Liberalism vs Realism - A Comparison

Topics: International relations, Political philosophy, Soft power Pages: 5 (939 words) Published: March 21, 2015
(Write an intro, then a background paragraph (with info on Lib/Realism), then however many paragraphs you need to cover each of your points, and then a final conclusion)

The theories that this essay will look at are realism and liberalism. These two theories are notorious for their contrary nature in regards to their main ideologies in relation to politics, specifically the role of the state, power and human nature.

Realism is a theory based on the importance of the state being the only actor in the political arena and where conflict is the dominant theme. They would argue that humans can only act according to their nature, which is prone to violence. Liberalism is in essence is the view that states should interact with one another through negotiations and peace treaties with conflict being the absolute final resort. They would argue that states have many options and should not resort to conflict as a solution. A good way of illustrating the two is by looking at a school; the children there can take part in many activities that are not only fun, but also mutually beneficial for everyone. Or they can be the school bully and resort to conflict to get what they want. Therefore opportunities are there for both good and bad things to happen, but it is up to the children, or the political actors, to decide what they want to do.

In accordance with realism, the state is in essence a reflection of the population and so will act in mirror to their characteristics, which realism defines as being egotistical and power hungry, or in more insensitive terms, as Hobbes put it;"solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short", describing human nature as being evil, ruthless, and power wanting and that the state of nature that humans are in is prone to “the war of all against all”. That we are all at war. It is important to note that realism is not one theory but an umbrella for a number of similar explanations for the way in which international politics is conducted, there are four basic assumptions; That states are the most important actor in an anarchical world where the international system doesn’t have a meaningful higher authority, that states are unitary actors who’s internal goings on have no relevance (black box), that states are rational actors that act and speak under one voice in national interest, and lastly the primary concern of states is survival where states seek to gain power for security. This final assumption leads into the important topic of the security dilemma. This is where a state seeks power in order to ensure security. This increase in weapons or military force makes other states feel less secure and they themselves increase weapon and military forces. Security is zero-sum, meaning one state is unable to increase security at the same time as another. This all ties in to the balance of power, where if one state becomes more powerful than the others, other states must increase their own power or build alliance to restore the balance. A realist would argue that war is necessary to restore this balance.

Liberalism on the other hand emphasizes that the broad ties among states have both made it difficult to define national interest and decreased the usefulness of military power. Increasing globalization, the rapid rise in communications technology, and the increase in international trade meant that states could no longer rely on simple power politics to decide matters. Liberalism claims the following: The world is a harsh and dangerous place, but the consequences of using military power often outweigh the benefits. International cooperation is therefore in the interest of every state. Military power is not the only form of power. Economic and social power matter a great deal too. Exercising economic power has proven more effective than exercising military power. The state is not the only principle actor, there are state and non-state actors at work. International rules and organizations can help...
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