Monday, February 11, 2019

Mearsheimer - Liberal Hegemony (1)

I recently listened to a talk given by John Mearsheimer at the London School of Economics about his book called Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities. His views are also summarised in an article called Rise and Fall of the Liberal International Order. Since I studied International Relations at University, I have enjoyed discussion on this topic.

John Mearsheimer has some really good insights that explain what has been happening in the world over the last few decades. He says that the United States and its allies have pursued a grand strategy of Liberal Hegemony, building a world order based on liberal principles. He explains that Liberalism is based on two underlying assumptions.

  1. Humans are individuals who form social contracts (not social animals). Liberalism prioritises individualism.

  2. Humans cannot reach agreement on foundational issues of life by rational discussion, so there will always be conflict. Differences will be so profound that people will fight over them.

(Mearsheimer actually defines two types of liberalism, progressive liberalism and a more classical form. These differ significantly at the domestic level, but in international relations, they adopt the same policies).

A liberal solution to the potential for violence has three parts.

  1. Human Rights - Every individual has a set of rights that enable them to live the life they choose, regardless of the differences.

  2. Tolerance - Provided people don’t interfere with others, they can live how they choose.

  3. Night-watchman state - This is needed to make sure that people do not harm each other. A small state is prioritised. Liberals fear a strong state, because it will impinge on human rights.

There is a universalistic aspect to liberalism. Every person has rights, regardless of where they live, and it is important to protect them. This is what gets liberal hegemony going.

Mearsheimer says that Liberal Hegemony was made possible by the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. This created a unipolar world, dominated by the United States, which used the opportunity to advance change the world. The American foreign policy establishment embraced a policy of Liberal Hegemony with optimism and enthusiasm.

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