Liberalism Realism Constructivism Comparison Essay

Similarities And Differences Between Realism And Liberalism

History of humanity is full of situations and events which is hard to understand and explain: wars, conflicts, successions to throne, or even local relations. During the history, many philosophers, thinkers, politicians, and scholars have tried to explain what the reasons behind those issues and what the possible results of them are. These efforts to explanation has led to creation of a social science: international relations. “International relations, seeks to go beyond ephemeral and common-sense: to reflect more deeply on events, structures, processes and actors, and to offer explanations, interpretations and normative analyses” (Devetak and Burke et al., 2012, p. 35). It can be concluded from this quotation that international relations’ main aim is to explain phenomena deeply. By doing explanation, international relations use some theories which were created and developed by thinkers with the help of historical process. Realism, liberalism, Marxism, constructivism, and idealism are the main theories of international relations but among these 5 mainstream theories, two of them have more validity and effectiveness: Realism and liberalism. These two theories of international relations have a very high reputation and efficiency to explain and understand of the historical process. Realism and liberalism may seem totally different from each other but at some certain points they nearly have the same ideas and features. This essay will explain what the main similarities and differences between realism and liberalism are and to what extend they have these similar and different features. But first of all, some main points and basics of these two theories should be given to understand the issue better.
According to many scholars, realism is the oldest and dominant theory of international relations. The reason of this claim is that its roots can be found at even ancient times. It may seem that realism started to spread at inter-war period (1919-39) but lots of modern realist believe that roots of realism reaches some historical figures such as Thucydides (c.460-406BC), Niccolo Machievelli (1469-1527), Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) (Baylis and Smith et al., 2008, p. 92). Other than those historical figures, realism also has contemporary scholars such as Kenneth Waltz who mention three core elements of realism in his works. These three core elements are statism, survival, and self-help which also can be found at Thucydides’ works. Realism also has some types within such as classical realism, structural realism, and neoclassical realism which has some differences with each other but accept main concepts. Another important feature for realism is power. Realist argue pursuit of power which serves to national interest is an iron law of necessity (Baylis and Smith et al., 2008, p. 93). Other main theory of international relations is liberalism. Liberalism has its first roots from the thoughts of John Locke in the late 17....

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In international relations, we find many different actors with distinctive interests and certain individual instruments to realize goals. Within the following paper, our question cannot necessarily be how important nation-states are in comparison with international organizations such as the United Nations, for example. Instead, we have to find the best match in regard to outlining and observing today's political world.

In the following, I will show that realism best describes our world today because of four striking reasons. First, realism is the easiest way to approach international politics and describing the world. Second, realism best applies to our daily individual lives and, therefore, dominates how we shape international relations. Third, the realist theory is our last resort when political circumstances get out of hand, and lives, sovereignty, and power are threatened. This is because we traditionally relied on realist approaches and, consequently, do not hesitate in further outlining our world with the help of realism since it makes us feel more secure in what we are doing. Fourth, realism marks today's hegemon, the United States, and, hence, today's world politics. This reasoning is not an attempt, however, to minimize other grand theories, liberalism and constructivism. International relations is a vast field and therefore must be complemented by alternative views in order to round out the picture and to arrive at valid and persuasive understandings of international politics.

When we approach international politics with levels of analysis, we arrive at the so-called images of the individual, state, and international system (Nye 35). According to the rule of parsimony, it is best to start with the simplest analysis. (Nye 37) Obviously, the realist theory takes the easiest approach by stressing nation-states in an anarchic system, and disregarding surrounding influences such as non-state actors or cultural developments. In order to better understand the three grand theories, we can borrow Nye's descriptions. He depicts realism as the supposition that "the central problem of international politics is war and the use of force, and the central actors are states." (4-5) For realists, it is important to "maximize the power [...] and to minimize the ability of other states to jeopardize [...] security." (5) Another school of thought is liberalism, which goes back to philosophers such as Montesquieu and Kant. "Liberals see a global society that functions alongside the states and sets part of the context for states." (5) To them, "the realist view of pure anarchy is insufficient [...] because people do have contacts across borders and because there is an international society." (5) Some liberals even believe that borders might blur one day due to the high level of interconnection and globalization. (6) Last but not least, we have to include constructivism, a supplement to the other two theories because it does not have as much predictive power as the other ones do. (8) However, constructivism can add certain points the other theories miss, such as "important questions about identities, norms, culture, national interest, and international governance." (7-8) It becomes clear that realism does not dwell on countless variables, which become more and more difficult to connect and describe. The realist theory concentrates on few major assumptions and uses those to better cope with international politics, which is certainly an advantage over other theories when describing today's world.

In our daily lives, we try to realize our goals, follow our interests and maximize our benefits on an economic and social level. We like to have a satisfying job, influence, family and friends, money, prestige, and health. In order to get what we want we use our resources and power, just like nation-states do. Our personal and individual resources can be intelligence, strength or other character and physical traits, which support our advancement in life. It can also be a rich family we come from, or good connections to important people. Power, on the other hand, "is the ability to affect others to get the outcomes we want." (Nye 60) Power does not necessarily have to be related to money; neither does it have to lead to radical or dramatic changes. In a desert, for example, a local might not give us the badly needed drink of water in exchange for some U.S. Dollars. Instead, he might ask for some physical help with his camels as service in return. Our resources can be used to generate power and to make others do something we want. In this daily game of allocating resources and wielding power, no matter how small the resource or the act of power, we often apply a realist mindset. We watch out for our security, attempt to maximize our power, and interact with many others since we, human beings, assume to be the center of life. Of course, we do not live in an anarchic system; however, it is on us how we sell our personality and our traits in order to improve the use of resources and power. We certainly apply liberal ways of thinking, for example, when we get together in groups to achieve something bigger or better. In the end, though, we stand and must accept consequences alone, similar to the notion of being born and dying alone. Ordinary life puts the human being in the center of things and so does international relations in regard to nation-states. Why would we act differently on a broader basis such as international relations than we act on a very narrow basis such as our single life? The answer is we do not and, therefore, realist theory once more shows why it best describes our world today.

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