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The Concept of the National Interest

Defining the National Interest: Realists and Universalists

Morgenthau, who is known as the modern father of the realist school of thought, argued that "statesmen think and act in terms of interest defined as power" and that the actions of nations as well as individuals are motivated primarily by their self-interest. He rejected the idea that there was "a rational and moral political order, derived from universally valid abstract principles." He said that the real world consisted of "opposing interests and of conflict among them . . . [in which] "moral principles can never be fully realized, but must at best be approximated through the ever temporary balance of interests and the ever present settlement of conflicts."

Realists tend to define the national interest in terms of the territorial security, and freedom from physical attack and foreign interference of their nation. Viotti and Kauppi add that the national interest includes preservation of a nation's economic vitality and prosperity and of certain "core values," including in the case of the United States its political liberties within its territorial limits. The realists agree with the comment of early Secretary of State John Quincy Adams that America "goes not abroad


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The Concept of the National Interest. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 04:30, October 26, 2014, from
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