Date of Award


First Advisor

Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

Second Advisor

Francisca Oyogoa

Third Advisor

Maryann Tebben


This thesis suggests that realism leads to foreign policy on the “right,” or correct, side of history. Realism, which long dominated international relations theory, is being challenged today by the rise of constructivism, which reminds scholars of the essentiality of ideas in international politics. The characteristic prudence of policy informed by realism supports only wars of necessity, not wars of choice. To understand why a typically conservative outlook on foreign policy like realism would lead realists to oppose wars promulgated by conservative US Presidential administrations, a deep analysis of the underpinnings of realist thought is necessary. Through an intellectual history of realist thought from the Ancient Greeks through the present, this thesis describes realism’s four central concepts—groupism, egoism, anarchy and power politics—and shows the heterogeneous ways these concepts have been applied. After comparing and contrasting the various sub-schools of realist thought, this thesis interrogates the crucial question of what constitutes “the national interest,” mapping a contemporary trend by international relations theorists who, reengaging with classical realist ideas, have moved from a focus on the exclusive use of “hard power” to an integration with “soft power,” as with Joseph Nye’s progressive realist “smart power,” implemented in the Obama Doctrine.

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