Classical Realism and Human Nature


This essay delineates the relationship between classical realism and human nature by examining two scholarly articles, namely “International Politics & Human Nature by Rosie Walters and Classical “Realism and Human Nature” by Anthony Clark. The paper examines how and why classical realism depicts human nature and explores how the two works identified above explore the concept. Classical realism theory is insufficient in explaining human nature because it is embedded in a male perspective, treats human nature as inherently driven to power, and stresses a universal motivation for human action.

Reasons for Criticism

Classical realism has fundamental assumptions that lead realist thinkers to conclude that human nature is inherently endowed with the desire to acquire power. The premises, however, neglect the fact that there are groups of people who genuinely seek peace and detest war or violence. Moreover, the ideology ignores increases in peace both within states and beyond since it promulgates the idea that humans are naturally prone to war and violence. Clark argued that” Classical realism articulates a cynical view of human nature that leads the realist to conclude that power is the only concern for states interacting on the international level” (149). Clark’s viewpoint reflects the need for a more critical approach to understanding the nature of humans through the classical realism paradigm. The insight calls for caution on any theoretical frameworks that stress a universal motivation of human action. Accordingly, there is no single individual or group of people motivated in the same way due to individual differences.

The classical realism viewpoint supports that society and politics are governed by objective laws rooted in human nature. However, realists have not been keen to create a clear boundary between human nature and the nature of man. Realists’ Failure to set a clear difference between the two leaves the realism theory weak and insufficient to be used as a focal point for understanding the nature of humans. Research by Walters revealed that the classical realism viewpoint and its understanding of human nature“ are partial, flawed, and “embedded in a masculine perspective” (1). Walter’s research discloses why the classical paradigm is not adequate for understanding human nature. The investigation revealed that the classical realism viewpoint concentrates more on human nature that leans toward masculinity, such as political domination, while mainly ignoring feminine characteristics.

How the Authors’ Critique Realism

Both authors have different methods of demonstrating their reservations towards using classical realism theory in delineating human nature. Ideally, the two authors agree that classical realism is antiquated and insufficient for establishing the true nature of humans. Clark argued his case by examining the ideologies of two classical realists, Thomas Hobbes and Thucydides. He later made conclusions based on a critical analysis of the writings of the two scholars. The researcher pointed out that “classical realism asserts a selfish, violent human nature then adopts an understanding of state behavior based on that assertion” (Clark 157). Correspondingly, Walters examined the concept of human nature from the standpoint of international politics. The author focused on understanding the idea of human nature from the concept of the original sin. Walters showed how the classical realism framework was flawed by revealing the theoretical underpinnings of the original sin and showing that realists are not interested in studying human nature but rather the nature of man. The author identified that the male-centeredness of realists is inherent in Thomas Hobbes’s work, Leviathan, published in 1651. Walters, reflected in the declaration of Hobbes, indicated that all humankind has a general inclination and a perpetual restless desire for power which only ends in death. Ideally, Walters’ work reveals that Hobbes found three causes of war in men; therefore, according to Hobbes, men fought for glory, diffidence, or competition. Walters, thus, criticizes Hobbes’ assertions and, consequently, the classical realism paradigm because it fails to include the feminine character in the arguments and instead only considers the masculine personality and the attributes associated with masculinity.

The Authors’ Perspective on the Human Nature

Despite the criticism by the two authors about the fallacies of the realists in describing human nature, the scholars have offered their perspectives about what human nature entails. Clark argued that different nations uphold different values and different concerns and the willingness to fight for statehood. Therefore, the perception of human nature based on universal attributes makes it difficult to define it from the classical realism perspective. Clark’s sentiments resonate with Ovadek, who maintained that the differences inherent in each individual “are not quite as obvious when one adopts the perspective of the realist discourse of human nature, which is at times so disregarding of difference in its pursuit of an all-explaining, unchanging variable in the form of the pessimistic human nature” (4). Clark and Ovadek, therefore, agree that the concept of human nature can be understood as an inclination towards the creation of culture.

Meanwhile, Walters also shared a different viewpoint of what entails human nature and argued from the perspective of Kenneth Waltz and Morgenthau. Walters observed that “international politics is driven by a masculine construction of human nature and academics should resist any claims of knowledge that certain privilege people, experiences, and texts while evacuating others from the history of ideas and actions” (5). His sentiments echoed the findings of Brown who maintained that “it is clear from the rest of the book that Waltz believes that this sort of generalization about human nature gets people nowhere,” Waltz, therefore, believed that the classical realism paradigm did not explain the human nature of war and therefore proposed that scholars should instead seek an alternative explanation other than the realism theory. Ideally, the two authors critique the common understanding of human nature and pints to the realist view that cannot offer a complete picture. Nevertheless, the effect of the research reveals that human nature is a complex concept and challenging to explain.


The intersection between classical realism and human nature is controversial. Most scholars agree that classical realists have failed to grasp the true meaning of human nature. Classical realism is embedded in a male perspective, treats human nature as inherently driven to power, and stresses a universal motivation for human action. The two works examined have shown how and why classical realism is insufficient in explaining the concept of human nature. Furthermore, the paper has established that the idea of human nature is challenging and complex to explain or understand. Accordingly, research studies founded on theoretical assumptions with no empirical evidence remain less likely to answer questions on human nature. Therefore, theoretical frameworks that have empirical foundations and findings are the best strategies for exploring the concept of human nature.


Brown, Chris. “Structural Realism, Classical Realism, and Human Nature.” International Relations, vol. 23, no. 2, 2009, pp. 257–270. Web.

Clark, Anthony. Classical Realism and Human Nature. Prized Writing, 2016.

Ovadek, Michal. Classical Realism and Human Nature: An Alternative Reading. E-International Relations, 2015.

Walters, Rosie. International Politics & Human Nature. E-International Relations, 2013.

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