Revival of Classical Liberalism (in IR) – Part 2

Continuing my insights into Friedrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, I’d like to devote some time to the last chapter of the book dealing specifically with international relations and liberal political theory.

I especially like Hayek’s critique of realist theorist E.H. Carr. Carr rejects 19th century liberalism’s view of war as devoid of purpose and senseless and takes up the classic realist argument that war is actually meaningful and purposeful. Hayek also makes a passing reference to Schmitt’s understanding of totalitarianism, agreeing that the political sphere is separate from the economic, social, religious, etc. domains for the sake of offsetting any concentration of power. Carr is influenced by the totalitarian concept expressed beautifully by Schmitt: the friend/enemy distinction. Naturally, Hayek finds the realist stance on war problematic since it is based on a particular view of human nature and similar to the championship of violence and revolution by Marx as a means to an end.

Hayek ultimately see the war of ideologies (reminiscent of Weber [or was it Strauss?] war of the old gods) as the real problem in creating an international order conducive to cooperation and peace. Hayek does believe that so long as there are economic transactions between nations, such relations will deteriorate into “clashes of power” if there is no superior authority to states (see Plato’s Republic and the ‘fevered city’ for acquisition as prelude to war). However, imposing a global authority that would plan the global economy would invite more tyranny than order to the fray. Here he also critiques realism for essentielly agreeing with a “might is right” foreign policy, where international authorities in the more powerful nations impose their will on smaller nations (as seen in the Cold War).

Ensuring that the international order is conducive to aiding developing nations is also within Hayek’s mandate, but economic powers must ensure that they are adopting policies that create conditions in which people can develop their own lives. That is, development of poorer countries must be organic, not imposed.

A large, loose federation of state was always the ultimate goal of 19th century liberal thinkers for reducing the risk of war. The creation of an international order or international governance (versus government) or international legal system was preferable since it did not interfere with the independence of individual nations. Liberalism has always sought to reduce the frictions leading to war versus the elimination of war (which is impossible due to the acquisitory nature of states and scarce resources). Essentially, it is a model of negative powers accorded to an international political federation, which should have strictly defined cases of intervention in individual state’s affairs. It is not (necessarily) meant to be paternalistic or reinforcing of Western values, but it does enforce a liberal moral code and founds itself on the pragmatism and utility that John Stuart Mill was so fond of. As well the infamous checks and balances that must be in place at all levels of governance.

Interestingly enough, Hayekian libertarian IR theory and postmodern IR theory both problematize the state and its powers. One deals with the economic flows and politico-moral order as undermining modern state sovereignty (see the writings of Saskia Sassen and John Ikenberry). The other attacks the state through the rise of securitization of human migration flows and governmentality (biopolitical control of the population by Foucault’s Panopticon and Agamben’s ban/camp).

So it is that I argue for an abandonment of neoliberal IR theory and seek a revival of 19th century classical liberalism integrated with the critique of postmodern IR theory to develop a whole new understanding of how the world is or ought to be. It will be a solution the postmodern question insofar as international relations theory must return to political philosophy to find its progress, rather than the scientific models that it has championed for decades. As you can see, I have my academic work cut out for me.

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