Liberal Cosmopolitanism in Contrast to Other Theories of World Politics

Liberal Cosmopolitanism in Contrast to Other Theories of World Politics

In order to comprehensively answer the question of which of the theoretical approaches is the most convincing one has to take into account a range of different factors. The key focus of this argument will rest with a Liberal Cosmopolitan approach to great power or, in the specific framing of the argument, more accurately world politics. The answer will constitute of a Liberal Cosmopolitan answer to the other main theories covered in the field of world politics, primarily the classic Neo-Realist perspective, the Neo-Realist Hegemonic-Stability-Theory (HST) Gramscian Neo-Marxist analysis and Non-Eurocentric critiques of the study. Furthermore it will touch upon more ideational approaches to the field as well, primarily Constructivist accounts. In order to contrast the Liberal Cosmopolitan theory with this wide arrange of theories, this argument will consider a number of relevant issues, including the divide between materialist and ideational approaches, the structural importance of states or classes as ordering principles and the core normative value of the theories itself.

The core of the argument will be pointing out the strengths of the Liberal Cosmopolitan approach in terms of analysis of the situation and perhaps more importantly offering a normative perspective towards international politics in contrast to the other theories mentioned above. In order to achieve this with an acceptable degree of clarity this essay will first aim to line out some underlying epistemological and conceptual assumptions necessary for its comprehension. These mainly consist of the notion that pure ontological observations are not sufficient for any comprehensive political theory, as those would be aching to taking ‘an is for an ought’ and thereby falling for Hume’s Guillotine. Therefore a convincing political theory needs to add additional normative value to pure observation of the world. It will furthermore be judged on the content of that value, as an important factor for the quality of the theory as a whole.

The second underlying assumption concerns the state of world affairs, building the underlying ontological perspective of this argument, without which the answer would seem ambiguous at best. The first observation concerns the nature of structure, agency and change in the world, principally building the foundation for the view of globalization that will lead the direction of major parts of the argument. The ontological assumption here is that the the world is fundamentally shaped through agential input and constantly changing, whilst meta-structures only form restraining impulses on these changes, but are not self-perpetuating and immovable.

Whilst it is recognized that there is a great debate on the nature of globalization itself, the author assumes the position that globalization is not a recent phenomenon, but that through the increase of four key variables as defined by David Held, namely velocity, intensity, extensity have achieved a qualitative unequalled level (Held, McGrew, Goldblatt, Perraton, 1999, p. 433) which in a large way frames the shape of the current political order and because of it’s dynamic development gives us a unique opportunity to reshape the international structure in a normative better way.

The concept of Liberal Cosmopolitanism
Liberal Cosmopolitanism, the theoretical framework deemed most convincing in the context of world politics in this essay, has first entered political discourse in the form kosmopolites the Greek word of citizen of the world. This immediately puts the theory of cosmopolitanism in a distinct western-centric background, since a citizen has per definition a high degree of political autonomy and therefore the political system requires some form of democracy to provide the necessary conditions for the concept to hold any meaning. This will be an important factor in judging the validity under non-Eurocentric critique of the theory later.

However as pointed out by David Miller, the idea of the concept of citizenship being stretched to encompass all people of the world requires additional justification (MIller, 2007). This problem of the expansion of citizenship is however not a fundamental flaw to the theory, much in the same way that a national citizenship is not impossible. National citizenship rests largely on the assumption that adherence to an overarching authority provides a set of rules and regulations, giving the citizen both rights and responsibilities, as well as providing a framework for conduct among them, whilst holding the legitimate authority and power to enforce these. Overtly this poses a direct problem for the theory of cosmopolitanism, since this form of governance seizes to exist on a global level.

Taking this into account even without any direct form of a world government, there can still be established forms of governance, in forms state federations and supra-national institutions. A particularly strong version of cosmopolitan ideas has been put forward by Kant, which will form the foundation of the form of Liberal Cosmopolitanism put forward in this argument. As put by Garret Brown, Kant’s idea “is that a federation between states should be established in which the members acknowledge principles of universal law. These principles were to be connected into universal law not by an external authority, like a world government, but through the republican make up of each state and the contractual agreement for public right ratified by any cooperating member”. For Kant the authority for the cosmopolitan world order lies in the innate rationality of all people to oppose unequal treatment and the desire for perpetual peace (Brown, 2005, p. 496).

The studies normative claims can still be traced back to a high degree to the Kantian reasoning on these points, but different solutions have been forward in the meantime to facilitate such a world order, especially under the context of increased global integration in the past centuries. In this context the more recent definition of the argument by David Held might therefore be a more workable definition and the one this essay will take up on. As he defined it the idea of cosmopolitanism is “concerned to disclose the cultural, ethical and legal basis of political order in a world where political communities and states matter, but not only and not exclusively”. In his particular argument the nature of globalization plays a key role in the advocacy of cosmopolitanism and the espousal of an optimistic view of Western agency in the world (Held, 2003, p. 469).

So the idea espoused in this essay is fulfilling both the normative as well as the ontological charges put forward in the introduction, by offering a coherent picture of the world in light of intensive globalisation and the definitive moral goal of making it the best world possible. This takes this approach further than the classical liberal approach, with a too strong view on the decline of the state and no similar level of normative progress to offer. However classical liberal ideas such as the growth of the wealth of nations under a liberal capitalist system have to be mentioned as underlying assumptions to this approach.

Answers to the Non-Eurocentric Critique
One of the recent most intriguing streams of thought in the field of world politics has been the notion of the Eurocentric bias in virtually almost all contemporary IR theory and the attempt of a Non-Eurocentric version of world politics. This argument will primarily focus on the work of John Hobson in this area. The main point of his critique is that IR theory is largely constructed on a false picture of world history, that focuses almost solely on European historical phenomena to explain world politics and by falling for this trap produces therefore a similarly skewed picture of contemporary world politics.
Hobson begins by analysing the post-colonial position of Edward Said’s book Orientalism which describes the deliberate creation of a Occidental/Western identity by contrasting it to a Oriental/Eastern one. This creation replaced the former construct of Christendom which had been the key for identity building prior the 18th century. Additional to this contrast different sets of opposing characteristics were then linked to the two categories, such as rationality and democracy on the West and barbarism and oriental despotism on the East (Said, 1991). From this realisation Hobson then moves away from Said’s literature analysis and applies the same lens to International Relations theory, much in the manner of contemporary post-colonial IR scholars such as Rita Abrahansen (Abrahansen, 2007). Furthermore he develops a more differentiated history of the process of creating the meta-narrative.
The most relevant party of his work for this essay are however his further development in critique of Eurocentric biases in the major IR theories and his attempt to create a Non-Eurocentric historicism leading to a Non-Eurocentric theory of world politics, primarily concerned with the global distribution of agency and power between the East and the West and removing the perception that the East is merely a passive recipient of Western agency. His historicism is therefore split into two (possibly three) halves of changing dominion in the world, which begins with the East being institutionally, economically, culturally and militarily superior to the West, albeit a strong focus upon the economic development. Then the East lifted the West unintentionally to a relative position of power, due to the fact that the West was fundamentally a late developer enabling it to profit from the prior advances of the East, whilst the East had reached a point of relative (not absolute) stagnation in comparison to the West. With this relative gain and some additional input which can be deemed as pure Western creations, such as the effective use of the steam engine and the ideas of democratic accountability preventing to a higher degree the corruption of states of law, the West moved ahead of the East in the categories mentioned above. A period of Western influence on the world began, which is still going on, albeit slowing down. This then marks the possible third turn in which the East now essentially leaps ahead in much the same way as the West had done before, this last point resting on relatively less evidence (Hobson, 2012).
One internal problem of this theory is its definition of progress, which could even be deemed to be framed in terms of Western ideas on economic power relations as they appear frequently in Realist writings. The next problem is its critique of Western influence and Eastern resistance being inadequately applied to the stage of the Western development under Eastern hegemony. Therefore it just shifts the Centrism in one aspect from Eurocentric to Eastern-centric, whilst keeping at least a few Eurocentrist ideas right at the heart of the theory. This aside it also fails to provide a normative view of how politics ought to be and rests largely on ontological observations.

Nevertheless it still offers a viable critique to the position this essay holds. Essentially a great deal of Cosmopolitan thinking is extremely Eurocentric, due to the concepts of democracy and citizenship required in its application, which are possibly the only exclusively Western ideas in political theory. However a careful application of the critique actually reveals how Non-Eurocentric ideas can be fundamentally supportive of Liberal Cosmopolitanism. If progress, be it defined in Western terms or be it universal, can be handed over and spread globally, as happened through the Eastern input to Western development, then the West can not only contribute to progress, but also gains a normative obligation to do so. Just as the ideas and technology of the East brought us modernity, then through cultural dialogue we will be able to reach even higher states of development.

A point of critique to be brought up here might be the notion that without a justification of Western dominance in ideas and technology, such a view would be not much more than arrogance derived from a warped self image. Countering this argument on the grounds of technology, economic development, relative soft- and hard-power is hardly worth the time, considering as Held put it, referring to the differences in medical development, “such overwhelming disparities in life chances are not just found in the area of health, but are reproduced across almost every single indicator of global development” (Held, 2003, p. 468). This only leaves the field of ideas as possible ground of dispute, but in terms of standards of living, economic development and especially human security, meaning the removal of all potential security threats in its widest definition, no system has been proven to work better than a liberal, democratic state of law, one of the fundamental ideas to be spread by Liberal Cosmopolitanism, not to mention its eventual claim of creating perpetual peace. That this vision could be achieved and might already be under way can also be seen by the adaptation of the Westphalian idea of the sovereign state as the already existing ordering principle of the intra-national level.

Constructivist additions to Liberal Cosmopolitanism
The field of ideas and concepts as an ordering principle is the prime focus of research of Contructivist IR scholars such as Emanuel Adler. The theory essentially adds a third element to the understanding of the world, which is placed between the subjective individual and the material world in which they exist and with which they interact. The core idea is that the form of interaction taking place is fundamentally shaped by the interpretation of the material and therefore a different interpretation will result in a different interaction, thereby altering the change of the material realm itself. It is therefore on the front of the academic discourse between the ideational and the material level and stresses the importance of the ideational to a high degree, albeit varying depending on the specific strand of the theory employed . The prime interests of constructivists lies with the formation process of different interpretations, which they claim is in the third real of inter-subjectivity. Inter-subjectivity refers to the interactions of agents and how their exchange of ideas creates varying interpretations of the material, which then feed back into the material through their consequent actions. Therefore the higher the degree of agency, the more does the ideational approach of that agent shape the world in the image of that specific idea (Adler, 2002).

As discussed above in terms of material distribution and human security, Liberal Cosmopolitanism can profit from this theory immensely and gain insights into its implementation, due to the increased agency given to ideas. Essentially it holds that no view of the world is static and confirms the possibility to shift structures and develop not only in terms of material wealth, but also through institutions and ideas. Constructivism is therefore a useful and insightful addition to the theory of Liberal Cosmopolitanism.

Neo-Realism and Hegemonic Stability Theory (HST) in question
Leading on from the idealist vision espoused in the last paragraph comes the critique of Realism to any idealistic and normative theories of world politics. In the Realist and later Neo-Realist sense normative judgements should be suspended from political though and a form of political science emerge. Considering its far higher contemporary relevance the argument will focus on Waltzian Neo-Realism primarily and also take into account the ideas of HST due to their relevance in terms of great power politics.

The Neo-Realist theory proposed by Kenneth Waltz is a structural analysis of global politics, in which the structure itself does not change and states carry the only form of agency. The structure of the system is anarchic, creating permanent security dilemmas for all states and therefore perpetuating a climate of mistrust. As the structure of the world is static from its beginning with the Westphalian Peace treaty and its creation of the concept of the sovereign state in its currently defined form it leaves no room for any future or past structural shifts. Only balances of power will enable temporary peace until one state feels the strong enough to gain relative advantages over others. This will lead to temporary alliances of weaker states in order to counter the threat, but they will break down as soon as the relative differences in the alliance will create a similar threat to the primary one. This theory is grounded primarily in the idea of the world being ordered by states, not individuals and taking a zero-sum attitude to growth/progress. Absolute gains become largely irrelevant as only relative strength can provide security (Waltz, 1983).

Not only does this not live up to a Non-Eurocentric historical analysis, it also fails to account for the increasing level of globalization mentioned in the introduction. Furthermore it fails to account for the general trend of human progress, as the destruction of progress of any kind would be a frequent measure used in facilitating relative strength. It also fails to provide a superior normative element to the ideas of Liberal Cosmopolitanism, as its only normative good solution is the balance of power in a system of distrust. However taking into account the ideational level it even has negative normative effects due to its creation of structures of mutual mistrust and artificial enmity between individuals of different states.

A far stronger normative theory is developed at the end of Waltz’s work, but taken most comprehensively up by Robert Gilpin. It is the idea that a liberal political order is indeed possible, but only through the temporary abolishing of the anarchic order through the rise of a hegemon. Albeit being contradictory to the core ideas of Waltz this theory still builds on a Neo-Realist perspective of the world, but tries to accommodate the recent trends of global integration into the framework. The idea is that a liberal, western hegemon rises through its own means to power and then benevolently creates a world economic system at its own costs and for the benefit of all other states. Initially benefiting from this system through global economic progress and the following increase in commerce, it will eventually have to fall into a phase of decline due to a “free rider” problem, meaning all other states benefit from global public goods whilst the hegemon is the only one paying the cost, thereby having a constant relative loss (Gilpin, 1987).

However as Hobson points out this is a internally flawed theory. Not only does it not account for the rise of the hegemon appropriately and is one of the most fundamental Eurocentric theories due to its insistence of liberal states being the only possible hegemonic states, but coming from Neo-Realist logic, it simply has no explanation as to why the hegemon should self-sacrifice itself contrary to its self interest. It grands all states realist rationale apart from the most important one (Hobson, 2012).

Liberal Cosmopolitanism or Gramscian Neo-Marxism
This leaves one fundamental last theory to be contrasted with the ideas of Liberal Cosmopolitanism: Gramscian Neo-Marxism. This theory is primarily concerned with hegemony in the international field as well, but has a very different definition of what constitutes hegemony in world politics. It is however too a very state centric theory, but does not see the state as a detached actor as Neo-Realists do, but as a form of class expression. These class expressions are what constitute to a large degree the Gramscian Neo-Marxist notions of hegemony. In IR this comes down to a special form of the false consciousness in which hegemony is the facilitation of a structure through hegemonic means which will discourage reactions against the system due to a general acceptance of mutual benefit. Furthermore hegemony will lead to a gradually thinning process of emulation from the core to the periphery. This means that the nations having the strongest hegemonic structures and highest level of development will be copied by countries that are on the edge. However the fundamental structure of the world is one in which the core is always at a position of relative advantage and the emulation will be gradually become less successful the further the difference in power. This then leads to a structural exploitation of the resources of the periphery by the core, further entrenching this inequality in the world. As suggested by Gramsci in the case of national politics this system can only be overturned by the breaking of the ideational trap keeping world order seemingly good (Cox, 1981).

The core defence of the Liberal Cosmopolitan approach would be to deny the exploitative structure of the world system and point to the general and rapid rate of development for states with strong “states of law” and high degrees of economic growth, as well as suggesting that this approach actually offers very little in terms of solutions to the problem or possible replacements. To a certain degree the theories overlap as well, namely in the from of emulation, with the difference of the endorsement of this process by Liberal Cosmopolitanism. It also fails to take into account any form of Eastern agency, as the Core can generally be replaced by the West and the Periphery with the East. It furthermore does not have any concept of inter-cultural progress in the same way Liberal Cosmopolitanism with Non-Eurocentric consideration can have (Hobson, 2012). In general though Gramscian Neo-Marxism can be seen as the most conducive secondary theory to the set of ontological outlines of this essay and only falls short on the more normative ideas which provide to little in terms of problem solving and progressiveness.

Through the comparison and critique of the major theories with Liberal Cosmopolitanism, albeit under a set of preconditions, this argument justified the theory largely on a normative basis of it being superior to the others in making this world a better place. Most materialist accounts fall short on the grounds of missing normative value and largely static conceptions of the structure of the world, which is changing. The ideational approaches on the other hand are applicable to the theory with great ease, due to its innate normative value and therefore pose no critique but a welcomed addition to it. However taken the ontological preconditions outlined in the introduction as correct, it also offers the most comprehensive analysis of contemporary politics, if it is used in combination to the Non-Eurocentric critique and its theory of inter-cultural progress.