Colonialismand slavery remains one of the many atrocities that man has carried out whoseeffects are still deeply felt today. African states are just but a fewcountries that were colonised who can trace most if not all their problems tothis day. What drove colonialists to colonise countries? What idea and valuedrive them to do what they did? This paper will argue that classical realistshave a better understanding and offer a better explanation as to why statesmake decisions compared to classical idealism.
Classicalidealism and realism are both founded on absolute truths about human naturealthough they are quite the opposite. Classical idealists claim that humans arefundamentally cooperative and interdependent. On the other hand, classicalrealists claim that human nature is fundamentally conflictual and competitive,hence there is war in the international arena. Another huge difference betweenthe two is classical realism is pessimistic while classical idealism isoptimistic. Each view history in a different light, one viewing it as cyclicalwhile the other views it as progressive. Asseen through Norman Angell’s work in TheGreat Illusion and Fukuyama’s The Endof History, classical idealists view human morality as universal.
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However,E.H. Carr in The Twenty-Year Crisis heclaims that “morality can only berelative, not universal” (Carr, 1981, pg19). This goes to show how colonialists portrayed morality assubjective. Most countries like United States, who had once fought forindependence, subjected others to much more cruelty than they ever experienced.
Colonialists claimed that they were only trying to spread civilization yetseveral of their actions was influenced by selfish and personal needs;economic, strategic and political. Power is what drove them to concurterritories. What iscooperation? Classical idealists will say that this is a process where stateswork together to achieve a common goal. In Norman makes a premise that ifhumans are fundamentally cooperative, and humans form states, then states arecooperative. The issue with this premise is the purpose behind theircooperation. The scramble and partition for Africa is a good example that showshow cooperation can result in the deadliest results. During this new imperialage, European nations and US sat down together during the Berlin conference anddiscussed how African territories would be claimed. Their cooperation was basedon their harmony of interests which according to Carr is used “to justify andmaintain their dominant position” (Carr, 1981, pg75).
Fukuyama believes that it is because of ourhuman nature we struggle to ensure that we can impose our dignity on others andbuild our self-identity. In his book he makes the following argument, “The end of history would mean the end of wars and bloodyrevolutions. Agreeing on ends, men would have no large causes for which tofight. They would satisfy their needs through economic activity, but they wouldno longer have to risk their lives in battle.… Once our physical and mentalstates are satisfied we no longer have any use for one of the things that hasbeen driving us toward an historical end. We no longer need to impose ourdignity upon others.
” (Fukuyama,1989, pg311). Looking back at colonialism and slavery, states were pushed bytheir desire for economic development as well as a need to spread their idea ofcivilization. In many cases, economic activity is what has lead states to fightand wrongfully imprison others.
Inaddition, as mentioned before, classical idealists are optimistic. In theirperspective, history is progressive and that is why Fukuyama thinks that thereis a time when war will stop which he calls the end of history. A classicalrealist will disagree and state that history is cyclical. If one is to analysethe current relationship between a lot of former colonies and the states thatcolonised them, one can see the clear indication that history is repeatingitself.
The term neo-colonialism has been coined because states still controlother states due to power and colonial ties. Imperial empires and countries atthe end of colonialism ensured that they left a system of dependency. The stillhave a large amount of power to the point where they can influence theirself-interests from their own home countries in the 21st century.Hans Morgenthau talks about power in his book Politics Among Nations. According to him, ¨Power may comprise anything that establishes and maintainsthe power of man over man … from physical violence to the most subtlepsychological ties by which one mind controls another” (Morgenthau, 1948, pg9).
Inconclusions, cooperation is based on the subjectivity of the situation. Eventhough man/ states can cooperate and be interdependent, the question we mustask ourselves is what the end goal is. Looking at other examples like WW1 andWW2, states did cooperate but only because they wanted to fight a ‘commonenemy’. Like Morgenthau who stated that politics, which is comparable to society/man is and will be guided bylaws that are objective to individuals, I too argue that laws and cooperationis dependent on subjectivity. Classical idealism fails to recognise this hencemy premise that classical idealism gives a better understanding about stateactions. Bibliography Carr,E.
(1981). The Twenty Year’s crisis 1919-1939. London: Macmillan. Fukuyama,F. (1989).
The End of History. The National Interest. Morgenthau,H. (1948).
Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace.New York: The Academy of Political Science. Anon, (2017). online Available at: https://