The Realist Tradition in International Relations

The Foundations of Western Order

by Barry Scott Zellen
Foreword by Joel M. Ostrow
Introduction by Ambassador David T. Killion


It has been a long time since students have been exposed to the important canon of literature that defines the realist tradition. Yet, realism speaks to every generation, presenting us with a means for understanding history and the relationship between war and society, offering wisdom that can guide us from a world of chaos into a world of order.

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Cover image for The Realist Tradition in International Relations

August 2011


Pages 1249
Volumes 4
Size 7x10
Topics Security Studies/Conflict

This comprehensive foundation for the study of realism will introduce students in disciplines as varied as philosophy, international relations, and strategic studies to the majestic breadth of the realist tradition that unifies them all.

The Realist Tradition in International Relations: The Foundations of Western Order introduces the principal theorists who have shaped and defined the realist tradition. This once-dominant theory of international politics has reemerged to provide a shared foundation for understanding political theory, international relations theory, and strategic studies.

The work is comprised of four volumes, each focusing upon a distinct period and the pivotal contributors writing in that era. Volume 1, State of Hope, looks at the classical era when chaos reigned supreme. Volume 2, State of Fear, goes through the early-modern period and the emergence of the modern state. Volume 3, State of Awe, explores the age of total war with its unprecedented dangers. Volume 4, State of Siege, examines the present era of insurgency and asymmetrical conflict. A truly monumental work, this sweeping study will surely foster a new appreciation of the rich tapestry of realist thought and its continuing relevance to the study of world politics.


  • A timeline
  • A detailed bibliography


  • Presents a close analysis of the texts of the great treatises on realism from classical times up to and including the classic theorists of modern, total, and asymmetrical warfare
  • Takes us back to the very beginnings of realism in ancient times in an effort to bring us forward to our own time, informed by the currents of history on the nature of war and the persistent problem of chaos and insecurity in world politics
  • Reawakens readers to the vibrant intellectual tradition of realism, which unifies the ways the greatest minds in human history have responded to history's greatest challenges
Series Description

Praeger Security International

As the world gets "smaller" through technology and globalization, the security risks we face grow and multiply.

International security in the 21st century is not a topic that can be adequately addressed in nightly news soundbites or online articles intended to be relevant for 24 hours or less. Comprehending these complex issues requires insight from foreign policy specialists, diplomats, military officials, peace scholars, historians, and security experts—participants and observers on all sides of each conflict. This series provides the tools for understanding security issues in our uncertain, unstable world.

Covering global hot spots from Iran to Venezuela and subjects ranging from terrorism and cyber warfare to food security, books in the Praeger Security International series give readers access to carefully considered and highly informed viewpoints on the critical security issues that threaten to destabilize our world. With titles authored by diplomats, academic researchers, journalists, military leaders and combatants, legal experts, psychologists, and other knowledgeable specialists, these books offer in-depth analysis and international perspectives that are unavailable in the mass media. These titles represent an invaluable resource for students, researchers, and policymakers as well as for anyone who seeks a deeper understanding of the complex issues that affect our lives and future.


  • Provides reliable, comprehensive information on all matters relating to security that is ideal for students, teachers, researchers, and professionals
  • Offers insightful commentaries written by a diverse group of scholars and experts who provide interdisciplinary treatments of newsworthy events and important historical occurrences
Author Info

Barry Scott Zellen is editor of The Culture and Conflict Review at the Naval Postgraduate School, where he also serves as research director of the Arctic Security Project. He is author of several books including Praeger's Arctic Doom, Arctic Boom: The Geopolitics of Climate Change in the Arctic and has written for numerous journals including Joint Force Quarterly, the Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, Proceedings, and the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs.



"This comprehensive body of work is a meticulously detailed historical, theoretical and philosophical examination of realist theory and its theorists, philosophers, and spiritual, military, and government leaders that have shaped it to the present day. Zellen cleverly compares, blends, and contrasts the most renowned figures of their day, interweaving events, metaphors and analogies in intriguing, compelling, and enlightening ways that enhance—or even challenge—our very understanding of their thoughts, intent, relevance, and application today. This masterfully crafted and superbly researched seminal body of work is destined to be the standard for many years to come."
—Dr. David A. Anderson, Professor of Strategic Studies, and William E. Odom Chair of Joint, Interagency and Multinational Operations, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College

"This sweeping and perceptive analysis of strategic thought in the Western world, from classical wars between Greece and Persia to the War of Terror, is sure to stimulate discussion. Zellen's constructive realism sees strategy as action, resurrecting realism from the realm of tragedy to heroic idealism. Theorists, historians, and strategists will find rich food for thought in this search to find theoretical order in humanity's quest for peace and security through the chaos of the last two millennia."
—Dr. P. Whitney Lackenbauer, Associate Professor and Chair of History, St. Jerome’s University, Canada

"Barry Zellen has produced a masterful overview of realism. This work is almost overwhelming in its comprehensive nature and is a must read for any serious student of international relations."
—Dr. Rob Huebert, Associate Director, Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, University of Calgary

"In this wide-ranging and thorough analysis of the lessons of two thousand years of realist thinking, Zellen explores the border between order and chaos, and offers 'constructive realism' as a prescription for strategic thinkers who want to translate thinking into action."
—Margaret D. Stock, Adjunct Instructor, Political Science Department, University of Alaska Anchorage & Retired Lieutenant Colonel, Military Police Corps, US Army Reserve

"Zellen has produced a theoretical tour-de-force with this much awaited multi-volume exploration of critical issues in theories of state formation and state behavior. This work is an absolute must-read for students of the changing political landscape and the impact that the global war on terror is having on the organization of international politics - and our imaginings of what it means to be in and of this world."
—Timothy R. Tangherlini, Professor, UCLA

"In The Realist Tradition in International Relations: The Foundations of Western Order, Zellen examines the response by theorists of war to total war, and chronicles the evolution in the philosophy of war from the era of limited to total war, through the revolutionary transformations of Napoleonic warfare and into the nuclear age. Zellen compares the competing philosophical traditions of two of the most famous interpreters of Napoleonic warfare, Jomini and Clausewitz, with those of two leading nuclear strategists, Bernard Brodie and Herman Kahn. His efforts will help spark new interest in the nuclear strategists, and their important contribution to the pursuit of order in the age of total war."
—Dr. James A. Russell, Associate Professor, Naval Postgraduate School

"As a civil affairs officer deployed to Anbar Province, Iraq in 2004-05, I wanted to understand where our efforts fit within the historical context of America’s strategic and military policy. Zellen's The Realist Tradition in International Relations: The Foundations of Western Order comprehensively and effectively lays out the ‘big blue arrows’ of American policy."
—Col Jim Burack, Chief of Police and Town Administrator, Milliken, CO; and Colonel, U.S. Marines Reserves.

"Barry Zellen’s multi-volume work on realism is an incredible tour d’horizon of 3,000 years of realist theory and its political utility, from Socrates to today’s war on terror. His development of a new theoretical field—constructive realism—represents a welcome contribution to international relations theory and serves as a bridge between constructivism and its realist roots. I highly recommend this set to any student, teacher, or real-world practitioner of international relations."
—Dr. Jeffrey A. Larsen, President, Larsen Consulting Group, and Adjunct Professor, Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver

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