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IR Working Paper 2002/7 (PDF, 2.65MB)
James L. Richardson, ‘Critical Liberalism in International Relations’, IR Working Paper 2002/7, Canberra: Department of International Relations, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University, September 2002.
A number of recent developments have prompted a revival of interest in liberal theories of international relations, among them the spread of democratic institutions, economic liberalisation and the increasing significance of international institutions in many aspects of life. This paper argues that liberal international relations theory, overimpressed by developments such as these, risks becoming an apologia for a narrow version of liberalism currently promoted by Western governments. The challenge of rethinking the meaning of liberalism in a ‘globalising’ world characterised by extreme economic inequality, social upheavals and the reassertion of cultural differences—and the questions whether and how liberal values can at all be realised in such a world—have been left to political theorists, whose struggles with these issues attract little interest in an international relations discipline still largely committed to the idea of a purely empirical social science. The paper suggests that a different, ‘critical’ conception of liberalism offers a way of relating pressing liberal normative concerns to empirical research, instead of seeking to keep the two entirely separate. It presents a critique of current liberal international relations theory and outlines an alternative approach.