The 1970s and the Politics of Political Realism

21 Pages Posted: 12 Sep 2019 Last revised: 7 Dec 2019

See all articles by Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins

Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins

Yale University - Jackson Institute for Global Affairs

Date Written: September 6, 2019


What are the politics of political realism? This paper tries to answer the question by showing the political differences that emerged between the doyens of IR realism theory—Raymond Aron, Hans Morgenthau and George Kennan—during the 1970s. It argues that the Vietnam War and differing perceptions of American military power in the 1970s led these elder statesmen of IR realism theory into myriad political directions. Perhaps the best way to understand the nature of IR realist thought, then, is to focus not just on the theories that inspire political realism, but its diverse political applications, which, in the case of Aron, Morgenthau and Kennan, led to wide-ranging ways of thinking about what the role of the US in the world should be. If we make this move, we would see that Aron, the supposed embodiment of liberal moderation, became by the 1970s the most reactionary or militarist of the elder generation of IR realists.

Keywords: Aron, Raymond; Kennan, George; Morgenthau, Hans; neoconservatism; political realism

Suggested Citation

Steinmetz-Jenkins, Daniel, The 1970s and the Politics of Political Realism (September 6, 2019). Duke Global Working Paper Series No. 11, September 2019. Available at SSRN: or

Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins (Contact Author)

Yale University - Jackson Institute for Global Affairs ( email )

United States

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