Realism and Liberalism: How relevant are they for explaining or understanding the Globalization of World Politics?

  • M. 'Bimbo Ogunbanjo Adonai University, Cotonou, Republic of Benin.


Most of the history of international relations theory has seen a dispute between Realism and its Liberal rival, with the debate between them being the most long-standing and well-developed. Realism is the dominant theory of International Relations. This is because it provides the most powerful explanation for the state of war which is the regular condition of life in the international system. This is the bold claim made by realists in defence of their tradition, a claim which will be critically scrutinized in this paper. This paper asks whether there is one Realism or a variety of Realisms. The argument presented below suggests that despite important differences, particularly between classical and structural realism, it is possible to identify a shared core set of assumptions and ideas. This paper outlines these common elements, which are identified as self-help, statism, and survival. It stresses that although there are many voices claiming that a new set of actors and forces are collectively challenging the Westphalian sovereign state system, realists are generally sceptical of these claims, arguing that the same basic patterns that have shaped international politics in the past remain just as relevant today. This paper emphasizes that the practice of international relations has not been accommodating to Liberalism. Whereas the domestic political realm in many states has witnessed an impressive degree of progress, with institutions providing for order and justice, the international realm in the era of the modern states-system has been characterized by a precarious order and the absence of justice. This paper examines the core concepts of Liberalism, beginning with the visionary internationalism of the Enlightenment, through to the idealism of the inter-war period, and the institutionalism which became dominant in the second half of the twentieth century. The final section considers Realism and Liberalism in an era of globalization: in particular, it contrasts a status quo reading of the liberal project with a radicalized version which seeks to promote and extend cosmopolitan values and institutions.

Keywords: International Relations, Realism, Liberalism, Globalization, Cold War, Idealism, State System, Theory and World Politics

How to Cite
OGUNBANJO, M. 'Bimbo. Realism and Liberalism: How relevant are they for explaining or understanding the Globalization of World Politics?. KIU Journal of Humanities, [S.l.], v. 5, n. 2, p. 105-125, july 2020. ISSN 2522-2821. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 20 jan. 2022.