In this article, idealism, considered as the founding theory of international relations, has been explained and compared with the realism school that emerged with antithesis. As a result of this comparison, an answer was sought to question why idealism was not attractive, although it was a founding and important theory in international relations.

Key words: İdealism, Realism, Great Debate.


Bu makalede uluslararası ilişkilerin kurucu teorisi olarak da sayılan idealizm açıklanmış, antitez olarak ortaya çıkan realizm ekolü ile karşılaştırılmıştır. Bu karşılaştırma sonucunda idealizmin uluslararası ilişkilerde kurucu ve önemli bir teori olmasına rağmen neden çekici olmadığı sorusuna yanıt aranmıştır.

Anahtar kelimeler: İdealizm, Realizm, Büyük Tartışma.

1. Introduction

Though the views on the nature of international relations are old, it has been in the United States for the first time to be considered as a discipline, and it has been started to be taught in two great wars. In this sense, the relations between the sovereign nation states began, in particular, in 1648 with the signing of the Peace of Westphalia. The establishment of newly established sovereign national states as a basis in almost all political ideas and the relations between these nation-states, diplomacy, state law and political institutions have required attention, and have also played an important role in their development. After considering the national state as a focal point in the international arena, it was important to examine the behavior of states in foreign relations and the end of the Second World War was expected to be examined.

After the First World War, in response to the dominant balance of power between the European states in the 19th century, the American idealists concentrated on how to be treated. After the Second World War, it was a return to the approach of realism from the idealism approach in international relations. Even after such a great war, even the most idealist ones have lost their confidence in state law, international norms and morality and international organizations. Realists believe that the most important element in international relations is power and interest and recognize that the main concept in sociology is power. However, according to the realists, power relations and power-based behavior should be tried to be concealed by using the expressions of morality and law (Gönlübol; 1978, 4).

The emergence and development of international relations as a discipline stems from the controversy surrounding the “idealism” axis after the First World War. After the Second World War, the branch of international relations gained momentum with realism. The realists, as they clarified and systematized their views, described the opposing views and approaches of the period between the two world wars as leştir idealism Real (Carr; 1946, 23). In short, while realism has clarified itself, idealism has constituted its category and has become part of the process of self-definition of realism. In general, the attempts to prevent the repetition of the unprecedented catastrophe caused by the First World War and to restore the world to peace have led the thinkers interested in international relations to focus on new approaches, which led

to the establishment of idealism. The idealism, which has an internal appearance with the practice of the post-war period of the First World War, was an ideal and utopian pursuit for the establishment of world peace (Beitz, 1979; 50). Realism, while creating the idealism as the other within the framework of its own purpose, simplifies idealism and defines themselves as the realist practicing towards realism and the idealists as utopian (Eralp, 1996; 57).

1. What is idealism and how it emerged?

Idealism, peaceful relations of international relations in order to prevent a similar massacre in the interwar period has argued that it should be regulated. Basically, it emerged before realism and led to the emergence of the concept of international relations. The idealists proposed the end of the war and the development of international relations: the international system is essentially war, diplomacy and law. The war should be eliminated and the other two should be developed. To this end, disarmament must be ensured. According to Angell, weapons trigger the emergence of wars. There should be a conference environment where the conflicting parties can talk to each other and solve their problems. International organizations can provide this (Gözen; 2018, 68). These institutions will also serve to spread international law. Apart from these, the development of international trade will also make the wars undesirable as they will increase interdependence.

When Realism describes the current situation, idealism defines what is ideal and what it should be. For this reason, it has been described many times as utopianism or dreaming. While idealism is optimistic / optimistic, realism is pessimistic / pessimistic(Gözen; 2018, 70). The word liberalism is also one of the words used instead of idealism in the positive sense. However, it is President Wilson who provided the idealism to be both functional and theoretical. This view, also called Wilsonism, was developed on the basis of the Wilson Principles proposed by Wilson after World War I (Gözen; 2018, 72).

These principles include for the first time the proposals for the first time in many of the period, such as ensuring the permanence of peace, self-determination, offshore, open diploma

and the establishment of international organizations that form the basis of the League of Nations (Gözen; 2018, 73-74). Of course, it is inevitable that the states that will provide them are democracy. Indeed, the theory of democratic peace based on idealism also argues that democracies will not fight each other. It is also unreasonable that the public opinion does not approve of wars. The democratic administrations standing behind the public power cannot do business despite the people.

The failure of the Wilson principles to show the desired effect is primarily due to the lack of support in the country of birth. The fact that Democratic Wilson did not receive congressional approval for membership of the League of Nations was the first blow to the principles. Furthermore, the congress did not authorize the implementation of these principles. The return of the United States to the politics of solitude again put out all these idealism dreams.

The term liberalism often used instead of the term idealism; in fact, it contains great differences from idealism. Idealism accepts the state as the main actor and designs an international order through the state (Gözen; 2018, 74). Liberalism is individual. Even the state comes after the individual. On the other hand, idealism is a theory of international relations. Liberalism is political theory. According to Carr, one of Wilson’s most critics, there is a difference between intellectual and bureaucrat. While thinking intellectual and utopian, the bureaucrat tends to think empirically. According to Carr, Woodrow Wilson, a typical example of the intellectual, bases his demands on general and simple principles. Intellectuals; they consider the generally accepted principles of self-determination, free trade and common security as absolute standards, and decide whether a policy is good or bad, based on their degree of deviation or compliance with these principles. Practical and true do not fit.

Although the outbreak of World War II is seen as the defeat of idealism to realism, it is not the case. Even in the most gloomy years of the Cold War, it is still possible to find organizations structured on the basis of idealism. For example, the UN and its functioning international organizations (Gözen; 2018, 76). The example of the EU seen in Europe is that countries that are in constant war with each other can establish a common market by removing the war from their agenda. UN Human Rights Universal the declaration of disarmament treaties, such as the NPT, and sea law conventions can be written as a plus to the success rate of idealist thought.

Weber lists the principles of idealism as follows:

  • Human nature is good and helpful,
  • Progress is possible,
  • The cause of evil is not people, but bad conditions.
  • International anarchy can be prevented,
  • Joint action is needed in international relations,
  • International institutions contribute to the international order,
  • Global change and cooperation are possible. (Gözen; 2018, 97).

The importance that idealism gives to human nature is based on the idea of Enlightenment and humanism. Accordingly, the human is good, if not trained. The real question here is what is universal good? The co-operation of states from the other prevents wars and brings prosperity (Gözen; 2018, 99). Welfare societies do not desire war again. Idealism also recognizes that the international system like realism is anarchic. But he thinks that anarchy can be prevented, and this can be achieved through international organizations and cooperation. Idealism to realize its goals use some tools. These include education, democracy and public opinion to raise good people; international organizations to solve international problems and law, to ensure international security is also common security systems. All this will ultimately lead to the emergence of a global society.

2. Idealism as a discipline

The emergence of the discipline of International Relations is based on the need for new approaches to the prevention of wars while the disasters caused by the war are still fresh after the First World War and for the establishment of a new peace system. This began in the 18th century as an international system of the “balance of powers” of the order of the international order in Europe and this system brought order to the world. The five major states, particularly those who wanted to maintain the balance in the functioning of this order, made secret agreements to resolve the disputes between them. These secret treaties have led to the war between the five major states, leading to great war. After the war, new lessons were attempted

to prevent such a disaster from being repeated. In particular, these efforts have focused on the lack of democratic responsibilities of leaders as a result of the lack of international mechanisms to prevent the increase of international disputes and the management of countries by oppressive governments. Such a situation required reform in national and international areas.

The reform studies highlighted the idea of the establishment of democracy rather than authoritarian-absolutist regimes in the national sphere and the development of open diplomacy instead of secret diplomacy in the international system, the strengthening of state law, and the establishment of international institutions. These post-war views were derived from the idea of “progress” from the Enlightenment. In addition, liberal thought, which became widespread in the 19th century, has significantly influenced the approach of idealism, especially of human nature. Accordingly, individuals are basically rational and good. Therefore, wars emerge from the absolutist, authoritarian organization of states. After a disaster like the First World War, the idea of “mind” to solve international problems brought to the agenda with the help of “progress” from enlightenment and liberal ideas (ÇALIŞ, Ş., & Özlük, E.; 2007, 226). The US-led peace treaties that followed the First World War. President Wilson advocated the organization of the international system around the principle of democracy and in the framework of “openness diplomacy” and a new international institutionalization and pioneered the establishment of the League of Nations to put these ideas into action. According to Wilson, the League of Nations would be based on a whole new understanding of collective security, thus eliminating old power balance approaches and leading to the establishment of a peace-based world order that would make wars impossible (Kissinger, 1994; 218).

With the international institutionalization led by the League of Nations, the international environment would be “rational” and “progress” in international life. Wilson’s conception as a leader is that the public represents the “mind” and that the public should be more effective in the concept of “open diplomacy” (Crawford, R. M.; 2005, 43). Wilson thought that this leadership, led by leaders, could spread to other parts of the society. We can say that the discipline of International Relations has begun to take shape around the axis of war / peace and that all efforts are made towards international institutionalization. With the weight of idealism, it was planned to overcome the bar missionary-normative war and nation-state structure within the framework of international institutionalization, and efforts aimed at forming the international community gained weight, and in this period, international relations were approached with a mission to prevent war and to promote peace (Crawford, R. M.; 2005, 56).

3. Realism as an antithesis against idealism

In the 1930s, the international system faced two very important problems. The first of these is the Great Depression spreading from the United States after 1929, and the second, the efforts of states such as Germany and Japan, which lost the First World War, to change the international status quo, increased the tension in international relations. The Great Depression led to the dissolution of the international economic system, and the efforts to change the status quo led to the rise of nationalism, leading to the disintegration of the international system to be established as a result of the campaign (Griffiths, M.; 2013, 18). Idealism, which is based on the theme of peace and aims to create a world based on peace, began to be questioned in the 1930s for these two main reasons. This questioning has accelerated due to the international institutionalization of idealism, that is, because the League of Nations cannot provide solutions to international problems. With the emergence of the second great war shortly after the First World War, the power relations came to the fore in the post-war period and created an environment suitable for the development of Realism. When we look at the efforts to create a new order after the Second World War, we see that the new order is not shaped, but around the existing power relations (Griffiths, M.; 2013, 21-22). After the war, he became a leader in the international system. it also focused on reflecting the power relations of the new international system. This new order envisaged a regulation in which countries played their part. After the war, the polarization of the war and the Cold War in the international environment where the power relations with the military came to the fore with the size (Herz, 1981, 2-15).

In principle, the essence of human nature is in the form of beings who act with selfish, power and power ambition and pursue their own interests. Nations, like individuals, pursue interests. In this respect, the national interest is given great importance. It is argued that it should be considered in the international system. The existing, however, is that the main actors of the international system are nation-states. These nation-states also act in their interests. Thus, foreign policy analysis is reduced to the requirements of national interests. As a result, there is a significant relationship between national interest and power. National interests, utopias,

should not be defined within the framework of universal moral themes, but around internationally existing facts (Beitz, 1981, 15- 27). Statesmen must act on the basis of their country’s powers while defending the interests of their own nations. In this way, nations can only come up with the defensible national interests that are proportionate to their power. If the nations harmonize their interests with their forces, they have the opportunity to maximize and maximize their national goals with the resources they have. This is the rational behavior that this approach proposes to the statesmen who are the decision makers. Each nation will defend the national interests defined around the power.

The proponents of this movement have advocated positivism despite the normative of idealism. The power of this trend is due to its suitability to the environment after the Second World War and especially to the position of the United States in the international environment. While Realism legitimized the US’s commitment to armament in order to take the leadership in the struggle for power after the Second World War, on the other hand, it proposed rational policies for reducing and softening the tension in the bipolar international system (Eralp, 1996,71-89). During the Cold War period, rational solutions were used to prevent the escalation of tension in foreign policy applications with the emergence of ideological elements. In addition to the ideological elements, strategic elements are also emphasized. Instead of the ideological tension of the Cold War, “softening”, which emphasizes power relations, is the result of this approach. The shortcomings of this movement can be listed as follows: The military forces due to the Cold War because of the emergence of political / security issues has led to a lot of attention. Moreover, the strength of economic factors in understanding international tensions has been ignored in international relations. It was not taken into account that there were important actors outside the state in international relations (Morgenthau; 1978, 103).

4. As a conclusion question “Why is Idealism so important but not so attractive in international relations?”

As a result, the reason why idealism is the founder of the international relations discipline and that it is attractive despite being an important theory can be listed in four items.
Firstly, the fact that Wilson’s 14-point declaration was not accepted even by his own state showed that idealism was not taken seriously.
Secondly, it is expected that the League of Nations will be an institution that needs to develop inter-state law and peace in the establishment phase, while the state of the inequalities within the institution is not reached by the states that are more ignorant and between the states and the winning states.
Third, the League of Nations has an authority gap arising from the deficiency of the United States.
Finally, the emergence of the Second World War led to a new fall of idealism against the realism movement.
Then, the idealism front against realists was replaced by liberalism. Liberalism differs from idealism;
– The rule of international law,
– Formation of international norms,
– Establishment and importance of international organizations,
shares the same thoughts with idealism on many issues. In fact, we cannot say that, so idealism has lost its appeal. Because the aims of idealism were brought to life through liberalism.


  • Beitz, C. (1979). Political Theory and International Relations. Princeton, Princeton University Press.
  • Carr, E. H., Cox, M., & Cox, M. (1946). The twenty years’ crisis, 1919-1939: an introduction to the study of international relations(pp. 170-201). London: Macmillan.
  • İDEALİZM-REALİZM TARTIŞMASI. Selçuk Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Dergisi, (18), 225-243.
  • Eralp, Atilla. (1996). Devlet, Sistem ve Kimlik, Uluslararası İlişkilerde Temel Yaklaşımlar. İstanbul, İletişim.
  • Herz, J. H. (1981). “Political Realism Revisited”, International Studies Quarterly.
  • Gönlübol, Mehmet. (1978). Uluslararası Politika: İlkeler-Kavramlar-Kurumlar. Ankara: Ankara Üniversitesi Basımevi.
  • GÖZEN, R. (2018) Uluslararası İlişkiler Teorileri. İletişim yayınları. İstanbul.
  • Kauppi, Mark V., and Paul R. Viotti. (2009). International relations theory. Pearson Longman.
  • Kissinger, Henry. (1994). Diplomacy. New York, Simon and Schuster.
  • Griffiths, M. (2013). Realism, idealism and international politics: a reinterpretation. Routledge.
  • Morgenthau, H.J. (1978) Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
  • Crawford, R. M. (2005). Idealism and realism in international relations. Routledge.
  • Smith, S. (1987)“Paradigm Dominance in International Relations: Development of International Relations as a Social Sciece”, Millenium:Journal of International Studies.
  • UĞRASIZ, B. (2003). Uluslararası İlişkilerde İki Farklı Yaklaşım: İdealizm ve Realizm

Rüstem Kamenov

Rüstem Kamenov

IR (Researcher on Russia and Central Asia)


Mail adresiniz gizli kalacaktır.

Biz Kimiz?

Gayemiz, asırlardır mirasçısı olduğumuz medeniyetin gelişimine katkı sağlamak adına kurduğumuz ilim halkasındaki ilmî faaliyetleri geniş kitlelere ulaştırmaktır.

Cemiyetimizde, genç ve hareketli yazar kadromuz ile Siyaset, Hukuk, Ekonomi, Sosyoloji, Edebiyat ve Tarih gibi ilmî alanlarda gerek akademik gerekse de gündeme ilişkin yazılar kaleme alınmaktadır.


Küçük Çamlıca Mahallesi, Filiz Sokak, No:3