Realism vs Idealism

Originally sent to VIXCONTANGO subscribers on October 3rd, 2022

This is going to be a primer on International Relations theory.

Blitzkrieg vs Echelon

There are 2 major styles of military warfare: Blitzkrieg and Echelon.

Blitzkrieg is the military style of the West which in its modern variant originated in Prussia (Germany). It relies on quick and decapitating strikes, emphasizing speed and power (“striking first is striking twice as hard”) and catching the opponent unaware. The idea is that with quick but effective strikes, resources are preserved and you get maximum use of limited resources. You also achieve a quick resolution to the conflict by taking out the leadership and submit the opponent’s troops to your will by minimizing bloodshed. Since Alexander the Great’s win at the Battle of Issus where a heavily outnumbered Macedonian army concentrated its strike power on the cohort of the Persian King Darius and caused him to flee thereby demoralizing the Persian troops, the West has preferred this style of warfare. Decapitate the command center quickly and everything else falls in line quick. Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa in Russia to this day is considered the pinnacle of Blitzkrieg warfare as within a year Hitler conquered what was majority of known Russia – Ukraine SSR, Belarus SSR and the Western part of Russia, a territory as big as the whole of Western Europe itself. In modern day, the American “Shock and Awe” campaign in Iraq during the Gulf War is another example of successful Blitzkrieg style warfare.

Echelon is the military style of the East which is practiced in both China and Russia, or generally speaking in descendent nations of the Mongolian Empire. Not much is known about Echelon warfare in the West because the West does not practice it. I guess some have read Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” which articulate some of its principles. Echelon warfare relies on small but persistent strikes that come in waves one after the other over a long period of time. The idea is that the opponent is being weakened slowly, piece by piece and that eventually he will submit to peace negotiations once his strength is drawn down low enough to where the prospects of complete failure start to enter the equation. Slow escalation is the primary mode of this warfare with the most expendable resources being utilized first. Major battles are avoided, bloodshed is avoided, and primary strength and critical resources are always preserved and used as very last resort. Americans understand that the Chinese practice this type of warfare but for some reason don’t want to understand that the Russians employ it as well. In the West, Russian military successes – and there are many (Napoleon, Hitler) – are always being explained with General Winter or a vast population advantage. As if nature shouldn’t be used as a military tool?!? Russian military has a general reputation for inefficiency in the West. “Quantity is a quality of its own” is the best Americans can say about Russian warfare. Yet, Russia is a dominant military power and the only military on par with the American one in the world. While much is being made about American participation in World War 2, 80% of the casualties in WW2 and 80% of the destruction of the Germany military happened on the Eastern front by the Red Army. Russians came at waves at the Germans first stopping their deep advance, then reversing it and the walking it all the way back to Berlin until achieving complete victory. Such was the fate of Napoleon as well when the Russian army led by Generalissimo Suvorov walked all the way to Paris after Napoleon’s army had burned Moscow. The best part about Echelon warfare is that practitioners of Blitzkrieg warfare never understand what hit them. The losses are small and imperceptible and at the end the destruction has arrived in an invisible fashion.

To use a nature analogy, Blitzkrieg warfare is the Rock whereas Echelon warfare is the Ocean Waves. Waves are softer and weaker than the Rock but they come at it relentlessly over a long period of time. The Rock never really understands how the Waves turned it into sand.


Just like there are 2 major styles of military warfare, there are 2 major schools of thought in International Relations: Realism and Idealism. The usual term used for idealist foreign policy in literature and the media is “liberalism”. The usual term used for realist foreign policy is “Realpolitik”.

Realism features 3 major theories – Classical Realism, Neorealism/Structural Realism and Neoclassical Realism.

In Classical Realism states are the main actors of the international system, there is no supranational authority, states act for their own national interest and states want to expand their power to ensure their preservation. Classical Realism assumes that anarchy is the default state of international affairs with relative power (military, political and economic) between states determining the relationships between them. You have often seen the term “entropy” being used on FinTwit. “Entropy” is a physics term about how the default state of nature is chaos and that order naturally degenerates into chaos unless energy is spent to preserve the order. “Entropy” and “anarchy” are basically interchangeable terms, and all of the guys talking about “entropy” in the field of international relations really are talking about Classical Realism. Classic Realism assumes that domestic politics drives national interest and since human nature is not benevolent, states generally act out of fear to protect themselves from other states or overconfidence to take advantage of weakness in other states. Classical Realism (or realpolitik) was the dominant international relations doctrine of both the Soviet and American governments during the Cold War (1950-1990).

An important concept in Realism is the “Security Dilemma” – when the increase in one state’s security leads other states to fear for their own security (because they don’t know if military buildup is for defensive or offensive purposes) and that results in those states to increase their own military spending. Consequently, security increasing measures can lead to tensions, escalations or outright conflict producing an outcome that is detrimental to all sides – a political instance of the prisoner’s dilemma (where both sides out of selfish considerations select the worst possible combined outcome).

Neorealism/Structural Realism assumes that power politics among nations is permanent and sees limited potential of cooperation between Great Powers. As such competition is forever. Neorealism then states that Great Powers could undertake one of two strategies during this permanent competition – Defensive and Offensive. Defensive Realism states that states primarily concentrate on maintaining their own security. Offensive realism states that nations seek to gain as much power as possible in the international system (power maximizers).

There are two foreign policy doctrines from the past that are considered to be classic Offensive Neorealism – “Weltpolitik” (or World politik) of the German government prior to World War 1 and “Lebensraum” of the Hitler government prior to World War 2. Both were imperialist doctrines that sought to maximize German power in the world. Weltpolitik is conquering the entire world. In the case of Hitler, his aspirations were actually more modest because “Lebensraum” was a doctrine of acquiring only the territory that has the necessary resources for the success of the Aryan race. For Germany that territory is modern day Ukraine since Germany doesn’t have soil that can produce food in large enough numbers, whereas Ukraine does. Thus the exact cause of World War 2 and Germany’s inspiration for Operation Barbarossa was its desire to annex Ukraine for itself.

To keep it simple here: Offensive Neorealism is Imperialism.

Neoclassical Realism states that politicians in countries may not be able to corral domestic resources for their desired foreign policy or simply that states might mismeasure the power of other states. This results in periods of “Inappropriate balancing” or “Overbalancing” when a state incorrectly perceives another as threatening and uses more resources than it needs in order to balance. “Underbalancing” is a when a state fails to balance out another state and perceives it as less of a power than it is. “Nonbalancing” happens when a state avoids balancing through “buck passing”, “bandwagoning” and other escape strategies. A state may choose to “nonbalance” for many reasons including lack of ability to balance.

A case can be made that America’s view of China in the 1970-2020 period is perfect case of “underbalancing” – America perceived China for being less of an aspirational Great Power than it actually was. A case can also be made that America “overbalances” in its relationship with Russia. There is a huge Cold War military apparatus in the US that is specifically aimed at Moscow despite Moscow not being as big of an economic player as China (at least not right now). All of America’s nuclear infrastructure and military/foreign policy apparatus is primarily targeted at Russia and very little of it against China. That is obviously a terrific miscalculation as the American rear is open to Chinese invasion and is being very successfully invaded.

The primary contributors to Realism are Thucydides, Machiavelli and John Mearsheimer. Thucydides is a Greek historian best known for his “Melian Dilemma” which states that losers of war must accept what they must to survive and the “Thucydides Trap” which states that two Great Powers that go into conflict with each other both lose by weakening each other enough to where a third power supplants them. Machiavelli is a Florentine diplomat who separated morality from politics and foreign policy in a time when the Christian church, ie morality, was an important influence in all aspects of governance. Machiavelli is known for the saying “the ends justify the means” and is considered the main influence of modern political and international relations theories. My employer at Stanford while I was an undergraduate student was Professor Angelo Codevilla who was a Republican expert in realist foreign policy (also happened to be the guy who staffed Reagan’s CIA) and who is also one of the main translators of Machiavelli’s masterpiece “The Prince” in English. John Mearsheimer invented Neorealism/Structural Realism and he is the guy that predicted correctly 8 years ago that the Ukraine war would erupt. Other famous founders of Structural Realism are Hans Morgenthau and George Kennan. Neoclassical Realism was created more recently by former Foreign Affairs editor Gideon Rose to explain failures of US foreign policy over the past 30 years.


Idealism is the second major strategy in international relations theory. It has only one major school of thought called Liberalism which is sometimes called “International Liberalism”. Liberalism rejects power politics and rejects the security/warfare principles of Realism. It emphasizes that international cooperation is a win/win proposition that benefits both nations and it emphasizes a role of international institutions such as United Nations to limit the sovereignty of nation states, direct policy choices and coordinate dependencies among countries. It wants to foster international trade because when economies are interconnected with trade, countries are less likely to go to war with each other. Liberalism wants to spread democracies around the world because theoretically well-established democracies will not go to war with each other so if there are more democracies there will be less war. Liberals see nation states interacting through economic, financial and cultural means instead of military means. With proper institutions and diplomacy, liberals believe that states can work together to maximize prosperity and minimize property damage and conflict.

Liberalism was first coined by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant who was one of the major Enlightenment thinkers. Kant believed that reason is the source of morality and as such denied major religions (such as Islam and Christianity) as source of legitimate moral codex, obviously ignoring the fact that religions are rules of morality (ie rules for behavior between people) acquired through generational and inter-generational experiences of many different types of people and represent reason that is not easily accessible in one lifetime. Kant denied the existence of God and set the modern foundation for atheism. But just like you need a thousand years of astronomical records to be able to predict planetary motions, similarly a single person’s experiences in a single life do not encompass all possible experiences and models of behavior and as such are not a good way with which to build a moral codex. Religion as a practical matter is a better guide than the experiences of a single individual in how to craft morality that can live through generations. Kant sticks to individualist and confined view of direct experiences on which to base morality. Kant becomes infatuated with the idea that universal democracy and international cooperation will end human conflict and that would be the culminating stage of world history. Not sure why history needs a culmination but Kant seems to be infatuated with the apocalyptic paradigm of Christianity and I mostly attribute that to him being German and living in an inhospitable landscape.

The practical usage of liberalism as a foreign policy was initiated by US President Woodrow Wilson who created the League of Nations after World War 1 – the first major international institution. Wilson started the projects of all the international institutions we see in practice today such as the United Nations, International Monetary Fund and World Bank. His initial attempts failed miserably and resulted in World War 2. After America was the only major country left standing after World War 2, America was able to bully and force other countries to accept Wilson’s ideational liberal foreign policy designs to this day.

Neoliberalism is a revised version of liberalism that states that democracies should fight wars in order to expand the footprint of democracies around the world.

Liberalism took a back stage during the Cold War from 1950 to 1990 and was replaced by Realism as that was a better model for the relationship between the Soviet Union and USA at the time. Liberalism resurfaced after the end of the Cold War in 1990 in its newer and more aggressive form – neoliberalism. Neoliberalism today is the official foreign policy of the United States, European Union and a few other American vassal countries like United Kingdom and Japan. America’s neoliberal foreign policy has resulted in constant financing and waging of wars around the world – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, etc. Since the end of World War 2, America has been involved in 90% of the military conflicts in the world clearly showcasing that neither democracy nor neoliberalism is a force for peace.


Now that we know what Realism and Liberalism is, I have a lot to comment on.

First and foremost, it should be pretty obvious that America’s neoliberal foreign policy is in fact Offensive Realism. America is not defending itself or its allies against an opponent infringing on its values, it is waging an offensive war on alternative forms of government. As Biden coined it, it is a war of “democracy vs autocracy”. This is not something that is a conspiracy, this is the official foreign policy of the US government as stated by Biden, Blinken, Jake Sullivan, etc. Thus America’s neoliberalism is direct descendant of Germany’s Weltpolitik from WW1. America is not happy with what it has but it wants to impose its values on the entire world. There is no place on Earth where America won’t wage war to impose its values. America is after all the only country in the world with 150 military bases. America is a clear cut practitioner of Offensive Neorealism. 

The Democratic Party of America has a foreign policy of Weltpolitik – they want to spread their values everywhere. The Republican Party of America has a foreign policy of Lebensraum which was Hitler’s foreign policy of waging war for resource extraction. Mike Pompeo recently gave a “Three Lighthouses” speech recently identifying Taiwan and Ukraine as countries of intense focus of US foreign policy alongside Israel. The reason is Ukraine substantial food and energy resources and Taiwan human resources and semiconductor manufacturing. These are all key for American industry and America wants complete control over them just like Hitler’s Third Reich wanted control of Russia. Unfortunately for our generation, the closest analogies of the past for America’s foreign policy are Germany’s Wilhelm 2nd Weltpolitik and Hitler’s Lebensraum! Not a good thing folks because both of these resulted in massive world wars that killed tens of millions of people.

The 2nd observation is that Liberalism as an ideational theory is fundamentally utopian and therefore totalitarian. Ideas are fiction in the imagination of people. They are not observable reality. As such any judgement as to their “goodness” is entirely arbitrary and can’t really be proven empirically. For that reason, these values and ideas have to be imposed on nations by all means necessary including brute force, censorship, bullying and intimidation. It is not a coincidence that Biden’s idealism has turned America into a totalitarian state. People – here or abroad – don’t accept its values and America finds itself in a position in which it has to wage war both against other nations and against its own people. Since Neoliberalism is really Offensive Realism, the only response to disagreement is war. There is a reason why American government is waging wars all the time. Its ideology demands it. There isn’t an international conflict which America has declined to participate in. The propagation of American “values” by force is always on the agenda. The more America falls down into the vortex of liberalism, the more totalitarian and despotic its government is. If you can’t recognize modern America, it is because it is no longer the America of the past. This is a new neoliberal America which is the biggest threat to world peace since the end of the World War 2. And the reason why America is the biggest threat to the world unlike during the Cold War is because today it utilizes an incorrect ideational model of international relations and that will bring us into a nuclear conflict quickly.

The 3rd observation is that NATO is clearly an offensive alliance. Because America practices Neoliberalism which is in reality Offensive Realism, clearly NATO will expand to areas that will provoke war with other Great Powers. If neoliberalism was indeed not Offensive Realism, you would have NATO in Ukraine without Russia triggering war. But because Russia triggers war that means that neoliberal model of describing international relations is incorrect. All the neoliberals were wrong. States do care about their security. The correct model to describe this situation is Realism.

But there can be no discussion of that in America because America is an idealist power and thus all internal dissent is censored out. John Mearsheimer is big time realist American foreign policy scholar and he is being censored by the media. Why is he censored by the media? Because again they are liberal idealists and in idealist circles diversity of thought is not allowed. The censorship needs to be totalitarian and absolute. There is only one line of thinking allowed in the media and that is liberalism. Needless to say there needs to be top to bottom overhaul of American media and its censorship of discourse in the country. If “liberal democratic” America reminds you of the Soviet Union that is because it is exactly like the Soviet Union. Its foreign and domestic policies are ideational.

In order for NATO to be recognized as the defensive alliance that it was intended to be at its founding in 1950 (ie practice Defensive Realism), NATO should reject membership of countries that Russia or China views as no touch such as Ukraine, Georgia and Taiwan. NATO should not have an open door policy. It should have an explicit blacklist of certain countries in order to limit conflict with other major powers like Russia and China.

What type of foreign policy America practices is a matter of economic and military power. If a certain foreign policy leads to America or its allies getting nuked and results in substantial economic and territorial damage, that foreign policy clearly is not modeling the world well and is not good policy to follow. Expansionism of NATO to Ukraine, Georgia and Taiwan is a bad idea. America needs to stop demanding “solidarity” from Eastern European countries on actions that can lead those countries into an undesired war with Russia. Support for arming Ukraine is one such demand. The war in Ukraine is an American war of choice. Ukraine is not a member of NATO and America and its allies have no obligation to arm it or to defend it. From the very beginning this year, America should have pursued a peaceful and diplomatic resolution to the conflict. But it didn’t. For America to demand European countries that are neighbors of Ukraine to be in “solidarity” with its warmongering actions is bullying, intimidation and an outright insult to the sovereignty of these nations. Yet that is what America does every single day. America is easily the biggest mobster and intimidator in the world today and that is not a compliment. And that is a direct consequence of its liberal foreign policy. Many countries are reconsidering their alliance with America as a result of the tensions, threats and intimidations experienced this year.

America practiced Defensive Realism during the Cold War because that was the military and economic reality during the Cold War. The collapse of the Soviet Union erroneously shifted American foreign policy into Neoliberalism (which is really Offensive Neorealism) which has now expanded its influence directly next to the borders of China and Russia. Neoliberalism is no longer a good model to follow because as you can see in Ukraine, it will trigger war, then escalation and it will get us all nuked. Triggering wars with these Great Powers will not end well for America as the prisoner’s dilemma tells you it. America needs to go back to the Defensive Realism foreign policy that was employed during the Cold War. American population needs to see John Mearsheimer on TV far more often than it does now. America does have great foreign policy scholars and it is a shame the US government itself does everything to repress them. The list of American dissidents grows every day.  

Further, America’s descent into woke ideology under the Biden administration – Critical Race Theory, Transgenderism, Open Borders, Soft on Crime – has resulted in America promoting values that are NOT shared in Europe. These values are not what the transatlantic alliance was based on after World War 2. Then officials in both governments were Christian, from European descent and could agree that marriage is between man and woman, that there are only 2 sexes, that laws should be executed without prejudice, or that borders and immigration need to be controlled. Now American and European officials no longer agree on these basics, because America is now an atheist country that rejects Christianity. America also rejects its European roots. In fact, Biden government’s ideology is distinctly Europhobic in nature. America is treating Europe as an enemy despite the fact that 70% of American have European descent. Many Americans reject fundamentally that they are descendants of European settlers. They reject European values. Whatever the reason for that is I don’t know but that is a problem for Europe today. America no longer can count on Europe being in its coalition. International alliances are based on shared values and American values now call for the extinction and destruction of Europeans. That is not a shared value at all. This is a direct threat, clear and present danger to all Europeans. America’s bombing of the Nordstream pipelines last week is a clear act of war against Europeans. It is direct destruction of their property and energy security.

America’s neoliberalism and its highly offensive neorealist/imperialist foreign policy will now result in a dramatic reduction of the American sphere of influence. Not only will China, Russia and India walk out on America but soon will Europe as well. Since America now threatens the European national interest, at the very minimum Europe will have to take on a Defensive Realist posture against the United States. Unfortunately, in its rerun of Weltpolitik, America just like Germany in WW1 and WW2 made enemies everywhere and will see its influence shrink dramatically going forward. National conservatism can’t arrive soon enough in America and Europe. Because of neoliberalism we are living in the most dangerous times since the end of World War 2.

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