Towards a critical concept of the statesperson

Richard Beardsworth

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This article considers convergence between classical realism and critical theory in relation to pressing political problems. It argues that the spirit of both traditions can help develop critical reflection on the state as an agent of change. I suggest that too much recent critical theorization has avoided the state in its attention to social movements, but that a critical concept of state leadership is now required to address global threats and challenges. The article rehearses this critical concept in three stages. It considers, first, how the concept of national interest drives statecraft in the authorship of Hans Morgenthau and how complex this concept is both in its own terms and with regard to the political effects of the nuclear revolution. It develops, second, a multi-layered concept of responsibility as the guiding concept of statecraft in a world of increasingly incompatible demands. It argues, third, that these concepts of national interest and responsibility need to be aligned with global imperatives so that a greater marriage between the global and the national is possible. I conclude that it is the task of contemporary critical thought to address this present through a reimagined political realism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)100-121
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of International Political Theory
Issue number1
Early online date12 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - 01 Feb 2017


  • Critical theorizing
  • classical realism
  • state leadership


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