Realism, Rationalism, Race: On the Early International Relations Discipline in Australia



The received view of the development of the international relations discipline in Australia discounts its early history, maintaining that it only came into existence in the 1960s. It was then confined, according to this account, within a realist-rationalist discourse. This article shows that if realism-rationalism is the identifying feature of the discipline in Australia, then many exemplars can be found in the earlier period from the 1920s to the Pacific War. Problems regarding empire, obligations towards the League of Nations, and Australia’s position in the Pacific region were major concerns. Arguments in support of the League, or for an emerging Pacific order, were often couched in rationalist terms; with the increasing international uncertainty of the 1930s, realist arguments became more prominent. There are also some examples of revolutionist theory. However, a major preoccupation across the spectrum of international thinkers was the issue of race and the exclusionary White Australia immigration policy. It is argued that this theme cannot be readily assimilated to realism-rationalism.