Are Liberal Theories Inherently Idealistic Essay


Many modern political scientists view liberal theories as utopian or idealistic successors. The arguments can be traced back to the enlightenment period, and from the works of the 17th and 18th Century’s philosophers, economists, lawyers, and historians. In particular, most of the arguments on liberal theories are contained in the works of David Ricardo, Immanuel Kant, and Richard Cobden. Of concern are the accusations that the liberal theories share idealistic or utopian normative and philosophical views in dealing with international relations. Contributing to a debate on liberal theories, Doyle has argued that the criticisms that are made are on the theories. They are underlain by the strength of liberal theories. The argument is based on the perspective of the influence of different subject areas. They tend to show normative characteristics that are perceived as the hallmarks of philosophical writings. They aim to identify what is regarded as good, right, moral, and just. The hallmarks also double as the pillars of liberal theories, clearly identifying what is perceived as unjust, wrong, immoral or improper. 

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In brief, Doyle has suggested that an understanding of liberal theories requires an individual to analyze and identify the normative and other characteristics of issues. The essay contributes to over-stressed arguments intended to make liberal theories appear relevant. It has been advanced by both ancient and contemporary philosophers. Referring to the extant literature, therefore, this essay argues that liberal theories are inherently idealistic. It is because they (liberal theories) depict people as rational beings being motivated by the desire for peace and coexistence. Thus, it contributes significantly towards international relations. 

Critical Analysis and Criticisms

The debate on whether liberal theories are idealistic or not have been ensuing for years, yielding two groups of thought, the proponents and those who find criticisms in the theory. Inherency of liberal theories in the idealistic characteristics are based on the similarities that they share. Understanding these features provides a logical ground from which the arguments are based. Liberal theories are value added in nature. Ethics, values, and norms are considered integral in any discipline. Moreover, data are useful in setting-up parameters on what is perceived to be right and wrong, good and bad, just and unjust, and in a decision and development of justice, fraternity, peace, equality, and liberty. The major distinction between the liberal theories and other contemporary ones is evident in their perception of values. Liberal theories have high considerations for data as opposed to the contemporary theories. The argument draws from the fact that the liberal theories emphasizes on a situation improvement for the future as opposed to the discussion of the present scenario. Consequently, the main concern of liberal theory is related to how to make the world a better place in the future. 

Liberal theories attempt to make the world a better place by helping states in matters concerning liberty creation, safeguarding property, and maintenance of peace. The theories are built on specific assumptions that do not infringe on the state perceptions. They emphasize on the objectives and goals without losing the sight of morality and ethical values. They demonstrate how best the world should be rather than dwelling on the current state of the world. It is leaning towards the differences between empirical theory and the normative theory. In a much broader perspective, liberal theories present a bigger and wider picture that is not secluded from any other aspect of human lives. 

Just to give a brief history, the growth and history of the 20th century’s liberalism and, in particular, the concern for international relations cannot be discussed without a mention of Woodrow Wilson’s contributions to the same. These works are regarded significant towards the establishment of peace in the world. Woodrow has suggested theories that would bring a stop to future world conflicts. The theories upon which the current world conflicts are resolved. Having seen the adverse effects of the First World War, Woodrow Wilson has initiated the establishment of the global organization, the most notable among them being the establishment of the League of Nations. It was set to oppose the idea of using war to justify the state’s intentionality. The prevalence of peace was a key to avoiding world conflicts. The intention, however, did not materialize and things went from bad to worse with the occurrence of the World War II. A critic to the liberal theorists on matters of war and peace was E. H. Carr. He, being considered as the father of realism, used all the opportunities at his disposal to dig into the holes of liberalism.  

Carr explained that liberalism had failed to satisfy the idea of international politics with its peace provisions. He held that the liberal theories were just wishful thinking that had no scientific facts. Referring to Carr’s arguments, discrediting liberalism is based on the fact that the liberal theories largely emphasize in the future rather than the present. It makes it difficult to assess the theories. The second criticism is on liberalism economic aspect. Despite the liberalists’ talk on the countries’ interdependency, free trade and how the factors are important to the world’s standing. The rules, regulations, institutions, and trade ideas are only concerned with keeping the status quo. Liberalism has further failed to discuss the concept of power, which is central to the international politics. It is rendering it difficult to relate international politics with the concepts from the theories.  

Carr’s earlier arguments seem valid given that the major liberal ideas on collective security, harmony, peace, and free trade are all lopsided. They play into the hand of powerful people. The lopsidedness makes liberal theories unjustified for claiming to be universal in nature. However, as much as Carr would take an advantage of attacking the liberal theories, it is significant to point out the weakness in such criticisms. First, the criticisms fail to recognize few principles that make a backbone of liberalism over his chosen realism. 

Basic features to consider in evaluating criticism and arguments include the rationality of theories. Theories are built on the belief that the humans are rational animals who possess the innate capacity and capable of shaping their own destiny. In addition, the liberalists’ argument of the feature of world peace is important in such evaluations. Compared to realism that advocates for conflicts, war, anarchy, security, and power, liberalism emphasizes on peace. Liberalism as opposed to realism suggests that it is illogical for people who love peace to live in a perpetual conflict environment. Humans are rational beings that succeed well in peace rather than conflicts and anarchy. 

The optimistic tendency of liberalism theories should be similarly taken into account in evaluating the theories. Unlike Carr’s realist theories, liberalists’ theories, hopes, and desires revolve around the reform of international politics into achievable objectives. On liberalism belief in cooperation, the proponents think that cooperation explains in totality the common interests and values that bind and help the world to attain the shared concept of international peace. It is important to note that there exists a lot of progress intention with the liberalists’ theorists more than it is with the pessimistic ones. The emphasis on the world’s structural formation gives it a boundary from which it cannot desire any form of hope. On the other hand, there is a vigorous call for hope and optimism from the liberalists’ theorists. Hope is an only ultimate feeling which can give a logical person the desire to continue living in the world. It gives a political scholar an idea to differentiate liberalism theories from realism based on their conceptual orientation, with the liberalists appearing as process oriented and multi-faceted. Meanwhile the realists only concentrate on the power structures. 

Liberalism is more encompassing with a deeper view of perceiving the world. As opposed to realism whose objective concentration is anarchy within the states, liberalism analyzes an entire perspective through an analysis of the states created within the concept of the world order. As a differentiating principle, liberalism extends to the non-state actors and their roles in building up sound international relations. The non-state actors included in the liberalism theories are religious groups, NGOs, terrorist organizations, TNCs, and MNCs. It is a clear indication that it is not only the relationships that exist among and between the states that form a basis for international relations. However, also the inclusion of other non-state actors, whose contributions to the international interactions is a key. 

The other main feature in the liberalism argument is the intention to reform international relations. Although the concept of reforming international relations may not sound feasible, the liberal theorists believe that it is attainable. The attainability of such reformation must conform to consciousness of wanting to establish a just world and undertaken in the right direction. The reformation is synonymous with self-determination as a feature of liberalism. Liberal theorists believe that created organizations have an ability to reduce the chances of conflict and war. They believe that even though the League of Nations did not achieve its goal by preventing another World War, the foundation that it laid would be used by future international organizations to advocate for international regimes, laws, and peace. Collective security is the future organizational responsibility since through such cooperation, the achievement of common goals can be attained. The other key feature within the concept of liberalism is free trade. Increased interdependency in economy among the states has positive results as it reduces a possibility of war. Such a concept is relevant particularly when the international relations and the world go global in a virtual aspect. 

Being inherently idealistic, liberal theories acquire or possess the means with which their objectives are realized. First one is the economic interdependency. The contemporary interdependency in market opening and free trade have made the bonds that currently exist among the states to be more sensitive than before. In addition, the in-play of the non-state actors in shaping the international market is another demonstration that the world will no longer give in to conflicts. The non-state actors like the TNC and MNC play key roles in interweaving the global relationship. It only means that the higher the states are highly linked, the more their involvement in common activities that further leads to reduced conflicts. 

The technological advancement has further played in favor of liberalism. As opposed to the earlier periods, the wars were the only indicators of success among states. The technological advancement has made it possible for the concept to be replaced by access and availability of information as well as the presence of qualified labor force. The chances of the eruption of wars have been minimized while experiencing rapid infrastructural and developmental growths. Keyhone and Nye have advanced that there is a big difference in the interdependent nature as compared to the previous periods of wars. 


The essay has justified why liberal theories are regarded inherently idealistic. It has presented the arguments that make liberal theories significant in international relations and other future contribution. The emphasis on an individual hopes and desires to provide a better background from which liberal theories can be built. When applied to international relations, the theorist perception explains the reason that politics may be considered significant when it trends towards liberal theories. If social disciplines like economics, history, philosophy, law, and other relevant fields are considered influencers in liberal theories, morals, values, and norms considered drivers. Then one can expect that liberal theories can make their journeys some success towards their achievement of liberty, prosperity, ambition, and cooperation.

Reflecting back, this essay suggests that Carr’s realism theory was empirical as he wanted people to believe in it. In reality, however, it was only concerned with the powerful imagination, and so, limited itself and stagnated on war like dimensions. On the other hand, despite liberalist theories being based on the power of imagination, their emphasis is more on cooperation, justice, liberty, and peace. These aspects of liberalism theories are constant despite the changing times and diverse principles of the world. Based on these findings, liberal theories stand out effectively with the dreams containing a shared objective. The above characteristics of liberal theories justify the following claim. The theories are inherently idealistic and can help make the world a better place. 


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