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View Wishlist. Our Awards Booktopia's Charities. With the end of the Cold War, liberal internationalism was globalized. Initially, this was seen as a moment of triumph for western liberal democracies. But the globalization of the liberal order put in motion two shifts that later became the sources of crisis. First, it upended the political foundations of the liberal order. With new states entering the system, the old bargains and institutions that provided the sources of stability and governance were overrun. A wider array of states—with a more diverse set of ideologies and agendas—were now part of the order.
These struggles over authority and governance continue today. Second, the globalization of the liberal order also led to a loss of capacity to function as a security community.
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In its Cold War configuration, the liberal order was a sort of full-service security community, reinforcing the capacity of western liberal democracies to pursue policies of economic and social advancement and stability. As liberal internationalism became the platform for the wider global order, this sense of shared social purpose and security community eroded. Taking all these elements together, this account of the crisis can be understood as a crisis of success, in the sense that the troubles besetting the liberal order emerged from its post-Cold War triumph and expansion.
In fact, the liberal international order has succeeded all too well. It has helped usher in a world that has outgrown its political moorings. Liberal internationalism has survived its year journey into the current century because, with liberal democracy at the core, it offered a coherent and functional vision of how to organize international space. The industrial revolution and the relentless rise of economic and security interdependence generated both opportunities and threats for liberal democracies.
Liberal internationalism, in all its varied configurations, has provided templates for cooperation in the face of the grand forces of modernity. To do so again, the liberal international project will need to rethink its vision. When the nineteenth century began, liberal democracy was a new and fragile political experiment, a political glimmering within a wider world of monarchy, autocracy, empire and traditionalism.
Two hundred years later, at the end of the twentieth century, liberal democracies, led by the western Great Powers, dominated the world—commanding 80 per cent of global GNP. Liberal internationalism has risen and fallen and evolved. But its general logic is captured in a cluster of five convictions. One concerns openness. Trade and exchange are understood to be constituents of modern society, and the connections and gains that flow from deep engagement and integration foster peace and political advancement.
An open international order facilitates economic growth, encourages the flow of knowledge and technology, and draws states together. Second, there is a commitment to some sort of loosely rules-based set of relations. Rule and institutions facilitate cooperation and create capacities for states to make good on their domestic obligations.
This does not necessarily mean alliances or a formal system of collective security, but states within the order affiliate in ways designed to increase their security. Reform is possible. Power politics can be tamed—at least to some extent—and states can build stable relations around the pursuit of mutual gains.
Fifth and finally, there is an expectation that a liberal international order will move states in a progressive direction, defined in terms of liberal democracy. The order provides institutions, relationships, and rights and protections that allow states to grow and advance at home. It is a sort of mutual aid and protection society. Seen in this way, a liberal international order can take various forms. It can be more or less global or regional in scope.
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The early postwar western liberal order was primarily an Atlantic regional community, while the post-Cold War liberal system has had a wider global reach. A liberal international order can be more or less organized around a hegemonic state—that is, it can be more or less hierarchical in character.
It can be more or less embodied in formal agreements and governance institutions. Overall, liberal internationalism can be more or less open, rules-based and progressively oriented.
Taken as a whole, liberal internationalism offers a vision of order in which sovereign states—led by liberal democracies—cooperate for mutual gain and protection within a loosely rules-based global space. Glimmerings of this vision emerged in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, triggered by Enlightenment thinking and the emergence of industrialism and modern society. Over the next century, a variety of economic, political and intellectual developments set the stage for the reorganization of relations among western states. Led by Britain, these states entered into a period of industrial growth and expanding trade.
Political reform—and the revolutions of —reflected the rise of and struggles for liberal democracy and constitutionalism, the growth of the middle and working classes, and the creation of new political parties arrayed across the ideological spectrum from conservative to liberal and socialist.
Nationalism emerged and became tied to the building of modern bureaucratic states. Britain signalled a new orientation towards the world economy with the repeal of the Corn Laws. Nationalism was matched with new forms of internationalism—in law, commerce and social justice. Peace movements spread across the western world. A new era of European industrial-age imperialism began, as Britain, France and other European states competed for colonial prizes. In this setting, liberal internationalism emerged as a way of thinking about western and world order.
It began as a variety of scattered nineteenth-century internationalist ideas and movements.
Liberal ideas in Britain began with Adam Smith's writings in the late eighteenth century and continued with thinkers such as Richard Cobden and John Bright in the nineteenth. A general view emerged—captured, for example, in the writings of Walter Bagehot and many others—that there was a developmental logic to history, a movement from despotic states to more rules-based and constitutional ones. Kant's ideas on republicanism and perpetual peace offered hints of an evolutionary logic in which liberal democracies would emerge and organize themselves within a wider political space.
Ideas of contracts, rights and the law were developed by thinkers from John Locke to John Stuart Mill. The connections between domestic liberalism and liberal internationalism are multifaceted, and they have evolved over the last two centuries. It is hard to see a distinctive or coherent liberal international agenda in the nineteenth century.
At this time, such notions were primarily manifest in ideas about world politics that emerged from thinkers and activists committed to liberalism within countries—in ideas about liberalization of trade, collective security, arbitration of disputes and so forth. What emerges during this era is a sense of an international sphere of action that was opening up within the liberal democratic world, and a conviction that collective efforts could and should be made to manage this expanding international space. In the twentieth century there emerged a much more full-blown sense of liberal internationalism, understood as a set of prescriptions for organizing and reforming the world in such a way as to facilitate the pursuit of liberal democracy at home.
In the hands of F. Roosevelt and his generation after , liberal internationalism became to an even greater extent an agenda for building an international community within which liberal democracies could be stabilized and protected. In this way, liberal internationalism offered a vision of a reformed and managed western—and, eventually, global—order that would provide the organizational principles, institutions and capacities to negotiate the international contingencies and dislocations that threaten the domestic pursuit of liberal democracy.
Liberal internationalism emerged after the Second World War as an organizing vision for the western-led order. As in , so after the United States used its postwar position to lead in the building of a postwar order. But along the way, liberal internationalism took on a new shape and character—and with the rise of the Cold War, a US-led liberal hegemonic order emerged.
In the age of Wilson, liberal internationalism was a relatively simply vision.
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International order was to be organized around a collective security system in which sovereign states would act together to uphold a system of territorial peace. The Wilsonian vision was undergirded by open trade, national self-determination, and the expectation of the continuing spread of liberal democracy. The dramatic upheavals of the Great Depression, the Second World War and the Cold War set the stage for another American-led attempt to build a liberal order. A new moment to remake the world had arrived.
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Basic questions about power, order and modernity had to be rethought. From the s onwards, the viability of western liberal democracy was itself uncertain. The violence and instabilities of the s and s forced liberal internationalists—and indeed everyone else—to reassess their ideas and agendas. The First World War was a jolt to the optimistic narratives of western civilization and progress.