Liberalism and Grand Theories of International Relations

  • Jan Karlas
Keywords: International relations, theory of international relations, liberalism, neoliberalism, institutionalism, international actors


Neoliberal institutionalism, developed by Robert Keohane, and liberal theory of international relations elaborated by Andrew Moravcsik, nowadays represent two grand International Relations (IR) theories drawing on liberalism as one of the main theoretical approaches in this discipline. However, Keohane conceived of neoliberal institutionalism as a synthesis of realism and liberalism and Moravcsik proceeds from a specific understanding of liberalism and defines liberalism by the criteria of empirical social science. This essay examines, therefore, whether neoliberal institutionalism and liberal theory indeed involve and assemble together the main ideas of liberalism. The perspective applied in the essay is based on the intellectual history of liberalism and, in this way, regards the assumptions about the most fundamental actor in international relations and about the evolution of international relations as the intellectual core of liberalism. According to liberalism, individuals and collective social actors constituted by individuals (social and bureaucratic groups) are the most fundamental actors in international relations and international relations undergo transformation, in the course of which cooperation gradually prevails over conflict. Neoliberal institutionalism considers the state to be the most fundamental actor in international relations and assumes that the nature of international relations transforms and they acquire a more cooperative character. Liberal theory claims that individuals and social groups are the most fundamental actors and that international relations undergo transformation that is marked by the growth of cooperation. Consequently, whereas neoliberal institutionalism involves the intellectual core of liberalism only to some extent, liberal theory implies that there is a grand theory that subsumes the main ideas of liberalism.

Author Biography

Jan Karlas



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