Liberalism, being one of the oldest in the theory of international relations, is opposed to realism in its central positions. First of all, realism, especially practiced during the Cold War, argues that states will compete with each other for power and that only superior military power gives one state an advantage over other powers. This view of international relations is antagonistic in nature and indicates that states are striving to build up their military power in the interest of their own self-preservation. From this point of view, the humanistic approach to international relations is doomed to failure. In general, for realists, “peace is not an all-or-nothing matter” and thus can be sacrificed if other interests arise (Douglass, 2020, p. 5). Liberalism, on the other hand, advocates an approach to international relations that presupposes international relations.
This approach became more popular in the 1970s as the world’s interdependence made realism increasingly untenable and destructive. While proponents of this view believe that states may seek to destroy others, only cooperation and international peacekeeping organizations can keep the peace. In addition, liberalism relies not only on military pressure but also on social and economic pressure in order to strengthen cooperation and peace. Secondly, realists are usually skeptical about the relevance of morality to international politics. They argue that there is no place for morality in international relations. There is tension between the demands of ethics and the demands of successful political actions (McQueen, 2017). In contrast, liberals believe that states’ behaviors on the world stage are subject not only to the logic of the maximum realization of national interests. They should also consider the common values recognized by all states, which to some extent, act as moral guidelines. Thus, realism is a theory of power to achieve goals, while liberalism is a balancing force that appears to be more optimistic and cooperative with nation-states.
Douglass, R. (2020). Hobbes and political realism. European Journal of Political Theory, 19(2), 250–269. Web.
McQueen, A. (2017). Political realism and the realist ‘Tradition’. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 20(3), 296–313. Web.