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International Liberalism Theory

Liberalism Views

Liberalism earned its recognition in the 18th century from Western political philosophy where German writer Immanuel Kant and French author Baron de Montesquieu determined its relevance to international politics. In the 19th century, British philosophers John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham wrote about liberalism as it affected the world. Many global leaders examined the elements of liberalism in their policies and wrote about them applying them to international situations. Liberalist views have a positive factor that people, countries and governments can work together to solve their problems and make peace within the world.

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Liberalism Theories

Some liberalism theories show there are many challenges that have not been overcome that would ease the suffering of the world. Liberals view international relations as cooperative, constructive efforts between countries and governments to aid poor nations to promote global welfare and economic stability. However, liberalists also believe in promoting capitalism and economic prosperity through global democracy, self-regulation of the markets, equality, liberty and restricted governmental control. Modern liberalism supports coordinating both state and non-state relations to promote global peace and improve the political, economic and social situations around the world (Burchill, 2001, 54-69, 9-10).

International Liberalism

Liberals are optimistic about the role of the organization. International organizations include not only intergovernmental organizations IGOs but also nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). “Liberals also see international organizations as shaping the international landscape. International organizations include not only intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) but also nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that can have both public and private functions.” (Doyle, 1995, 74-77).

Governments are important because they have independent and indirect influences on the domestic and foreign policies of states. Cooperation between state governments is needed for organizations to achieve their goals. The nature of international relations combines conflict and cooperation between states and non-state organizations because they rely on one another. Competing interests can control or lobby the government to achieve their goals. Liberals are also concerned about the individuals involved because they are part of the society. There are many organizations other than the state that believe in the realist approach and focus on the nation-state, while liberal thinking analyzes the individual person.

Liberals view the international world as it deals with each other through global trade agreements, travelers visiting or studying abroad, and international institutions like the United Nations, where no governmental control from the realist’s point of view does not quite cover all the different contexts of daily life. Liberals feel that realists view nations as warring forces that try to balance power through force. However, that is not the liberalist view (Doyle, 1995, 60-65).

Liberalism Among Nations

Liberalists believe an international society that can work together with all countries can help them solve their problems. This involves international trade between nations, and a different outlook where disorder is not useful and wars should end so people can work together and live in peace. Liberals feel that realists make countries out to be always conflicting with each other, and never getting along or having a balance of power.

Liberals view the future as full of growth and independence that will make the differences between international and domestic politics lead to a universe that has no borders. Environmental problems are an example of how the world is all in the same situation, no matter how developed or wealthy their nation is. However, realists that that the Middle East may be the exception to the rules, since there may always be political problems there due to oil profits and the threat of Muslim terrorism to countries like the US (especially after the problems with the World Trade Center hijackings and the fact that 16 out of 19 of the terrorists were from the Middle East) (Brown, 2005, 4-8).

The US believed Iraq needed government intervention to ensure the stability of their society because through liberalism, they would be able to achieve peace. No getting involved in the internal affairs of states should be a basic international law. The US was willing to get involved in Iraq because they saw an opportunity to appear to be helping them solve their problems and also gain military presence within the Middle East. Without outside interference, the Iraqi situation might have become much worse, according to the US, since Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship was overpowering the poor people and destroying their economy. Neoliberalists believed that the US could invade and gain cooperation with the Iraqi people so the state’s issues would be resolved. (However, now everyone knows that the US only wanted to gain control of Iraqi’s oil supply) (Brown, 2005, 153, 155, 158, 255).

Comparing Liberalism to Realism and Idealism Theories

The liberalism and realism theories involved in domestic politics suggest that the use of force by various groups often leads to the government trying to maintain power through media intervention, turning the public against the attackers, and a show of sympathy by the rulers to gain the public’s support and sympathy. The major assumptions of realism explain that the Saudi government and the terrorists are the only significant players in the situation, that military force is the principal method of solving problems, and that the overall security of the country is the key objective that must be achieved. The main concept behind liberalism is that there is a balance of power that must be kept at all times between the governing parties and those who they are trying to please.

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The liberalist view explains how war is only needed in seriously dangerous circumstances, not for the development of universal community or for the growth of the economy. In a country like Saudi Arabia, the religious Matawas feel the Saudi government is being influenced and controlled by America and the United Nations to conform to their society’s rules or risk losing oil contracts and other business negotiations (Nathanson, 2002, 48-52).

When applying these theories of realism and liberalism to countries with political problems, it helps to explain how their internal difficulties would be very complex to find solutions for. Saudi’s internal political problems relate to what exactly is a legitimate use of force, and when is it acceptable to apply it. The Matawas felt that since the government was not listening to their protests concerning the changing policies that would open up the nation and allow for a totally new society to develop, that bombing innocent people was the just method of retaliating (Voegelin, 1974, 3-8, 205).

Although liberalism is a more positive and helpful theory, realism is the most popular concept in international politics where the worst problem is war and military force, and the major characters involved are the countries or states themselves. Realists believe that liberals overstate the difference between international politics and domestic politics, since realists see the state of war as only needed under very critical circumstances, and liberals refuse to see the benefits of economic independence, growth and development of international global communities. Realists believe that states do not always go to war, and they have many other options, such as peace and trade between nations (Brown, 2005, 4-7, 45).

While realist views emphasize continuity, permanence and stability within the society, liberal views stress change is needed, especially in the Middle Eastern region, since the world is said to be moving past anarchy to a better overall situation that desires world peace. Combining continuity and change is the best overall solution, however, the mixture of both liberalist and realist views would have to involve altering human behavior, which is almost impossible, especially on an international and political level that depends on unethical governments for their decision-making.

Idealists believe international relations should focus more on the actual causes of global conflicts and how they can be changed for the better. Idealists look for ways to improve the situations, and create peace and stability within all nations. Idealists want to reduce illiteracy and inequality in the world and allow for more education and job opportunities. They want to rid the world of poverty and starvation, and fight against liberalists who believe the situation is may be difficult or cannot be resolved without the help of governments (Voegelin, 1974, 120-127).


Liberalists feel the alliances and contacts that manage to be formed across borders (like the UN and USA getting involved during global conflicts) form a global society that represents a non-warring world that must exist alongside the warring world. Liberalists feel that realists overstate the differences between national and global politics as a state of war, which concentrates only on the worst part of the situation. Liberalists believe that realists overlook the growth and development of economic independence and the progress of a international society. However, countries at war find resolutions and negotiate their way back into society with the help of others, and their economies can then succeed.


  • Steins, J. (2004). Introduction to International Relations, Perspectives and Themes. London: Longman.
  • Doyle, M. (1986) Liberalism and World Politics. The American Political Science Review, Vol. 80, Issue 2.
  • Solomon, B. (1998). Warriors for change. National Journal, Vol. 30, Issue 21.
  • Burchill, S. (2001). Theories of International Relations. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Brown, C. (2005). Understanding International Relations. London: Palgrave.
  • Voegelin, E. (1974). Liberalism and its History. The Review of Politics, Vol. 36, Issue 4.
  • Scruton, R. (1996). Idealism, A Dictionary of Political thought. UK: MacMillan.
  • Nathanson, S. (2002). Idealism World Book. UK: Pearson.
  • Das, R. (1999). Politicism and idealism in state theory. Science and Society, Vol. 63, Issue 1.
  • Groody, D. (2002). Border of Death, Valley of Life. UK: Rowan and Littlefield Publishing.


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