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Nowadays, it became a common practice among many political scientists to suggest that, since the observable emanations of international relations in today’s world do seem to have acquired a number of qualitatively new subtleties, the application of a positivist methodology in IR can no longer be considered appropriate.1 This suggestion, however, cannot be referred to as such that represents an undeniable truth-value.
This is because, even though that, during the course of recent decades, the operational principles of IR did undergo a rather drastic transformation, the innermost essence of how different countries relate to each other on the arena of international politics remains thoroughly ‘functional’.
This, of course, implies that IR-related subject matters can be best addressed within the conceptual framework of a specifically positivist methodology, which in turn suggests that IR may indeed be studied as a natural science. I will aim to explore the validity of this thesis at length.
The methodological principles of natural sciences are based upon the empirically tested assumption that there are a number of objectively existing impersonal laws, which define the essence of a surrounding reality. In its turn, this makes it possible to predict the vector of a researched phenomena’s spatial development.
For example, we are well aware of the fact that, after having been thrown high into the air, any physical object will necessarily fall down back on earth – the law of gravity will cause it to do so. This is exactly the reason why physics is considered a ‘hard science’, for example – physical laws are thoroughly objective.
Even though IR cannot be considered a ‘hard science’, in the full sense of this word, there are many good reasons to consider IR’s discursive conventions as such that fit well within the methodological framework of biology (another ‘hard science’) and physics. This points out to the fact that IR can indeed be considered a subject of a positivist scientific inquiry.
For example, even though that traditionalists and post-positivists suggest that, there is too much complexity to the subject of international relations (in order for its integral components to be disassembled for the purpose of positivist testing); this point of view does not stand much ground.
This is because, once we apply a naturalistic approach for assessing the actual significance of IR-related conventions, the earlier mentioned ‘complexity’ will simply evaporate.
After all, just about all the aspects of how countries coexist/compete on the arena of international politics can be well discussed within the context of what positivists consider the foremost purposes of every state’s existence:
- Economic/geopolitical expansion,
- Protection of internal stability,
- Impairment of the internal stability of competing/neighboring countries.2
In their turn, the earlier mentioned purposes of states’ existence reflect the scientifically proven fact that, biologically speaking, the representatives of Homo Sapiens species are nothing but primates, whose foremost existential pursuits are being concerned with reproduction and with trying to impose their dominance upon others.
What it means is that national states can be well conceptualized as culturally/scientifically advanced and geographically bounded packs of apes that remain in the state of a continual competition for natural resources.
The validity of this statement can be well explored in regards to the actual consequences of 2011 Arab revolutions.
Even though that Western mainstream Medias never ceased referring to the downfalls of secular regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, as such that have been predetermined by the citizens’ strive towards ‘democracy’, it now became clear to just about anyone that the ‘Arab spring’s’ actual cause had to do with the America’s decision to take control of natural resources in the area – pure and simple.
The same can be said about the actual cause of the ongoing civil war in Syria.
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The significance of IR’s subject matters can also be assessed within the methodological framework of physics. The reason for this is quite apparent – given the fact that human societies are essentially material (they consist of psychically-bodied individuals), the qualitative dynamics within just about any society do reflect the effects of people’s exposure to physical laws.
After all, every human society (country) can be well conceptualized in terms of an open thermo-dynamic system. The continuous functioning of such a system can only be ensured for as long as the extent of its inner complexity remains higher than the complexity of a surrounding environment.3
When the extent of environment’s complexity is being higher, it becomes only the matter of time before this system ‘dissolves’ in it. In its turn, this explains why, as of today, Western countries suffer from the inflow of illegal immigrants, while being slowly ‘dissolved’ in the surrounding Third World.
I believe that the earlier deployed line of argumentation, in defense of the suggestion that IR can indeed be studied as a natural science, is being thoroughly consistent with the paper’s initial thesis.
Apparently, only the application of a positivist approach to dealing with IR-related subject matters can help us to gain an in-depth insight into the dialectically predetermined essence of a particular IR’s phenomenon in question. This is exactly the reason why, even though traditional and post-positivist elaborations on IR do sound pretentiously sophisticate, they rarely account for any practical value.
Ashby, William. Introduction to Cybernetics. London: Routledge Kegan & Paul, 1964.
Emerson, Niou & Ordeshook, Peter, “A Theory of the Balance of Power in International Systems.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 30, no. 4 (1986): 685-715.
Lapid, Yosef, “The Third Debate: On the Prospects of International Theory in a Post-Positivist Era.” International Studies Quarterly 33, no. 3 (1989): 235-254.
1 Yosef Lapid. “The Third Debate: On the Prospects of International Theory in a Post-Positivist Era.” International Studies Quarterly 33, no. 3 (1989): 239.
2 Niou Emerson & Peter Ordeshook. “A Theory of the Balance of Power in International Systems.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 30, no. 4 (1986): 687.
3 William Ashby, Introduction to Cybernetics (London: Routledge Kegan & Paul, 1964), 75.