Republican liberalism

Like classical realism, the liberal perspective on international politics adopts an ‘inside-out’ approach to theorizing. Larger conclusions about international and global affairs are thus derived from assumptions about their basic elements. Although liberalism’s stress on peace and international harmony contrasts sharply with the realist belief in power politics, the two perspectives are united in viewing states as essentially self-seeking actors. Each state therefore poses at least a potential threat to other states. However, unlike realists, liberals believe that the external behaviour of a state is crucially influenced by its political and constitutional make-up. This is reflected in a tradition of republican liberalism that can be traced back to Woodrow Wilson , if not to Kant. While autocratic or authoritarian states are seen to be inherently militaristic and aggressive, democratic states are viewed as naturally peaceful, especially in their dealings with other democratic states (Doyle 1986, 1995). The aggressive character of authoritarian regimes stems from the fact that they are immunized from popular pressure and typically have strong and politically powerful armies. As they are accustomed to the use of force to maintain themselves in power, force becomes the natural mechanism through which they deal with the wider world and resolve disputes with other states. Liberals, moreover, hold that authoritarian states are inherently unstable because they lack the institutional mechanisms for responding to popular pressure and balancing rival interests, and are so impelled towards foreign policy adventurism as a means of regime consolidation. If the support of the people cannot be ensured through participation and popular consent, ‘patriotic’ war may provide the only solution. In this light, liberals have seen democracy as a guarantee of peace. The democratic peace thesis resurfaced with particular force in the aftermath of the collapse of communism, notably in the writings of Francis Fukuyama. In Fukuyama’s view, the wider acceptance of liberal-democratic principles and structures, and the extension of market capitalism, amounted to the ‘end of history’ and also promised to create a more stable and peaceful global order. Liberals have claimed empirical as well as theoretical support for such beliefs, especially in the fact that there has never been a war between two democratic nation-states (even though wars have continued to take place between democracies and other states). They have also associated the general advance of democratization with the creation of ‘zones of peace’, composed of collections of mature democracies in places such as Europe, North America and Australasia, as opposed to the ‘zones of turmoil’ that are found elsewhere in the world (Singer and Wildavsky 1993). Nevertheless, republican liberalism has also been drawn into deep controversy, not least through the growth of so-called liberal interventionism and the idea that democracy can and should be promoted through militarily imposed ‘regime change’. This issue is examined in more detail in Chapter 9, in association with the ‘war on terror’