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Liberalism vs Constructivism

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International Relations

Political events have always been quite complex and just one theoretical approach cannot explain why they occur their impacts or their consequences. The only way to have a better understanding is by putting together all the theories and seeing the wider picture. That is the reason why Liberalism and Constructivism are the theories that better explain contemporary global politics, as they are the ones that take into account more reasons and approaches to why political affairs are the way they are today. Neoliberalism shares the ideas contained in Realism, another mainstream theory that is part of our past and to a certain extent of our present, whilst giving something different and more actual that Realism does not. Constructivism gives the tools to understand how all theories have emerged and how new ones will. It also challenges the assumptions mainstream theories have about the world, by doing so constructivism, opposing the rest of the theories as it does not tell us how the world ought to look, it leaves the room open for change.

Liberalism

Liberalism is one of the mainstream theories in IR. It has a very well-structured set of ideas that define and limit what Liberalism is. Liberalism has an optimistic view of human nature and believes in human progress through cooperation. Liberalism recognizes the existence of non-state actors that have an influence in international affairs but states are the main actors and the ones that have to guarantee the well-being of their citizens.

We can say that Liberalism is the theory of cooperation, peace, and competition. Liberals’ theories say that states put their national interests first but they cooperate with other states because of the gains that by doing so, they receive. This cooperation according to the interdependence liberalism theory and in particular to commercial liberalism is an economic one and this creates a certain need to the point that one needs the other to exist and that is the reason why those states will avoid any kind of conflict as the consequences it can have in their respective economies are great. However, Keohane and Nye(1977) in what they called ‘complex interdependence’ say that it is not just economic but also political reasons in one country that have an impact on one and the others that bring cooperation.

However, liberals also believe that the international system is anarchical and that states want to have as much power as possible. For them, this power can be obtained through economic competition. The combination of cooperation and competition is what brings peace.

The other two main theories in liberalism are called republican liberalism and institutional liberalism. For the former theory, democracy is a type of government that all nation-states should aim for and as is argued by Doyle(1983) in his “democratic peace theory”, democracies are naturally peaceful and they only engage in conflict with non-democratic states. For the latter, there is an international order that can be achieved through the creation of transnational organizations that connect states and that are able to organize the international arena to address the issues that go beyond one state’s borders.

Critical theories: constructivism.

This theory does not provide a defined vision of what states pursue or who their actors are hence it does not give a specific world order but it offers the conceptual framework to understand world politics and other IR theories as well. Constructivism is a theory that emerged in the 1980s and it has roots in critical and postmodernism theory, it is now considered a mainstream theory because some of its theorists have adopted mainstream assumptions such as Wendt but others still keep Constructivism as a Critical Theory if we determine it according to the classification made by Robert Cox(2008). For him, all critical theories have in common two elements: they put into question the assumptions made about the world by mainstream theories and that challenge those assumptions. Constructivism challenges all notions of mainstream theories and non-mainstream theories under the principle of social construction and by challenging one of the most accepted ideas in IR, it is already putting into question mainstream theories and the rest as well.

Constructivism challenges world politics precisely because of its lack of definition of how the world should be, it is not a normative approach and it leaves a blanket space for different agents to challenge each normative concept they face and to fill it in with a perspective more convenient to their current situation.

According to Flockhart (2016), constructivism has four main elements that constitute a process in the formulation of identity. The importance of social construction in the creation of reality, its focus on ideas and identity, and the relevance of agents and structures as social actors. If there is something constructivism takes for granted is that every concept or object that we have given meaning has required human interaction for its formulation and it is then a social construction. There is in the first moment an agent that associates meaning to an object and this becomes a social fact through repetition and practice. There is a moment when this concept has been multiple times associated with meaning through practice that a process of externalization and habitualization begins until the concept becomes an objective reality and the idea separates from the agent who created it. From this point, it is through the establishment of institutions that reinforce this practice or create rules to regulate it, and because of routine that identity is built and a structure is designed.

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Comparison.

The process of the creation of identity is crucial as we understand how theories have and will emerge. As identity is created around an original idea by an agent, this agent and this idea can help us understand what is valuable for each agent and each agent represents a group of people. It does not rely on something abstract as the state but on one person with one idea that ends up becoming an identity, this is how we can explain why realism and liberalism have lost their importance because those identities evolve and the mainstream theories do not take into account space and time, this means they are a-historical and consider the world has always been the same. By doing so, they consider it will always be the same. It is through Constructivism that we are capable of understanding the crucial role of identity in the international system as agents behave according to what they consider they are.

Liberalism is a so-called problem-solving theory as it has a defined way of seeing the world and it takes actions in accordance with its assumptions about how the world is. Critical Theories take into account exploitative relations that have been maintained over time.

It is through this importance of identity that Constructivism explains that the world is divided by Critical Theories, it differentiates from Liberalism which is not a number of states that defines IR but exploitative relations because of race, class, or gender that goes beyond borders.

Global Governance.

Global Governance can be defined in different ways depending on the lenses we are seeing it through. What it is can be answered in a different way by Liberals or by Constructivists. First, we can see how it serves to create an international order, and ultimately, it is a bringer of prosperity. In the second, we can see how global governance is the creation of a one and only identity that cannot last much time due to the change of identities over time. We will study the approach of each theory to Global Governance through the example of the European Union(EU).

For Weiss(2013), Global Governance is an attempt to resolve issues that affect globally but also those that one state alone cannot solve on its own. Some examples can be security or climate change. Weiss created a division between organizations and institutions, as he considers those as the main actors in Global Governance. Organizations are material entities with a physical location and institutions are social conventions. This is very important because it not only recognizes organizations related to the state or the market but it also recognizes institutions and those are the ones that shape the values of The Civil Society. For Weiss Governance is a ‘range of formal and informal values, rules, norms, practices, and organizations that provide [a] better order’(2013:62). They are those institutions in charge of providing government services alike but without governing. This means it recognizes not just formal but also informal entities to address global issues.

Civil Society and globalization are two key elements in global governance that limit the states. Civil Society can be defined as a third sector separate from the state and the market, then it includes all people. Globalization is the interconnection of all people around the globe. This interconnection has resulted in a more or less possible free movement of people. This free movement and technology have made people capable of knowing what is happening somewhere else in the world. Globalization has blurred the lines of borders and in doing so, it has contested the sovereignty of states as a defined territory is one of its main characteristics. Civil Society also contests it as this creates an identity of global citizenship and the knowledge and responsibility to address issues happening somewhere else. Globalization increases the power of Civil Society as we are each day more connected. This has two consequences, the creation of one identity where we can see which the most influential nations are and the emergence of social movements that have created a consciousness of gender, race, and class.

However, Global Governance does not only exist to solve an issue, as Weiss argues, but also to have a stronger position. The EU is the best example of a liberal attempt at global governance. Liberalism considers cooperation and competition very useful tool that serves national interests and brings prosperity to those that cooperate. That is why an institution such as the European Union is a very strong entity in IR. If we analyze it according to the main theories in liberalism we can find the three main theories embodied by this organization. If we see it through Interdependence liberalism we see that free trade and the free movement of people between their borders have made each member economically dependent on the rest. We can also see through the republican liberalism theory that democracies are peaceful as their members are and this can be the reason why one member does not fight against each other we can see through institutional liberalism the creation of this organization to overcome anarchy and to create an international order.

The EU is the best example to see the value of identity and how it has changed. World War I and World War II had a global impact but it was primarily one European nation against another. The shift from the dichotomy of the enemy to a friend can be explained not just by liberals through economic dependency or having in common being democracies as we can find members with different kinds of democracies. It can also be explained thanks to the process of how identities are formed and the implementation of European values. This was created first by a group of people who believed in this idea, when states started to join, this idea was separated by the group who proposed it and it has been through the creation of organizations that a European feeling has been enforced. Those organizations promote a set of values and through the rule of law, they dictate what being a member means. This is the reason why to become a member states have to meet a set of requirements and those which cannot achieve them are not able to join as has been the case of Turkey and those which already are and do not behave in accordance with their rules and norms are sanctioned as it has been the case with Hungary and Poland.

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Liberalism vs Constructivism. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 2, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/liberalism-vs-constructivism/
“Liberalism vs Constructivism.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/liberalism-vs-constructivism/
Liberalism vs Constructivism. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/liberalism-vs-constructivism/> [Accessed 2 Feb. 2023].
Liberalism vs Constructivism [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2023 Feb 2]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/liberalism-vs-constructivism/
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