22 February, 2006

Theorising International Relations: Liberalism (part one)

Remember my threat to boringly roll through loads of theories of International Relations? Now, finally, I get to part two: LIBERALISM. For reasons of length, this will confusingly be divided into two parts.

First up, beware - Liberalism in this context may not be the same as what you associate with the term in domestic politics.

Liberalism and Realism are the two big theories of International Relations. As a coherent body of thought, Liberalism is much older, and was the dominant set of ideas when the discipline emerged after the First World War. In the aftermath of that catastrophe, the Liberals sought both to explain how the world worked and to increase the chances of such horror being avoided in future. So Liberalism is both descriptive and normative.

The lineage of Liberalism can be traced back to the Enlightenment, and to Immanuel Kant. Kant believed in human progress, and believed that the autocratic governments dominating ancien regime Europe were being swept away by new republican systems of government. Such regimes, he felt, would be far less inclined to go to war, for when the people are in power they will hardly send themselves off to be butchered. Instead, thought Kant, the new republics would come together in a league of nations, and work through their differences in a spirit of rationalism and mutual compromise.

The other plank of liberalism came in the 19th century - an almost utopian belief in the positive transformative power of market economics. 19th century liberals did not just have a functional fondness for free trade between nations - they saw it as a transmitter of kinship and fraternal association between the peoples of the world, almost like we would see the Internet now. This might be a product of the times, when markets were becoming free where previously they had been controlled by states, not for the kind of half-baked ideas the mid 20th century saw but to further state power. The freeing of markets thus could be seen by Liberals as part of the process of eroding the power of the monarchs.

Can you control your excitement? Can you wait until part two, when the story of Liberalism is brought up to date? READER - YOU HAVE NO CHOICE!!!

Or you could just click here.


alastair said...

hey ian nice post! i know its over two years old but i found it a useful read. currently studying IR with politics at oxford brookes really enjoying the course.


ian said...

Cheers. You're reminding me that I have loads more IR theories I never got round to writing about. Must get back into action. Good luck with the course.