Liberalism as a Theory of International Politics

-        how are order and justice reconciled?


Core Tensions and Themes

-        philosophy of history: humanity progresses

-        normative theory: programs for peace

-        empirical theory of IR: explain and predict


Questions Explored

-        How are individual or group preferences aggregated?

-        Why do states cooperate so often?

-        Why is so much cooperation institutionalized?

-        What are the causes of peace?

-        How do states achieve mutual security?

-        Why do states fail to cooperate when both would gain?

-        How are interests accommodated?

-        How do the internal structures of states shape their foreign policy?


Categorizing Liberalism


-        Classical Liberals

o     Locke, Smith, Kant, Mill

o     Mill on nationalism in “On Representative Government” (1861)


-        Commercial Peace Theories

o     Economic interdependence reduces incentives to wage war

o     Free trade produces peace (Smith, Cobden)


-        Liberal, or Democratic, Peace Theories

o     Liberal or democratic states act differently than other kinds of states

§       ‘Monadic’ theory: democracies are inherently more peace (Wilson)

§       ‘Dyadic’ theory: democracies create a separate peace (Kant)

·       Neo-Kantian theories: integrate Kantian insights with other liberal theories (Russett & Stam, Doyle)


-        Neo-liberal institutionalists

o     formal and informal institutions foster cooperation under anarchy

o     institutions aggregate and reconcile competing preferences

-        State-Society Theories

o     How do coalitions form within societies to shape foreign policy?

o     Examine relations between state as the government apparatus and political actors in society

§       Transnationalist theories: how do coalitions form between groups across states and IOs



Key Liberal Assumptions


International order is anarchic

-        but cooperation under anarchy is possible


International relations are doubly interdependent

-        ‘strategic interdependence’: one actor’s best ‘move’ depends on the moves of other actors

-        ‘substantive interdependence’: states depend on each other for material resources and political support


Multiple actors exist and act politically

-        not just states but individuals and private groups (e.g., non-governmental organizations, firms, political parties, social networks) and international organizations (IOs)

-        societal  and trans-national groups promote different interests (pluralism)


State interests depend on societal politics

-        survival or power-seeking assumptions are insufficient

-        configuration of state motives is based on societal dominance or bargains


Uncertainty can be reduced

-        institutions can increase information levels


Leading Hypotheses


Compatibility of state preferences alters degree of cooperation (or conflict)

-        outside of harmony and discord, cooperation is possible

-        configuration of interests determines feasible bargaining ranges


Degree of institutionalization alters degree of cooperation

-        highly institutionalized settings increase possibility of cooperation

-        minimally institutionalized setting reduce possibility of cooperation

-        institutions transmit information about actors reputations and capabilities


States seek “self-enforcing” bargains absent effective institutions

-        reduce incentives to cheat

-        anarchy does not prohibit cooperation


States and other actors with transparent and reliable political structures are more likely to cooperate

-        democracies are more reliable partners that autocracies

-        democracies are less likely to fight wars with each other


Competing Causal Mechanisms


Rational bargaining

-        states rank preferences

-        cooperation achieved when sum of gains is superior to status quo (non-cooperation)

-        opportunities for trans-national linkages


Liberal institutional affinity

-        when they can accurately recognize each other, liberal democratic polities are cooperative

-        illiberal polities and mis-identified states will have less cooperative relations


Collective Action Problem

-        egoistic actors (states, others) will not cooperate to provide public goods when they can free-ride off others contributions


Theories of the Liberal Democratic Peace


Defining Terms

-        ‘liberal’ and ‘democratic’ are distinct

-        liberal republics may not be fully democratic (i.e., suffrage may be limited)

-        some democracies may not be liberal (i.e.,majoritarian democracy without constitutional limits on state authority)


-        Democracy: rule by the people

§       Problem of nationalism (who are the people)?


Liberal Republic: political system based in which moral autonomy of individuals is guaranteed by legal equality of citizens and representative government (Doyle)


-        Kant argued that liberal republics would be pacific with each other

-        Illiberal democracies would not be


Dyadic Liberal Democratic Peace Theory

-        Focus on dyads (pairs of states)

-        Argue that liberal dyads rarely fight wars with each other and have lower levels of militarized disputes

-        Says nothing about war-proneness of liberal states on their own


Liberal State

Illiberal State

Liberal State

Nil war
“Liberal peace”

No change

Illiberal State

No change

No change


M. Doyle’s Revision of Kantian Peace

1.  liberal republics: representative legislatures, separation of powers, rule of law
- restrains use of force by state
- rotation in office prevents lasting personal animosities

2.  respect for human rights among liberal republics
- publicity or transparency greater among LRs
- morally deserving of accommodation


3.  social and economic interdependence

-        benefits of trade valued by republics

-        markets, not states, determine supply and demand

-        transnational relations generate lobbies against war


Key Hypotheses


-        Liberal republics rarely fight with each other

-        Liberal republics fight with illiberal states at higher rates than illiberal states fight among themselves


-        Level of warfare in the international system depends on prevalence of republican states

"Kantian Tripod" (Russett & Oneal)

1.  joint democracy

2.  joint membership in international organizations

3.  economic interdependence (trade with partners as % of GDP)


Three elements reduce the level of conflict substantially (by 71% on average for non-allied, contiguous, minor-power states, 1886-1992)


Realist variables matter, but so do Kantian variables