Debating IR

Probing the philosophical underpinnings of the international system and anything else of interest.


Monday, January 23, 2006

Nate's Response to the Readings

Having only taken one IR theory course, I cannot say that I have heard all of these arguments before and read all of the experts on the subjects, like Waltz or Keohane. However, I feel like for this reading, that is unnecessary. I actually enjoyed the simplicity of Sterling-Folker. She does an excellent job of boiling away all of the superfluous material and focuses in on the core knowledge, which each reader needs to hold before diving into the material. However, after reading 2.1 and 3.1, yes I did read Grieco but I don't feel like discussing it presently, I was struck with a strange feeling. I felt like Sterling-Folker had actually disproved one of her basic arguments about liberalism.

In 3.1 from pp. 55-56, she claims that liberalism has unfairly been characterized as "idealism". But by the end of the article, she had me even more convinced of it. I understand that liberalism has many facets and that one word cannot describe all of them, but one theme was woven through her articles on realism and liberalism. The theme was simple; realism is pessimistic and based on a negative view of mankind's ability to reason and cooperate in order to furhter the "liberal goals that most of us take for granted"(13). Liberlism is based on "a belief in the human capacity to reason, and with that reason, the possibility of uncovering untainted universal truth" (Enloe 1996; 187, taken from Sterling-Folker, 55). These two simple definitions can be boiled down even one step further; realism = power is the only universal truth and it is the cause of conflict, liberalism = many universal truths exist and must be identified in order to help mankind.

It seems absurd really that two great and controversial theoris can be boiled down so quickly and thoroughly, but yet these are the thoughts which popped up over and over again as I read the articles. By accepting these basic definitions I was able to explain the rest of the attributes of each theory. Why does realism emphasize states? Because the greatest power is a state, therefore it is the greatest truth on which to form a basis for theory. Will the essentials of realism, power and conflict, truly be affected if the greatest power becomes a corporation? In my mind no. Some minor adjustments would be made, a new strand of realism would emerge and the theory would continue. A question for liberalism could be: what spurs its assumption that information and communication will play an essential role in unlocking the key to overcoming barriers of cooperation? Well, using the definition, information and cooperation are an emerging field with less available research, as opposed to war or some economic theories or whatever, and so by researching in this field, universal truths will be uncovered.

And that is what I got out of the readings. From 6 or so pages, one strand of thought emerged in each reading, the concept that realism seems just as pessimistic as all of its attackers say, and liberalism seems just as idealistic as its attackers say.


Blogger Kat said...

A question for liberalism could be: what spurs its assumption that information and communication will play an essential role in unlocking the key to overcoming barriers of cooperation?

I think that, based on the more obvious liberal assumption that human beings are willing to put reason and cooperation over self-interest, liberalism tends to assume that the more people share information and communicate, the more they will understand the desires of other players and thus be able to cooperate efficiently toward a goal that is visible to everyone.

12:08 PM  

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