International relations is the study of non-governmental organizations and nation-states’ interactions in different fields such as economics, security, and politics. It is an interdisciplinary nature combining history, political science, and economic fields to study topics such as global poverty, human rights, environment, global ethics, and globalization among others. International relations filed has several theories that attempt to describe various aspects of humanity. These International relations’ theories have been employed broadly in attempts to understand human nature. Human nature is international relations’ oldest reference point in various lines of thought. Some of the most significant philosophical minds that lay foundations on many world politics theories such as Plato and Aristotle insisted that as the human nature is so is the world politics. For instance, Plato believed that the different forms of government that exist represent the different forms of human nature. This document discusses the advantages and disadvantages of basing International relations theories on different understandings of human nature.
Human nature is the inherent characteristics of human beings. These are the immutable and essential characters that all humans across the globe have in common. There is no state without humans but there was an era before civilization showing that without states, humans still existed. Therefore, humans make the states. As such, a lot of sense would be derived from studying the states and their relations by first understanding how humans are in terms of their personalities and how they interact with each other. According to Plato “Like state, Like man”(Plato, pg 93). In the Republic, Plato explains that the different states that exist globally must represent the different forms of human nature since it is humans that make up a state. Therefore, basing International relation theories on the understanding of human nature is insightful because studying human nature also includes their relations and social constructs including politics of states. Different theories in International relations represent the different perspectives of human nature.
A significant element in the world that involves all humans is the aspect of peace and war. Researchers of all generations have attempted to understand what is the source of conflict or the attribute of peace in the world. War and conflict in the world is a major threat to humanity and as such significant importance has been placed to understand the aspect. (Sargent and Brianna, pg 35) These studies have led to studying the inherent nature of humans and as to what causes conflict among humans. It has led to development of several theories that are critical to humanity’s current understanding of Peace and War among states and also humans.
One theory developed from an aspect of human nature understanding is Realism. Realism is an important theory in International Relations that was developed in Liberalism’s disillusion interwar period. The theory is based on the principle that behaviour of the state is determined by human nature. How humans focus on power and security for themselves is broadcasted in a larger sense to how states want power and security for themselves. As such, helpful insights are acquired by basing the reasons of states focusing on power and security from human reasons for power and security from an individual point of view. Realism is on the power politics principles. It suggests that how a state conducts foreign policies is grounded on its use of power for its interests. Scholars suggest that human nature is aggressive and evil(Sargent and Brianna, pg 35). Hobbes explains this by stating a nation that has no government laws to regulate how humans behave and interact is constantly in war of everyone against everyone (Sargent and Brianna, pg 35). He states that people are evil, selfish and aggressive in nature and are only concerned for their survival and interests.
By basing Classical Realism on this aspect of human nature understanding, the States’ competitive nature is understood. States are run by politicians who are constantly in pursuit for self-interest and power of their states above everything else to ensure the state survives. The pursuit of power by States is also understood from an individual’s pursuit of power because human nature dictates the powerful can have their way and the weak suffer the consequences. As such, an International Relations theory can be based on this perspective to describe states pursuit of power. For the realist, the nature of a sovereign state is a critical player in the International Relations being a rational and legitimate actor in pursuit of survival and self-interest. Plato described there being five forms of states being the five forms of human nature. He mentions “Now, States are not made of oak or rock but of flesh and blood; and therefore as there are five States there must be five human natures in individuals which correspond to them” (Plato, pg 90).Plato’s five States and also five forms of human natures include Cretan common wealth or Lacadaemonian State, Oligarchical State, Democratic State, Tyrannical State, and finally the ideal or perfect State(Plato, pg 91). Human nature dictates construction of states and thus International relations should base theories on their understanding of human nature as it gives more insights and meaning.
While some theories describe the aggressive and evil nature of humans like Realism, others like Liberalism describe the peaceful and inherently good nature of humans (Haar, pg 122). This theory describes that humans strive to form cooperations and achieve common goals peacefully. This aspect of human nature helps understand how the interactions of States peacefully and the advocating of alliance and cooperation to achieve goals such as beating world poverty, terrorism, and climate change among others. As such, the understanding of human nature is a solid ground for International Relation’s theories.
There are significant disadvantages of basing International Relations theories on some aspects of human nature understanding. One major disadvantage is that the basis is embedded on a perspective that is highly masculine. A significant amount of research and what humanity understands of human nature and how it governs laws is described by the Realist theory. The theory draws roots from the Bible’s original sin concept. Augustine suggested that the Garden of Eden has significant lessons on human nature as it states “the source of inhumanity towards one another”(Harel-Shalev and Ayelet, pg 2). Feminists can challenge this theory because the bible describes God as creating Eve as a helper for Adam (Harel-Shalev and Ayelet, pg 3). He created man in his image and likeness but woman as a companion for man. Therefore, drawing IR theories from the concept of Original Sin which is an element of human nature understanding focuses on nature of man only neglecting the females.
In the Garden of Eden, God curses mankind after Adam’s fall stating ”you are dust and to dust you shall return”(Genesis 3:17). Therefore death spread to all men as a result of Adam’s fall and was a form of punishment for Adam. However, the woman (Eve) was not punished according to Gellman. God told Eve that he will greatly multiply her childbearing pain and she will still desire husband and his rule (Genesis, 3:16). Gellman argues this is a mere correction of Adam helper’s behaviour to better serve Adam and not a punishment for the sin (Kelly and Ryan, pg 12). God saw that man’s wickedness on earth was great and that man’s imagination was filled with evil continuously (Genesis, 6:5-6). Therefore according to the bible which is a significant source of human nature understanding and the basis of some IR theories like Realism, the fall of man was only the fall of males because females are considered unequal to males hence not capable of sin. The woman is only a helper who needs correction but un-culpable of sin. All understanding of human nature based on Genesis and the concept of Original sin therefore only represent man’s nature and not humanity’s nature(Kelly and Ryan, pg 14). Theories like Realism are significantly disadvantaged because they are argued to focus on an understanding of humanity that is highly masculine(Harel-Shalev and Ayelet, pg 3).
Hobbes states that the State of power suggests “everyman against everyman”( Sargent and Brianna, pg 36). Power is described as anything establishing and maintaining control over another man. It appeals to a certain group of fears, hopes, and ideas, with terrifying ramifications. One consequence is that it postulates an international politics realm whereby the political man’s amoral behaviour is prudent and not permissible. Basing theories on human understanding of human nature such as the realist perspective causes leaders to believe that the key to international relations is only through power and mistrusting other State’s behaviour.
To sum up, human nature has been a significant source of education for International Relations. Scholars throughout history have associated the human nature to the nature of the State. Drawing International Relations theories from the understanding of human nature has a number of advantages since a state is made up of individuals and their nature has to be the nature of the state. However, its also has numerous disadvantages since some aspect of what humans understand as human nature such as the concept of Original sin are embedded on masculine traits neglecting women. Therefore basing IR theories on them is gender biased.
Haar, E. V. D. (2021). Classical Liberalism and IR Theory. In The Liberal International Theory Tradition in Europe (pp. 119-132). Palgrave Pivot, Cham.
Harel-Shalev, Ayelet. “Feminist International Relations (IR) Theory.” (2020): 2-4.
Kelly, Joseph Ryan. “Does God Command and Punish in the Garden of Eden?.” Vetus Testamentum 1.aop (2021): 1-22.
Plato, C. “From the republic.” Readings in the economics of the division of labor: The classical tradition. 2005. 43-49.
Sargent, Brianna C. The Hobbesian State of Nature Among Nations. Diss. Ashland University, 2019.35-44
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