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Were the liberal thinkers of the interwar period wrong to believe that peace can be secured through international law and institutions - Essay Example

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Can peace be secured through international law and institutions?
The interwar period signified a time of great uncertainty and ambivalence for powerful stakeholders in world peace - not dissimilar to the present day’s political climate…
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Were the liberal thinkers of the interwar period wrong to believe that peace can be secured through international law and institutions
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Were the liberal thinkers of the interwar period wrong to believe that peace can be secured through international law and institutions

Download file to see previous pages... With the atrocities of World War I (WWI) still fresh in the memory of most politicians, and with world anarchy a realistic proposition, the only viable interwar option available in the war vs. non-war dichotomy appeared to be the “Balance of Power” strategy championed by some of the days’ great thinkers (Sylvest, 24). Strained international relations made “balancing” power in an equitable, mutually agreeable manner a lofty, but urgent, goal. Realistically, an international institution with multiple stakeholders, representing all major world powers seemed to be the way forward – considering the immense toll (human and economic) the war had taken (Sylvest, 28, Ranney, 4). From the outset, however, there was significant philosophical disagreement about the ultimate roles and goals of such an institution, both between and within governments. The British Labour Party maintained an internationalist (not dissimilar to the concept of idealism in many ways) perspective, having fought the war along nationalist lines. Specifically, the party maintained that world progress, the ultimate target, could only be achieved by way of global democracy and world law. In this way, the party, and the internationalists as a group, argued that a) the conditions of international politics were malleable and that b) deliberate reform was necessary to enact democratic conditions (Sylvest, 20). As with many burgeoning ideologies, some of the internationalist philosophies were divisive: a liberal faction of the party held that the state could not impinge on the inalienable rights of individuals, and a socialist internationalist faction, in Marxist style, argued that “working men have no state (Goldmann, 56).”Although the internationalist perspective became popular and gained momentum, it did not fully represent either of the dominant views of the day: idealism and realism. The realists maintained, (some would argue as a reaction to interwar idealism), that the conditions of international politics could not be changed, a nation’s main duty was to isolate and protect itself, nation states were primary actors in international politics, that the international system reached a dynamic but peaceful equilibrium via natural struggles for power (as opposed to a central governing body), and that nations must help themselves – as opposed to relying on assistance from others (Schmidt, 435). Conversely, the retroactively labeled ”idealists” of the time, bolstered and transformed by Woodrow Wilson’s commitment to American Exceptionalism and belief in the power of democracy (embodied and communicated through his “Fourteen points” speech), promoted an ideological that aimed to transcend the left-right divide and establish peace through ongoing commitment to moral and ethical concerns – even at the potential cost of negatively impacting the nation state. To many, the idealists’ belief in democratic peace theory - the concept that similarly democratic nations do not fight each other, was especially appealing (Hoogenboom, 190). Though much space and attention has been devoted in textbooks to the dichotomization of the realist and idealist viewpoints of the day, and the idea of a peacekeeping international institution is often synonymous with Woodrow Wilson, in truth, the origins of these ideologies and potential resolution strategies span back much further. Two centuries prior to WWI and Wilson, Kant’s (1972) Perpetual Peace posits that the natural position of governments towards counterparts is war – which creates problems because conflicts between humans are unethical and “inconsistent with the rights of humanity.” Kant argued that war could essentially be institutionalized and regulated in order to ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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