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Differences Between Liberalism And Realism

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 2295 words Published: 9th Aug 2021

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Basically, the current work is meant to explain the key differences between the most two dominant theories in international relations, Realism and Liberalism, providing the precise and concise statements of some authors’ key words to help the reader to identify the most relevant and appropriate theory to be used as a methodological instrument to resolve the complexities of the contemporary world issues. Therefore, this work applied the analogical and analytical approach to pinpoint the deficiencies of each theory and to figure out smoothly the most convincing basis of the tow controversies. Accordingly, the following main concepts are discussed human nature, power, security, survival, security dilemma and anarchy being the basic assumptions of each theory guiding us somewhat to Liberalism as the appropriate approach to maintain a harmonious peaceful environment in the world of politics.

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Realism is a dominant theory of international relations focuses on state’s security and power (high politics) primarily. Besides, states are considered the only unitary rational actors where its survival and interests is the cornerstone of interstates relation highly based on might rather than on right. Hence, realists believe that people are by nature sinful and instinctively seeking power to dominant others. Power will be everlasting in the human’s nature and the possibility to be eradicated is a utopian aspiration (Kegley, 1995).

According to Jan Jack Rousseau, people under the general will of the social contract must scarify some of their rights to the leader of the society to live under constant rules and regulations -liberals view of international system- to eliminate the state of nature where the stronger intimidate the weaker to be the dominant figure in the realm is the same condition realists view the interaction of states or international relations as an anarchical nature in the international system.

On the other hand, Liberalism as a dominant theory of international relations emphasizes peaceful interstates relations where the preference of states goes beyond politics to economic and social interaction to achieve a harmonious environment and reducing war conflicts. Basically, the liberals underline that states are not unitary actors and non-states actors are significant to take a part in the realm since states are not rational and all actors will function better together. Additionally, power and security dilemma is a secondary objective.

According to (Kegley, 1995) the nature of humans is essentially good and people are capable of mutual aid and collaboration. Besides, the essential human concern is the public interests rather than individually as expressed in realism consequently. The Enlightenment’s devotion in the opportunity of developing civilization is restated. Moreover, there is nothing called sinful human nature but a bad behaviour refers to the evil institutions and structural arrangements that prompt those to perform self-centred and to harm others including making war. Conversely, Hobbes versus Rousseau that human nature is naturally competitive and violent (classical realists’ view of international system).

Classical realism trace back its origins to Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian wars (Hutchings, 1999).The drive for power and the eagerness to control are held to be fundamental aspects of human nature. Power conflict lies within the human nature and the psychological behaviour which controls the mind of humans is agreed by classical realists including Morgenthau who’s most important point is that society is governed by objective rules engaged in human nature. It’s worthy to mention that neorealist or structural realist such as Waltz, Jervis, and Mearsheimer focuses on the international system instead of human nature while states remain the main actors. Therefore, the international system is the structure which dominate the relations among states.

As a matter of fact, realists’ assumption is the Prisoner’s Dilemma, a zero sum game where each actor tries to win and betray the other to be the trump card. As a result, international politics is a zero sum game in which all actors will be seeking power to protect the state from any potential attack, there is no higher authority to prevent the use of force cause insecurity, a condition where the need of self-help system must reign. Baylis, Smith and Owens (2008) explained the significance of self-help system through Waltz’s Theory of International Politics (1979) when they wrote,

Thus, the term given to this spiral of insecurity is the security dilemma. According to Wheeler and Booth, security dilemmas exist ‘when the military preparations of one state create an unresolvable uncertainty in the mind of another as to whether those preparations are for “defensive” purposes only (to enhance its security in an uncertain world) or whether they are for offensive purposes (to change the status quo to its advantage)’ (p.102).

On the contrary, liberals emphasized that prisoner’s dilemma is not an essential key and can be overcome presenting the reciprocal cooperation and institutionalisation among states based on either economic or social relations. In addition to, liberals don’t agree to reach that level of high politics which create a state of nature where there is no sovereign authority compelled. Liberals are more understanding of the international system expressing their thoughts and relations peacefully seeking for collective security to reduce conflicts and maintain a balance of power among states.

Baylis, Smith and Owens (2008), clarified that once the state exercises its authority outside the borders a condition of anarchy exists. “By anarchy the most often meant is that international politics takes place in an arena that has no overarching central authority above the individual collection of sovereign states” (p.93).However, Realists believe that anarchy is a distinctive feature of realism since the notion of autonomy held with accumulative power is an inevitable situation “struggle for power… whenever [nations] strive to realize their goal by means of international politics, they do so by striving for power”(sullvian,200,p.115) , shows that anarchy is followed by states maximization of power to increase their security. Hutchings (1999) expressed that as Neorealism most commonly demonstrated by Kenneth Waltz who argues that the conception of the international is, in line with political realism, one which stresses the international as being fundamentally anarchic, lacking a principle of order.

Obviously, liberalism school of thought shared an agreed understanding with realism that anarchy is prevalent in the international system comparatively. Thus, liberals attempt to diminish the concept of anarchy in the political sphere to move beyond that to accentuate the individual freedom and non state actors to be the prominent cornerstone of international politics rather than the state itself as in realism.

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As Baylis, Smith and Owens (2008), explained that though natural harmony of interests in international political and economic relations came under the challenge in the early part of the twentieth century, the high interdependent economic ties between Germany and Britain after World War 1 has been threaten due to the fatal consequences of such conflict with 15 millions casualties a distraction in the European civilization of competence between progress and industrial power had effected the basic ground of liberalism to be spoken well. On the other hand, another effect of the Great War was that sustained the liberal thoughts to reconsider peace as a constructed process rather than a natural condition. Indeed, peace is to liberals is a value that can be easily accomplished through international organizations as the preceded US president and among the first pioneers of liberalism was Woodrow Wilson suggestion to regulate the international anarchy.

Wilson has argued that nations must come into association to bring a harmonious environment rather than conflicts. The idea of the League of Nations was generated to promote peace among states and reduce conflicts especially after World War 2 but unfortunately failed due to deficiency of military power to deter any potential of law’s infringement that would lead to what occurred during the mid of the twentieth century. An old idea of collective security system which means the security of one state is the concern of others was initiated after World War 1 and unfortunately was failed. Nevertheless, another idea was associated with collective security is the right of every nation of self-determination is a major key that has been taken into consideration in the liberal theory. Self-determination was along with in the Charter of the League of Nations and currently taken as a resolution in by the United Nations has also failed to be practically implemented.

Dunne, Kurki, and Smith (2010) stated that neoliberalism centres on the part international institutions cooperate in attaining international collective outcomes the reason it’s called ‘neoliberal institutionalism’. The similarity between neoliberalism and structural realism is that both based on state-centric perspectives means that state is a unitary rational actor dominates the international system. Neoliberalism recognizes that obstacles to collective actions would be difficult to overcome in an anarchic system. Griffiths (2007) “When considered in these terms, liberalism is better understood not as providing a blueprint for thinking about IR or foreign policy, but rather as a cluster or matrix of underlying values, principles, and purposes that provide a guide and framework through which one can think flexibly about IR, albeit within certain normative parameters”(p.21).

Balance of power is an argumentative issue for many classical and contemporary theorists, as a matter of fact; Dunne, Kurki, and Smith (2010) hinted that current realists consider military capabilities the foundation of security and the Greeks were very insensitive to the value of alliances. Moreover, Morgenthau and Thucydides identified that politics is the struggle for power and unilateral advantage. They demonstrated that the difference between the domestic and international politics is not the kind but the degree or depth. On the other hand, the concept of deterrence is a good example to explain balance of power; it’s widely used by states to deter each other from any potential attack. Deterrence was highly used during the Cold War between the United States and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

Contemporary realists regard Interest and Justice at most concern the way they interpret it self-interest is an important consideration over justice and morality since it’s a part of power which increases the security and by default the survival of the state. On the contrary, classical realists consider capabilities the only source of power. Above and beyond, realists’ view of justice is justified by other means once the state exerts efforts to achieve either a long or short term of national interests. Besides, the United States foreign policy in the Middle East is always justified under national interests of insecurity that gives the right to infringe the international humanitarian laws.

I’m of the opinion that Liberalism is noticeably a more convincing approach to dominate in the arena of international politics. Dunne, Kurki and smith, (2010), as we have realized it’s been an important transformation in the last decades in world politics a light shed on liberalism and its three key phenomena and its emphasis on the potentially peace-promoting effects of domestic and transnational institutions. One is the spread of democracy throughout most of the world. A second is the multiple networks of communications, trade, and finance often summarised as globalization. The third is the multiplication of intergovernmental organizations, especially those composed primarily of democratic governments. According to Baylis, Smith and Owens (2008), liberalism is a good theory of governing within states and between peoples and states internationally contrastingly realism is regarded as an anarchic sphere, liberals look for project values of order, autonomy, impartiality and toleration into international relations.

It’s highly merited to admit that liberalism school of thought has a profound influence in promoting many positive values towards humanity and progressive support to enhance the sphere of political science and especially international relations. Nations usually seek peace and harmony in life and human nature is normally against war and conflicts, by then liberalism as a theory which looks for the prosperity of economics, freedom of people, the spread of transnational institutions and international organizations.

In conclusion, the crux of argument between liberalism and realism as two important theories in the sphere of international relations as mentioned above are focused on the cause of war and conflicts between states in the globalization of world politics. It’s clearly shown that human nature’s good and bad derivation was a distinctive aspect where some intellectuals attribute the machinery of whole system process related to. Thus, security is followed by human nature is a critical issue where the difference between the two theories emerged and the way to achieve it was in various ways either by harsh power as realism exercised or by the peaceful diplomatic means of liberalism as preferred to maintain peace.


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