Thursday, April 24, 2008

Is foreign policy realism actually popular?

Daniel Drezner, who teaches at the Fletcher School at Tufts and is, from my personal experience, a smart and good guy, has an interesting article in the journal Perspectives on Politics. He argues that most observers believe the idealist tradition -- Wilsonian interventionism -- is popular among the general public, while the Realist school, more hardheaded, suffers from unpopularity. Looking at public opinion surveys, however, he argues that the Realist tradition is surprisingly popular. It's the elites who are addled by Wilsonianism.

Here's his post at his blog (it's on my bloglist, check it out) announcing the article, and here's a link to the article itself. It's fairly long and a bit academic (surprise!) but well worth the time spent reading it.

Here's the abstract:

For more than half a century, realist scholars of international relations have maintained that their world view is inimical to the American public. For a variety of reasons—inchoate attitudes, national history, American exceptionalism—realists assert that the U.S. government pursues realist policies in spite and not because of public opinion. Indeed, most IR scholars share this “anti-realist assumption.” To determine the empirical validity of the anti-realist assumption, this paper re-examines survey and experimental data on the mass public's attitudes towards foreign policy priorities and world views, the use of force, and foreign economic policy over the past three decades. The results suggest that, far from disliking realism, Americans are at least as comfortable with the logic of realpolitik as they are with liberal internationalism. The persistence of the anti-realist assumption might be due to an ironic fact: American elites are more predisposed towards liberal internationalism than the rest of the American public.

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