7 Key Insights into Realism and Liberalism in International Relations

An Introduction to Realism and Liberalism in International Relations

In the sphere of international politics, Realism and Liberalism stand as two pivotal theories that delineate our comprehension of global dynamics. These perspectives present divergent views on state nature, international collaboration, and the function of international organizations.

Deciphering Realism

To fully grasp the differences between Realism and Liberalism, it’s vital to comprehend each theory individually. Realism, fundamentally, proposes that states, driven by their self-interests, are the principal entities in international politics. This school of thought implies that conflicts are unavoidable due to the chaotic nature of the global system.

Principles of Realism

Realism is founded on three central principles: statism, survival, and self-help. Statism pronounces states as the dominant players in international politics. Survival, the second principle, implies that states must prioritize their existence in a chaotic international system. The final principle, self-help, underlines that states can only depend on themselves for security.

Leading Realists

Influential figures within the Realist school include Hans Morgenthau, who posited that political activities are governed by objective laws entrenched in human nature. Another noteworthy realist, Thomas Hobbes, asserted that without a global government, conflict is inevitable as states operate based on self-interest.

Realism and Liberalism in international relations

Exploring Liberalism

Liberalism, contrarily, offers a more hopeful outlook on international relations. Liberals believe that states can collaborate to attain shared objectives, and that international institutions play an essential role in fostering such cooperation.

Fundamentals of Liberalism

Liberalism’s main pillars encompass freedom, equality, and justice. Liberals uphold the inherent right of every individual to freedom and equality, and they view international institutions as a means to ensure justice at a global level.

Distinguished Liberals

Prominent figures in the Liberal school include Immanuel Kant, who championed perpetual peace through democratic governance and international collaboration. Another eminent liberalist, John Locke, advocated for the protection of individual rights and freedoms.

The Realism vs Liberalism Debate

The ongoing discourse between Realism and Liberalism is centered around their opposing views on power distribution, state behavior, and the role of international institutions.

Power Distribution: A Bone of Contention

Realists contend that power is unevenly distributed among states, inciting competition and conflict. Conversely, liberals maintain that power can be equitably distributed through international institutions, thereby fostering peace and cooperation.

State Behavior: Self-Preservation or Collective Cooperation?

While realists perceive states as self-serving entities competing for power, liberals contend that states can act in unison to reap mutual benefits.

The Role of International Institutions

Realists perceive international institutions as ineffective due to the anarchic nature of the international system. On the contrary, liberals argue that these institutions can temper state behavior, encourage cooperation, and uphold global order.


In essence, Realism and Liberalism offer contrasting viewpoints on international relations. While Realism depicts a world riddled with self-interested states in an anarchic environment, Liberalism envisions a world where cooperation, freedom, and justice reign supreme. Despite their disparities, both theories provide invaluable insights into global politics dynamics and continue to inform our understanding of the world. For more key insights into realism in international politics, feel free to delve deeper.

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