Mearsheimer’s Legacy: The Future of International Relations & Political Theory


International relations theory generally breaks up into three focuses – individual, state and international.

The prevailing schools focus on the state level, arguing that, based on the evolution of history, this is the unit of analysis in international politics.

John Mearsheimer whom perhaps is referenced less nowadays since his controversial piece on Israeli foreign politics argued from the realist perspective that US hegemony would be challenged due to “imperial overreach”.

The emergence of new powers (BRICS) and the souring of relations between western allies is further evidence of a new impasse in international politics. Are we facing a challenge to the unipolar order which has seen US domination for a half century?

Earlier this year Scotland debated exiting the UK. This failed. Now the UK is considering exiting the EU. Could this be affirming the predictions of Mearsheimer?

But are we committing the same fallacy done by political theorists in early history who analyzed from the perspective of empires? Is America not behaving as an ambitious empire? Could the world ever revert to an international system of empires, or are states the permanent fate of international political theory?

America’s internal politics largely contributes to its foreign policy, and vice versa, contrary to claims of isolationism, disentanglements and illusory self-dependence. Currently, America is witnessing an internal challenge to its tradition of ideological exclusivism which has prevented social, economic and political inclusion for all people, particularly minorities – individuals who might possess the capacity to influence US policy away from exclusivism both domestically and internationally. This change is the only chance America has at containing its imperial tendency – because that tendency has only been able to exist due to its domestic tradition of social inequality for minorities.

In political theory, there are assumptions nowadays that a “free market” only exists within capitalist ideology. The reality isn’t so simple – states form because cultures exist and need protection and preservation. Sometimes in history, I argue, one culture becomes domineering and expansive beyond sustainability, such as with the Romans, Greeks, Persians…even the English, French, the USSR and now America. The ideologies and cultures were distinct, but shared a common feature – political hubris – expanding beyond boundaries.

Ideologies are meant to distract from the international political reality which is less simplistic. Assuming the state is the prevailing political agent, I argue that cultural fanaticism, be it populistic or elitist, results in domestic and international imbalance of power. This causes instability and violence. Historically such endeavors were justified through ideologies promising various rewards or statuses – today that “religion” is accepting subservience to imperialism – the desire to disrupt the state system through imperial ambitions. The tactics are mischievous.

The idea that capitalism is responsible for American prosperity is ignorant of the involvement of the collectivist policies of the US government over time. Further it assumes that markets cannot exist smoothly without corporate lawlessness. In fact, true markets can only exist in healthy fashion when a given stage is culturally united and conscientious of its citizens needs. Because contrary to the naive wisdom of modern capitalist theorists, markets are influenced by more than just supply and demand but a range of social and political factors.

When all nations learn to contain their imperial ambitions and return to a state of international balance, there will be less ideological mania and political instability. What we need is a sort of global treaty of Westphalia that recognizes sovereignty an a moderate economic system that is decent.

While these complex assertions are difficult to digest or perhaps even to suggest, they certainly highlight The plight of a mixed economist and social constructivist seeking to make sense of an ideological, polarized and dogmatic world.

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