Necessary Fiction: Realism’s Tragic Theology

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


This article revisits the early realist understanding of tragedy in international relations in order to highlight its debt to continental philosophical thought and tragic theology. Far from sharing a view of tragedy as objective externality, early realists engaged with the existential conditions that make up the paradoxical structure of experience: human beings’ constant albeit frustrated striving to make the world intelligible and ascribe meaning to their actions. The upshot of this article is that early classical realists, such as Hans Morgenthau and Reinhold Niebuhr, entertained a view of tragedy as a necessary fiction, that is, a fabricated but real condition that is inextricably linked with the constitution of subjectivity and human agency. This paradoxical view of tragedy as an ‘enabling obstacle’ that contests the idea of tragic destiny as inescapable determinism finds its roots in the continental philosophical and theological background of their thought but is more consistently exhibited in Niebuhr’s theological anthropology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)846-862
JournalInternational Politics
Issue number6
Early online date20 Sept 2013
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2013


Dive into the research topics of 'Necessary Fiction: Realism’s Tragic Theology'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this