Idealism vs. Realism in International Politics


“Realists believe that nation-states are the major actors in the international system” (Strohmer, 2010). On the other hand, idealists majorly aim at minimizing conflicts and maximizing cooperation among nations-states.

Meaning of Idealism and Realism

Carr, who was a British professor, laid the foundation for the realist school of thought (Roskin & Berry, 2010). Consequently, Hans Morgenthau advanced his ideas after World War II. Realists have been described as pessimists because they believe that international relations are mainly characterized by conflicts. Moreover, realists assume that states aim at maximizing their power in the international system. On the other hand, Carr referred to the idealists as utopians (Roskin & Berry, 2010). He described the idealists as “the optimists who assume that reason and morality can structure the international behavior of nations towards peace” (Roskin & Berry, 2010).

The Characteristics of the World before and after 1945

The period before 1945 was characterized by the massive expansion of European nations who sought to acquire territories in different parts of the world. The major aim was to advance their political power. Consequently, European expansion led to the formation of varied political alliances in Europe (Strohmer, 2010). However, the rivalry between the European alliances contributed to the outbreak of the two World Wars. After the First World War, the League of Nations was formed to promote international security. The formation of the League of Nations was inspired by idealism (Rummel, 2005). However, due to a number of challenges, the League of Nations failed to achieve its mandate. This led to the outbreak of World War II.

After 1945, the United Nations was formed to promote and maintain international peace and security (Rummel, 2005). The period after 1945 was also marked by the advancement of realism. “The realists advocated for a balance of power between the actual and potential rivals in the international system” (Rummel, 2005). According to the realists, a balance of power would promote and maintain stable relations among states. Additionally, the period after 1945 was characterized by the Cold War, which created a bipolar international system.

The Causes of Transition from Idealism to Realism

Various reasons contributed to the transition from idealism to realism. For instance, the failure of the League of Nations and the outbreak of the Second World War negatively affected the vitality of idealism (Roskin & Berry, 2010). Furthermore, idealism was extremely optimistic and advanced ideal principles. However, the principles were incapable of promoting international peace and security.

According to the student’s post, idealism mainly aims at promoting cooperation in international relations by minimizing conflicts. This is true because idealism greatly influenced the course of action in international relations after the First World War. For instance, it influenced the formation of the League of Nations, which aimed at maintaining international peace. The League of Nations was formed based on the assumption that nations can easily cooperate in order to attain international peace. On the other hand, the student has defined realism as the balancing of power between the two adversaries.

This definition provides a clear description of international relations after the Second World War. For example, the United Nations was formed after the Second World War in order to advance political diplomacy. Consequently, this would promote international peace and security.


From the above discussion, it is evident that idealism was a short-lived school of thought. However, it laid the foundation for the subsequent theories of international relations. On the other hand, realism has continued to influence international relations.


Roskin, M. G., & Berry, N. O. (2010). IR:The New World of International Relations. San Francisco: Logman. Web.

Rummel, R. (2005). Idealism versus Realism. Web.

Strohmer, C. (2010). Realism and Idealism. Web.