Day 2

Saturday, February 9
9 am to 4 pm
Ahmadieh Family Conference Hall, Room 240
John Hope Franklin Center, Duke University

Workshop on

“Realism, Liberal Internationalism, History:
Conceiving a New Research Agenda”

Since World War II, realism and liberal internationalism have been the dominant political categories by which Americans have understood their global role and debated their rights and “responsibilities“ to the world. Nevertheless, recent events—particularly the election of Donald J. Trump and the Brexit vote—have suggested that there is a break in the postwar consensus regarding the United States’ international position. This, we believe, provides an opportunity to rethink the legacies of realism and liberal internationalism for U.S. and European foreign policy. Are there resources within these tradition that can serve to develop a foreign policy that is neither imperial nor militarist?

Both for political and historiographical reasons, a skeptical look at old categories seems necessary. Today, realism, liberalism, and internationalism are viewed within IR theory and internalist histories of IR as traditions of Western political thought stretching back to Rousseau, Hobbes, Machiavelli, Augustine, and Thucydides. Only recently have contextual intellectual historians challenged the validity of this narrative and have started to argue that it distorts the meaning of the canonized authors’ work. Simply put, historians have begun to assert that the distance between the concerns of Kant or Rousseau and the liberal or realists of the post-1945 era cannot be so easily bridged. We have also learned much in recent years about the political contexts in which contemporary traditions were constructed, and are gaining perspective on the ways in which realism and liberalism are less opposed than constituted in dialogue with the other, dependent on its “other” at different historical moments in different ways. Some historians have even concluded that realism and liberal internationalism are merely two faces of an interventionist globalism that is neo-imperial in its origins and functions.

The goal of the workshop is to bring together a small group of leading scholars from Europe and the United States to, first, help take stock of recent developments in historiography, and, second, conceive a new research agenda for the study of “realism” and “liberal internationalism” in the theory and practice of international relations. The workshop is intended as an exploratory exercise aimed at the eventual publication of an edited volume of essays.

The three two-hour panels will consist of brief presentations (10 minutes) of precirculated papers followed by discussion without official commentators. Participants were asked to write short concept-notes or working papers (2000-4000 words) that respond to one of the following prompts:

  • How did realism come to dominate 20th century Western discourse on international relations? Is it primarily constituted by European and American exchanges?
  • Is realism necessarily an elitist discourse, aimed in part to insulate “national interests” from the uneducated demos? Is a progressive/left-liberal realism possible? What elements of realism or geopolitics are most valuable to creating a liberal or progressive internationalism worthy of the name?
  • How and why have alternatives to realism arisen? To what extent do liberal internationalism, constructivism, and Marxism diverge or converge with these traditions?
  • Can realism transcend its historical imbrication with imperial and colonial histories? To what extent does realism construct the international canon without women?

Workshop Schedule

9:00 am-10:45 am: Session 1/Realism and Liberal Internationalism in Global and Historical Context
Matthew Specter—“Realism’s Origins in the North Atlantic, 1880-1910”
Mark Bassin—“Classical Geopolitics: An Invented Tradition?”
Cemil Aydin—“Contested Narratives of the Global Order—Towards a Non-Eurocentric Theory”

11:15 am-1:00 pm: Session 2/Challenging the Paradigms 

Katharina Rietzler, “What Would Realism Look Like with Women in It?”
Stuart Schrader, “Rethinking How We Think about Race and Modernization”
Giuliana Chamedes, “The New International Economic Order, European Socialists, and the Recovery of an Alternative Vision for Global Governance”
Danny Steinmetz-Jenkins, “The 1970s and the Politics of Political Realism”

1:00 pm-2:15 pm: Luncheon

2:15 pm- 4:00 pm: Session 3/ Realism, Liberalism, and Neoliberalism in Practice 

Bill Scheuerman, “Progressive Realism? How Realists Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Global Reform”
Adam Tooze, “A New Bretton Woods? Realism and the Problem of Economic Order in the 21st Century”
Alexandra Kemmerer, “Modern Positivism with a Heavy Dose of Policy Considerations”: Transnational law, Transatlantic Liberal realism and the Legal Integration of Europe”
Nicolas Guilhot, “Realism and the Neoliberal Age”