June 01, 2007

[Theory I] Neorealiberalism

The following is taken from a paper I wrote on International Relations Theory. Those who have learned the basics of IR theory know that "realism" and "liberalism" are the two mainstream IR schools of thought. However, while these two theories have continued to gain credence in the academy and particularly within the US State Department, some theorists have observed that neo-realism and neo-liberalism are becoming more and more intertwined. It is important for me to expose these theories as being two sides of the same coin, because countries that push for neoliberal economic policies within the international arena (particularly G8 countries) seem to be doing it for reasons of political self-interest. The outcome is what I am calling a "neorealiberalist" state - one which calls for international economic integration as a political tool for securing national interests. This may seem banal, but in reality neorealiberalist states are hypercapitalist countries which have a maniacal alertness for national security, which guides them to enact protectionism for "their" corporations and ultimately launch wars against "rogue" states (because they now interpret states which don't want to participate in a global free market as challenging their national security). This seems to explain the United States' international behaviour, and increasingly - Canada's too.

The evidence is in and [... click on link below to expand to full post] the results are clear: Despite what the academy will have you believe, liberalism and realism are not antithetical to one another. On the contrary, these two theoretical perspectives have often been conjoined by scholars and political advisers intending to legitimize imperialist policy. The reemergence of idealist literature in the last few decades only aims at further solidifying what I call the ‘neorealiberal’ thesis.

Oddly, one of the sources of realist and liberal reconciliation can be found in the work of Immanuel Kant. A careful reading of Kant – a theorist often drawn-upon by liberals extolling the ‘timeless wisdom’ of liberalism – reveals that he was in fact a human nature realist in as much as he was a democratic peace theorist. Kant saw the world (back in 18th century) as “a savage state of nature in which war… constantly recurs… spring[ing] not from the nature of the state but from the nature of man”. If Kant can thus be assumed to be a human nature realist, his famous “Perpetual Peace” essay is a solution to the problem of continual warfare, which he takes to be a given. Kant is thus a realist in conceiving of a world that is naturally forced into conflict, but he is equally an idealist in his vision of how cooperation between republics and non-republics might some day overcome this problem. Recalling the historical context of the international and domestic settings in which Kant wrote, we can assume his writings in Perpetual Peace to be revolutionary in constructing a different world, a normatively better world that defied the contemporary status quo order and challenged the traditional and dominant structure defined by authoritarian absolutism and monarchical despotism.

Unfortunately, the new literature on Kant has failed to recall the context in which he wrote. As such, his work has been misappropriated to add credence to neorealiberalism. While the convergence of neoliberalism and neorealism has been identified by previous scholars, perhaps it is appropriate to review here the political implications of this unseemly marriage. Reading between the lines of Michael Doyle and Charles Kegley Jr.’s work, one notices how the neoliberal synthesis is merely a policy prescription designed to overcome the international conflicts anticipated by neorealists. That is, the preconceptions and assumptions made by neorealists and neoliberals are the same: The assume that the world is anarchical, that states are the main actors, and that states are forced to act in their national interest. Further, neoliberal solutions are framed within a neorealist lens. For example, Doyle draws from Kant in order to justify American aggression against non-liberal states while Charles Kegley Jr. seeks to place this aggression within the accepted realm of ‘self-help’. If neorealism is America’s academic justification for pursuing the national interest, then neoliberalism is America’s academic justification for enforcing the free market and democratic model upon the rest of the world. Neorealiberalism, then, calls for states to be aggressive proponents of the global enforcement of democracy and free markets upon other states, all within the name of the national interest.

Kegley, the former president of the International Studies Association, provides a concrete example of neorealiberalism in the academy. Despite his claims that the field is witnessing the emergence of a “neoidealist moment”, he fails to suggest how this moment will fundamentally challenge the dominance of realism within the discipline. After extolling the Wilsonian vision of liberal internationalism, Kegley then leads us back to the same dead-end conclusion that Robert Keohane came up with a decade earlier in “Theory of World Politics: Structural Realism and Beyond” (1982). Kegley writes that there is a “need, not for the complete replacement of realism with a liberalist approach, but for a melding of the two”. Within this admission Kegley is merely reiterating an old argument (made by John Herz in 1951) that international “cooperation was advantageous and served the national interests”. Reframing the argument in the contemporary era, Kegley is thus asserting that a prudent policy of self-help would actually involve the enforcement of free markets and democracy upon as many states in the world as possible. In this way Kegley expresses the essence of neorealiberalism.

Neorealiberals further find much fodder in the groundbreaking work by Michael Doyle (1983 and thereafter). Doyle brought to liberalism what Waltz brought to realism: the prestige of tradition and a scientific, positivist methodology. Whereas realists call upon the work of Thucydides and Machiavelli to show the long tradition of realism, Doyle calls upon the canonical work of Kant into the picture for liberals to display a different but equally impressive tradition. Whereas Waltz used microeconomic theory and Durkheimian structuralism to put realism on a scientific footing, Doyle uses the father of the enlightenment to bring liberalism into the realm of scientific enquiry. However, just as the realist appropriation of Thucydides and Machiavelli is suspect, the liberal appropriation of Kant is also questionable. The problem with Doyle’s pioneering work, as noted by John MacMillan in Millennium, is that it is both an inaccurate reading and that it is used for unethical purposes. Indeed, MacMillan shows how the misappropriation of Kant’s “Perpetual Peace” by liberal scholars such as Doyle, David Forsythe, Francis Fukuyama, Jack Levy, Bruce Russett, and George Sørensen are merely designed to add credence to their theoretical [read ideological] bias. Further, MacMillan demonstrates how the liberal interpretation of Kant’s “Perpetual Peace” has been misused by liberals to justify warmongering policies from liberal states towards non-liberal states. At its core, then, Doyle’s work serves to blur the distinction between the national interest and the pursuance of so-called liberal virtues such as democracy and free markets.

Despite the obvious convergence of neorealism and neoliberalism, students of international relations are told that in fact a ‘neo-neo debate’ is taking place. One of the current neoliberal agendas is espoused by Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis (1989), which claims that global peace and stability could be achieved if all states adhere to the liberal democratic capitalist model. In contrast, the contemporary neorealist rebuttal is found in Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis (1993), which warns of the potential for a future global war that would be based on civilization-oriented alliances between and among states. Yet are these two theories necessarily antithetical? No, they are not: We see the pessimistic view of Huntington reconciled with the hope of Fukuyama’s policy prescriptions. The result is neorealiberalism: If states do not follow the liberal democratic capitalist model, the world will experience a clash of civilizations, if states do follow the model, however, the world will witness the end of history. In this view, both neorealism and neoliberalism play a crucial role in justifying American (and increasingly, Canadian) foreign policy. Neorealism tells us about a horrible situation that the world might soon find itself in - thus justifying a policy of self-help. Neoliberalism explains that this horrible world projected by the neorealists can only be overcome if every state adopts a liberal capitalist democracy, yet again justifying a policy of interventionism in rogue states to help spread of neoliberal economic policies such as privatization and free trade.

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