), and a link to the online edition of the journal at Cambridge Journals Online.

Here’s the required full citation:

Rodger A. Payne, “Neorealists as Critical Theorists: The Purpose of Foreign Policy Debate,” 5 Perspectives on Politics, September 2007, pp. 503-14.

Please note that the American Political Science Association is the copyright holder of this article.


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Rodger A. Payne is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Louisville. He serves on the University’s Sustainability Council and was a co-founder of the Peace, Conflict, and Social Justice program. He is the author of dozens of journal articles and book chapters and coauthor, with Nayef Samhat, of Democratizing Global Politics: Discourse Norms, International Regimes, and Political Community (SUNY, 2004). He is currently working on two major projects, one exploring the role of narratives in international politics and the other examining the implications of America First foreign policy.