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5.1 Liberalism

History of Liberalism

We find the beginning of liberal tradition in Christian roots.  Christianity gave birth to completely different ideals and morals. It brought moral doctrine, peace and humanity as fundamental value. It assumed the existence of ideal state of human soul and therefore human society. Thus international relations can be improved. And it was also the first alternative to classical tradition.  The approach of early liberals was making Kingdom of God on earth.

After renaissance, individual became center in liberalism. Liberals believe that more the freedom individual are given by state, more the states can cooperate peacefully. Thus faith in rationality of individual was more important than hierarchical concentration of religious power in Roman Catholic Church. Eventually, rationality moved from individual to state and liberals started believing that states can behave rationally.


Kant has suggested that the perpetual peace among nations can be achieved. He suggests to establish Peace Federation between states based on rational individual and Republican political order. Kant was believer in good nature of human. He argued that if liberation of man will advance peaceful society. Because humans are rational, they will understand it is much more profitable to cooperate than to go for conflict. Personal safety and property are more valuable assets than lives of human beings. They will also understand cost of war. Thus, in a republican state, people will vote against war.


Individuals are inherently good, but corrupted by civilization and society. International politics will be improved by spreading of freedom to all states.

Thus In beginning of liberalism, the main discussion was about nature of humans, place of morality and individual freedom.

3 stages of Liberal theory of international relations.

  1. Liberal internationalism – starts from enlightenment and ends before WW1. 
    Individual was center. Less state intervenes in life of people, less reasons for war exist.
  2. Liberal idealism – Emerged after 1914.
    Individual freedom was not enough. We need to do something with state. Main reason of war was unjust nature of balance of power.  States must be treated as equals. Peace was national self-determination.
  3. Liberal institutionalism. Contemporary stage.
    It believes in institutions of world governance as a means to provide stability to world order. Institutions provide a platform for states to communicate, discuss, negotiate etc. and reduce the chances of war.

Just War

The concept of ‘Just War’ as discussed by Hugo Grotius suggest three preconditions for any war to be ‘just’. 1) Self Defense  2) Protection of property  3) Revenge or compensation.  He argues that beyond this, humans have no reason to go for war.

1] Liberal Institutionalism.

It was one of the suggestions by Woodrow Wilson in his famous 14 points speech. He took the idea from domestic politics.
In domestic politics, anarchy is contained because of presence of state. Hence, he suggested that if we build institutions, we can create rule based order, in the words of Woodrow Wilson, ‘the institutions can convert the jungle of international politics into zoo.’

The institutions can convert the jungle of international politics into zoo.

Woodrow Wilson

Advantage to build institutions?

Platform for interaction and communication to develop trust.
Peaceful settlement of disputes.
If country takes some commitment at international level, it is not very easy to come out because of the pressure of world public opinion.
In present times scholars like Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye support the need for building institutions.

What is the progress so far?

Initially there was not much enthusiasm for building institutions, the process has been extremely slow. However since the end of cold war there is a phenomenal rise in number of institutions, global regimes and international law. But As far as effectiveness of the experiment is concerned there is a difference of opinion.

Still, liberals have huge faith in the process of institution building. Realist do share such faith. They think that institutions are the extension of states and states are guided by national interest. According to them, it does not make any qualitative difference. Game theorist Joseph Nogee has given the concept of quasi-negotiations. Nations only prefer to participate in these negotiations because they don’t want to be seen as ‘spoilers’ but have no faith in the institutions.

One of the major weakness of the experiment is lack of representativeness, transparency and accountability. Hence these institutions themselves suffer from the crisis of credibility. It is to be noted that despite existence of many institutions arms race among major powers is continuing.

Views of English School scholars.

Hedley Bull in his book ANARCHICAL SOCIETY has acknowledged the transformation that has happened in international politics over a period of time because of the growth of institutions, international law and regimes. According to him, these developments have converted anarchy into ‘anarchical society’. Thus international politics is not a complete society, nor a complete anarchy but it is a sort of anarchical society.

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2] Sociological Liberalism.

They focus on society to society interaction i.e. Tract 2 diplomacy unlike the realists as well as liberal institutionalist who focus on track 1.
They suggest that political class may have its own limitations and vested interest, hence it is better if there is an interaction between people. It is a good approach to address ‘trust deficit’. Thus sociological liberalism will support policies like open borders, visa liberalization etc.

Relevance of the approach in contemporary times?

In present times, the relevance of society centric approach has increased, because of globalization the nature of world order has changed. According to James Rosenau, we are living in a society centric world, there is a considerable decline in the capacities of the states to keep surveillance on the borders.
John Burton through his cob-web model also suggests that the world has become society centric, there is a growth of global civil society.

Contribution of Karl Deutsch

He has given Communication theory. Karl Deutsch has measured the amount of interaction between states. The amount of interaction can be measured through 1) Measuring the amount of international travels, visas issued, letters exchanged, phone calls made. He observed that more peaceful and beneficial relations where the amount of interaction is high. e.g. Among the countries of Western Europe, between Western Europe and North America. Interactions results into the formation of ‘security community’. Hence Karl Deutsch proposed that the neighbouring countries should try to achieve the ideal of security community.

Security community

1) It is an alternative to security dilemma. 2) Security community denotes set of persons who do not consider each other as a threat.  In case the threat exists, it exists from outside the  periphery of the security community. Thus they believe that there is a common threat to them. The idea of security community comes from domestic politics. Nation states can be called as security communities. The idea can be replicated at a regional level and further at broader levels.
What is way to build security community?
By increasing the interaction or communications. Therefore this approach is called as communications approach. e.g. EU is a security community. ASEAN is also in the process of emerging as security community. Western Europe and North America is an example of trans-Atlantic security community.
Unfortunately many states in the third world countries could not transform themselves into a security community even at domestic level.

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3] Functionalism

Functionalism is one of the most successful and practical alternative of realism.
One of the best example of functionalist approach is European Union. In fact the experiment of EU is the basis of the theory of functionalism. The theory of functionalism has evolved from functionalism to neo-functionalism based on experiences of EU.

Functionalism is also known as ‘peace by pieces’.
Approach of functionalism involves following steps.
1] Compartmentalization of issues.
2] Segregation of issues into the issues of low politics and high politics.
3] First give initiative into the hands of non-political class like technicians, scientists, artists, athletes etc.
4] Cooperation in low political issues will teach the benefits of cooperation to the political class.
5] Cooperation in one area will have spillover effect in other areas. It will create conditions for cooperation in other areas.
6] It will create functional interlinkages. i.e. It will increase interdependence.
7] Interdependence will increase to such an extent that it would appear foolish if countries will decide to go for war.

This experiment has been done successfully in European Union. There has been an unsuccessful attempt with the experiment in South Asia in the form of ‘composite dialogue’ process, started under ‘two plus six framework’ with Pakistan.

The ideas of functionalism come from the views of
1) Richard Cobden who suggests to ‘keep the politicians out.’ 
2) GDH Cole who has given the concept of functional sovereignty.
3) The theory of functionalism has been also supported David Mitrany.

Challenges to functionalism.

One of the challenge in functionalism is that it is a long term process. It requires huge patience and the political will.
It may happen that the process of integration gets stagnated. In this situation, neo functionalist Ernst Haas suggest that we cannot keep the political class completely away. Integration process cannot proceed without political class, acting with strong will and determination.

4] Interdependence School

It is economic interdependence based on integration of market. Thus a neo-liberal idea. e.g. India’s action to grant MFN status to Pakistan can be seen as an effort to implement the approach of interdependence.

Exponents of interdependence.

Thomas Freedman. He has given ‘Golden Arches’ theory.
According to Thomas Freedman, the two countries having McDonald chain will not go for war with each other. Why? People will prefer to stand in que for Berger rather than border.
Thus it points towards economic interdependence. Once the stakes of the two countries develop in each other’s economy, it will appear foolish to go for war.

Richard Rosecrance ‘Trading states’.
Richard Rosecrance has given the concept of trading states. Trading states are alternatives to militaristic states. e.g. Germany and Japan have become trading states since the end of 2nd WW. For long China also preferred to limit itself as trading state but now it is shifting towards militaristic state. According to Rosecrance, countries should be inspired to become trading states rather than militaristic states. Even without arms, Japan and Germany hold considerable weight in world affairs. He gives the example of former USSR which went ahead with militaristic state concept, overstretched itself, ultimately resulting into the collapse. We can also give the example of USA. USA has also overstretched itself militarily and it has become one of the reason for the decline of US hegemony.

5] Democratic Peace Theory

Michael Doyle is prominent scholar of this theory.
He suggest that the two countries having democracy would not go for war.

Based on the ideas of Immanuel Kant, who suggested republicanism, the scholars of democratic peace theory suggest
1] Democracies form ‘zone of peace’. Zone of peace is not a formal arrangement, it is just a informal region. Democracies promote pacifist culture, the culture of toleration. 
2] In democracies, people develop the habit to resolve the disputes through dialogue rather than force. 
3] There is a pressure of public opinion and it is not easy for states to overlook public opinion. 
4] In democracies, there is a freedom of speech and expression and hence it is possible to have the critical examination of the foreign policy decisions and a chance to correct.

Democratic peace theory is also one of the most controversial theories because
1] If there is no war between any two major democracies, it can be just a coincidence. 
2] If there has been no major war, it is not necessary that democracy alone has been the factor.
3] The biggest criticism comes as it provides basis to legitimize the actions of USA to introduce democracy at gunpoint. (Bush doctrine).
4] In the eyes of countries like Russia and China, democracy promotion is an attempt of regime change and to install puppet governments.

6] Complex Interdependence. [Cob-Web Model]

Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye.

Unlike other liberal theories, which are prescriptive, complex interdependence is descriptive. It describes the state of relations among nations in post cold war world order.
Post cold war relations are different from Westphalian world order. Instead of anarchical world order, we see the emergence of complex interdependence among the nations. Complex interdependence is different from simple interdependence. At present, nations have become interdependent in a complex manner. It means that they have become interdependent but it does not mean that their conflicts have been resolved. They have become more interdependent due to forces of globalization i.e. Integration of markets, the rise of global threats (terrorism, climate change, ozone depletion etc.). And it is beyond the capacity of single state to counter the threats on their own. Hence the conditions force the countries to cooperate. Complex interdependence can be explained as a situation where ‘one is forced to love, whom, one would otherwise prefer love to hate’. The relations among all countries US and Russia, Russia and China, India and USA can be termed as complex interdependence.

Complex interdependence model suggests
1] There is no hierarchy of issues among countries.
2] Security has become multidimensional.
3] There is a considerable decline in the use of hard power.

The complex interdependence puts a question mark on the way structural realists explain the state of international politics.

Test Your Knowledge!

1] “According to which of the following thinkers individual is Inherently Good.
Immanual Kant
Thomas Hobbs”
a) 1 only
b) 2only
c) 1&2only
d) 3 only

Show Answer

Ans: c) 1&2 only. Immanuel Kant and Rosseau

2] What are the Preconditions of ‘Just war ‘ as mentioned by Hugo Grotius?
a) Self Defence
b) Protection of property
c) Revenge or Compensation
d) All of the above

Show Answer

Ans: d) All of the above are correct

3] Who is the author of the book Anarchical Society?
a) Hedley Bull
b) Rosseau
c) Woodrow Wilson
d) Gdh Cole

Show Answer

Ans: a) Hedley Bull

4] Who among the following has given ‘Communication Theory’?
a) Thomas Freedman
b) Karl Deutsch
c) Thomas Hobbs
d) Headley Bull

Show Answer

Ans: b) Karl Deutsch

5] Which of the following approach to studying international politics is also known as the ‘peace by pieces approach’?
a) Liberal institutionalism
b) Sociological liberalism
c) Functionalism
d) Interdependence school

Show Answer

ans: c) Functionalism

6] Who gave the concept of Functional Sovereignty?
a) GDH Cole
b) Immanual Kant
c) Robert Keohane
d) Joseph Nye

Show Answer

Ans: a) GDH Cole

7] The theory of ‘Golden Arches’ is given by
a) Karl Deutsch
b) David Eatson
c) Thomas Freedman
d) Thomas Hobbs

Show Answer

Ans: c) Thomas Freedman

8] Who gave the concept of Trading States?
a) Richard Rosecrance
b) Woodrow Wilson
c) Joseph Nye
d) Winston Churchil

Show Answer

Ans: a) Richard Rosecrance

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Ram kendre

what according to joseph nye , are the major sources of a countries soft power ? Disscuss the Relevance in contemporary world politics?


it is covered in balance of power i.e. very next topic i guess


Very well written guys,good job??

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