The first liberals

Thomas Nast [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Richard Cobden: National Institutions

The first liberals (including English politician R. Cobden[i], the US President W. Wilson and the pacifist N. Angell[ii]), in their main theses, oppose realists as to them the political regime (to be more specific, democracy or non-democracy) is crucial in the analysis of IR. If the countries are democratic, they steadily evolve, aiming at the creation of the over-state system and appearance of special over-governmental institutions. Whilst the other countries democratize, they will be joined in these institutions. That’s why the principle of national egoism and “self-help” may be included in democratization process, which may be the basis of the civil societal world and different societies’ integration, being yet divided by national borders, in one democratic civil society.

The predecessor of liberalism was the English political activist Richard Cobden (1804-1865), the ideologist of the bourgeois transformations and consistent adherent of pacifism. Cobden offered the fundamental theses for liberalism, including the fact that trade between the states are the best preventative measure for military conflicts. Cobden insists that national institutions should be introduced that are able to regulate the relations between the states, limiting their freedom in waging war and urging them, in some cases, to choose peace and cooperation even without their will. Cobden regarded free trade as the most effective means to create peace and counteract wars. The defense of the free trade made Cobden the radical opponent of all forms of “protectionism” and one of the first advocates for globalization, which is a logical consequence of the development of world trade and promotion of peace.

Cobden insisted on close cooperation between the UK, USA and Canada, believing, that intensive economic ties would favour the harmonized development of trade cooperation with all members, and would stop the conflicts and disputes that were inevitable because of the competition between the Mother country and its former colonies in the New World.

Norman Angell: The Great Illusion

Norman Angell (1873-1967) is a classical author who gave liberalism a complete theoretical form. The convinced pacifist and internationalist received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1933.

His main ideas are represented in his book The Great Illusion (1911), which fully disproved imperialism, as well as the idea that conquests, colonization and successful wars are said to favour the economic prosperity of the nation: security, control over natural resources and trade development.

Angell’s theory is based on three main points:

·         Development of industry and free trade on an international scale leading to increasing the State’s interdependence, which makes the prospect of military conflict unprofitable and irrational, thus, it is an efficient method of strengthening peace;

·         The States have to adopt more successful economic and political practices, which are “free trade”, “liberal market” and industrial modernization. One day all the countries will follow this way, making the planet a peace and free trade zone;

·         The government and political activists drop behind the new trends in international relations and continue to use the imperialist and militarist language as well as using nationalist arguments, which don’t favour new liberal conditions (it was what Angell called the Great Illusion).

Angell, based on these principals, offered to concentrate on the third point and create a political and ideological image of international processes in accordance with the objective, in his opinion, process in economic, industrial development and social sphere, which already became irreversible and soon will become more evident and global. That’s why people should deny national States and follow united transnational order, creating the institution of the World Government and other structures of global governing.

The theses, made up by Angell, were widely criticized by the realists (from admiral A. Mahan to E. Carr). Thus, the first wave of the principle debates in IR where Angell played a major role started.

Woodrow Wilson: Global Democracy and its Enemies

The 27th President of the Unites States Woodrow Wilson (1865-1924) was the first American president with a political science degree (PhD). In his political practice, he used strict moral principals, pacifism and consistent liberalism. The fact that he was the head of the great world power, taking an active part in the world processes, gave his opinions and theories special importance for global processes.

Thus, Wilson, facing the drama of the Civil War, forever kept the hate towards war and assurances that no material profits could excuse military conflicts. At the same time, he joined WWI as he was sure that it was the war for liberalism, against German militarism (i. e. Grotius’ Just war).

Woodrow Wilson expressed his word view in his famous Fourteen Points, which represents a consistent and strict program on the US’ direction towards the role of global power, which has a mission to establish a whole world democracy, free trade and peace. Wilson, a follower of classical liberalism, whose symbol became his Fourteen Points, considered the people’s future as a forward move towards peaceful trade and an industrially developed society where the aggressive States would be under the pressure of democratic States, and would gradually start to democratize and to modernize, thus the relations between two liberal powers would be harmonized, peaceful, based on common economic interests and a joint security system. At the same time, out of accord with the US’ traditional isolationism, Wilson offered to the USA to interfere in the world processes, performing as the active democracy, freedom and progress guarantor. Wilson’s strategy became not only the main way of American policy in the XX century, but also the fundamental connection between the IR liberal theory and large-scale world political practice.

Like the Institution of national management, control and field of peaceful democratic negotiations, Wilson offered the creation of the project of the League of Nations, which, according to him, was aimed at becoming the international structure of a new pacifist world. Even though the League of Nations was unable to stop the Second World War, after 1945, the same liberal ideal was repeated at the United Nations.

Alfred Zimmern: World Government

One of the representatives of classical liberalism was English theorist Alfred Zimmern (1879-1957). He was one of the most outstanding internationalist and liberals actively supporting the League of Nations. His book, published in 1936, was on the League of Nations[iii] and remains one of the most important texts in this domain. Zimmern describes the desirable, “ideal” model of peaceful existence of the democratic regimes, united in one progressive system that would gradually lead to the creation of a national managing institution. According to him, the prototype of such a national organ, the “world government”, is the League of Nations.

Realizing the importance of the cultural factor in the process of social integration, Zimmern was one of the initiators in the creation of UNESCO.

Zimmern’s work shows the important British liberal transition from the British Empire to the globalist world order. If the British realists prefer to perform within the Empire and concept of “British national interests”, the liberals gradually turned the discourse into the context of the democratic states’ coexistence, being in the British Empire’s historical influence zone, using it at the theoretical method to prepare the transition from post-colonial order. Thus, Zimmern introduce the notion of the British Commonwealth in his book the Third British Empire[iv] that later became universally recognized. For Zimmern the decolonization process must logically bring peaceful co-existence on the basis of common culture and values (of “international standards of the civilization”), formed after the English model of democracy. The Empire transformed gradually into the zone of the common economic prosperity. Zimmern offered the variants of international systems through the creation of over-state institutions.

In the 1930s, Zimmern actively promoted the League of Nations, but his ideas weren’t successfully implemented and were regarded by his critics as an “unfulfilled prediction”. However, after the Second World War and the UN’s creation, they become relevant again and were taken in consideration by the liberalists.

Zimmern and his optimistic view on the world and democracy’s development were sharply criticized by the realist E. Carr. Him and Zimmern are a classical duet of two IR schools’ antagonists.

[i] Cobden R. Political writings. 2 vol. London: Fisher Unwin 1903

[ii] Angell N. The Great Illusion – a Study of the Relation of Military Power to National Advantage. London: Heinemann. 1910

[iii] Zimmern A. The League of Nations and the rule of Law, 1918-1935, London: MacMillan, 1936.

[iv] Zimmern A. The Third British Empire. New York: Columba University Press, 1928