Between politics and the political: reading Hans J. Morgenthau’s double critique of depoliticisation

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This article situates H. Morgenthau’s thought in the context of post-foundationalist theorisations of the difference between politics and the political. In doing so, it shows how Morgenthau’s sophisticated realism refused to circumscribe the antagonistic dimension of politics and introduced the study of international politics as a struggle with negativity, temporality and contingency in the wake of the crisis of foundationalism in late modernity. Morgenthau’s tarrying with the negative is primarily revealed in his irresolvable tragic oscillation between Nietzschean scepticism and Kantian moralism. Nevertheless, due to its antinomic premises, Morgenthau’s tragic vision of politics can still be viewed as stopping a step short of its full-blown critical potential. It is not the purpose of this article, however, to award or withhold credentials of criticality but to recast Morgenthau’s theory of the political as an instructive, albeit inconclusive, attempt at a post-foundational political ontology. This may, eventually, serve a purpose far broader than restoring classical realism’s latent reflexivity; it may prompt an argument about the conditions and challenges involved in practising international theory as a constant critique of depoliticisation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)354-375
Number of pages22
JournalMillennium: Journal of International Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • Depoliticisation
  • Morgenthau
  • The political
  • Politics
  • Post-foundationalism


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