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The Idealism-Realism Debate in International Relations:
Kissinger's Diplomatic Resolution

22 Pages Posted: 9 Feb 2018  

John D. Thorpe

Ryerson University; Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, M.Ed.

Date Written: January 1, 2016

Abstract

Recently Niall Ferguson has begun a major assessment of the diplomatic career of Henry Kissinger. In his first volume of Kissinger (2015) Ferguson claims to have exploded the myth of Kissinger as the arch “realist” of American foreign policy. Ferguson puts this claim starkly when he asserts: “the young Kissinger was indeed an idealist.” (Ferguson, K, 32) This claim serves to breath more life into the ongoing debate between the proponents of the so-called “realist” and the “idealist” perspectives in international relations. This essay will offer a perspective on this debate by using Henry Kissinger’s conception of foreign policy as a case study. If any American is widely supposed to embody the realist perspective it is Henry Kissinger who was indirectly and directly involved in the formulation of American foreign policy from the very beginning of the Cold War right through to the end of the Vietnam War and into the present. The essay will begin by citing the statements that Kissinger made that, in Ferguson’s opinion, reveal Kissinger’s idealist conception of American foreign policy. The essay will then delve into Kissinger’s book Diplomacy (1994), and his American Foreign Policy (1974) in an effort to attempt to understand the intricacies of Kissinger’s conception of the relationship between idealist morality and realist strategy.

Keywords: Henry Kissinger, Cold War, Idealim, Realism, American Foreign Policy, American Political History, American Diplomacy

Suggested Citation

Thorpe, John D., The Idealism-Realism Debate in International Relations: Kissinger's Diplomatic Resolution (January 1, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3114798

John Thorpe (Contact Author)

Ryerson University ( email )

350 Victoria Street
Toronto, Ontario M5B 2K3
Canada

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, M.Ed. ( email )

252 Bloor Street West
Toronto, Ontario M5S 1V6
Canada

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