Psychological Egoism as a Basis for Political Realism as an Approach to the Understanding of Armed Conflict in International Relations and World Politics
Egoism is a motivational state that studies a human care about their own welfare only or about getting advantages without taking into account the interests of other people. This concept and all its variants are primarily considered under the scopes of personal psychology that can be reflected at the superior levels. Egoism is a part of the political realism, and it greatly impacts foreign policy. However, not every its type can be called a reasonable approach to foreign policy. Psychological egoism may be a plausible basis for political realism as an approach to the understanding of armed conflict in international relations and world politics, but it is a shaky background because it realizes the officials’ private interests, which are not connected to the common good.
Psychological Egoism as the Concept of a Primary Motivation
Psychological egoism determines personal interests as the ultimate good. It does not consider the possibility of pure altruism. Instead, any deeds, even the most positive actions, are explained as a way of self-centeredness and benefit. Initially, the psychological egoism issue was discussed by the British Victorian historian Macaulay and political philosopher Thomas Hobbes. The former claimed that people always act out of self-interest. The latter, the author of Leviathan and the theory of the state building, has stressed that obtaining personal enjoyment is a preferred condition for action. In the strongest form, the psychological egoism states that people act exceptionally in accordance with their own benefits even if they hide the true motivation under the pretext of helping others or performance of duty. Hobbes emphasizes that people should not rely on the development of friendly relations as initially, there is no goodwill and mutual assistance. Additionally, Bentham has come to the conclusion that nature has put mankind under the governance of two determining factors, pain and pleasure, which indicate what people have to do as well as determine the actual direction of actions. On the one hand, there is a standard of right and wrong, on the other hand, the fixed chain of cause and effect. The psychological context shows actual state of affairs or human behavior de-facto. It is a tough, uncompromising, and cynical approach.
Egoist is the one who ignores the feelings, interests, and rights of other people to achieve their goals. They are also prone to violate the rules, use others, or even cause them harm to implement their desires. The psychological egoism stands on the top of personal motivation and does not take into account the concept of duty, patriotism, and sympathy. Therefore, the distinctive features of an egoist are the following. First of all, it includes the orientation of individual objectives solely on that person. Second, it is the lack of coordination of human’s resources to achieve the goals with the rules that protect the rights of each individual and ensure justice in society. Thus, these two fundamental features entail the formation of the self-centered personality of the whole spectrum of related unincorporated and, sometimes, anti-social traits: excessive individualistic orientation, commitment, a tendency to neglect the interests of others, freedom from duties and obligations, excessive desire to possess, injustice, conflict, and destructiveness. Moreover, the core principles of psychological egoism include individualistic orientation of selfishness, freedom from any obligation to the others, the desire to possess, commitment, conflict of selfishness, injustice, and destructiveness.
Political Realism and International Relations
World politics adopts the ideology of traditional conservatism. It is one of the primary paradigms of research in international relations. It suggests that state and any other participants in the political relations pursue their own interests, the main of which are survival and security, implementing all available methods, including the use of force. Interests are the long-term standards that give reason to judge, evaluate policies and actions. Modern communication between national interests and the state is a product of history and thus can change its configuration. The ideologist of political realism Morgenthau has raised the question of the world transformation and stressed that the relationship between national interests and their product, the state, may disappear with time. However, the desire for gain and survival at any cost will be fundamental in politics because the international arena is a hostile environment. States are the primary actors in the world politics, which are regarded as anthropomorphic establishments that compete in politics as opposed to people. Thus, international politics is a struggle for power and influence. The core task of the state is to build the capacity, especially the capacity of power: military, economic, and other types. Conflicts, which are inherent in the very nature of a human being, are transferred to the understanding of the state.
In recent decades, political realism began to pay more attention to the external factors that influence the policy and the entire international system. By the mid 90’s in the international relations theory, the concessional realism approach was formed involving the following key points. The international system is characterized by anarchy and the principle of the private protection. The main motives of foreign policy are the security (self-preservation), benefits (economic prosperity), and prestige (reputation). The dominant strategy of the state embodies an effort to maximize its power potential or to prevent someone else from gaining the superiority of forces. The intentions of potential adversaries are evaluated and based on their real possibilities but not statements or promises. Moral principles do not matter when the vital national interests are protected. Conflict and confrontation are the results of the political representations of the differences of interest. Cooperation is the reflection of the similarity of interests. Security is based on the stable balance of power that applies to the general deterrence. The results of international policy are defined by the power relations in the political and economic spheres. Thus, it should be noted that political realism combines the flows of rationalism and egoism.
Psychological Egoism as a Plausible Basis for Political Realism in the International Arena
International relations embody a broad network of social interactions. They are formed by people and therefore based on all that may relate to human nature regardless of the moral and ethical context. Thus, the state governing is based on the activity of specific politicians, who have their weaknesses, priorities, beliefs, and ideas about the common good.
As it has been mentioned above, the background of foreign policy is a national interest. Protecting it is a priority for each country and may even justify armed conflicts. The very formation of national interests is closely related to the identity of the particular nation. Determining national interests and adopting foreign policy decisions, the heads of states take into account the economic objectives, political, geographic, and other factors, domestic context, maneuvers of various social and political forces, interested groups and organizations. Moreover, they should consider the possible reaction to these decisions on the international arena as regards those states which have been somehow affected.
However, the very concept of national interest is riddled with value-norms and ideological content. Thus, the government officials’ system of value orientations, attitudes, beliefs, and principles of perceiving the world and evaluating the state position on the international arena significantly impacts the foreign policy. Rational egoism is the most suitable type, which can justify the foreign policy conflicts or international politics based on the reasonable protection of public interest considerations, and presumably is not the result of personal ambitions of state heads. Nevertheless, the difference between the real and rational foreign policy theory is the same as between a photograph and a beautiful portrait. The former reflects all that is possible to be seen. However, the portrait shows, or at least should show, the essence of the depicted. Thus, it is very difficult to trace a transition from rationalism to the psychological context. Such well-known leaders as Caesar, Mussolini, Hitler, and other famous policians justified their desire for fame and prestige by the protection of national interests. Moreover, the current European conflict in East Ukraine remains the example of defending not national but personal interests of Russia, which are entirely dependent on the decisions of President Putin. Within this framework, it is neglecting the interests of other participants of international relations and leveling the standard rules.
Protection of the territory and its expansion due to the objective necessity can be attributed to the rational interests. At the same time, the thirst for new conquests or inciting conflict to prove one’s own position as well as responding to a personal state leader's insult, which was widely acceptable in the Middle Ages, are the manifestations of psychological egoism. Thus, this concept can become reasonable grounds for political realism within the explanations of conflict and politics. However, it cannot be the solid basis for the further bilateral relations as it has too strong personalization, lack of objectivism, and the shaky structure of personal priorities of a political leader.
Egoism is one of the political realism foundations, which explains international relations from the perspective of national interests and defines them as a hostile environment. The need for survival requires a state to apply the principles of rational egoism as the mean of preserving the integrity and influence. Nevertheless, international relations are a set of social interactions, which are dependent on individuals. Governments are controlled by politicians who have private ambitions and personal ethical beliefs. There is no guarantee that a state leader will not use their power to achieve the personal goals. Thus, the psychological egoism can be the basis for political realism within the framework of interstate relations. However, this background is unreliable because it depends on a particular person or a ruling group and may stand contrary to the actual interests of a state.