Is Liberalism in Retreat?

Liberalism ideologies have been accepted and implemented in many states especially after World War 2 because it often leads to free trade, unity in diversity, protection of individual rights and a peaceful world. However, there is a argument that liberalism is in retreat, considering the recent occurrences such as the election of Trump or Brexit. Despite of this criticism towards liberalism’s effectiveness in the world today, I do not think that liberalism is in retreat.

Liberalism is a theory opposite to realism, and emphasises the interdependence between states and realises the significance of intergovernmental organization such as the United Nations or the EU. They essentially seek for the harmony and balance amongst competing interests. On the contrary, realism believe that people are always seeking for power, and that states should be able to protect themselves using military power. They do not believe in the effectiveness of interdependence between states, unless it serves to their national interest. Furthermore in structural realism, it insists that the international system is a power politics, and that it is an anarchy system.

We can see liberalism in action, and suggest that it is still the leading political ideology today. For instance, regards to the North Korean nuclear missile issue, many states seek for solutions through the UN and are negotiating verbally. If liberalism was in retreat and realism was more broadly accepted, the concerning states such as South Korea, Japan and the US would use its military forces ad threaten North Korea to put this issue to an end. However, this can potentially initiate war or other violent conflicts. Therefore, the example of North Korean missile issue represents the fact that majority of the states recognises liberalism approach as a legitimate approach, and that it is not in retreat.

The counterargument claims that liberalism is in retreat since some states do not believe it to be an effective approach, because when a political issue was raised, liberal approach was implemented, yet the world’s economy is still fragile and political conflicts can still be seen often. Hence, the lack of impact of liberalistic ideologies insists the retreat of liberalism. Moreover, more states have been pursuing for more sovereignty and this resulted as a realism ideological events. For example, since the Trump’s election, the United States has exited or attempting to exit various liberalistic multinational platforms such as, NATO, UNESCO or the Paris Treaty. In addition, the lack of liberal ideologies in the Middle East demonstrates that it is not implemented worldwide.

Liberalism spread from the West, and the United States used to broaden its influence to other parts of the world, using their economic and military powers. But, their new president has some conservative thoughts on other ethnicities, and has a “America first” policy. Furthermore, their economic hegemony is threatened by China’s rise of economic power. Thus, liberalism can potentially weaken its recognition. If this happens, and many starts accepting realism approaches, it will be a great concern for the global community. Every state will have to use their military power to pursue for more power, as well as protect themselves. Many violent conflicts which includes armed forces can be expected and there will be much less help and support to the less developed states, since they less likely serve to the state’s interest. Hence, every states will have to have a “self-help” system and invest in the military forces because they cannot trust any other states.

But overall, I do not think liberalism is in retreat because majority of the states realises the significance of interdependence as well as the great power held by the UN. In order for a state to be recognised, they have to be recognised by the UN. Likewise, we see states supplying aids and resources to conflict areas, and discussing the issue of racial equality and justice even though they might not necessarily serve to their own interest. In addition, the definition of legitimacy is established in the globalised community, and many recognises it as a democratic society with a free market, and their individual rights and equality being protected.

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One Reply to “Is Liberalism in Retreat?”

  1. This is a really thoughtful and well constructed blog post. You have thought deeply about the question and have been able to demonstrate your understanding of the major 2 political theories.
    Ms Wilson

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