Realist conceptualisations of power and the nation-state
This thesis is a project of intellectual history which focuses on the development of notions of power and the nation-state in realist thought. The main aim of the thesis is to offer a comprehensive account of how different conceptions of power in the work of various realist thinkers influence their perceptions of the nation-state. Although both power and the state are considered as central to realism, their connection has not been adequately discussed and remains largely implicit. The thesis aims at illuminating such a connection. The authors under examination are both key realist thinkers and representative of the diversity of realist thought as well as of the development from classical to structural realism. As such, the thesis focuses on the works of E.H. Carr, H. Morgenthau (as classical realists), J. Herz (as a transitional figure) and J. Mearsheimer (as a structural realist). The thesis engages with each realist’s theory in a three-step process. First, it analyses their conceptualisation of power and the role it plays in their ontological and epistemological assumptions. Then, using that conceptualisation of power as a starting point, it discusses its impact on the way the realist under examination understood the nation-state. Finally, the way the aforementioned realists engaged with the foreign policies of given nation-states is employed as an illustration of their theoretical framework. The thesis identifies a close interplay between power and the nation-state in all realists examined. Power plays a central role in each realist’s ontology and as such influences profoundly the way they conceptualised the nation-state. The latter can thus be approached as a manifestation of power which is unfixed in time. The realists examined approach the state as a historically conditioned entity. As such, it is argued that it is power that constitutes the core analytical category of realism rather than the state whose very conception is dependent upon that of power. In terms of the development of realism, a process of gradual narrowing down of the concept of power from classical to structural approaches is observed. The multifaceted conception of power advanced by early realists is abandoned in favour of an approach which understands power as material capabilities. While this approach is compatible with a scientific vision of politics as manifested after the second debate it reduces significantly realism’s analytical purchase both in understanding power and the nation-state. This is evident in the precarious balance that neorealists have to attain when theorising nationalism, the ideological corollary of the nation-state, which can more fully be accounted for by classical realists. Finally, by removing power from the field of epistemology, structural variants of realism lack the reflexivity of earlier realists and as such find it difficult to engage in foreign policy debates without compromising the core assumptions of their theory. The thesis is structured as follows: In the introduction, the thesis is put in the context of existing literature on realism and the way questions of power and the nation-state have been addressed in the past. Questions of methodology and selection of authors are also addressed in the introduction. The following four chapters are dedicated to analysing the theories of the selected realists. The concluding section summarises the findings and main argument of the thesis.