Neorealist and Neo-Marxist Approaches to Globalization


According to Jackson and Sorensen (2003), the leading contemporary neorealist thinker is undoubtedly Kenneth Waltz (1979). His starting point is taken from some elements of classical and neoclassical, such as independent state existing and performing in an anarchical international system. Waltz’s Theory of international Politics (1979) seeks to provide a scientific explanation of the international political system. A scientific theory of international relations leads us to expect the certain pattern that states to behave in predictable ways. In Waltz’s view the best IR theory is a neo-realist systems theory that focuses centrally on the structure of the system, on its interacting units, and on the continuities and changes of the system.

In classical realism, state leaders and their subjective valuation of international relations are the center factor of valuation. In neorealism, however, the structure of the system, in particular the relative distribution of power, is the central analytical focus.

Actors are less important because structures oblige them to behave in certain ways.

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Structures more or less determine actions. Chris Brown (2001) in his book ‘Understanding International Relations’ states that once we concentrate on the system we can see, he suggests, that there are only two kinds of accessible system – a hierarchical or an anarchical system. The distinction between hierarchy and anarchy is crucial to Waltz; the present system, he claims, is obviously anarchical, and has been since its late medieval origins (Brown, 2001). In hierarchical system, different kinds of units are organized and adjusted under an absolute layer of authority. Meanwhile, in an anarchical system, units which are the same in nature, even though they differ severally in capabilities, operate relations with one another.

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States, to some extent, are alike in all basic functional respects. In spite of the difference in cultures or personnel or ideologies or constitution, they all perform the same basic tasks.

All states have to collect taxes, conduct foreign policy, and so on. States significantly differ only in regard to their greatly varying capabilities. (Jackson and Sorensen, 2003) In their book ‘World politics in the 21st Century’, Duncan, Jancar-Webster and Switky (2006) stated that Waltz agrees that people by nature are self-fish and that they are driven by a hunger for power. But Waltz no longer considers power an end in itself. States, in his view, hunt power for the sake of survival. For Waltz, the single most important property of the international system is the unavailability of central governing institutions. Overall, neo-realists agree with the 3 following points stated. First, states stay the primary actors on the world stage. The main target of all states, however, is not power but survival in a ‘dog-eat-dog’ environment.

Second, the primary difference between states is not different goals but their own particular capabilities to influence the course of international events. The last thing to note is neo-realists believe that the unequal distribution of capabilities characterizes the structure of the international system and shapes the ways states interact with one another. As stated above, Waltz takes classical and neoclassical realism as a starting point and develops some of its core ideas and assumptions. For example, he employs the concept of international anarchy and focuses absolutely on states. He also concentrates on the core feature of anarchical systems of state: power politics. He assumes that the key and necessary concern of states is security and survival. He also believes that the major problem of great-power conflict is war, and that the major task of international relations among the great powers is that of peace and security.

In addition, with Waltz’s neorealist theory, decentralization of anarchical structure between states is the elemental characteristic of international relations. International change takes place when great powers rise and fall and followed by the shift in the balance of power (Jackson and Sorensen, 2003). The international system is a self-help system; states are obliged to look after themselves, because there is no one else to look after them. Waltz does not assume that states are pursuing the increase in their power and the importance of them between others states, necessarily aggressive body, but he does believe that they desire to preserve themselves.

This means that they are obliged to be considered with their security, national defence and obliged to regard other states as potential threats (Brown, 2001). Waltz believes that bipolar systems provide more stability and thus provide a better guarantee of security and peace than multipolar systems. ‘With only two great powers, both can be expected to behave in a way to prolong the system’ (Waltz, 1979). That is because in maintaining the system they are maintaining themselves. According to that view, the Cold War was a period of international stability and peace. (Jackson and Sorensen, 2003)


The writings of Karl Marx (1818-83), according to Mingst (1999), are fundamental to the Marxist school of thought, even though he did not directly state all the issues that are today encompassed by Marxism. The theory of Marx on the evolution of capitalism based on economic change and class conflict: the capitalism of nineteenth century Europe emerged out of the earlier feudal system. In capitalism, private interests control the labor forces and market exchanges, creating enslavement from which certain classes try to free themselves. A clash inevitably will rise between the controlling, capitalist bourgeois class and the controlled workers, called the proletariat. It is from this violent conflict that a new socialist order is born. Contemporary interpretations origin with the works of Marx, but they have developed ideas in quite different directions. Sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein (1930- ), for one, associates history and the rise of capitalism, in what is known as the world-capitalist system perspective.

Mingst (1999), claimed that at each stage of the historical progression, Wallerstein determines core geographic areas where developments is most advanced, the agriculture sector being able to support enough sustenance for the industrial workers. He identifies peripheral areas as well, where raw materials are extracted for the developed core and where unskilled labour is mired and suffer in less-productive activities. Thus, for Wallerstein and his enthusiasms, as for most Marxists, attention is embedded on the changes in the spreading phenomenon system of capitalism. No political configuration can be explained without reference to the elemental structure of capitalism: “if there is one thing which differentiates a world-system perspective from any other, it is its insistence that the unit of analysis is a world-system defined in terms of economic progressions and associations. Mingst (1999) also claims that another group of Marxists scholar assumes the primacy of economics for explaining almost all other phenomena.

This clearly distinguishes Marxism from either realism or liberalism. For liberals, economic interdependence is one possible clarification for international cooperation, but only one among any other features. For realists and neo-realists, economics factors are one of the elements of power, one component of the international structure. In neither theory, though, is economics the determining factor. In Marxism, on the other hand, economic factors are believed to be primary importance. Antonio Gramsci (1891 – 1937) was a Sardinian and one of the founding members of the Italian Communist Party. Gramsci’s work has become particularly influential in the study of International Political Economy. Hobden and Jones (2008) have been discussed Gramsci’s legacy, and the work of Robert W. Cox, a contemporary theorist who has been influencing in introducing Gramsci’s work to an International Relations audience.

Gramsci’s theory revolves around his use of the concept of hegemony. Neo-Gramscian international political economy presents the most prevailing Marxist theory in the contemporary international relations discourse. On Gramsci’s readings, consent is created and re-created by the hegemony of the ruling class in society. It is this hegemony that allows the noble, political and cultural values of the dominant group to become widely spread throughout society and to be accepted by subordinate groups and classes as their own. The concept of hegemony composes the central analytical category to understand history of world orders with a view to construct counter-hegemonic prescriptions against them. In contrast to realism, which introduce the definition of international hegemony based on the concentration of material power in one dominant state, neo-Gramscians claim that liberal international hegemonies are based on the universalization of particular state-society complexes, maintained primarily by consensus establishment between hegemonic and hegemonized states, rather than on crude power politics alone (Reus-Smit and Snidal, 2010).

Neo-Gramscian thought entered international relations primarily through the work of Robert Cox, who acquired categories of analysis from Gramsci’s writings and applied them to international relations. Hegemonic power is conceptualized as a ‘mutually irreducible configuration’ between different schools of thought, beliefs, institutions, and material capacities that are widely agreed as legitimate. Social forces, states and world orders are inter-connected as dialectical wholes, bound together in world hegemonies. (Reus-Smit and Snidal, 2010). The person who has done the most to introduce
Gramsci to the study of world politics is the Canadian scholar Robert X. Cox. (Hobden and Jones, 2008).

He has developed a Gramscian access that involves both a critique of prevailing theories of International Relations and International Political Economy, and the development of an alternative scheme for the analysis of world politics. Cox draws upon Gramsci’s notion of hegemony and transposes it to the international dimension, arguing that hegemony is as important for maintaining stability and continuity here as it is at domestic level. According to Cox, successive dominant powers in the international system fulfill their interests by shaping a world order that suits them, and have done so not only as a result of their forceful capabilities, but also because they have managed to introduce broad consent for that order even among those who are disadvantaged by it (Hobden and Jones, 2008).

The neo-neo beliefs on globalisation

According to Marxist theorists, the globe has long been dominated by the single integrated economic and political substances – a global capitalist system – which has constantly incorporated all of humanity within its grasps. Within this system, all components have always been interdependent and interrelated. The increasing of multinational corporations surely does not signify any noticeable change in the structure of the modern capitalist system. Rather, they establish part of a long-term pattern towards the further integration of the global economy. The understanding offered by the Marxist theorists suggests that there isn’t anything natural or inevitable about a world order based on a global market. Rather than accepting the inevitability of the present order, the task facing us is to lay the constructions for a new way of organizing society – ‘a global society which is more just and more human than our own’. (Hobden and Jones, 2008)

Most neo-realists believe that globalization has not changed the game of international politics much at all. States might require more expertise and resources to maintain their sovereignty, but neo-realists think most evidence suggests that states are increasing their spending over a wide variety of areas. Waltz (2000) recognizes that state remains the primary force in international relations and has spread its power to efficiently manage the processes of globalization. What neo-realists are most concerned with is the new security challenges demonstrated by globalization.

Neo-realists are considering the uneven nature of economic globalization. Inequality in the international system may be the most significant security threat in the future. People without food are desperate to seek change, and often that will be a violent change. Economic globalization can also emphasize existing differences in societies, creating instability in strategic areas, thereby challenging world order. Another group of neo-realists would react that forces of globalization might challenge sovereignty. Nonetheless, states have not lost their authority and control. Yet, globalization has had a significant influence on domestic politics and the present power structures. (Lamy, 2008)


Brown, C. (2001) Understanding International Relations. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. Duncan, W. R., Jancar-Webster, B. and Switky, B. (2006) World Politics in the 21st Century. London: Pearson Longman Hobden, S. and Jones, R. W. (2008) ‘Marxist theories of international relations’ in J. Baylis, S. Smith and P. Owens, The globalization of world politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 144-57. Jackson, R. and Sorensen, G. (2003) Introduction to International Relations: Theories and Approaches. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Lamy, S. L. (2008) ‘Contemporary mainstream approaches: neo-realism and neo-liberalism’ in J. Baylis, S. Smith and P. Owens, The globalization of world politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 126-37. Mingst, K. (1999) Essentials of International Relations. London: Norton & Company Ltd. Reus-Smit, C. and Snidal, D. (2010) The Oxford Handbook of International relations. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Waltz, K. N. (1979) Theory of International Politics. London: McGraw-Hill. Waltz, K. N. (2000) ‘Globalization and American Power’, The National Interest, 59 (Spring): 46-56.

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Neorealist and Neo-Marxist Approaches to Globalization. (2016, Nov 08). Retrieved from

Neorealist and Neo-Marxist Approaches to Globalization

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