In this chapter, Yan Xuetong’s moral realism is critically approached in the context of the agent–structure debate in international relations to decipher the ontological and epistemological background and reconnoitre hidden logic of this theory. As noted in this chapter, moral realism provides an alternative approach to the agent–structure problem in international relations as a dualist theory exploring the mutual interaction of agent and structure. The author notes the convergence between Yan’s and Joseph Nye’s researches on moral leadership, but emphasizes their divergences on level of analysis and conceptualization of morality. The chapter further elucidates the significant ontological and epistemological differences between moral realists and constructivists in their analysis of agent and structure. A few challenges are noted as laying ahead of the further development of moral realism in the last section.
Bringing together eminent International Relations (IR) scholars from China and the West, this book examines moral realism from a range of different perspectives. Through its analyses, it verifies the robustness of moral realism in IR theory.
The first section of the book is written by Chinese scholars and dedicated to debates about how moral realism relates to traditional schools of IR theory. The latter portion, provided by Western contributors, critically investigates both the universal and practical values of moral realism. Finally, Yan Xuetong concludes by responding constructively to all criticisms and further exploring the nature and characteristics of interstate leadership in moral realism.
The study of international leadership gained momentum when Donald Trump became the president of the United States in 2017. Consequently, international relations (IR) moral realism benefited greatly from those studies. There is a growing consensus that interstate leadership plays a central role in preserving international stability and prosperity even though scholars define leadership through different aspects, such as power, social contracts, and influence. The nine contributors to this book differ in how they define morality and on the methodology of analysing the effects of morality in relation to environmental constraints; nonetheless, they all believe it is important to incorporate the study of morality into IR analysis. I argue for an instrumental definition of leadership morality inspired by the traditional Chinese belief of dedao duozhu, shidao guazhu (a just cause enjoys abundant support while an unjust cause finds meagre support). The other eight authors contribute liberalist, neoliberalist, constructivist, Confucianist, neoclassical realist, institutionalist, and political psychology critiques.