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The Realists and Saint Augustine: Skepticism, Psychology, and Moral Action in International Relations Thought

Michael Loriaux
International Studies Quarterly
Vol. 36, No. 4 (Dec., 1992), pp. 401-420
Published by: Wiley on behalf of The International Studies Association
DOI: 10.2307/2600732
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2600732
Page Count: 20
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The Realists and Saint Augustine: Skepticism, Psychology, and Moral Action in International Relations Thought
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Abstract

The political thought of Saint Augustine contributed, primarily through the writings of Reinhold Niebuhr, to the development of political realism in the twentieth century. Augustine and the realist share a fundamental skepticism regarding the prospects of moral and political progress. It is this skepticism that is the characteristic and even definitional attribute of realist thought. But Augustine's realism is more radical than that of the modern. Modern realism assumes a certain stylized psychology that allows the realist to portray world politics as an arena of strategic interaction. Augustine's more radical skepticism doubts the possibility of rational strategic action. Yet, building on this more radical skepticism, Augustine demonstrates the possibility and the need for moral action in a realist world. Augustine challenges the modern realist to explore more systematically the skeptical foundations of realist thought.

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