International World Politics

An Introduction to International Relations Theory by Jill Steans, Lloyd Pettiford, Thomas Diez and Imad El-Anis

By Jill Steans, Lloyd Pettiford, Thomas Diez and Imad El-Anis

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Extra info for An Introduction to International Relations Theory Perspectives and Themes Third edition

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In this chapter we aim to highlight the many and varied ways in which liberal thought has contributed to International Relations. We present liberalism as a coherent perspective or school of thought. Our justification for doing so is that, despite some differences in the ‘versions’ of liberalism, there are, nonetheless, prevailing and constant liberal principles and core assumptions. It is useful first to offer a few qualifications and clarifications. It is important not to lose sight of the fact that the term ‘liberal’ has been applied to the political beliefs of a wide variety of people.

It is important not to lose sight of the fact that the term ‘liberal’ has been applied to the political beliefs of a wide variety of people. Liberals have views about the economic organisation of society, for instance; here we can detect a division in liberal thought between those on the political ‘right’ who believe that individual liberty must extend into the economic realm: that is, people must be free to buy and sell their labour and skills as well as goods and services in a free market which is subjected to minimal regulation.

It is absolutely central to liberal thought that the state is seen as an autonomous body. In this context autonomy means that the state is fair and impartial, functioning as a neutral arbiter in disputes and policing the citizen body. This differs in fundamental ways from realist views, but also from structuralist and some feminist views, which you will encounter in chapters 2, 3 and 6. Liberals are careful to distinguish between the state (which consists of the various arms of government, the police force, armed services and the law courts as well as a given territory and population) and civil society.

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