Realism and Liberalism Discuss and compare or
contrast Realism and Liber alism.
Many theories demonstrate insight into the concept of war, international relations and domestic
relations. Realism and liberalism provide pictures that relate and coexist, yet are opposite in theory.
Realism is conservative and pessimistic. Realists plan for permanence of t he current international
state of af fairs. Liberalism is progressive and optimistic. Liberals believe change is necessary and
inevitable. Neither viewpoint gives us the right or wrong side as both contain truths depending on
circumstances. International politics relies on all players in order to be complete. No one theory or
example can cover all situations. Realist and liberalist theories provide contrasting views on actors,
goals, and instruments of international affairs.
Realism and liberalism define the actors within international relations differently from each other.
Realists tell us that only powerful, larger states are true actors in international politics. Liberals believe
that states are the central players but there are many other actors to consider. The role of actor from
some liberalist views includes individuals and co rporations crossing international borders and binding
together as another entity, the global community. In addition, contemporary times shows us that many
powerful groups such as terrorist cells are real players in international affairs. Realism explains that
power is held and maintained by the states. Even if this proves true , other entities control situations
that change how states interact.
Realists and liberals both agree that the actors of both theories desire power. However, each side
views the method for obtaining and maintaining power dif ferently. The realist claims that power comes
from military dominance by state over state. Therefore, war and the struggle for power becomes the
realist's key dilemma. Liberals open up t he concept of power to include trade, corporate agreements
and individual contracts. Many states obtain great power through trade and would not be able to win a
military war. Corporations maintain more control over international employment and production than
Instruments of international relations fluctuate with time and the circumstances. Historically, force
by military action followed by occupation provided the main source of gain for a n aggressive or
threatened state. States battled one another by strengthening armies and massing weapons. Realists
believe cold war tactics are the best alternative to retain power and security for the state. Liberals see
these tactics as unrealistic. The cost of implementing strong militaries and waging war outweighs the
gain even before addressing the cost of cleanup and repair. States incre a se power and control over
trade by levying tarif fs and taxes. Even while states are wa g ing war against one another, trade
continues among states inside and outside of the conflict.
Is it ethical to sacrifice one life to save one hundred lives or even one thousand? The issues of
morality and ethics impart a new angle towards international relations and the use of force. In war,
many innocent bystanders lose lives and property. Who decides which life or what propert y is
expendable? Nye gives the example of taking one life to save two others . The dilemma is that the
guilty par ty is unknown. Any of the three individuals could be guilty or all could be innocent. This
example demonstrates that so metimes it is necessary to commit one im moral act to prevent a larger
number of the same. Where is the line between just and unjust war? If one choo ses to destroy one life
based on the premise that it will save a mass population, is it possible that the mass population may
lose life anyway?
Differences in realism and liberalism indicate that we can evaluate international relations in
multiple ways. Conservative approaches succeeded historically; however, due to inflation and
technology, realist methods have become less desirable. Liberalism provides better options to reach
goals and considers a wider range of actors. The realist view of international relations carries a narrow
minded and uncompromising approach. Liberals change motives and concepts as states and the
global community transform. Realists change as well but deny the reality of it. We must look at the
entire picture of each international situation before picking the best way to handle it. Conservative
approaches solve many problems but alternatives must be kept available.