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sexta-feira, 30 de janeiro de 2009

How do realism, liberalism, and Marxism differ?

1. How do the three conceptions of the international political economy (Realism, Liberalism, Marxism) differ?
According to Robert Gilpin, realism, liberalism and Marxism “differ on a broad range of questions such as: what is the significance of the market for economic growth and the distribution of wealth among groups and societies? What ought to be the role of markets in the organization of domestic and international society? What is the effect of the market system on issues of war or peace?” (Kaufmann: 419). In order to better understand why these three conceptions differ on such fundamental issues, one must first examine some premises upon which these theories of political economy rest. Once the premises are understood, it is easier to realize why all three conceptions arrive at quite different conclusions. In fact, conclusions follow the accuracy of premises. Since it is often difficult, in social sciences, to proof the accuracy of premises, it is difficult to establish which of the three conceptions best represent the reality of international relations. Accuracy in predictions remains, nevertheless, an important tool for assessing the validity of one social theory and all three conceptions have been put to test several times by scholars.

Regarding Realism, Gilpin notes that “economic nationalism (or as it was originally called, mercantilism), which developed from the practice of statesmen in the early modern period, assumes and advocates the primacy of politics over economics” (Kaufmann: 420). Moreover, “It is essentially a doctrine of state-building and asserts that the market should be subordinate to the pursuit of state interests” (ibid).

Considering liberalism, Gilpin asserts that “liberalism, which emerged from the Enlightenment in the writings of Adam Smith and others, was a reaction to mercantilism and has become embodied in orthodox economics” (ibid). Furthermore, he affirms that liberalism “argues that markets – in the interest of efficiency, growth and consumer choice should be free from political interference” (ibid).

As far as Marxism is concerned, Gilpin stresses that “Marxism, which appeared in the mid-nineteenth century as a reaction against liberalism and classical economics, holds that economics drives politics” (ibid).

2. Realism
First of all it is important to note that realism is also often labeled as mercantilism, statism or protectionism, and includes such variants as the German Historical Scholl. According to Gilpin, in fact, “economic nationalism is based on the realist doctrine of international relations” (Kaufmann: 432). Realism prioritizes national goals and strategies over economic prosperity. It is, in this sense, a geopolitical construct. For realists, survival in a hobesian state of anarchy is the principal objective state policies should pursue. According to Gilpin, realism`s “central idea is that economic activities are and should be subordinate to the goal of state building and the interests of the state” (Kaufmann: 424). Gilpin notes, besides, that all “nationalists ascribe to the primacy of the state, of national security, and of military power in the organization and functioning of the international system” (ibid).

Realists could be said, therefore, to be more concerned about relative gains than about absolute gains. Even though realists may accept liberal assumptions about the ability of markets to deliver overall prosperity, they ponder that the question “who gets what from this prosperity?” is actually the essential question in terms of international relations that should be posed by scholars and strategists. Other than liberals, who tend to view international commerce in a positive light, realists tend to regard it as a rather complex geopolitical game. This has led Gilpin to affirm that “whereas liberals stress the mutual benefits of international commerce, nationalists as well as Marxists regard these relations as basically conflictual” (Kaufmann: 426).

Realists are not as much concerned with overall economic prosperity, but rather with relative prosperity. It is not enough to be well off; states have to be better than their competitors if they want to avoid external threats to their sovereignty. That is why realists regard industrialization as a paramount enterprise, believing it to have “spillover effects (externalities) throughout the economy and (leading) to its overall development” (Kaufmann: 425). Realists argue that industry is the base of military power and a nation should not rely solely on its agriculture, even if economic considerations and comparative advantages might indicate that specializing in agriculture is the best way to achieve efficiency and prosperity.

It is understandable, therefore, that realists believe the role of markets in the organization of domestic and international society should be a rather limited one. The organization of the international society is driven mainly by power politics and raison d’etat. Realpolitik, not markets, shapes the international arena for realists. It follows from this analysis that the effect of the market system on issues of war or peace is not a preponderant one. For realists, in fact, balance of power and hegemony concerns are the main forces influencing issues of war and peace.

3. Liberalism
The basic assumption of liberalism is the notion that free, unhindered markets are the best way to achieve maximum efficiency in a situation of scarce resources. For liberals, a free market is, therefore, the best way to maximize prosperity. Gilpin defines liberalism as a “doctrine and set of principles for organizing and managing a market economy in order to achieve maximum efficiency, economic growth and individual welfare” (Kaufman: 421). It is clear, from this standpoint, that laissez-faire is an important component of liberalism: the notion that markets work best when left alone. Politics should not interfere with markets, or, if they interfere, such interference should be as limited as possible.

Gilpin asserts that “the rationale for a market system is that it increases economic efficiency, maximizes growth, and thereby improves human welfare” (ibid). Ne notes that “the fundamental premise of liberalism is that the individual consumer, firm, or household is the basis of society” (ibid). Gilpin stresses, furthermore, “individuals behave rationally and attempt to maximize or satisfy certain values at the lowest possible cost to themselves” (ibid).

It derives from this view that, for liberals, markets have a truly determinant importance to growth and to the distribution of wealth. In this regard, liberals argue that free markets are the best way to achieve growth and a fair distribution of wealth. According to Gilpin, liberals believe that governments “should not intervene in the market except where a “market failure” exists or in order to provide a so-called public or collective good” (Kaufmann: 422).

The role of the market is a central one, according to this view, for markets are responsible for guiding the whole economic performance. Moreover, liberals hold that markets have a significant impact on issues of war and peace. For liberals, war is not in the interest of free markets, for it creates externalities which impede them to function properly. Gilpin notes that liberals “believe that trade and economic intercourse are a source of peaceful relations among nations because the mutual benefits of trade and expanding interdependence among national economies will tend to foster cooperative relations” (Kaufmann: 423). In this regard, liberalism could be said to offer a coherent theory of international relations, explaining patterns of conflict and cooperation among nations, once its premises are accepted as valid.

4. Marxism
Advocates of Marxism depart from radically different assumptions and thus come to very different conclusions than their liberal or realist counterparts. Marxism’s starting point is the notion of historical and dialectical materialism. According to historical materialism, history evolves as new forces of production emerge, creating contradictions that will in turn overthrow old, outdated modes of production. Marxism can be correctly regarded, in this sense, as a revolutionary theory, for it is mainly concerned with revolution. Dialectical materialism could be defined as a post-Hegelian approach to knowledge that understands social realities as ever evolving organisms. According to Gilpin, the “dialectical approach to knowledge and society (…) defines the nature of reality as dynamic and conflictual” (Kaufmann: 427).

Regarding historical materialism, Gilpin notes that “the development of productive forces and economic activities is central to historical change and operates through the class struggle over distribution of the social product” (Kaufmann: 427). From this it follows that “the capitalist mode of production and its destiny are governed by a set of “economic laws of motion of modern society”” (ibid). These assumptions led Marx to believe in a series of laws of motion of capitalism, the exhaustive discussion of which would not be possible here due to the very nature of this paper. Suffice it to say that Marx believed that capitalism had an intrinsic tendency towards overproduction (the law of disproportionality). According to Marx, this tendency to overproduction would eventually generate acute and recurring systemic crises. Gilpin notes that, for Marx, “these recurring economic crises would become increasingly severe and in time would impel the proletariat to rebel against the system” (ibid). In sum: even though Marx might have accepted the rationality of the individual capitalist (as proposed by Adam Smith), for him capitalism itself was an irrational system, based on exploitation and doomed to succumb to its own malaise of systemic crises.

Due to this irrationality, it would not be conceivable for Marx that markets could deliver distribution of wealth among groups and societies. In fact, Marx was skeptical markets could deliver much more than alienation and exploitation. In his view, only a proletarian revolution that would ultimately abolish the private ownership of the means of production could deliver a humane and satisfactory distribution of wealth. Marx believed, as a consequence, that markets should play no central role in the organization of domestic and international society. Domestic society should be organized in order to abolish private ownership of the means of production, through the organization of the proletariat and socialist revolution, and international society should be a projection of these forces at the international level. Marx proposed, therefore, the creation of an international socialist movement, bent on achieving his ambitious goals and shaping the international society.

The effect of the market system on issues of war or peace is a more complex issue for Marxism due to imperialism, or the belief that capitalism could try to survive its systemic crises and thus overcome the limits imposed by the three laws of motion through overseas colonial exploitation (imperialism). Favored especially by Lenin, this elaboration implies that imperialism was a necessity of chronically ill capitalism and that wars occurred as a consequence of this chronicle illness.

Marxists, influenced by Lenin, believed therefore that imperialism was the main factor behind international conflicts and that a revolution of the proletariat would replace patterns of conflict at the international level with patterns of cooperation, based on proletarian solidarity. This notion has been proved naïve and not accurate during the course of 20th century history. Marxists, nevertheless, still maintain that capitalist exploitation lie at the root of international conflicts. Nevertheless, Gilpin argues that “Marxism correctly places the economic problem – the production and distribution of material wealth – where it belongs, at or near the center of political life” (Kaufmann: 438). The truth is that geopolitical considerations, often based on economic interests, have played a considerable role in patterns of conflict and cooperation during the last century.


5. Bibliography:
Baylis, J. and Smith, S. (2004), The Globalization of World Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
Kaufman, D. J., Parker, J.M., Howel, P.V., Doty, G.R. (1998), Understanding International Relations, The Value of Alternative Lenses (USA: Custom Publishing).
Spero, J. E. and Hart, J. A. (2003), The Politics of International Economic Relations (USA: Thomson Wadsworth).

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