Realism & liberalism
It is vitally crucial to asses and understand the difference between the most frequently adopted theories in the field of international relations. This essay will aim to cover the main differences between realism which stands for the continuous struggle for power and security, and liberalism which stands for the freedom and the rights of people.
Human nature
First and foremost, one of the main differences between liberals and realists is their view towards human nature. Realists have a pessimistic view on humanity, they believe that humans are by nature selfish and flawed and are driven to compete against each other for self-interests. According to Thucydides who was a historian of the Peloponnesian war” The human desire for power and the need to follow self-interest are held to be fundamental aspects of human nature. It is human nature and the motivations of fear, honour and self-interest that explain why international politics necessarily power politics. (Baylis et al, 2016:111).
Liberals, on the other hand are optimistic towards human nature, they believe in progressive values such as liberty, equality, fraternity and democracy. They believe that commerce and free trade breaks barriers and unites people, thus making them less likely to wage war against each other.
Achieving peace
Secondly, realists and liberals have different perspectives when it comes to achieving peace. Realists believe that the best way to achieve peace is through a balance of power. According to Waltz,” states are unitary actors with a single motive – the wish to survive.” (Burchill et al, 2009:43) They believe that war is inevitable, and that security can therefore only be achieved through self-help, which means that states must fully rely on themselves to achieve security.
Liberals on the other hand believe in interdependence and cooperation. Peace can be achieved by constructing organizations like the UN that aim to protect human rights and settle disputes by offering peace resolutions. “With faith in the power of human reason and the capacity of human beings to realize their inner potential, they remain confident that the stain of war can be removed from human experience.” (Burchill et al, 2009:60).
The state
Thirdly, Realists and liberals hold different positions regarding the state. Realists believe that the state is the key sovereign actor, there is no authority above it and it has the authority to enforce laws over its given territory. Realists are also very state centred because they believe in securing their country’s interests before caring about the interests of others. (Baylis et al, 2016:109:110)
Liberals believe in the power of individualism and the free market. Since liberals support international cooperation, they pay attention to other countries’ interests as well as their own. They believe in the state as well as non-state actors such as NGO’s and multinational organizations.
In conclusion, it’s crystal clear that realists and liberals hold different position regarding human nature, peace and the state. Realists have a pessimistic view on human nature while liberals have a positive one. Realists achieve security through relying on themselves and maximizing power while liberals achieve peace through interdependence and cooperation. When it comes to the state, realists are state-centred whereas liberals focus on multilateral organizations.
Realism and liberalism give us a proper understanding of wars, conflicts and relations between sovereign empires and nations from the beginning of mankind. They also explain the rise of new super powers, conflicts, disputes and trade relations between countries. Especially since these ideologies play an important role in many states, affect the decision making of governments and heavily determine the peace relations amongst several countries globally.