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segunda-feira, 5 de janeiro de 2009

Realism, liberalism, and Marxism are not mutually exclusive

Realism, liberalism, and Marxism are not mutually exclusive approaches to understanding international relations. Although all three paradigms have quite diverse assumptions and focus on quite diverse aspects of reality, they provide powerful tools for understanding the international system.

Regarding their diversity, Kaufman & Parker note, in an interesting study, that “Despite continuing evolution, each ideology has maintained an unique set of core assumptions about the manner in which politics and economics interact at the level of the individual, society and the international system” (Kaufman: 412).

Another scholar (Gilpin) adds that these “three ideologies are fundamentally different in their conceptions of the relationship among society, state and market” (Gilpin: 419) and suggests that, “eclecticism may not be the route to theoretical precision, but sometimes is the only route available” (ibid.)

Whereas liberalism argues that markets should be free from state interference so as to function properly and thus maximize efficiency and wealth, realism and Marxism both support state intervention, albeit with diverse purposes.

Mercantilism (or realism) supports state intervention on the grounds that power matters, sometimes even more than economic considerations. Therefore, realists argue that it is sometimes more relevant for a state to secure some aspects of the maintenance of power than to achieve perfect economic efficiency.

Marxism supports state intervention (socialism) with a view to achieving the complete elimination of exploiting labor with capital and thus eliminating class society. In an apparent paradox, Marxism supports state intervention (socialism) to promote the disappearance of the state altogether (communism).

However, the reality of the Soviet Bloc during the cold war has shown that Marxist predictions that the state would disappear proved inaccurate and led instead to a protuberance of state functions which ultimately all but eliminated efficiency and led to economic collapse. In order to eliminate the state, Soviet bureaucracy implemented a super-leviathan that suffocated private initiatives and the role of the individual in creating welfare.

The main objective of liberalism is, on the other hand, to “organize and manage an economy so as to achieve maximum efficiency, economic growth and individual welfare” (Gilpin: 421). Marxism is more concerned with the distribution of wealth and the end of capitalist exploitation of the working proletariat. As Marx famously put it in his book The German Ideology, “philosophers have limited themselves to interpreting the world, whereas the real task should be to transform it”.

Marxism and realism are not primarily concerned with maximizing economic efficiency, but rather with achieving other goals such as social upheaval that leads to complete freedom, for Marxism, and state power for realism.

For Gilpin, “the fundamental premise of liberalism is that the individual consumer, firm, or household is the basis of society” (Gilpin: 421). The state should not intervene in the market, unless a market failure exists or in order to promote the so-called public good. For liberals, therefore, the law of demand is the most efficient way to regulate the marketplace. According to this law, supply and demand will efficiently allocate scarce resources in the economy via prices. If demand rises, so will prices, ceteris paribus. Accordingly, if demand falls, so will prices. The market will drive supply and demand to a point of equilibrium, where prices consumers are willing to pay match the prices producers want to receive. This equilibrium optimizes welfare and efficiency, according to liberal economics.

Nationalists, on the other hand are not primarily concerned with economic efficiency but rather with wealth and national power. To the dimension of national wealth, nationalists add the dimension of national power. According to Gilpin, “its central idea is that economic activities are and should be subordinate to the goal of state building and the interests of the state” (Gilpin: 424). Since they believe industrialization has important spillover effects, nationalists are concerned with achieving this goal, even though it might not maximize economic gains at all times due to differences in comparative advantages. Industry is also the basis of military power and, therefore, an integral component of a state overall security strategy.

Since realism, liberalism, and Marxism do not share identical assumptions and are concerned with different aspects of the same complex social realities, they are not mutually exclusive at all. In fact, they do provide important insights to different aspects of international political economy. As such they constitute useful analysis tools, which should be used without fear by sound scholars and analysts of international relations.

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., The Politics of International Economic Relations. 6th ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2003.

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