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LIBERALISM

Liberalism (sometimes known as idealism) reflects a long history of political philosophy. Before proceeding, it is important to note that this section discusses liberalism as it has been used in international relations (the broader philosophy of liberalism is much deeper than this book allows). In simple terms, in international relations theory the key assumptions of liberalism represent the direct opposite of realism. The key assumptions that separate liberalism from realism are: 1. a positive view of human nature 2. a belief that IR can be cooperative rather than conflictual 3. a belief in progress

Origins There is a long tradition of liberal thought about the nature of international relations. In the 18th and 19th centuries, philosophers debated the problem of establishing orderly and peaceful relations between political groups, concluding that progress was possible through cooperation. One of the most influential early accounts was that of Immanuel Kant, whose ideas still form the backbone of liberal thinking about international relations today. Immanuel Kant wrote Perpetual Peace in 1795. He began with the premise that the international system was indeed somewhat akin to the state of nature anarchic and competitive. However, Kant believed that mankind could overcome the state of nature by finding a state of peace a perpetual peace without war. Kant did not envision a world government, because he valued and respected state sovereignty too much to predict the end of the state. Rather, Kant envisioned a loose federation of free states, governed by the rule of law, which would institute cooperative practices and peaceful rules and norms to overcome anarchy. However, Kant did not foresee this state of affairs coming about quickly or easily. He recognised that it would take a long time, and he also recognised that certain preconditions were necessary. These three preconditions of perpetual peace can be summarised as follows : First, an international system dominated by a federation of like-minded states (democracies in modern terminology), which would respect the rule of law, and whose citizens were truly free-willed. In other words, a political consensus to encourage cooperation and peace. Second, an environment of free trade between states, which would foster a sense of economic community, and hence discourage violence as states recognised the benefits of stable interdependence. In other words, an economic consensus around free trade.

Third, a global sense of citizenship, meaning an agreed moral consensus of shared values, rules, and norms. Within this consensus, no state or individual would believe it is superior to another (which is often how wars begin). In other words, a kind of socio-cultural consensus. Liberals who draw upon Kant in the 21st century argue that these three points are precisely what the world is witnessing today. Democracy is spreading around the world, free trade is becoming a desirable norm, and globalisation is drawing the people of the world ever more into a global sense of citizenship. In short, many liberals argue that the world Kant envisioned is coming to pass, and they point to current trends as their evidence. This is a very rough sketch of Kants philosophy. The key to Kant is his faith in the rule of law, and that the rule of law fosters a sense of society, which in turn brings peace and harmony. Kant represents a traditional liberal belief in the concept of a harmony of interests, shared interests in prosperity, that what is good for you is good for me too. The liberal belief is that the world is a positive-sum game (where everyone can benefit), rather than the realist zero-sum game (where if one benefits another necessarily loses). All liberals share a faith in the harmony of interests in one way or another. And Immanuel Kant, in 1795, introduced a vision of future peace that liberals claim is slowly but surely emerging in the modern world.

The Philosophical Roots of Liberalism Both economic liberalism and political liberalism are deep-rooted traditions. While not explicitly geared toward international relations, it is worth briefly summarising each of the two traditions in order to understand the intellectual background to modern liberalism in international relations. The key assumptions of economic liberalism are that it is beneficial for all, in the long run, if markets are allowed to operate freely, without state intervention, and if countries are allowed to trade freely with each other. This is because the market is seen as the most efficient means of organising human production and exchange, operating as an invisible hand (Adam Smith) that guides and coordinates economic activity. Economic liberals also assume that human beings act rationally, meaning an ability to weigh up the costs and benefits of any course of action. All rational beings will act to maximise their utility (interest), and although this is based on self-interest, collectively such behaviour produces beneficial outcomes for society. As Jeremy Bentham stated, rational economic self-interest produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. In international relations, free markets generate international trade between states, which brings certain benefits: the generation of wealth, a sense of interdependence, and recognised common interests. The net effect of these factors would be to reduce the likelihood of war, which would increasingly be viewed as economically irrational. That is the essence of the philosophy of economic liberalism.

Political liberalism emerged from much the same themes. The emphasis of political liberalism was on the freedom of the individual, and what emerged was a concept of human rights. The rationale was based on the notion that through our ability to reason (think rationally) we are able to understand and respect moral principles (i.e. morality is a universal human characteristic). This is profoundly different from realism, which perceives human rationality as inherently selfish and wicked. Hence we can see how liberals take a positive view of human nature and apply it to international politics. Liberals recognise that individuals are self-interested and competitive up to a point (they are not naive to human selfishness). But they also believe that individuals share many interests, and can thus engage in cooperative social action both domestically and internationally, which results in mutual benefits (at least for the greatest number). In other words, conflict and war are not inevitable. When people employ their reason they can achieve mutually beneficial cooperation, including across international boundaries. Hence liberals ultimately believe that human reason can triumph over human fear, insecurity, and the lust for power.

Four Schools of Modern Liberalism When studying modern liberalism in international relations, it is possible to draw out four distinct schools of thought. Each school reaches the same optimistic liberal conclusions, but they develop their conclusions from different research perspectives. In many ways these are artificial labels we are attaching (i.e. no-one explicitly calls themselves by these labels), but for our purposes they are a useful analytical tool to help subdivide the massive range of liberal thinking about international relations. The four schools of liberalism are : 1. 2. 3. 4. Cultural/Sociological liberalism Economic/Interdependence liberalism Institutional liberalism Democratic/Republican liberalism

1. Cultural or Sociological liberalism For realists, international relations is the study of the relations between the governments of sovereign states. Sociological liberals reject this view as too narrowly focused and one-sided. In their view international relations is not only about state-state relations. It is also about transnational relations relations between people, groups, and organisations belonging to different countries. Sociological liberals consider transnational relations to be an increasingly important aspect of international relations. The philosophical undercurrent is that relations between people are more cooperative and more supportive of peace than are relations between national governments. In other words, building transnational cultural networks helps maintain

peace, and results in an international system which is less likely to be characterised by conflict and war. Karl Deutsch was a leading figure in this school of thought, writing in the 1950s. He argued that a high degree of transnational ties between societies leads to peaceful relations. Deutsch charted the development of what he called security communities, groups of people that have become integrated. By integration he means the achievement of a sense of community, which agrees that non-violent solutions should be pursued. Deutsch cited the North Atlantic community as an example, with its wide range of social and economic ties and transactions and movement of people. Many sociological liberals hold the idea that transnational relations between people from different countries help create new forms of human society, which then exist alongside or even in competition with the nation-state. An example is the cobweb model of transnational relationships put forward by John Burton in World Society (1972). According to cobweb theory there exist countless layers of ties, interests, and identities (social, business, religious, etc.) representing actual patterns of human behaviour rather than the artificial political boundaries of nation-states. In other words, as individuals we have many strands or layers of relationships, contacts, and loyalties (beyond our nation-state). Because we are all members of so many different groups, with overlapping loyalties, we lose sight of the traditional statecentric notion of us versus them, and thus conflict will be muted (maybe even eliminated). Inother words, overlapping membership minimises the risk of serious conflicts between groups. So, for example, two individuals may hail from rival countries, but they may have overlapping business interests, or support the same football team, etc., which will give them reasons to pursue friendship rather than conflict. James Rosenau expands further on the sociological liberal approach, arguing that individuals have greatly expanded their activities owing to better education and access to communication and travel. At the same time, the ability of the state to control and regulate our lives is decreasing over time as globalisation makes the world a more complex place. The consequence is a world of better-informed and more mobile individuals, who are far less tied to their state of origin. These are the kind of globally-aware world travellers we see in the modern world, who think less about national interests and more about the global village. Rosenau argues that this is a profound transformation of the international system. The state-centric, anarchic system is fading, and a multi-centric world is emerging, composed of sovereignty-free actors who embrace globalisation and its cultural implications. Naturally, as a liberal theory, the conclusion is that this new world order will be more peaceful. This world may be more complex, confusing, and unpredictable, but it will not be characterised by uses of force, because overlapping groups will not easily be divided into antagonistic camps. We can summarise cultural/sociological liberalism as follows: International relations is not only a study of relations between national governments Instead, it also includes relations between private individuals, groups, and societies

Overlapping interdependent relations between people are more cooperative than relations between states, because it is more difficult to perceive a clear us versus them when there are several layers of identification Hence, a world with a large number of transnational networks will be more peaceful

2. Economic or Interdependence liberalism Interdependence means mutual dependence, where peoples and governments are affected by what happens elsewhere (i.e. by the actions of their counterparts in other countries). Thus a higher level of transnational relations between countries means a higher level of interdependence. Modernisation (particularly the communications revolution) has had a considerable impact on this process. Throughout history states have sought power through military force and territorial expansion. This is an undeniable historical fact. However, liberals argue it will not continue to be the way of the future, because modernisation is changing the dynamic. For highly industrialised countries economic development and foreign trade are more adequate (and less costly) means of achieving prosperity and respect (rather than war and conquest). Territory and resources are no longer the simple keys to greatness. Today, access to information, capital flows, and a highly efficient labour force are more important. The most successful states today are so-called trading states. These states do not necessarily seek self-sufficiency or military power. Rather, they embrace interdependence. The key argument of these liberals is that interdependence discourages violence between states, because of its focus on the trading element rather than the military option. In essence, the world is changing, and states are responding to this changing world by emphasising the benefits of economic interdependence and moving away from the realist model of simple power politics. If we look at patterns of conflict and violence in the world today, we can see that wars typically occur in the less developed countries, where modernisation and interdependence are far weaker. Hence modernisation and peace go hand in hand, according to this school of liberalism. David Mitrany (1966) set forth a functionalist theory of integration, arguing that greater interdependence in the form of transnational ties between countries could lead to peace. As people begin to experience collective solutions to collective problems on a global scale, an awareness of the benefits of interdependence emerges. Gradually, as citizens see the welfare improvements that result from international collaboration (through rules, norms, and international organisations), they will transfer their loyalty from the state to such international organisations. In other words, economic interdependence will lead to political integration and peace. In 1977 Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye wrote Power and Interdependence, arguing that whereas previously international relations was directed by state leaders dealing with other state leaders, modern relations between states are no longer just between state leaders (they involve many different actors and branches of

government). Indeed, there are a host of transnational relations between individuals and groups outside of the state. Consequently, international relations is becoming more like domestic politics, as different issues generate different coalitions, both within and outside of government. Modern politics does not stop at the waters edge, and it is becoming impossibel to separate politics from interdependence. President Clinton, early in his first term in office, stated that the line between domestic politics and foreign policy was becoming seriously blurred. What he perceived was the impact of interdependence on all political relationships. Compare interdependence liberalism with a traditional realist worldview: Realism Interdependence liberalism States are the dominant actors and Transnational actors are increasingly are coherent units important, and states are not coherent units Force is useable and effective Military force is less useful, and economic and institutional instruments are more useful

Interdependence liberalism clearly implies far more friendly and cooperative relationships between states (although economic competition is always a danger). As interdependence brings tangible benefits to people around the world, the importance of international organisations will increase, because organisations act as the glue that binds an interdependent world together. Hence economic liberals draw a clear line of progression from modernisation to interdependence to cooperation through organisations to world peace. It is not quite as simple as that, but this is the essence of interdependence liberalism. Economic/interdependence liberalism can be summarised as follows: Modernisation increases the level and scope of interdependence between states transnational actors are increasingly important military force is a less useful instrument welfare, not security, becomes the primary concern of states this means a world of more cooperative international relations

3. Institutional liberalism This strand of liberalism focuses on the beneficial effects of international institutions. The key dynamic is a vision of transforming international relations from a jungle of chaotic power politics into a zoo of regulated and peaceful relations. The key, according to this school of thought, is to build effective international organisations, which will regulate anarchy and bring peaceful order to the world. Within this framework, institutions are more than the handmaidens of powerful states. Institutions are actually independent entities that can produce cooperation. Over time institutions do take on a life and persona of their own, beyond the interests of states (e.g. the UN has taken on a role beyond the control of its founding member-

states, and even the US cannot control all the functions of the UN today). Institutions may take a long time to develop beyond the dictates of states (i.e. power politics will not go away overnight), but what institutional liberals share is an optimism that the world is headed in the right direction. What is an international institution? Primarily we think of international organisations such as NATO or the EU. But an institution is also a set of rules that govern state action in particular areas otherwise known as regimes. (e.g. the aviation regime or the laws of the sea). Often the two go together (e.g. the trade regime is primarily shaped by the WTO). But organisations and regimes they can exist independently (e.g. the laws of the sea has no institutional foundation it is simply a regime). So international institutions are concrete organisations, but they are also the rules and norms that states respect. So institutional liberals claim that international institutions help promote cooperation between states. Their research asks a number of questions of institutions : - how do regimes come into existence? - how do they adapt to shifting circumstances? - how do they change state behaviour? - how do regimes help solve international problems? - what long-term effects do regimes have on national political systems and the structure of world politics? A considerable amount of institutional liberal research has gone into analysis of the EU, as an example of a successful institution, which has overcome the problem of anarchy, competition, and war within its membership. After all, realist logic would suggest that post-cold war Europe should have returned to an uneasy balance of power between the great powers of Europe ; a scenario of multipolar instability caused by security fears and lack of trust. However, this has not occurred in Europe. According to institutional liberals, this is because institutionalisation has reduced the destabilising effects of multipolar anarchy. Hence realists are wrong to assume the inevitability of anarchy. Institutions help build trust between states, by providing a flow of information and a forum for negotiation, thereby reducing fear and insecurity. This fosters cooperation and a sense of mutual benefit. As Joseph Nye suggests, institutions create a climate in which expectations of stable peace develop (1993). Institutional liberalism can be summarised as follows: International institutions help promote cooperation between states this helps alleviate the lack of trust and basic insecurity that are considered the essential problems of international anarchy hence a more peaceful world

4. Democratic or Republican liberalism This branch of liberalism is built on the claim that liberal democracies are more peaceful and law-abiding than other political systems. The argument in its most simplistic form is that democracies do not go to war with each other. This is an idea discussed by Immannuel Kant in 1795, and its modern interpretation is what we call democratic peace theory. Republican liberalism is therefore optimistic about the

prospects for long-term world peace. As the number of democracies in the world increases, we can look forward to a more peaceful world, with international relations characterised by cooperation instead of conflict. Why are democracies at peace with one another? The issue of democratic peace theory has been most systematically addressed by Michael Doyle (1983, 1986). Doyle based his argument on Kants model, and its three elements: 1. Liberal democracies share political cultures that respect peaceful conflict resolution - democratic governments are controlled by their citizens, who will not advocate or support war with other democracies (rooted in the assumption of generally peaceful human nature) 2. Democracies hold common moral values - what Kant referred to as a pacific union - a zone of peace based on the common moral foundation of all democracies - where peaceful solutions are viewed as morally superior to violent solutions 3. Peace between democracies is strengthened through economic cooperation and interdependence - what Kant called the spirit of commerce - mutual gains for those involved in international economic cooperation and exchange In essence, Doyle returns to Kants original preconditions for perpetual peace : democracy, free trade, and a global sense of citizenship. The first and most important of these is democracy, from which the others naturally follow. This is a common theme reflected in the speeches of many western politicians today the idea that democracy is the ultimate solution to the worlds problems. Clearly it is not that simple (there is the question of how to define democracy for instance), but nonetheless we should understand the theory behind such statements. For most republican liberals there is not only hope but also confidence that international relations will develop (and is already developing) beyond rivalry and war. Moreover, they see it as their responsibility to promote democracy worldwide, as the best way of promoting peace. Again, how many times have we witnessed foreign policy decisions supposedly motivated by the crusade for global democracy ? If democracy is viewed as the ultimate solution to mankinds problems, then it is only natural that those who hold such views try to justify a global crusade for democracy. The end of the cold war launched a fresh wave of democratisation and renewed liberal optimism. Yet liberals are not nave to the challenges they face today. Mostly they accept that the democratic process will take a long time, and that there will be setbacks along the way. Some countries may revert back to non-democratic forms of rule, and there is a significant legacy of mistrust to overcome. For example, the US put security before democracy during the cold war (Chile, 1970s; Dominican Republic, 1960s; Panama, 1980s, etc.), which has left these countries suspicious of American motives and its rhetoric of democracy. (The same is true of many other parts of the world, who are also suspicious of talk of democracy). Additionally, basic economic inequalities poses problems, even if all parties have democratic

governments. If global democracy is really the answer to global problems, then it will take a long time to work through the many practical obstacles in the way. So republican liberals are aware of the challenges ahead in promoting a democratic peace. It is not as simple as Francis Fukuyama suggested in 1989 the end of history, with liberal democracy as the final point on mankinds political and ideological evolution. This was a naive assumption. Nonetheless, while there are weaknesses and setbacks along the road, republican liberals remain convinced that their model represents the future of international relations a gradual progression toward a democratic peace. Democratic/Republican liberalism can be summarised as follows: Democracies do not go to war against each other, because : - (1): they share a domestic culture of peaceful conflict resolution - (2): they hold common moral values - (3): they have mutually beneficial economic ties Democracy is the necessary foundation upon which peaceful relations can be based Therefore, an entire world of consolidated liberal democracies could be expected to be a peaceful world

Summary of Liberalism Liberalism is a very wide-ranging school of thought in international relations, covering a large range of views. We have reflected some of them here. Crucially, what they all share is an inherent optimism a belief that peace is possible. They deny that we are forever trapped in a tragic anarchy, with its ensuing suspicion, fear, and conflict. Instead they prefer to believe that there are ways out of anarchy. We have looked at four possible pathways out of anarchy and into the peaceful world order that liberalism predicts.

Discussion Questions : How valid are liberal assumptions about the nature of the international system ? Is human nature inherently good as liberals claim ? Is liberalism optimistic or naive and utopian? To what extent can we see liberalism represented in the world around us today ? Do the changes predicted by any of the four schools of liberalism reflect the way that the world is developing in the 21st century ? Would a world of democratic states be a more peaceful world ?