Varieties of Liberalism

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Liberal thinking on international relations can be dimly perceived in the various plans for peace articulated by philisophers from the sixteenth century onwards. Such thinkers rejected the idea that conflict was a natural condition for relations between states,one which could only be tamed by the careful management of power through balance of power policies and the construction of alliances against the state which threatened international order.
In 1517 Erasmus first iterated a familiar liberal theme;war is unprofitable. To overcome it,the kings and princes of Europe must desire peace,and perform kind gestures in relations with fellow sovereigns in the expectation that these will be reciprocated. Other early liberal thinkers placed an emphasis upon the need for institutional structures to constrain international ‘’outlaws’’.
Towards the end of the seventeenth century,William Penn advocated a ‘’Diet’’ of Europe. Indeed,there are some remarkable parallels between Penn’s ideas and the institutions of the European Union today. Penn envisaged that the number of delegates to the Parliament should be proportional to the power of the state,and that lagislation required a kind of ‘’qualified majority voting’’ or as Penn put it,the support of 75 percent of the delegates.
These broad sketches of ideas from some of the progenitors of liberal thinking in international relations show how,from Penn’s plans for a ‘’Diet’’ in 1693 to the Treaty on European Union in 1992,there are common themes underlying Liberalism;in this instance,the theme is the importance of submitting the separate ‘’wills’’ of individual states to a general will agreed by states acting collectively (se efor example,Kant’s third definitive article in Box 8. 2). Yet it would be wrong to suggest that the development of liberal thinking on international affairs has been linear.
Indeed,it is often possible to portray current political differences in terms of contrasting liberal principles. To return to the Treaty on European Union mentioned above,the debate which raged in many European countries could be presented as one in which the liberal principle of integration was challenged by another liberal principle of the right of states to retain sovereignty over key aspects of social and economic policies. How should we understand this relationship between autonomy and integration which is embodied in Liberalism?
One way might be to apply a historical approach,providing detailed accounts of the contexts with which various philisophers,politicians and international lawyers contributed to the elaboration of key liberal values and beliefs. Although the contextual approach has merit it tends to downplay the dialogue between past and present,closing off parallels between Immanuel Kant and Francis Fukuyama. An alternative method,which is favoured in this chapter,is to lay baret he variety of liberalims thematically rather than historically.
To this end,the following section identifies three patterns of thought as the principal constituents of Liberalism: liberal internationalism,idealism and liberal institutionalism. Liberal internationalism: Immanuel Kant and Jeremy Bentham were two of the leading liberal internationalist of the Enlightenment. Both were reacting to the barbarity of international relations or what Kant graphically described as ‘’the lawless state of savagery’’,at a time when domestic politics was at the cusp of a new age of rights,citizenship and constitutionalism. Their abhorrance of the lawless savagery led them individ? lly to elaborate plans for ‘’perpetual peace’’. Although written over two centuries ago,these manifestos contain the seeds of key liberal internationalist ideas,in particular the belief that reason could deliver freedom and justice in international relations. For Kant the imperative to achieve perpetual peace required the transformation of individual consciousness,republican constitutionalism and a federal contract between states to abolish war. This federation can be likened to a permanent peace treaty,rather than a ‘’superstate’’ actor or World government.
Jeremy Bentham tried to address the specific problem of the tendency among states to resort to war as a means of settling international disputes. ’’But,establish a common tribunal’’,Bentham argued and ‘’the necessity for war no longer follows from a difference of opinion’’(Luard 1992:416). Like many liberal thinkers after him,Bentham showed that federal states such as the German Diet;the American Con-federation and the Swiss League were able to transform their identity from one based on conflicting interests to a more peaceful federation. As Bentham famously argued,’’between the interests of nations there is nowhere any real conflict’’.
Note that these plans for a permanent peace imply an extension of the social contract between individuals in domestic society to states in the international system,in other words,sucjecting the states to a system of legal rights and duties. But crucially,liberal internationalists-unlike the idealists of the inter-war period believed that a law-governed international society could emerge without a world government. It was primarily this liberal idea of a natural ‘’harmony of interests’’ in international political and economic relations which E. H.
Carr attacked in hic polemical work The Twenty Years Crisis. Although Carr’s book remains one of the most stimulating in the field,one ‘’which leaves us nowhere to hide’’,it could be argued that Carr incorrectly targets idealists of the interwar period as the object of his attack instead of the liberal internationalists of the nineteenth century. As we will see in the following section,rather than relying on a natural harmony to deliver peace,idealists fervently believed that a new international order had to be constructed,one which was managed by an international organization.
This line of argument represents a significant shift from the nineteenth century liberal internationalism to the idealist movement in the early part of the twentieth century. Idealism:Like liberal internationalism,the era of idealism was motivated by the desire to prevent war. However,many idealists were sceptical that laissez faire economic principles,like free trade,would deliver peace. Idealists,like J. A. Hobson,argued that imperialism the subjugation of foreign peoples and their resources was becoming the primary cause of conflict in international politics.
For Hobson,imperialism resulted from underconsumption within developed capitalist societies. This led capitalists to search for higher profits overseas,which became a competitive dynamic between states and the catalyst for militarism,leading to war. Here we see a departure from the liberal internationalist argument that capitalism was inherently pacific. The fact that Britain and Germany had highly interdependent economies before the Great War(1914-18),seemed to confirm the fatal flaw in the liberal internationalist association of interdependence with peace.
From the turn of the century,the contradictions within European civilization,of progress and exemplarism on the one hand and the harnessing of industrial power for military purposes on the other,could no longer be contained. Europe stumbled into a horrific war killing fifteen million people. The war not only brought an end to three empires it was also a contributing factor to the Russian Revolution of 1917. In his famous ‘’fourteen points’’speech,addressed to Congress in January 1918,Wilson argued that ‘’a general association of nations must be formed’’ to preserve the coming peace.
The League of Nations,was of course,the general association which idealists willed into existence. For the League to be effective,it had to have the military power to deter aggression and when necessary to use a preponderance of power to enforce its will. This was the idea behind the collective security system which was central to the League of Nations. Collective security refers to an arrangement where ‘’each state in the system accepts that the security of one is the concern of all and agrees to join in a collective response to aggression’’.
In the case of the League of Nations,Article 16 noted the obligation that,in the event of war,all member states must cease normal relations with the offending state,impose sanctions and if necessary,commit their armed forces to the disposal of the League Council should the use of force be required to restore the status quo. The experience of the League of Nations was a disaster. Whilist the moral rhetoric at the creation of the League was decidedly idealist,in practice states remained imprisoned by self-interest.
There is no better example of this than United States decision not to join the institution it had created. With the Soviet Union outside the system for ideological reasons,the League of Nations quickly became a talking shop fort he ‘’satisfied’’powers. Hitler’s decision in March 1936 to reoccupy the Rhineland,a designated demilitarized zone according to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles,effectively pulled the plug on the League’s life-support system. Indeed,throughout the 1930s,the term crisis had become the most familiar one in international affairs.
Although the League of Nations was the principal organ of the idealist inter-war order,it is important to note other ideas which dominated liberal thinking in the early part of the twentieth century. Education became a vital addition to the liberal agenda,hence the origins of the study of International Relations as a discipline in Aberystwyth in 1919 with the founding of the Woodrow Wilson professorship. One of the tasks of the Wilson Professor was to promote the League of Nations as well as contributing to ‘’the truer understanding of civilizations other than our own.
It is this self-consciously normative approach to the discipline of International Relations,the belief that scholarship is about what ought to be and not just what is,that sets the idealists apart from the institutionalists who were to carry the torch of liberalism through the early post-1945 period. Liberal institutionalism:According to the history of the discipline of International Relations,the collapse of the League of Nations signified the end of idealism. There is no doubt that the language of liberal institutionalism was less avowedly normative ;how could anyone assume progress after Auschwitz?
Yet certain fundamental tenets remained. Even in the early 1940s,there was a recognition of the need to replace the League with another international institution with responsibility for international peace and security. Only this time,in the case of the United Nations there was an awareness among the framers of the Charter of the need for a consensus between the Great Powers in order for enforcement action to be taken,hence the veto system which allowed any of the five permanent mambers of the Security Council the power of veto. This revision constituted an important modification to the classical model of collective security.
With the ideological polarity of the cold war,the UN procedures for collective security were still-born. It was not until the end of the cold war that a collective security system was operationalized,following the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq on 2 August 1990(see Box 8. 4) An important argument by liberal institutionalists in the early post-war period concerned the state’s inability to cope with modernization. David Mitrany,a Pioneer integration theorist,argued that transnational co-operation was required in order to resolve common problems.
His core concept was ramification,meaning the likehood that co-operation in one sector would lead governments to extend the range of collaboration across other sectors. As states become more embedded in an integration process,the ‘’cost’’ of withdrawing from co-operative ventures increases. This argument about the positive benefits from transnational co-operation is one which lies at the core of liberal institutionalism. For writers such as Haas,international and regional institutions were a necessary counterpart to sovereign states whose capacity to deliver welfare goals was decreasing(1968:154-8).
The work of liberal institutionalists like Mitrany and Haas,provided an important impetus to closer co-operation between European states,initially through the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952. Consistent with Mitrany’s hypothesis,co-operation in the energy sector provided governments with the confidence to undertake the more ambitious plan for a European Economic Community enshrined in the Treaty of Rome in 1956. Although the phenomenon of transnationalism was an important addition to the International Relations theorists vocabulary,it remained under-developed as a theoretical concept.
Perhaps the most important contribution of pluralism was its elaboration of independence. Due to the expansion of capitalism and the emergence of a global culture,pluralists recognized a growing interconnectedness between states which brought with it a shared responsibility fort he environment. The following passage sums up this position neatly: We are all noe caught up in a complex systemic web of interactions such that changes in one part of the system have direct and indirect consequences fort he rest of the system.
The previous section has delineated three elements in the history of liberal thinking on international relations. Below,the chapter will bring this conversation between contending liberalisms up to date,hence the prefix ‘’neo’’ attached to each variant. Although the underlying arguments within each element remain constant,there have been discernible shifts in the political purposes to which those arguments have been utilized. Neo-liberal internationalism:One of the ‘’big ideas’’ in the theory and practice of international relations in the 1990s is known as ‘’the democratic peace thesis’’.
The kernel of this argument,which can be traced back to Kant’s philosophical sketch on Perpetual Peace,is that liberal states do not g oto war with other liberal states. In this sense,liberal states have created what Michael Doyle has termed,a ‘’separate peace’’. Although liberal states are pacific in relation to other liberal states,Doyle recognizes that liberal democracies are as aggressive as any other type of state in their relations with authoritarian regimes and stateless peoples. Although the empirical evidence seems to support the democratic peace thesis,it is important to bear in mind the limitations of the argument.
In the first instance,fort he theory to be compelling,supporters of the ‘’democratic peace thesis’’ must provide an explanation as to why war has become unthinkable between liberal states. Over two centuries ago,Kant argued that if the decision to use force was taken by the people,rather than by the prince,then the frequency of conflicts would be drastically reduced. But logically this argument implies a lower frequency of conflicts between liberal and non-liberal states and,this has proven to be contrary to the historical evidence.
An alternative explanation for the ‘’democratic peace thesis’’ might be that liberal states tend to be wealthy and therefore have less to gain by engaging in conflicts than poorer authoritarian states. Perhaps the most convincing explanation of all is the simple fact that liberal states tend to be in relations of amity with other liberal states. War between Canada and the US is unthinkable,perhaps not because of their liberal democratic constitutions,but because they are friends. Indeed,war between states with contrasting political and economic systems may also be unthinkable because they have a history of friendly relations.
An example here is Mexico and Cuba,who although claiming a common revolutionary tradition nevertheless embrace antithatical economic ideologies. At the political level,the powerful states in the international system are able to use institutional leverage as a means of embedding formerly non-liberal states into the liberal World order. The EU has done this extensively in its relations with former communist states of Central and Eastern Europe. The ‘’bargain’’ can be seen in terms of material rewards in return for accepting western values in the economic and political/social spheres.
Increasingly,the US has used a combination of punitive and rewarding strategies to spread liberal ideas in previously illiberal parts of the World. In relations with the Third World,where there are fewer prospects for exerting regional institutional leverage,the most effective tool has been conditionality: the policies developing countries must pursue in return for economic benefits such as loans or investments. More recently,conditionality has expanded from the requirement to liberalize and privatize the economic sector,to include targets on ‘’good governance’’ and compliance to human rights norms.
While proponents might claim some successes,its reception in Asia has been contested. The rapid economic development of some Asian states has made them economically less dependent on Western aid or expertise and at the same time values are universally shared. The Australian dilemma,illustrated in Case Study 2 between promoting human rights in the Asia-Pacific region without damaging its economic and security interests,might serve as a microcosm for furture relations between a weaker West and a potential economic colossus like China.
Neo-idealism:Like the idealists of the inter-war period,neo-idealists have a good deal in common with liberal internationalism:both share a commitment to democratic forms of government and both believe that independence breeds peace. That said,neo-idealist believe that peace and justice are not natural conditions,they are the product of deliberate design. Moreover,the processes of globalization have added to the enormity of this task. Encouraging or even coercing non-liberal states to become more democratics is only part of what is required in order to bring about a truly liberal World order.
Consistent with the original idealists,neo-idealists argue that reform needs to take place ar the international level: like states themselves,international institutions need to be made more democratic. Similarly,neo-idealists believe that global social movements must be brought into the decision-making structures,since these are often closer to ordinary people than their own governments. In addition to tackling the global ‘’democratic deficit’’,neo-idealists are more prone to point to the dark side of globalization than liberal internationalists.
These arguments are discussed in greater lenght below. Liberal internationalists tend to use the term globalization in positive ways,as though we lived in a global village,signifying economic and moral interconnectedness. Yet for more radical neo-idealists,the World seems more like a scene from the film Blade Runner with post-modern Technologies coexisting with ethical anarchy and urban decay. Neo-idealists like Richard Falk recognize that globalization and community are frequently at odds with each other. ’This tension between the ethical imperatives of the global neighbourhood and the dynamics of economic globalisation’’ ,he argues,is ‘’an evasion that has been characteristics of all post-Wilsonian variants of liberal internationalism. In this sense,neo-liberal internationalism has fallen prey to the neo-liberal consensus which minimizes the role of the public sector in providing for welfare,and elevates the market as the appropriate mechanism for allocating resources,investment and employment opportunities.
Although the globalization of liberalism has improved the per capita income of the vast majority of the world’s population,the rate of increase among the powerful states has been far greater. According to the United Nations Development Programme the share of global income of the richest fifth of the world’s population is 72 times greater than the poorest fifth. The average Daily income of these ‘’have-nots’’ is less than 1 dollar a day. In place of the Westphalian and UN models,Held outlines a ‘’cosmopolitan model of democracy’’.
This requires,in the first instance,the creation of regional parliaments and the extension of the authority of such regional bodies which are already in existence. Second,human rights conventions must be entrenched in national parliaments and monitored by a new International Court of Human Rights. Third,reform of the UN or the replacement of it,with a genuinely democratic and accountable global parliament. Without appearing to be too sanguine about the prospects fort he realization of the cosmopolitan model of democracy.
Held is nevertheless adamant that if democracy is to thrive,it must penetrate the institutions and regimrs which manage global politics. Neo-liberal institutionalism:In the 1980s,pluralism metamorphosed into neo-liberal institutionalism. One of the problems with the former ‘’label’’ is that few of the thinkers actually identified themselves with the movement. By contrast,liberal institutionalism has attracted some of the most prolific and influential thinkers in the field,and has become the new orthodoxy in a number of key North American schools of International Relations.
In addition to a high degree of self-identification on the part of contemporary liberal institutionalists,the second important revision to the earlier pluralism can be identified in the far more focused research agenda of liberal internationalism. The third and most substantive revision to pluralism concerns the shifts back towards a state-centric approach to world politics. The core principles of neo-liberal institutionalism can be distilled into the following four principles. *Actor:Liberal isntitutionalists tak efor granted the state as a legitimate representation of society.
Although emphasizing the importance of non-state actors in his early pluralist work,Robert Keohane’s understanding of neo-liberal institutionalism admits that non-state actors are subordinate to states. *Structure:Liberals broadly accept the structural condition of anarchy in the international system,but crucially,anarchy does not mean co-operation between states is impossible,as the existence of international regimes demonstrates. In short,regimes and international institutions can mitigate anarchy by reducing verification costs,reinforcing reciprocity and making defection from norms easier to punish. Process:Integration at the regional and global level is increasing. Here the future direction of the European Union is considered to be a vital test case for neo-liberal institutionalism. *Motivation:States will enter into co-operative relations even if another state will gain more from the interaction,in other words,’’absolute gains’’are more important for liberal institutionalists than ‘’relative gains’’. It is vital to bear in mind the context out of which neo-liberal institutionalism developed.
Leading neo-liberal institutionalists such as Axelrod,Keohane and Oye,developed their ideas in response to Kenneth Waltz’s theory of neo-realism outlined in his 1979 work Theory of International Politics. Moreover, this response was from within the mainstream as opposed to the radical critical theory challenge from the margins which also developed in the 1980s. Given this context,it is not surprising that neo-liberal institutionalism often seems closer to contemporary realism than to the tradition of liberal thinking about international relations.
As the analysis of neo-idealism demonstrates,radical liberals do not take the state for granted. Legitimacy is not something that states possess by right,but something which has to be earned through humane government and democratic procedures. Moreover,early liberal institutionalists,such as Mitrany and Haas,were sceptical about whether states could deliver liberal goals of order and justice even if they had the will. Accordingly,they prescribed devolving power down to local government/regional assemblies or up to supra-state organizations or World government. Conclusion and postscript: the crisis of Liberalism
There is something of a crisis in contemporary liberal thinking on international relations. The euphoria with which liberals greeted the end of the cold war in 1989 has to a large extent been dissipated;the great caravan of humanity,kick-started with the revolutions of 1989,is once again coming to a spluttering halt. Successive post-cold war conflicts,in Afghanistan,Liberia,Chechnya,Somalia,Burundi and Rwanda remind us that in many parts of the world,the conditions which fuelled these tensions in the cold war period remain in place;for example,the geopolitical rivalry to grant massive arms transfers to states involved in ‘’civil’’ wars.
The audit of global politics at the beginning of the twenty-first century,from a liberal point of view,begins to take on a much darker hue when the wars of the former Yugoslavia are included. Unlike the tragedies of Rwanda and Burundit,the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo took place on the doorstep of the liberal zone. How could the national hatreds exhibited by all the warring parties take root once again in Western soil? Liberal internationalists like Michael Ignatieff despaired that acts of ethnic cleansing had returned to haunt Europe fifty years after the Holocaust.
After all,it was the Enlightenment which provided a vocabulary for articulating liberal ideas such as human rights and humanitarian law. ’’What made the Balkan wars so shocking’’ argued Ignatieff,’’was how little these universals were respected in their home continent’’. (1995) A deeper reason fort he crisis in Liberalism an done which is prompted by Ignatieff’s argument,is that it is bound up with an increasingly discredited Enlightenment view of the world. Contrary to the hopes of liberal internationalists,the application of reason and science to politics has not brought communities together.
Indeed,it has arguably shown the fragmented nature of the political community,which is regularly expressed in terms of ethnic,linguistic or religious differences. Critics of Liberalism from yhe left and right vie the very idea of ‘’moral universals’’ as dangerous. Communitarian-minded liberals worry that the universalizing mission of liberal values such as democracy,capitalism and secularism,undermine the traditions and practices of non-Western cultures. Radical critics are also suspicious of the motives for promoting liberal values.
The Marxist writer Immanuel Wallerstein has a nice way of putting this in terms of universalism as a ‘’gift’’ of the powerful to the weak which places them in a double-bind : ‘’to refuse the gift is to lose;to accept the gift is to lose’’. The key question for Liberalism at the dawn of a new century is whether it can reinvent itself as a non-universalizing,non-Westernizing political idea,which preserves the traditional liberal value of human solidarity without undermining cultural diversity.

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