The Essence of Political Realism: Tragedy or Irony?

  • Michele Chiaruzzi
Part of the Palgrave Macmillan History of International Thought book series (PMHIT)


To an attentive reader, “Fortune’s Banter” is not at all a minor or marginal writing. The content of the lectures given by Wight at the London School of Economics between 1959 and 1960 confirm this.1 Those papers, today available for consultation, contain ideas similar to those presented in “Fortune’s Banter,” which I will discuss below. There are even analogous passages, unpublished at the time, especially concerning Machiavelli’s acute profile.2 The text is permeated by the clear and burning tension generated by the urgent need for concrete answers to historical contingencies, uncertain and precarious as these may be, and to the contingent political dilemmas.


Political Realism Nuclear Deterrence Analogous Passage Concrete Answer Political Book 
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  1. 1.
    Cf. Martin Wight, Four Seminal Thinkers in International Theory. Machiavelli, Grotius, Kant & Mazzini, ed. Gabriele Wight and Brian Porter (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ibid., pp. 3–28.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    “Dr. Niebuhr is a modern Ezekiel”: this is Wight’s comment about Niebuhr’s prophetic stance on politics in his review of Discerning the Signs of the Times by R. Niebuhr, International Affairs 23, no. 4 (1947): 558.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Carlo Jean, “Introduzione,” in Karl Von Clausewitz, Della Guerra (Milan: Mondadori, 1991), p. xxxi.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), p. xxiii.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 7.
    Martin Wight, “The Church, Russia and the West,” Ecumenical Review: A Quarterly 1, Autumn-Summer (1948–49): 26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 8.
    Martin Wight, “On the Abolition of War,” in Harry Bauer and Elisabetta Brighi, eds., International Relations at LSE. A History of 75 Years (London: Millennium Publishing Group, 2003), p. 54.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Martin Wight, “Germany,” in Arnold J. Toynbee and Frederick T. Ashton Gwatin, eds., The World in March 1939 (Oxford: Oxford University Press for the Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1952), p. 320.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Martin Wight, “Eastern Europe,” in Arnold J. Toynbee and Frederick T. Ashton Gwatin, eds., The World in March 1939, p. 263. “This truly great man,” wrote Seton-Watson, “was for half a century a prophet of his people … The political and moral educators of generations of young men not only from the Czech Lands but from all the Slav countries of Europe”; Hugh Seton-Watson, Eastern Europe between the Wars, 1918–1941 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1945), pp. 184, 185.Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    Raymond Aron, Peace and War: A Theory of International Relations (New York: Doubleday, 1966), p. 666.Google Scholar
  11. 14.
    Martin Wight, International Theory: The Three Traditions, ed. Gabriele Wight and Brian Porter (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1991), p. 251.Google Scholar
  12. 15.
    Arnold Wolfers, “Statesmanship and Moral Choice,” World Politics 1, no. 2 (1949): 187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 18.
    The connection between political realism and tragedy never disappeared in international thought. For instance, Lebow argues that the wisdom of realism could be synthesized in his correlation with the tragic in politics; see Richard N. Lebow, The Tragic Vision of Politics. Ethics, Interests and Orders (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), and Toni Erskine and Richard Lebow, eds., Tragedy and International Relations (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2012). Mearsheimer’s celebrated book on “offensive realism” is named after The Tragedy of Great Powers Politics (New York: Norton, 2001).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Michele Chiaruzzi 2016

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  • Michele Chiaruzzi

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