Debating IR

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

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Is this really its own theory?

Shep and Kat adequately explained Public Goods Liberalism, so I feel no need to do so here. What I do feel the need for is asking the question, "Is this really its own theory?" The way Butler and Boyer present Public Goods Liberalism made me feel that it was more of an explanation of general realism, than its own special theory. I have always seen Liberalism as states' pursuit of a larger public good through international cooperation. And that seems to be exactly what Butler and Boyer describe in Public Goods Liberalism. A group of states, NATO, decides to pursue a public good, human rights. What follows is a largely arbitrary assessment of their needs.

To be honest, this assessment of the causes for each state in following the US lead seemed fairly irrelevant to me. Since the authors assumed that the US was the only actor pursuing a public good, it seemed as if the authors did not attempt to explain the US rational for involvement. They seemed content to leave it as the US taking the lead, just as Keohane had predicted in the quote on 77. The followed this with assessments of the individual rationales for Germany, France, and Italy. I felt that the arguement was weak. They chose to ignore private US gains, but focus on private European gains, which helped to prove their point. However, ignoring the US private gains and the European public gains left me feeling that I had just witnessed a parlor trick. The evidence was in front of me, but I suspected magician of hiding something. To assuage any doubts as to the validity of the arguments, Butler and Boyer end the piece saying that while this may not be proof of the theory, it is evidence. And eventually, evidence will mount which shows the truth of Public Goods Liberalism.

To me this theory is no different than Huntington's Clash of Civs. It makes bold claims but fails to back them up. However, the theory cannot be disproved, because it leaves open the door for future evidence to vindicate its supporters.

1 Comments:

Blogger Kat said...

The way Butler and Boyer present Public Goods Liberalism made me feel that it was more of an explanation of general realism, than its own special theory.

You're right - it sounds a lot more like realism than liberalism. It seems to have more to do with cooperation as a tool that states can use to pursue their own self-interest (realist) than cooperation as an end in itself (liberal). But I guess it's a necessary evil of IR that every nuance of a school of thought has to be set down as its own theory.

12:21 PM  

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