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Between realism and utopia

· One hundred years after the outbreak of the First World War ·

Despite the difficult balance, diplomacy seeks to avoid conflict

This year will mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. It was the first mass war in modern times, the first where belligerents could use conscription to corral millions of their young men into the trenches. Millions died; an entire generation. In the beginning few realized how prolonged and bloody the war would be. What is surprising, is the fact that, 20 years later, Europe was plunged into devastating war once again. How did that happen? Security, prohibition of the use of violence between states, arbitration and negotiated deals were suppose to replace war, weren’t they?

One person who saw where Europe was heading was the British diplomat and historian Edward Hallett Carr. Carr was never a complete theorist. He was strongly aware that politics are active; they are the attempt of frail humans to master stubborn and complex reality. Politics are choices that valuable conflicts and loss of valuables.

In the history of political ideas, we speak of “realists” and “utopians” (today, more often of “constructivists”). Realists claim to see the world as it is, whereas utopians see the world as it ought to be. The realist’s world is chaotic and dark. Princes and states fight for survival, security, power. Ethics and moral have no place in the realist’s model. While in the utopian’s world, there is hope. States and leaders can and should strive to realize ethical ideals — peace, justice, the good society.

There is something in man, he writes, that refuses to bow to naked power, which demands justice, equality before the law and strives to make the world a better place. “All healthy human action… must establish a balance between utopia and reality, between free will and determinism. The complete realist, unconditionally accepting the causal sequence of events, deprives himself of the possibility of changing reality. The complete utopian, by rejecting the causal sequence, deprives himself of the possibility of understanding either the reality which he is seeking to change or the processes by which it can be changed. The characteristic vice of the utopian is naivety; of the realist, sterility”.

Ulla Gudmundson




St. Peter’s Square

May 25, 2019