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Elder Abuse: How the Moderns Mistreat Classical Realism

Joseph M. Parent, Joshua M. Baron
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2486.2011.01021.x 193-213 First published online: 1 June 2011


Neorealists narrate their origins by explaining that classical realists committed a multitude of sins and were therefore displaced. The classics unscientifically explained world politics primarily through individual-level characteristics, typically a will to power that drove state behavior and international outcomes. In short, classical realism was inadequately structural and theoretical; thus, neorealists revised them by prioritizing structural factors and putting the paradigm on sound scientific footing. We argue that this narrative is generally incorrect. Classical realists were supremely structural and competently theoretical. Consequently, the realist tradition has much more continuity and richness than presently believed.

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