Realism and Liberalism Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 21 September 2016

Realism and Liberalism


Realism and Liberalism are the two most prevalent ideologies in practicing and analyzing International Relations in the last two centuries. They are playing important roles in the states. They will directly affect the decision making of the governments and bring effects to the peace relations among countries. Realist mainly put a focus on state, power and national security. It was especially quite dominant in the first phase of the Cold War. On the other hand, Liberalism pays attention to people’s freedom and rights. It rose up after the World War II also the end of Cold War. From my point of view, to a large extent Realism and Liberalism are different from each other. They are quite opposite in theory. The differences between Realism and Liberalism outweigh the similarities. In this essay, I would elaborate these two ideologies in different aspects to talk about.

Similarities between Realism and Liberalism
Anarchy nature

Firstly, for the similarities, both Realists and Liberals believe in anarchy nature of international system that it is leaderless in the world system. ‘The major theories of international relations embrace the view that the international system is anarchic’ (Adem 2002: 19). Both admit that there is no sovereignty, rules or systems in the international system. However, these two ideologies got very different perceptions towards what they believe the states should do under this anarchic situation. The differences will be articulated below.

Differences between Realism and Liberalism
The views towards human nature

For the differences, the first is that the Realists and the Liberals hold different beliefs towards human nature. Realists mainly are pessimistic and conservative. ‘It is essential not to have faith in human nature. Such faith is a recent heresy and a very disastrous one’ (Butterfield 149: 47). Realists believe in evil human nature. People are born with hatred and envy, had original sin, war occurred constantly. They think that natural passion of human kind will bring out struggles among countries, ‘conflict is inevitable’ (Niebuhr 1932: xv). This can be manifest in the armament race in World War I. Every country tried to maximize their amounts of weapons and expand their armed forces at that time.

Especially Britain and Germany, their relationship was worsened as there was a dreadnought building competition between them. Conflict is then occurred, paved the way to the World War I. Apart from this, during 1860s, the United States forced Japan to open its market at the threat of attack, which was beneficial for America only (Sr And Teresa 2013:16). Hence, they also perceive human are self-interested, interest is the most important thing of the state. Political action of the government is judged based on national interest (Morgenthau 1978: 4-15). Realists think that national interest is the most important thing of the state.

On the contrary, Liberals mainly are optimistic and progressive. They interpret goodness exists in human nature. People are born to be kind, caring and helpful, willing to build trust with others. Apart from this, Liberals stress interdependence, believing cooperation can be enhanced in countries in order to reduce conflicts. Many intergovernmental organizations and institutions are formed in the late 19th century. They are made up of member states.

For instance, European Union and World Trade Organization, they enhance political and economic cooperation among countries. Institutions enhance the economic cooperation and reducing the transactions cost among states (Keohane 1998: 82-94). Apart from this, the formation of United Nation was also a symbolic intergovernmental organization of Liberalism, providing a more understanding of human rights and reinforcing the protection of it. Therefore, witnessing the comparison above, the differences are clearly shown that the Realists and Liberals hold opposite views towards human nature.

The different perspectives on ‘state’

The second difference is the way Realists and Liberals perceive ‘state’ in opposite angles. ‘State’ is the most important actor in Realism. They hold a view that sovereignty of the state indicates the independence of the political community. Realists ‘Non-state actors such as international organizations are of use only for matters that do not concern immediate security interests’ (Harrison 2006: 21). Realists will simply ignore the other actors if the interest of the state is intervened. The most obvious of a nation’s desire is developing military and technology. The nuclear arm race between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War is a significant example. Atomic bomb was invented at that time which brought a huge threat towards world peace. Realists also advocate realpolitik, securing their own country’s interest before care about others’ welfare (Rourke 2007: 21). This shows realists are totally state-centered and tend to pursue self-interest.

On the other hand, Liberals is not statism as Realists do. Liberals maintain good governance between people and state. Liberalism stresses the importance of individuality and liberation of human (Sr & Teresa 2013: 18). Liberals favor values like political and civil liberties, toleration and justice. Hence, Liberals emphasize more on non-state actors, for instance, multinational corporations like the International Media and non-governmental organizations like the Red Cross and the Green Peace. As the Liberals advocate international cooperation, they pay attention to other countries’ rights and interest. The International Monetary Fund promotes free trade and enhances the welfare among states. It is also responsible in reducing poverty by subsidizing to members who have difficulties in economy. In short, from the illustration above, it is manifest that Realism is state-centered while Liberalism focuses both state and other non-state factors.

The Ways to view peace

Thirdly, the ways to see peace between Realism and Liberalism varies. Realists think the best way to seek peace is to have balance of power. During the cold war, the two super powers, the United States and the Soviet Union were in bipolar system which was more peaceful. It was because of the domination of the two super powers, causing restrictions for the minor powers to become strong, conflicts were then reduced. The realists view power is a very crucial element. The best way to maintain peace is to be powerful (Rourke 2007: 22). Becoming powerful, the national security can be enhanced, and therefore this will reduce the chance from attack. China nowadays is becoming powerful in every aspect after the Reform and Opening-up Policy in 1978. She tries to strengthen herself with both hard and soft power in order to avoid the invasion of other countries. She even became one of the members in the World Trade Organization in 2001. Besides, Realists believe every state is responsible to their own survival. However, some critics even argue that realists will rarely define peace.

They would like to define peace as the absence of organized violence (Mapel 1996: 57). From the Liberals point of view, there are more ways to view peace. Liberals are altruism which they emphasis on cooperation. In order to maintain world peace, many international organizations are constructed to work on it. For instance, the United Nations would like to put a halt on the violation of human rights of the states. Apart from this, The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the military alliance, held a Science for Peace and Security programme in 2006 which aimed to promote peace and support civil science cooperation and innovation. International organizations brought contributions in maintaining world peace.

Also, the Amnesty International, one of the non-governmental organizations, aimed to prevent abuse of human rights and fight for justice for those who have been violated. Liberalism also brings the idea of democratic peace. Liberals abandon wars against liberal democracies, but sometimes do not stop the war within illiberal states (Owen 1994: 93). They see illiberal states in some way dangerous and unenlightened thus they got no tolerance in them (Owen 1994: 96). In my opinion, there are quite many successful examples for Liberals in promoting peace, but still, their views toward peace are quite subjective, which brings limitations and loopholes to maintain peace in the future. In general, by the above comparisons with concrete examples, it is clearly shown that there is a huge difference between the ways Realists and Liberals view peace.


In conclusion, to large extent I think that Realism and Liberalism different from each other. The only similarity is that both of them believe that the anarchy nature is leaderless in the world system. The differences between them are articulates with examples in various aspects. For the view towards human nature, Realists believe in evil human nature while Liberals believe in good ones. For the interpretation on ‘state’, Realists is state-centered, but Liberalists also focus on other non-state actors.

For the ways they perceive peace, Realists advocate to have balance of power while Liberals enhances cooperation between nation states. It cannot be denied that Realism and Liberalism are two very distinct ideologies. From my point of view, these two concepts together with neorealism and neoliberalism will still play very important roles in the future of the International Relations. In order to secure the world peace in a sustainable way, I think the ideologies should coexist and strike a balance instead of only allowing one theory dominating the global world.


Adem, S. (2002) Anarchy, Order and Power in World Politics, Ashgate, Hampshire

Art, R. and R. Jervis (2012) (eds.) International Politics: Enduring Concepts and Contemporary Issues (Eleventh edition) (London: Pearson)

Baylis, J. and S. Smith and P. Owens (2013) (eds.) The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations (Sixth edition) (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Donnelly, J. (2000) Realism and International Relations, London: The Press Syndicate of the University Of Cambridge

Dounan, M. (2011) Realist and Constructivist Approaches to Anarchy, [Online], Available: [29 Aug 2011]

Harrison, T. (2006) Realism, sovereignty and international relations: An examination of power politics in the age of globalization, [Online], Available:

Jackson, R. & Sorensen, G. (2013) Introduction to International Relations: Theories and Approaches, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press

Jehangir, H. (2012) Realism, Liberalism and the Possibilities of Peace [Online], Available: [19 Feb 2012]

Jumarang, B.K. (2011) Realism and Liberalism in International Relations [Online], Available: [02 Jul 2011]

Keohane, R.O. (1998) ‘International Institutions: Can Interdependence Work?’, Foreign Policy, issue. 110, Spring, pp.82-94.

Morgenthau, H.J. (1978) Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, Fifth Edition, Revised, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf), [Online], Available:

Owen, J.M. (1994) ‘How Liberalism Produces Democratic Peace’, International Security, vol. 19, Fall, pp. 87-125.

Rourke, J.T. (2007) International Politics on the World Stage, [Online], Available:,%20Liberalism,%20Constructivism.pdf

Sr, I.N.M. & Teresa, E.U. (2013) ‘Liberalism and Realism: A Matrix For Political Economy’. International Journal of Business and Management Review, vol. 1, no.4, December, pp.15-25.

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