Idealism Theory in International Relations

I have succeeded in studying international relations many theories, among them the Idealism Theory, which is classified within one of the standard directions in the analysis of international relations, so that this theory emerged as an optimistic philosophical view with its own axioms and principles as well as its own foundations, which we will discuss in detail in this article.

1- Definition and genesis of the ideal theory:

Idealism is sometimes called “utopianism”, and it is an approach to international relations that stresses the importance of moral values ​​and standards called legalism and harmony of interests to be directed at drawing up foreign policy instead of national interest and power, and it examines what international life should be and not what is It is based on knowing “how should” politicians behave in international relations, not on the basis of “how these actually behave.”

There are also those who know idealism as a philosophical approach in contrast to materialism and the philosophy of “Hegel” is its most common and influential model. In social theory, the term “Marx” was used to refer to theories that amplify the role of ideas in social life, and this approach emphasizes the example. What should be and which reality must change to match it, starting from the primacy of the soul or consciousness and saying the transcendence of values ​​and ideals in practical life, and looking at matter as a secondary thing derived, and the roots of the ideal approach lies in exaggeration in certain aspects of the knowledge process by looking at Its contradiction, and the history of the use of the word ideal goes back to the seventeenth century, when philosophers used it in exchange for the word materialism. Today, the use of the word idealism is dominated by the synonym of utopian and realist.

The idealist theory came as a response to the First World War, and its terrible effects that threaten humanity as a whole, as the continuing occurrence of wars in the manner of what happened in the First World War heralds the annihilation of humanity in the near future, and the reason for this was attributed to secret treaties, power politics, their balances and alliances. Practiced by the great European powers, as they made international politics a stage for expressing the interests of selfish states and their tendency to excessive use of military force in resolving their disputes or in implementing their foreign policies instead of resorting to cooperation, understanding and dialogue.

Among the most important pioneers of idealism are Immanuel Kant, Richard Cobdon, John Hobson, Norman Angell, Alfred Zimmern, and Woodrow Wilson.

2- The foundations and principles of the ideal theory in international relations:

Among the most important foundations and principles on which the ideal theory in international relations is based are:

1- The human nature is good in its entirety, and hence the character of cooperation and coordination, not competition and conflict, is a fundamental pillar in international relations.

2- The main interest of mankind in developing and strengthening human civilization reflects to a large extent the existence of the desire and determination of individuals and states to spread and spread welfare to the rest of individuals and other nations. The presence of such resilience and determination in the relations of individuals and states is sufficient to strengthen the bonds of international peace and security.

3- They believed in the idea of ​​the possibility of human progress and that what brings people together more than what divides them, and also recognized that the bad conditions that the world lives in are caused by the environment, and therefore there is always a great possibility to change this situation and direct it for the better.

4- The evil human behavior of individuals or states is not in any way the result of the evil behavior of individuals and peoples, but rather the result of evil institutions and structural organizations that push individuals to commit foolishness and rational policies that often lead to the outbreak of wars and conflicts that threaten security And international peace.

5- Idealism has two streams, moral and legal.

6- The idealistic current was described as “teleological, rational and utopian” so that it is my goal: because it seeks to achieve the goal of absolute peace, and its preoccupation with this goal outweighs its interest in understanding facts, rational: because it demands disarmament as a means to attain peace. And the establishment of a world government that decides for all.

7- Religions are the source of many principles of international relations in the eyes of idealists, as they are the container that contains morals, obligations, duties, and rights, as well as an integrated system of political evaluation. Religions are a value system that classifies the political actions of actors within certain categories in a way that directly affects the reputation of units in the international system. Religions have a human crime that deserves to be condemned and condemned.

8- According to idealists, the threat to the issue of international peace and security is not necessarily an inevitable issue as long as there is determination to the judiciary or at least correct the course of public institutions such as the ministries of defense and intelligence, when strict control and specific restrictions are imposed on them that reduce the imposition of the outbreak of wars that threaten the issue of international peace and security The most prominent multinational companies and arms production companies that want to increase their sales rates on the one hand, and give them the opportunity to experiment and develop their weapons systems on the other hand, have increased and supported the chances of wars that threaten the issue of international peace and security.

9 – The idealists believe that war is an international problem that requires collective efforts instead of individual efforts to eliminate it with the aim of strengthening international peace and security. Interaction and harmony between countries is based on cooperation and coordination, which enhances security and peace efforts and weakens the individual efforts of some countries in waging wars.

10- Thus, the idealists deal with international issues through three basic criteria: ethics, optimism, internationalism, or the tendency towards universality. Accordingly, the treatment of international crises from the point of view of the ideal theory takes place through the following frameworks:

A – International institutions such as the League of Nations and the United Nations that replace the vocabulary of the balance of power and anarchy system according to realist theory.

B – The tools for maintaining international peace and security are the legal and political tools by the judiciary, international arbitration, mediation and negotiation …

C- The other tool for international peace and security stability is disarmament, given that the arms race is a serious threat to the cause of peace and security in the world.

3- The criticism directed at the idealism:

1 – According to Edward Hallett Carr. H. E, idealists confuse national self-interests with universal moral principles . 

2- Carr also believes that the central fallacy of idealism is its tendency to indulge in imaginative aspirations at the expense of rigorous empirical analysis, to the point of “a tendency to ignore what was and is in his conception of what should be.”

The overemphasis on abstract principles instead of real facts led, in Carr’s view, to the inability, especially in the Anglo-American world, to understand and control international events during the interwar period. The idealists failed to realize that the causes The main principles of state behavior revolve around considerations of power and national interest rather than morality and global tendency, and policies based on such erroneous ideas must fail, because these principles that are supposed to be absolute are not principles at all, but rather are the subconscious reflections of national policy that are based on an interpretation Assigned to the national interest at a certain time. 

3- Idealism has faced real problems in the international reality, and one of the most important of those obstacles is that such an ideal system can only appear in the event that the international community follows ethical principles , instead of using force, and this condition has not been applied and the opposite happens often by states. In order to bring such a system to reality, totalitarian regimes must be eradicated by any means and replaced with democratic systems, and this is something that has not yet happened . A world government must be established to implement these principles and monitor states in implementation.

4- The ideal school could not understand and determine the motives that move countries towards aggression and war.

5- The international repercussions of the two world wars and their mis-link between Western democracies and the achievement of international peace and security led to the retreat of the ideal approach in international politics.

6- Ideal hypotheses failed to understand the influencing factors in determining the behaviors of states with colonial interests.

The political developments that succeeded between the two world wars have led to the reversal of the beliefs of the ideal school. Democracy did not spread. Rather, totalitarian and fascist regimes became more widespread, the system of collective security collapsed, and the spread of irrational behaviors and fanatic nationalist ideas spread in a way that made the belief in human rationality and the homogeneity of interests among people. A matter beyond reasonable limits, and then many scholars turned to the study of material power, and most of Carr’s criticisms of idealism mainly contributed to highlighting the crisis that the idealism was suffering from, and strengthening the vision that focuses on the international reality as it is far from hopes Ideal humanity, and represented the real beginning of the dominance of realist theory in the field of international relations for decades, especially in the United States.

Sources and references:

Faraj Anwar Muhammad, The Realism Theory in International Relations (a comparative critical study in light of contemporary theories), Kurdistan Center for Strategic Studies, Sulaymaniyah 2007.

The ideal theory in international relations, The Algerian Encyclopedia of Political and Strategic Studies, 06/06/2019.

Maklif Mohamed, The Ideal School of International Relations, The Algerian Encyclopedia of Political and Strategic Studies, 11/06/2019.

Freeh Zainab, The Theory of International Relations, publication presented for the first year of Master of Political Sciences, specializing in international relations and international law, Ali Lonnese University Blida 2, Faculty of Law and Political Science, Department of Political Science, 2019 AD. 

Lectures of the Standardized Trend in International Relations: The Ideal Theory in International Relations, Faculty of Law and Political Science, Mohamed Lamine Dabbaghine University of Setif.

Classical Theories of International Relations Lectures: The second lecture, Faculty of Law and Political Science, Mohamed Lamine Dabbaghine University of Setif.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

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