Liberalism (international relations)

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Liberalism is a school of thought within international relations theory which can be thought to revolve around three interrelated principles: 1. Rejection of power politics as the only possible outcome of international relations (IR). Questions security/warfare principles of realism perspective; 2. Accentuates mutual benefits and international cooperation; 3. Implements international organizations and nongovernmental actors for shaping state preferences and policy choices[1]

Liberals believe that international institutions play a key role in cooperation among states.[2] With the correct international institutions, and increasing interdependence (including economic and cultural exchanges) states have the opportunity to reduce conflict.[3] Interdependence has three main components. States interact in various ways, through economic, financial, and cultural means; security tends to not be the primary goal in state-to-state interactions; and military forces are not typically used.[4] Liberals also argue that international diplomacy can be a very effective way to get states to interact with each other honestly and support nonviolent solutions to problems.[5] With the proper institutions and diplomacy, Liberals believe that states can work together to maximize prosperity and minimize conflict. [6]

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Liberalism is one of the main schools of international relations theory. Its roots lie in the broader liberal thought originating in the Enlightenment. The central issues that it seeks to address are the problems of achieving lasting peace and cooperation in international relations, and the various methods that could contribute to their achievement.

Broad areas of study within liberal international relations theory include:


Early Beginnings[edit]

Liberalism originally arose from both deep scholarly and philosophical roots. With the theory’s prime principle being international cooperation and peace, early influences are seen in some bigger religious practices sharing the same goal. It was later in the 17th and 18th centuries in which political liberalism began to take form that challenged nobility and inherited equality.[9] Followed shortly after was the Enlightenment where liberal ideals began to develop with works by philosophers such as Voltaire, Locke, Smith, and German thinker Immanuel Kant. In Kant’s To Perpetual Peace, the philosopher set the way by forming guidelines to create a peace program to be applied by nations. This program would require cooperation between states as well as the mutual pursuit of secure freedom and shared benefits.[10] With an initial format laid out, industrialization in both North America and Europe also spurred further liberal ideals. Global trade created an economic diplomacy that reflected the greater goal of international cooperation. After seeing success in intertwining states through economic coalition, liberal supporters began to believe that warfare was not always an inevitable part of IR.[11] Support of liberal political theory continued to grow from there.


  1. ^ Shiraev, Eric B. (2014). International Relations. New York: Oxford University Presses. p. 78. 
  2. ^ (Shiraev and Zubok 2014, 86)
  3. ^ (Shiraev and Zubok 2014, 88)
  4. ^ (Shiraev and Zubok 2014, 86)
  5. ^ (Shiraev and Zubok 2014,90)
  6. ^ Shiraev, Eric B., and Vladislav M. Zubok. 2014. International Relations. New York, NY:Oxford University Press.
  7. ^ The Democratic Peace Theory, Kevin Placek, Feb 18 2012
  8. ^ Democratic Peace Theory , Dan Reiter
  9. ^ Shiraev, Eric (2014). International Relations. Oxford University Presses. pp. 80–87. ISBN 978-0-19-974651-4. 
  10. ^ Marguerite, La Caze (2007). "At the Intersection: Kant, Derrida, and the Relation Between Ethics and Politics". Political Theory 35 (6): 782. doi:10.1177/0090591707307324. 
  11. ^ Shiraev, Eric B. (2014). International Relations. New York: Oxford University Presses. p. 80.