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LIBERALISM AND ITS CRITIQUES

Charadine PICH

Department of International Relations


Zaman University

ABSTRACT

The world tends to be more cooperate than conflict since after the Cold War was over.
Despite the facts, do we really live in a “liberal world” as many IR scholars suggest? Well,
the answer has come into the debate due to the fact that many other scholars from different
theories state that the world is just the state actor: the act of cooperation with the core of self-
interest among each and every individual state. There come major criticisms of liberalism in
case of reality and practical belief. Studies suggest that liberalism seem perfect in theory but
nonsense in reality of practice.

TABLE OF CONTENTS PAGE


 
Introduction 2

Background 2

Liberalism 3

Critiques of Liberalism 5

Conclusion 10

Bibliography 12
INTRODUCTION

Most people suggest that we tend to live in a more cooperate world than a conflictual

one. That presents the theory of “liberalism” which date from the early of the seventeenth and

eighteenth century as “classical liberalism”.1 “Neoliberalism”, especially focus mainly after

the Second World War, is categorized into four main strands of thinking: sociological

liberalism, interdependence liberalism, institutional liberalism, and republican liberalism.2

This paper will focus and analyze on the concept of liberalism and the criticism itself.

The first part will discuss about the basic background and idea of liberalism in some

details. The second part will consider the sub-divisions on liberalism, as discussed above, and

then discuss some criticisms of it. It really shows that “liberalism” is not just clearly defined

as many scholars have mentioned. There are actually many hidden things lying behind the

theory that many people loss sight of and obviously is the critiques itself. The third part will

bring the discussion to a conclusion.

BACKGROUND

The existence of liberalism derived from the notion that human generally has conflict

so they tend to sort of cooperate together to try to avoid this conflict. States exist, are

independence of each other and have sovereignty. But they are not isolated from each other,

in fact, they do affect each other in a variety of way and normally presented in conflict.

Therefore, they must find some ways to collaborate and eliminate those conflicts and

eventually form a state system.3 So that presents the idea of “liberalism” which we will

                                                                                                               
1
F. A. Hayek (n.d.), “ Liberalism,” The different concepts of Liberalism, (n.d.): par. 1 [online article];
available from http://www.angelfire.com_rebellion_oldwhig4ever_intro.html; Internet; accessed 7 March 2012.
2
Georg Sørensen, and Robert Jackson, Introduction to International Relations: Theories and Approaches,
4th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 98.
 
         3  Ibid., 2.

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discuss it in more details later. But perhaps questions pop up in mind. Does a state system is

really all about cooperation? Does liberalism prove its claims in the world stage?

LIBERALISM

Cooperate and conflict, liberalism and realism. This is how people remember these two

theories which are actually oppose to each other. Liberalism is all about cooperation and the

belief in progress plus an optimistic view of human nature. Liberals believe that humans and

countries are capable of achieving more cooperatives, less conflictive relations, more or less

through new models of governance. Moreover, it focuses on analytical norms (such as

justice, freedom, self-determination, democracy) and international organizations (IOs) in

which it will move past systemic anarchy over the long run. The policy of liberalism is to

create norms of justice and peace, promote democracy as well as promote and strengthen

IOs.4 Therefore, to analyze the evolutions of liberalism, we should look at it in both classical

and neoliberalism view. According to this, we will clearly notice that the concepts constantly

changing over time base on different situations and circumstances thus different critiques are

emerging to respond to those concepts as well.

Classical Liberalism

As John Locke put it in the seventeenth century, this liberal philosopher began

liberalism by assume that “human beings are inherently good” and that mutual sharing and

respects rationally will result in benefit.5 He saw great potential progress in human nature in

modern civil society and capitalist economy which projects better living standards, free of

authoritarian government and with a much higher level of material welfare. Moreover, he

established the rule of law “Rechtsstaat” which regard individual as its core principles.6 The

                                                                                                               
4
John T. Rourke, International Politics on the World Stage, 10th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004), 17.
5
Monte Palmer, Dilemmas of Political Development: An Introduction to the politics of the developing areas,
4th ed. (Illinois: F. E. Peacock Publishers, Inc., 1989), 10.

           

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rights of citizens have been establishes and enforces through the rule of law that respects to

life, liberty and property with the existence of state to underwrite the liberty of their citizens.

Through these such views, assuming that better outcomes will prevail.

Enlarged in this argument, Jeremy Bentham believes that the liberal states rationally

respect international laws in their foreign policies. It was further enlarged by Immanuel Kant

who believes “republics will prevail endless peace”.7

In summary, liberal thinking is normally connected with the idea of cooperation within

as well as across the nation’s boundaries. Classical liberalism is a basic root of approaching

to modern constitutional liberal state. The next part will discuss about the early emerging

post-second world war liberalism: the four main strands of thinking.

Neoliberalism

This post-war liberalism is essential to be divided into four main strands as follows:

Sociological Liberalism

Sociological liberalism concerns the relations between people, groups and

organizations belonging to different countries not just only the relations among national

government. James Rosenau put it as the process that international relations conducted

among private individuals, groups and organizations. Karl Deutsch extends that view by

acknowledge that peaceful relations will prevail when high degree of transnational ties

between societies present.8

Interdependence Liberalism

Liberals argue that “a high division of labor” in the international economy increases

interdependence in which people and government are affected by the actions of what was

happening elsewhere. Modernization increases the level and scope of interdependence

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
6
Georg Sørensen, and Robert Jackson, Introduction to International Relations: Theories and Approaches,
4th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 97.  
7
Ibid., 98.
         8 Ibid., 99.  

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between states thus military force is not useful whereas transnational actors are increasingly

important as well as material welfare which result in a more cooperative world. David

Mitrany argues that greater interdependence among countries in the form of transnational ties

would lead to peace.9

Institutional Liberalism

Institutional liberalism claims that international institutions help promote cooperation

between states since the lack of trust between states and the states’ fear of each other had

been eliminated which used to be traditional problems with regard to international anarchy.10

Republican Liberalism

Republican liberalism claims that liberal democracies are more cooperate and are less

likely to fight each other, which was suggested by Immanuel Kant in the late eighteenth

century. Republican liberalism builds on three conditions of peace among liberal democracies

include the peaceful resolution of domestic politics, common values contribute to peaceful

relations between democratic states and the economic ties of interdependence.11

CRITIQUES OF LIBERALISM

As mentioned in the Introduction part that liberalism and realism usually are opponents.

The main contender of liberalism is realism. Liberals see history as at least potentially

progressive while realists reject this view and state that there is non-progressive in history.12

Back to the period of the First World War then another great war presented, which is the

Second World War. World War I resulted in 8 millions loss of life, 20 million injured,

numerous cities had been destroyed include the great destructions of infrastructure and

notably industries. Industrial sector, agricultural sector and financial sector of many countries

                                                                                                               
         9 Ibid., 102.  
       10 Ibid., 108.
       11 Ibid., 111.
       12 Ibid., 114.

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in Europe were in crisis and as a result those countries eventually faced great impacts.13

Despite the fact, it had once again resulted in the Second World War which is even more

serious than the First World War and resulted in even more destructions both of human life

and economically affected. Furthermore, not only countries in Europe involved but this time,

the war stretched almost half of the whole world. Before that presented, no one had wondered

that there would be a Second World War and thus they named it the “Great War” because it

caused great destructions ever in history. But eventually another World War emerged,

therefore the name was changed to the “First World War” instead. World War II had pushed

72 countries to involved, caused 62 millions of life to loss, and other 70 millions people were

seriously injured.14 According to this example, we can clearly identify that people do not

learn from history. World War I ended then World War II emerged and ultimately Cold War

presented but that is another issue to discuss later. People were sure that World War I caused

tremendous effects and destructions but why did World War II still emerged almost to

destroy the nations involved and those that are indirectly involved? This dramatically show

that history tend to repeat itself again and again.

To enlarge on this, liberalism had also failed to prevent violent conflict war and

preserve peace between nation states as it has encountered. This evidence tends to sort of

underpin the realist’s view that is related to the anarchical world. There is no world order

therefore it leads to self-help in which each nation try to protect or arm itself from the rest of

the world15 that is applied to the concept of security dilemma. By seeing one nation arm

itself, other nations also seek to protect themselves as well as to threaten others. These would

result in arm race and eventually war. That is probably the reason why liberalism failed to

prevent war. Perhaps one of the reason contribute to World War I is “Militarism” which is the
                                                                                                               
13
Noun Sothimun, International Relations. (Phnom Penh: ATB Center, 2007), 71.
14
Ibid., 93.
15
Georg Sørensen, and Robert Jackson, Introduction to International Relations: Theories and Approaches,
4th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 114.
 

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leading factor that caused tensions among powerful nations in Europe. At that time, the

United Kingdom was one of the most powerful kingdom with strong navy forces. Kaiser

William II of Germany felt seriously jealous and bitter since the United Kingdom had

stronger military forces than his own country. Therefore, he had begun to strengthened

German’s navy force by building numerous navy ships and the same is true for the United

Kingdom itself. As a result, they began to compete each other for the navy forces race which

create even more tensions between the two countries. Moreover, other conflicts that were

happened in Europe also encouraged those nations to strengthen their military and navy

forces. Until 1914, the whole Europe was in the state of “Armaments Peace”. 16

There is also criticism regarding to sociological liberalism which argue that relations

also occur among individual not just the government and thus lead to more cooperation. In

fact, it is very rare that relations tend to occur among private individual rather than the

government because of the distances among nation states and actually, it is just not the reason

to do so. People visit other countries because of intentional purposes and benefits such as for

holidays, jobs, educations, so on and so forth. Moreover, we can see that people who migrate

to other countries also present conflicts with the indigenous people there, for example,

Vietnamese who migrate to Cambodia also argue with each other because of variety of

reasons, say land disputes; noise interruption; etc. Recently, Myanmar’s government comes

to visit Cambodia but how many people had visit and interact with Burmese and how many

do Burmese had interacted with us so far? So therefore, the government plays more important

role in the relations among states than private individuals do.

Other criticism concerning the establishments of international institutions since after

the First World War from Woodrow Wilsonism of liberalism.17 The overall establishments of

                                                                                                               
16
Noun Sothimun, International Relations. (Phnom Penh: ATB Center, 2007), 61.
           
         17 Georg Sørensen, and Robert Jackson, Introduction to International Relations: Theories and Approaches,
4th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 114.  

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international institutions are base solely on their own decisions and self-interest even though

their claims are of cooperation among each other. People tend to look at some benefits and

purposes while they decided to create those institutions. Actually, international institutions

are just the place where they can act to use and gain powers among other nation states

involved. Track back the past to 1995 when World Trade Organization (WTO) was

established. It was formed shortly after the end of the Second World War to promote free

trade among nation states who are the members. According to these stated purposes, it

probably shows that WTO really play its roles to enhance economic cooperation among

states. It is but, moreover, it is base on own self-interest of doing so. Let’s consider who

benefit the most from free trade, is it underdeveloped and developing countries that they are

stressing on, or developed countries, themselves? Of course, developed countries themselves

receive the most advantages from free trade. When free trade increases in number, more and

more countries open their markets to the rest of the world. Developed countries can expand

their markets abroad plus they can import products from poorer countries in much cheaper

prices and sell it for more. This once again attaches to the theory of “Marxism” in which

exploitations present between the few bourgeoisies, the capitalist who own all the lands and

productions, and the majority proletariats (the poor people who own nothing but the labor

that they have to sell and own enough just to survive).

Neorealist also criticizes republican liberalism in the sense that liberal democracies

seem unrealistic. It has states that liberal democracy promotes cooperation and is less likely

to fight against each other. However, US invaded Iraq in order to transform Iraq into

democracy. Is that the sign of liberalism to invade other and threaten them into democracy?

From liberalism perspectives, nation states must have freedom of rights and choices even

though for the purpose of cooperation. Despite the fact, the US was just willing to use his

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

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own power to spread his ideology. Liberal democracy of the US seems like to threaten Iraq to

engage in democracy which is completely not liberal. This actually underpins the realists’

view that it base on their own self-interest to engage with cooperation and especially in this

case democracy. Therefore, liberal democracies do not present its roles on the world stage.

The basic assumption of neoliberalism is that “states are rational, selfish actor in the

anarchical international society, they cooperate for absolute gains”.18 They are not concern

about the other states’ gain rather than themselves. In realists view, other states’ gain should

be taken into account. To extend on that, realist believes that today friends will become

tomorrow enemies and thus their gains should be taken into account as well.19 Once again

during the Cold War, in order to support South Korea in the Korean War between 1950-1953,

the US decided to industrialize Japan first so that material supply and military forces were

easily get accessed to South Korea. Japan’s economy dramatically rose rapidly as he had

focused mainly on heavy industries. Without considered the gains of Japan during

industrializing process, Japan eventually became the second largest world’s economy just

behind the US in a couple of years ago, also in competed with the US as well. Unfortunately,

because of huge destructions from natural disasters, Japan ultimately faced economic

downturns but if this was not the case, then probably Japan has even passed the US. Thus,

liberals fail this argument that the gain of other states is not our concerns.

Other criticism regarding to liberalism is that humans cooperate perhaps base on their

own self-interest. Somehow, for some reasons, people cooperate not because they are willing

to but because they see some benefits and reasons of doing so. Back to the period before the

First World War began once again. Because of the drawbacks of nationalism, imperialism

and militarism became stronger; it caused even more tensions among nation states in

                                                                                                               
18
Men Honghua, “Critiques of the Theory of International Regimes,” The Viewpoints of Main Western
Schools of thought (n.d.): 9.
19
Ibid., 11.

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Europe.20 In the fear of getting into battles with each other, those powerful nations began to

form alliances because if they had to involve in conflict or eventually war, their alliances

were there to help. In this case, they tend to sort of seeking for benefits rather than real meant

of cooperation. Without the fear of struggling, they probably will not form alliances with

each other because it is just not the reason to do so.

Last but not least, from my own perspective, cooperation does not always prevent

conflict. To extend on the example above, the interlocking system of alliances among nation

states had gradually pulled those countries into war. During WWI, Germany, Austria-

Hungary, Ottaman Empire (Turkey) and Bulgaria formed the Central Power. While Serbia,

Russia, France, Romania, Belgium, British Empire, United States, Italy and other formed the

Allies Power. During WWII, United Kingdom, the United States, France, Soviet Union,

China, Common Wealth countries and other still remained the Allies Power. On the opposite

site, Germany, Italy, Japan and others formed the Axis Power. 21 Probably without the

formation of alliances, not so many countries would engage in both World War as it was and

it might not named as “World War” either, additionally, not so much destructions as they

were resulted.

CONCLUSION

The world tends to be at peace currently but there are actually many hidden things lying

behind. As states emerge, they affect each other and thus result in conflicts. In the fear of

war, they were trying to find way to cooperate which led to the idea of “liberalism”.

Liberalism sees a positive view and progress within human nature that human tends to be sort

of more cooperative than conflictual and that cooperation would bring peace to human

                                                                                                               
         20 Noun Sothimun, International Relations. (Phnom Penh: ATB Center, 2007), 58.
         21 Adrianna Lima (2006), “ Axis and Allies during WWI and WWII,” Yahoo Answers, (2006): par. 1 [online
article]; available from http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index%3Fqid=20060606162630AAHGD6B.html;
Internet; accessed 22 March 2012.
 

10    
nature. However, realism rejects these views by arguing that human is more likely to have

conflict than cooperate with each other. In addition, there is no progress in history since the

war still present which mean people do not learn from history and that liberalism fail to

prevent conflict and preserve peace. History seems to repeat itself in the sense that war cause

great destructions but war still proceed on and on.

Sociological liberalism argues that the relations between individuals are more cooperate

than among the governments. In contrast, there is just no reason for people from different

nations to interact and if it is so, somehow it still presents in conflict. Institution liberalism

claims that international organizations (IOs) help promote cooperation among states but

actually it is more about self-interest rather than cooperation among them or simply the

powerful nations who establish it. Republican liberalism suggests that liberal democracies are

less likely to present in conflict. In contrast, they can easily become authoritarianism and use

their powers to threaten others.

Liberalism proposes that the gain of other states are not necessarily important,

however, it is essential to concern in the sense that our friends will become our enemies

someday in the future according to realist view, so perhaps we might compete with each

others. Other than that is people cooperate base on their own intentional self-interest and

benefits not because they want to. Final implication is that cooperation that liberalism claims

might not always prevent conflict as the interlocking system of alliances had pushed those

countries into two great wars in history.

Notably, liberalism seems to fit very well in the contemporary world while it actually

does so in just from the theory’s perspective and obviously miserable in real life practice.

  11  
Bibliography
Hayek, F.A. (n.d.). “ Liberalism”. The different concepts of Liberalism, (n.d.): par. 1 [online
article]. Available from http://www.angelfire.com/rebellion/oldwhig4ever/intro.html.
Internet. Accessed 7 March 2012.

Honghua, Men. “Critiques of the Theory of International Regimes.” The Viewpoints of Main
Western Schools of thought (n.d.): 9.

Lima, Adrianna (2006). “ Axis and Allies during WWI and WWII.” Yahoo Answers, (2006):
par. 1 [online article]. Available from http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index%3Fqid
=20060606162630AAHGD6B.html. Internet. Accessed 22 March 2012.

Palmer, Monte. Dilemmas of Political Development: An Introduction to the politics of the


developing areas. 4th ed. Illinois: F. E. Peacock Publishers, Inc., 1989.

Rourke, John T. International Politics on the World Stage. 10th ed. New York: McGraw-
Hill, 2004.

Sørensen, Georg., and Jackson, Robert. Introduction to International Relations: Theories and
Approaches. 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Sothimun, Noun. International Relations. Phnom Penh: ATB Center, 2007.

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