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Difference between Classical Realism and Neorealism

Difference between Classical Realism and Neorealism

Since the end of World War II, there has been a debate between two predominant schools of thought in international relations theory – classical realism and neorealism. While both theories share some similarities, there are key differences that set them apart. In this blog post, we will explore the main divergences between these two theories.

What is Classical Realism?

Classical Realism is a school of thought in the social sciences that argues that human beings are fundamentally rational creatures and that it is possible to develop objective knowledge about them.

  • Classical Realists maintain that the study of politics should be primarily concerned with understanding and explaining the behavior of political actors, rather than with prescribing solutions to problems or offering normative evaluations of policies.
  • This approach has its roots in the work of thinkers such as Aristotle, Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke, who all argued that humans are governed by reason and that it is possible to develop valid and reliable knowledge about their behavior.
  • Classical Realism continues to exert a significant influence on the study of politics, despite being opposed by other schools of thought such as Critical Theory and Post-structuralism.

What is Neorealism?

  • Neorealism is a style of filmmaking that emerged in the wake of World War II. Drawing inspiration from the documentary tradition, Neorealist filmmakers sought to capture the everyday realities of life in postwar Italy.
  • Neorealism was characterized by a focus on working-class protagonists, naturalistic settings, and improvisational techniques. This approach to filmmaking emerged in contrast to the highly stylized aesthetic of Italian Neorealism’s counterpart, Italian Neorealism.
  • Neorealist films often dealt with themes of poverty, social alienation, and despair. However, they also conveyed a sense of hope and resilience in the face of adversity. Among the most influential Neorealist filmmakers were Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, and Luchino Visconti. Neorealism had a profound impact on subsequent generations of filmmakers, both in Italy and abroad.

Difference between Classical Realism and Neorealism

Classical Realism and Neorealism are two philosophies that focus on the study of international relations. Classical Realism is a tradition that dates back to the works of thinkers such as Thucydides and Machiavelli, who believed that states are driven by power and self-interest.

  • Neorealism, on the other hand, is a more modern approach that emerged after World War II. It takes a scientific approach to the study of international relations and argues that states are primarily motivated by a desire to maintain their security.
  • Both Classical Realism and Neorealism have been highly influential in shaping our understanding of international politics. However, they differ in their approaches and assumptions.
  • Classical Realism focuses on the actions of individual states, while Neorealism emphasizes the role of structures in shaping state behavior. Classical Realists also tend to downplay the importance of ethics, while Neorealists tend to be more value-neutral. As a result, these two philosophies offer different lenses for understanding the world of international politics.


Classical realism believes that the state is a rational actor with fixed interests, while neorealism sees the state as being motivated by insecurity and its need to survive. In terms of international relations, classical realism focuses on military and economic power, while neorealism pays more attention to social forces and the distribution of power. Finally, classical realism tends to be optimistic about human nature and international cooperation, while neorealism is much more pessimistic.

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