I’m teaching 3 courses this semester and during the last two weeks in all of them I had to teach about international relations (IR) theories of realism and idealism. It’s probably every IR scholar’s dilemma: which one of these two basic perspectives to favor over the other?
The realist perspective claims that humans are selfish and that states always go after their national interests which they try to attain through usage of power. Realists believe that self-help is the only way of surviving in a world they see as anarchical where there is no central authority such as a world government. The idealists on the other hand emphasize the good nature of humans and believe that through education and better institutions, people can change, so can world politics, and that the effects of the anarchical state of the world could be alleviated. The realists see the world as it is whereas the idealists see it as it should be.(*) In other words, idealists and realists are caught up in a dilemma between dreams and reality.
I recently realized that not only I have favored realism in my studies and analyses as a professional perspective in IR so far, I also favored it in my daily life and saw the world as it is, not as I want the world to be. That actually contradicted my personality because I also do have this very idealist side, which wants to work for the betterment of my own personality, betterment of my own life and of those who I love, betterment of the society in which I live, betterment of the world. Why then all these years have I been a realist and supressed my idealist side?
I now believe it was the lack of courage. Being an idealist requires tremendous courage because envisioning the world as it should be has a lot of potential for disappointment and frustration. The progress is slow, the waiting is long and the odds against the ideal dream are everywhere.
For a long time I have studied the spill-overs between external threats and internal threats in international relations. Now it looks like I am on to something else: Will IR theories help me better find myself? Can there be a spill-over effect between my professional self and my personal self?
Lately I’ve come to the realization that I am not just rhetoric. I just cannot be. I cannot be content to sit back and make realist analyses of the world. I also have the dream to make the world a better place for myself and for others, on professional as well as personal terms. As much as I always believed in the past that ideals should be based on good analyses of the reality, I now think maybe it is best not to limit the ideals to what we think is possible in the current picture, for realities are not constant, they are mostly temporary.
In the worst-case scenario, if you are ready to handle the frustration, why not dream? Even dream big? For peace inside us or for peace in the world? If you are already ready to face the rain with no umbrella, why not start by dreaming of the rainbow and the gold buried beneath?
I’m not just rhetoric, I am now a dream.
(*) As a reference on realism and idealism (also known as liberalism, as in this following source), see Genest Marc A.. 2004. Conflict and Cooperation: Evolving Theories of International Relations. Second Edition. Belmont, CA.