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International relations theory refers to the study of transnational relations by the use of theoretical perspectives. Great debates refer to intellectual clashes that occurred amongst scholars due to conflicting theories that were developed in an attempt to explain the history and development of international relations.
One group of scholars and their proponents initiated a scholarly battle against another group of scholars and their supporters. The first great debate took place between the 1930s and the 1940s between the idealists and realists. The second great debate occurred in the1960s between the behaviorists and traditionalists. This essay provides an overview of the first and second great debates in the light of the international relations that triggered the debates.
The First Great Debate
The first great debate comprised arguments and counterarguments that involved the idealists and realists. Idealists claimed that harmonious interests existed between nations (Baumann, Mayer, and Zangl 23). According to the idealists, morality, application of diplomacy, cooperation, and security mandates were the key drivers for relations amongst international states.
They advocated for maintenance of harmony and peace amongst states. Idealists advocated for establishment of a supranational institution to regulate the states. They supported the formation and the regulation of the states by the League of Nations. However, idealists’ opponents claimed that their view of ending the First World War was naive.
In addition, their interpretative approach to political events did not critically envision the real world events that were happening at the time. This situation was evident after the emergence of the Second World War. The League of Nations, which was highly backed up by the idealists, failed to stop the Second World War (Baumann, Mayer, and Zangl 21).
Realists criticized the idealists for their dependence on the League of Nations to manage peace. The realists believed that the idealists’ approach was not appropriate to foster harmonious and peaceful international relations amongst the states.
Baumann, Mayer, and Zangl reveal that the realist scholars envisioned analyzing the real realities based on international political events (22). According to the earlier realists such as E.H. Carr and Hans Morgenthau, the idealists had neglected the fact power existed amongst in international events (Baumann, Mayer, and Zangl 23).
According to the realists, the critical analysis of the harsh realities that were happening at the time lacked intellectuality. The invasion of Manchuria by Japan and the emergence of the Second World War, which the idealists perceived as a failure of the League of Nations, were some of the chief real events that led to the awakening of the realists.
Whether a myth or an intellectual confrontation occurred between the idealists and realists during the first debate remains a controversial issue amongst philosophers.
Some revisionists postulate that there were few realists at the time of the debate. Realists were confused with the idealists owing to their complex and sophisticated stands on matters that pertained to international relations. In addition, some revisionists claim that there were self-imposed realists who participated in the first great debate. According to them, no major intellectual exchanges occurred.
The Second Great Debate
The Second great debate occurred between the behaviorists and traditionalists. While the behaviorists advocated for scientific approach to deal with international disputes, the traditionalists believed that an historical approach was the best way to resolve international relations issues.
According to the behaviorists, the systems that existed were subject to empirical testing and analysis after observation (Baumann, Mayer, and Zangl 32). They believed that observation was a good approach to create a room for further advancements of the international relations theory. They criticized the traditionalists for their interpretive approach to international politics.
According to Baumann, Mayer, and Zangl the traditionalists based their arguments on generalization and interpretation of the underlying international politics (35). They countered the behaviorists’ scientific approach by proposing that international relations were not subject to strict verifications.
Other opponents of the behaviorists claimed that behaviorism was founded on positivism. This claim meant that some immeasurable factors such as motivation were not considered in the application of the theory. On the other hand, the behaviorists criticized the traditionalists view for generalization of matters that pertained to international relations. According to the behaviorists, generalizations did not match with the current time; hence, the application of generalization to internationalism was unpredictable.
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In the wake of the international relations theory, great debates occurred between scholars because of conflicting views and opinions about international issues. Today, the first great debate that occurred between the idealists and realists has led to the emergence of another debate that is based on the authenticity of the first great debate. Revisionists hold that there is no historical proof of the debate.
The second great debate that occurred between the behaviorists and traditionalists has not encountered major doubts about its occurrence as the first debate. However, behaviorists are criticized for their naturalistic scientific approach to international relations. Nonetheless, the two great debates depict the sequential trends that took place in the history of international relations theory.
Baumann, Rainer, Peter Mayer, and Bernhard Zangl. International Relations: The Great Debates, Camberley, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd, 2011. Print.