Yes, I Am A Liberal…IR Theorist Pt.2 (The Revision)

After another solid year of IR research and learning, I would like to go back over the blasé and naive mistakes that I made in my original epiphany to pursue liberal IR theory. (On a side note, I am now leaning towards the Liberal Party of Canada, damn you Stephen Harper).

To clarify, constructivists theory is NOT a minority viewpoints nor something to be taken lightly, as demonstrated by Alexander Wendt . I meant minority in the sense that it has not gained as much hype as realist or liberal theory. Actually minority theory would be attributed to the postcolonial school of thought which is also very promising. Another point: I am NOT a neoliberalist, but merely the traditional liberalist with the cosmopolitan/idealist flair. By neoliberalism I had meant the structural liberalism/neoliberal institutionalism:  the branch of liberal IR theory that dealt with the importance of institutions, though unfortunately this branch has succumbed to political economy as the proof of international cooperation presented in a way that realists can contend with, with little exploration of other international political, social, humanitarian, and cultural institutions. Lastly, as shown by previous posts, I am a fan of Fukuyama’s unique addition to liberal philosophy but again, I do not subscribe to the notion of the end of history as preceded by the advent of the capitalist democracy.

The novel reason that  I have decided to adhere to this particular school of IR thought is simply because I believe it has the potential to incorporate the other critical or reflectivist theories in order to unify the field, but of course with gross modifications and generalizations that would entail vast theoretical restructuring, not to mention enraging the purists in the branch. Given the liberal tradition of John Stuart Mill and Jean-Jacques Rousseau that wished to extend equality to all men by abolishing slavery and promote the emancipation of women, it is not entirely impossible for liberal IR theory to include the contributions of prominent feminist and postcolonial IR theorists. Granted the positivist aspect and political economy that liberal IR theory has been forced to accomodate to an unbalanced degree due to the prominence of realist theory in US foreign policy will tremble in disgust of being conjoined with “reflectivist” notions which do not embrace scientific method nor empirical exactitude nor rational utility. However, the constructivist theory of Wendt seems to provide some sort of bridge between accomodating modern and postmodern aspects to  liberal IR theory and separating it from realist theories in terms of accurately portraying a international systemic theory. Namely, that liberal theory is unsettled by the self-help system and wishes to believe the inclinations of states and non-state actors are not reducible to game theory, but have inclinations to cooperate as well. This basic disbelief or aversion of liberal IR theory to the concept of a “might is right” realist attitude is the core basis for incorporating the valid insights of critical theory with the substantive problem-solving aspect of liberal IR theory.

***Thank-you for reading. Believe me, this is EPIC.***

Yes, I Am A Liberal…IR Theorist Pt.1

reposted from my Facebook notes from July 23, 2009
It’s a shocker, but after reading Fareed Zakaria’s “The Post-American World”, I finally have the conviction to assume this identity. After a year of reading academic peer-reviewed articles and university textbooks, listening to professors and churning out some three papers on international relations theory/affairs, I think I have found a theory that reflects my tastes to have an adaptable view of the world and theorize predictions accordingly.

Before my political buddies rejoice over my form of “conversion” (which is strictly political), I would like to briefly reassert that domestically, I am still a Canadian conservative, which roughly translates to a classical liberal. However since I am an international studies student, I have decided to open my mind in the analysis of world events, since Zakaria has a point that American power will face challenges with the peaceful rise or economic booms of China and India, among other former developing countries.

I find it hard to swallow the realist perspective in an increasingly globalized world. To accept realism would also hinder any development in my global governance theory which I have aspirations to formulating, especially if I continue a masters in international affairs or even international law. I mean to hold states and non-state actors accountable for their actions (yes, I am an idealist and I like it). The word multilateralism is music to my ears and I utterly reject nuclear and WMD deterrence theory, as championed by some neo-realist theorists (neo-realists cause me to shudder visibly). The constructivist theory only brought to light minority viewpoints and don’t get me wrong, but I think feminist and postcolonial and green IR theory all make valid contributions. I just think that liberal IR theory could encompass those concerns as it looks at the increasingly important role of non-state actors in power politics, especially within political economy. Groups like Greenpeace and OXFAM and human rights commissions are all institutions championed by neo-liberalism that advocate the visibility of those suffering in collapsed states, women, and environmental concerns.

Now for those of you still reading this exhaustive epiphany, I would probably classify myself as a neo-liberal (to clarify: sociological liberalism, liberal institutionalism IR theory), because I’m not too crazy about Fukuyama’s End of History and I’m a little cautious about how the word “free trade” gets thrown around, especially with the acknowledgement of non-state actors like MNCs. But one thing that my friends often accuse me of (I prefer attribute) is liking institutions. I’m an institutional kind of girl because the good ones last with the test of the time, while others decay and other rise according to major historical events where humanity becomes aware of its leaps and slumps. State cooperation should be seen as the first step to breaking the anarchic order of the international sphere, a feat which is (at present) only made possible by transnational institutions.

The Post-American World is a brilliant book by an author who truly understands the meaning of “global history”. His insight should be food for thought for global actors, since it proposes changes to be implemented in terms of state identities, expectations of the American hegemon, and “the rise of the rest”. I would recommend you to read it (it only have 7 chapters, who knows you may have to read it anyway this year in class). He was recently on the Colbert Report promoting his book and it’s nice to see an IR Theorist who is still alive and proliferating works.

The Invention of Racism

In reading Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism, it has struck me how the Western cultural ideas concerning race are largely fabricated. That is to say, race thinking and racism are social constructs. Obviously there are distinguishable physical traits of different peoples, but I am speaking here of the more inflammatory nature of race-thinking which leads to racism and the extermination or discrimination of a given ethnic group. It is the idea that one race is better than another and such a view underlies the whole of even the most liberal and democratic countries.

Racism and race-thinking are relatively new and modern concepts considering that they only arose during the 19th century and not say, during the medieval era, which was merely a clash of religions and the people’s rights to live in peace from the expansionist tendencies of more powerful civilizations. Arendt also differentiates between Roman imperialism and say, the British or European brand of imperialism, where Roman citizenship was widely distributed and the European powers did not see fit to count their new “property” as citizens, but as subjects in the sense of domination and servitude. Arendt suggests that race-thinking flared up during this imperialist era with the scramble for Africa, when the civilized white men felt shame towards the tribal “savages” on the African continent coupled with a deeply felt duty to “cultivate and civilize” through the methods of slavery.

So why not introduce education to civilize your fellow man? Nationalism was also another factor in the development of race-thinking, since at the time, the nation-state was declining according to Arendt (into the totalitarian tendencies soon to be manifested in the 20th century). Nationalism was felt less at home with movements to abolish the aristocracy and the rise of the bourgeoisie who were more international in their tendencies. Imperialism was a one-step solution to rekindling the old flame of nationalism, striking out to claim land for king and country. The superiority of one’s nation to conquer other peoples and subjugate them inflated national pride and provided opportunities unavailable to young fortuneseekers to pursue a political and profitable course of action in the New World, seeking purpose in adventures that were essentially purposeless in that Heart of Darkness.

Looking back, Arendt notes the original insanity and often absentmindedness of the European powers in acquiring their African, Asian, and American possessions. For her, race-thinking and racism were only thought up after these mass subjugations to hard labour and  “administrative massacres” to justify them in retrospect. Western civilization was too proud to admit that these less developed parties to their world were in fact of the same origin and rational species, too proud to suffer a blow to their human dignity by extending the equal rights of man.

Perhaps that is the underlying reason behind racial profiling and racial discrimination: hurt pride for losing a job to an Indian man or shame when arresting a black man  who commits a crime. It is merely a justification for ourselves that we were somehow more qualified for the job because of the colour of our skin, not by the simple lack of merit. It is the excuse for our negligence in providing decent education and a way out of poverty for minority populations. While Western civilization may have come up with many brilliant technological and philosophical advances, they have a shocking record for ignorance and sloth.

The Clash of Civilizations Discredited

How clever men were to come up with a way for women to love their double burden! To convince through fictional folklore and various sappy literature that marriage was their final happy ending and that children were the extent of their destiny and accomplishments – when in fact, in the worst cases, stunted their intellectual contribution to humanity and reduced them to sexual and domestic slavery; and in the best cases, to balance precariously their careers and homelife while sacrificing their fair figures in the process. Thus, Cinderella may still be scrubbing  the floors of her beloved prince’s palace as we speak!