Idealism (international relations)
Overview
 
In the American study of international relations, idealism usually refers to the school of thought personified in American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 diplomatic
Diplomacy
Diplomacy is the art and practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of groups or states...

 history by Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the United States, from 1913 to 1921. A leader of the Progressive Movement, he served as President of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910, and then as the Governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913...

, such that it is sometimes referred to as Wilsonianism, or Wilsonian Idealism. Idealism holds that a state should make its internal political philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 the goal of its foreign policy. For example, an idealist might believe that ending poverty at home should be coupled with tackling poverty abroad.
Encyclopedia
In the American study of international relations, idealism usually refers to the school of thought personified in American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 diplomatic
Diplomacy
Diplomacy is the art and practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of groups or states...

 history by Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the United States, from 1913 to 1921. A leader of the Progressive Movement, he served as President of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910, and then as the Governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913...

, such that it is sometimes referred to as Wilsonianism, or Wilsonian Idealism. Idealism holds that a state should make its internal political philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 the goal of its foreign policy. For example, an idealist might believe that ending poverty at home should be coupled with tackling poverty abroad. Wilson's idealism was a precursor to liberal international relations theory
Liberal international relations theory
Unlike realism where the state is seen as a unitary actor, liberalism allows for plurality in state actors. Thus, preferences will vary from state to state, depending on factors such as culture, economic system or government type...

, which would arise amongst the "institution-builders" after World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. It particularly emphasized the ideal of American exceptionalism
American exceptionalism
American exceptionalism refers to the theory that the United States is qualitatively different from other countries. In this view, America's exceptionalism stems from its emergence from a revolution, becoming "the first new nation," and developing a uniquely American ideology, based on liberty,...

.

More generally, the Anglo-Australian scholar of international relations Hedley Bull
Hedley Bull
Hedley Bull, FBA was Professor of International Relations at the Australian National University, the London School of Economics and the University of Oxford until his death from cancer in 1985...

 wrote:
Since the 1980s, there has been growing study of the major writers of this idealist tradition of thought in international relations, including Sir Alfred Zimmern, Norman Angell
Norman Angell
Sir Ralph Norman Angell was an English lecturer, journalist, author, and Member of Parliament for the Labour Party.Angell was one of the principal founders of the Union of Democratic Control...

, John Maynard Keynes
John Maynard Keynes
John Maynard Keynes, Baron Keynes of Tilton, CB FBA , was a British economist whose ideas have profoundly affected the theory and practice of modern macroeconomics, as well as the economic policies of governments...

, John A. Hobson
John A. Hobson
John Atkinson Hobson , commonly known as John A. Hobson or J. A. Hobson, was an English economist and critic of imperialism, widely popular as a lecturer and writer.-Life:...

, Leonard Woolf
Leonard Woolf
Leonard Sidney Woolf was an English political theorist, author, publisher and civil servant, and husband of author Virginia Woolf.-Early life:...

, Gilbert Murray
Gilbert Murray
George Gilbert Aimé Murray, OM was an Australian born British classical scholar and public intellectual, with connections in many spheres. He was an outstanding scholar of the language and culture of Ancient Greece, perhaps the leading authority in the first half of the twentieth century...

, Florence Stawell
Florence Stawell
Florence Melian Stawell was a classical scholar.Florence Melian Stawell, youngest daughter of Sir William Foster Stawell, was born at Melbourne on 2 May 1869...

 (known as Melian Stawell), Philip Henry Kerr, 11th Marquess of Lothian, Arnold J. Toynbee
Arnold J. Toynbee
Arnold Joseph Toynbee CH was a British historian whose twelve-volume analysis of the rise and fall of civilizations, A Study of History, 1934–1961, was a synthesis of world history, a metahistory based on universal rhythms of rise, flowering and decline, which examined history from a global...

, Lester Pearson and David Davies
David Davies, 1st Baron Davies
David Davies, 1st Baron Davies , was a politician and public benefactor, the grandson of the famous industrialist, David Davies "Llandinam"....

.

Much of this writing has contrasted these idealist writers with 'realists' in the tradition of E.H. Carr, whose The Twenty Years' Crisis (1939) both coined the term 'idealist' and was a fierce and effective assault on the inter-war idealists.

Idealism is also marked by the prominent role played by international law
International law
Public international law concerns the structure and conduct of sovereign states; analogous entities, such as the Holy See; and intergovernmental organizations. To a lesser degree, international law also may affect multinational corporations and individuals, an impact increasingly evolving beyond...

 and international organizations in its conception of policy formation. One of the most well-known tenets of modern idealist thinking is democratic peace theory
Democratic peace theory
Democratic peace theory is the theory that democracies don't go to war with each other. How well the theory matches reality depends a great deal on one's definition of "democracy" and "war"...

, which holds that states with similar modes of democratic governance do not fight one another. Wilson's idealistic thought was embodied in his Fourteen points
Fourteen Points
The Fourteen Points was a speech given by United States President Woodrow Wilson to a joint session of Congress on January 8, 1918. The address was intended to assure the country that the Great War was being fought for a moral cause and for postwar peace in Europe...

 speech, and in the creation of the League of Nations
League of Nations
The League of Nations was an intergovernmental organization founded as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War. It was the first permanent international organization whose principal mission was to maintain world peace...

.

Idealism transcends the left
Left-wing politics
In politics, Left, left-wing and leftist generally refer to support for social change to create a more egalitarian society...

-right
Right-wing politics
In politics, Right, right-wing and rightist generally refer to support for a hierarchical society justified on the basis of an appeal to natural law or tradition. To varying degrees, the Right rejects the egalitarian objectives of left-wing politics, claiming that the imposition of equality is...

 political spectrum. Idealists can include both human rights
Human rights
Human rights are "commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being." Human rights are thus conceived as universal and egalitarian . These rights may exist as natural rights or as legal rights, in both national...

 campaigners (traditionally, but not always, associated with the left) and American neoconservatism which is usually associated with the right.

Idealism may find itself in opposition to Realism
Realism (international relations)
In the study of international relations, Realism or political realism prioritizes national interest and security over ideology, moral concerns and social reconstructions...

, a worldview which argues that a nation's national interest
National interest
The national interest, often referred to by the French expression raison d'État , is a country's goals and ambitions whether economic, military, or cultural. The concept is an important one in international relations where pursuit of the national interest is the foundation of the realist...

 is more important than ethical
Ethics
Ethics, also known as moral philosophy, is a branch of philosophy that addresses questions about morality—that is, concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime, etc.Major branches of ethics include:...

 or moral
Morality
Morality is the differentiation among intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are good and bad . A moral code is a system of morality and a moral is any one practice or teaching within a moral code...

 considerations; however, there need be no conflict between the two (see Neoconservatism
Neoconservatism
Neoconservatism in the United States is a branch of American conservatism. Since 2001, neoconservatism has been associated with democracy promotion, that is with assisting movements for democracy, in some cases by economic sanctions or military action....

 for an example of a confluence of the two). Realist thinkers include Hans Morgenthau
Hans Morgenthau
Hans Joachim Morgenthau was one of the leading twentieth-century figures in the study of international politics...

, Niccolò Machiavelli
Niccolò Machiavelli
Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was an Italian historian, philosopher, humanist, and writer based in Florence during the Renaissance. He is one of the main founders of modern political science. He was a diplomat, political philosopher, playwright, and a civil servant of the Florentine Republic...

, Otto von Bismarck
Otto von Bismarck
Otto Eduard Leopold, Prince of Bismarck, Duke of Lauenburg , simply known as Otto von Bismarck, was a Prussian-German statesman whose actions unified Germany, made it a major player in world affairs, and created a balance of power that kept Europe at peace after 1871.As Minister President of...

, George F. Kennan
George F. Kennan
George Frost Kennan was an American adviser, diplomat, political scientist and historian, best known as "the father of containment" and as a key figure in the emergence of the Cold War...

 and others. Recent practitioners of Idealism in the United States have included Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan
Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States , the 33rd Governor of California and, prior to that, a radio, film and television actor....

 and George W. Bush
George W. Bush
George Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 43rd President of the United States, from 2001 to 2009. Before that, he was the 46th Governor of Texas, having served from 1995 to 2000....

.

Wilsonian idealism

Link finds that Wilson from his earliest days had imbibed the beliefs of his denomination - in the omnipotence of God, the morality of the Universe, a system of rewards and punishments and the notion that nations, as well as man, transgressed the laws of God at their peril. Blum (1956) argues that he learned from William Ewart Gladstone
William Ewart Gladstone
William Ewart Gladstone FRS FSS was a British Liberal statesman. In a career lasting over sixty years, he served as Prime Minister four separate times , more than any other person. Gladstone was also Britain's oldest Prime Minister, 84 years old when he resigned for the last time...

 a mystic conviction in the superiority of Anglo-Saxons, in their righteous duty to make the world over in their image. Moral principle, constitutionalism, and faith in God were among the prerequisites for alleviating human strife. While he interpreted international law within such a brittle, moral cast, Wilson remained remarkably insensitive to new and changing social forces and conditions of the 20th century. He expected too much justice in a morally brutal world which disregarded the self-righteous resolutions of parliaments and statesmen like himself. Wilson's triumph was as a teacher of international morality to generations yet unborn. Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Daniel Patrick "Pat" Moynihan was an American politician and sociologist. A member of the Democratic Party, he was first elected to the United States Senate for New York in 1976, and was re-elected three times . He declined to run for re-election in 2000...

 sees Wilson's vision of world order anticipated humanity prevailing through the "Holy Ghost of Reason," a vision which rested on religious faith.

Wilson's diplomatic policies had a profound influence on shaping the world. Diplomatic historian Walter Russell Mead
Walter Russell Mead
Walter Russell Mead is James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College and Editor-at-Large of The American Interest magazine, and is recognized as one of the country's leading students of American foreign policy . Until 2010, Mead was the Henry A. Kissinger Senior...

 has explained:
Wilson's principles survived the eclipse of the Versailles system and they still guide European politics today: self-determination, democratic government, collective security, international law, and a league of nations. Wilson may not have gotten everything he wanted at Versailles
Paris Peace Conference, 1919
The Paris Peace Conference was the meeting of the Allied victors following the end of World War I to set the peace terms for the defeated Central Powers following the armistices of 1918. It took place in Paris in 1919 and involved diplomats from more than 32 countries and nationalities...

, and his treaty was never ratified by the Senate, but his vision and his diplomacy, for better or worse, set the tone for the twentieth century. France
French Third Republic
The French Third Republic was the republican government of France from 1870, when the Second French Empire collapsed due to the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, to 1940, when France was overrun by Nazi Germany during World War II, resulting in the German and Italian occupations of France...

, Germany
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

, Italy
Kingdom of Italy (1861–1946)
The Kingdom of Italy was a state forged in 1861 by the unification of Italy under the influence of the Kingdom of Sardinia, which was its legal predecessor state...

, and Britain
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 may have sneered at Wilson, but every one of these powers today conducts its European policy along Wilsonian lines. What was once dismissed as visionary is now accepted as fundamental. This was no mean achievement, and no European statesman of the twentieth century has had as lasting, as benign, or as widespread an influence.


American foreign relations since 1914 have rested on Wilsonian idealism, says historian David Kennedy, even if adjusted somewhat by the "realism" represented by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Henry Kissinger
Henry Kissinger
Heinz Alfred "Henry" Kissinger is a German-born American academic, political scientist, diplomat, and businessman. He is a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. He served as National Security Advisor and later concurrently as Secretary of State in the administrations of Presidents Richard Nixon and...

. Kennedy argues that every president since Wilson has "embraced the core precepts of Wilsonianism. Nixon himself hung Wilson's portrait in the White House Cabinet Room. Wilson's ideas continue to dominate American foreign policy in the twenty-first century. In the aftermath of 9/11 they have, if anything, taken on even greater vitality."

Descendant theories

Idealism proper was a relatively short-lived school of thought, and suffered a crisis of confidence following the failure of the League of Nations and the outbreak of World War
World war
A world war is a war affecting the majority of the world's most powerful and populous nations. World wars span multiple countries on multiple continents, with battles fought in multiple theaters....

 II. However, subsequent theories of international relations would draw elements from Wilsonian Idealism when constructing their world views.

Liberalism

Liberalism manifested a tempered version of Wilson's idealism in the wake of World War I. Cognizant of the failures of Idealism to prevent renewed isolationism
Isolationism
Isolationism is the policy or doctrine of isolating one's country from the affairs of other nations by declining to enter into alliances, foreign economic commitments, international agreements, etc., seeking to devote the entire efforts of one's country to its own advancement and remain at peace by...

 following World War I, and its inability to manage the balance of power
Balance of power in international relations
In international relations, a balance of power exists when there is parity or stability between competing forces. The concept describes a state of affairs in the international system and explains the behavior of states in that system...

 in Europe to prevent the outbreak of a new war, liberal thinkers devised a set of international institutions based on rule of law and regularized interaction. These international organizations, such as the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

  and the NATO, or even international regimes such as the Bretton Woods system
Bretton Woods system
The Bretton Woods system of monetary management established the rules for commercial and financial relations among the world's major industrial states in the mid 20th century...

, and General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade was negotiated during the UN Conference on Trade and Employment and was the outcome of the failure of negotiating governments to create the International Trade Organization . GATT was signed in 1947 and lasted until 1993, when it was replaced by the World...

 (GATT), were calculated both to maintain a balance of power as well as regularize cooperation between nations.

Neoconservatism

Neoconservatism drew from Liberalism its intense focus on the promotion of "universal values", in this case democracy
Democracy
Democracy is generally defined as a form of government in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law...

, human rights
Human rights
Human rights are "commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being." Human rights are thus conceived as universal and egalitarian . These rights may exist as natural rights or as legal rights, in both national...

, free trade
Free trade
Under a free trade policy, prices emerge from supply and demand, and are the sole determinant of resource allocation. 'Free' trade differs from other forms of trade policy where the allocation of goods and services among trading countries are determined by price strategies that may differ from...

, women's rights
Women's rights
Women's rights are entitlements and freedoms claimed for women and girls of all ages in many societies.In some places these rights are institutionalized or supported by law, local custom, and behaviour, whereas in others they may be ignored or suppressed...

 and minority
Minority group
A minority is a sociological group within a demographic. The demographic could be based on many factors from ethnicity, gender, wealth, power, etc. The term extends to numerous situations, and civilizations within history, despite the misnomer of minorities associated with a numerical statistic...

 protections. However, it differs in that it is less wedded to the importance of preserving international institutions and treaties while pursuing assertive or aggressive stances which it deems morally worthy, and is willing to use force or the threat of force, unilaterally if necessary, to push for its goals.

See also

  • Idealism
    Idealism
    In philosophy, idealism is the family of views which assert that reality, or reality as we can know it, is fundamentally mental, mentally constructed, or otherwise immaterial. Epistemologically, idealism manifests as a skepticism about the possibility of knowing any mind-independent thing...

  • International relations theory
    International relations theory
    International relations theory is the study of international relations from a theoretical perspective; it attempts to provide a conceptual framework upon which international relations can be analyzed. Ole Holsti describes international relations theories act as a pair of coloured sunglasses,...

  • "New world order (politics)"
  • Liberal internationalism
    Liberal internationalism
    Liberal internationalism is a foreign policy doctrine that argues that liberal states should intervene in other sovereign states in order to pursue liberal objectives. Such intervention can include both military invasion and humanitarian aid. This view is contrasted to isolationist, realist, or...


External references

  • Martin Ceadel, Semi-detached Idealists: the British peace movement and international relations, 1854-1945, 2000.
  • Tim Dunne, Michael Cox, Ken Booth (eds), The Eighty Years' Crisis: International Relations 1919-1999, Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  • F. H. (Sir Harry) Hinsley, Power and the Pursuit of Peace, Cambridge University Press, 1967.
  • David Long, Towards a New Liberal Internationalism: The International Theory of J.A. Hobson, Cambridge University Press, 1996.
  • David Long and Peter Wilson (eds), Thinkers of the Twenty Years' Crisis: Inter-War Idealism Reassessed, Oxford University Press, 1995.
  • Donald Markwell
    Donald Markwell
    For the Montgomery, Alabama, talk radio personality, Don Markwell, see Don Markwell Professor Donald John 'Don' Markwell is an Australian social scientist and college president...

    , John Maynard Keynes
    John Maynard Keynes
    John Maynard Keynes, Baron Keynes of Tilton, CB FBA , was a British economist whose ideas have profoundly affected the theory and practice of modern macroeconomics, as well as the economic policies of governments...

     and International Relations: Economic Paths to War and Peace
    , Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • Donald Markwell
    Donald Markwell
    For the Montgomery, Alabama, talk radio personality, Don Markwell, see Don Markwell Professor Donald John 'Don' Markwell is an Australian social scientist and college president...

     (1986), 'Sir Alfred Zimmern Revisited: Fifty Years On', Review of International Studies.
  • Donald Markwell
    Donald Markwell
    For the Montgomery, Alabama, talk radio personality, Don Markwell, see Don Markwell Professor Donald John 'Don' Markwell is an Australian social scientist and college president...

    , 'Sir Alfred Eckhard Zimmern', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004.
  • J. D. B. Miller, Norman Angell
    Norman Angell
    Sir Ralph Norman Angell was an English lecturer, journalist, author, and Member of Parliament for the Labour Party.Angell was one of the principal founders of the Union of Democratic Control...

     and the Futility of War: Peace and the Public Mind
    , London, Macmillan, 1986.
  • Peter Wilson, The International Thought of Leonard Woolf
    Leonard Woolf
    Leonard Sidney Woolf was an English political theorist, author, publisher and civil servant, and husband of author Virginia Woolf.-Early life:...

    : A Study in Twentieth Century Idealism
    , 2003.
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