One subject, different approaches: realism, liberalism and constructivism explained

realism, liberalism and constructivism

The three concepts used in the study of international politics and international relations are: realism, liberalism and constructivism. Although these three concepts or theories are all part of the same discipline, they all give different analysis or ideas of what these concepts are really about.

Realism talks about a more realistic approach towards the study of international politics whereas; liberalism gives a more liberal free approach of states co-existing peacefully. And constructivism says that the social reality we live is mostly constructed and the ideas in the minds of most people are also constructed.

What is realism?

Realism is the concept in international relations that states that the utmost priority of states can and should be to protect its own national interests and national security and for that, the states must also struggle to keep all these factors under control.

It goes in contrast to the theory of liberalism that presents a more united front on the subject because according to liberalism, states can co-exist peacefully and without generating much conflict. Realism or realists talk about a political system where there is no real power or system of governance. According to this concept, each state should be responsible for itself and its national authority and no other higher authority should come in the middle of the state and its people.

Realism emphasizes on the concept of human behavior and influence on the state. But, neo-realism is a polar opposite concept. It states that the most important thing in running a state is power and not the human element, unlike realism.

In today’s world, it seems that most states may be adopting this school of thought as they are all busy saving themselves and prioritizing their own national interests.

What is liberalism?

As the name suggests, liberalism is the concept that states that when the government is exercising its power, it must not interfere with the liberty and independence of the people. Liberalism gives a more individual oriented approach and less of higher authorities.

It states that even though the government and its policies are important to run a state, sometimes those policies interfere with the individuality of the people and it is better if non-governmental institutions or institutions that are less interfering because the government itself can be a threat to the liberation of a state.

In the world right now, there are some states that practice this liberal form of governance such as the US and some European and this is prevalent in not just their politics but also their media and their education. The main aim of this concept is to promote individuality in a power lathered state.

What is constructivism?

Constructivism talks about the fact that the thoughts and feelings of the people living in a state are all constructed realities that have come up after being exposed socially. They are all “socially constructed” realities and not much is based on the actual reality. This concept states that people make their own reality and construct it based on their own experiences.

The idea of constructivism is more of a philosophical concept and less of a political concept. However, constructivism came into international relations after the end of the Cold War where both realism and liberalism failed to reach any real or productive outcomes.

It is argued that the reason for war is less about the states fighting for power and balance of power amongst each other and more about the society that we as humans have constructed ourselves.

Constructivism, according to experts, states that this theory goes beyond material realities and claims that all sorts of ideas and concept have an impact on international politics and not just weapons and battles. There is more to reality than the only reality we can physically see or touch.

One subject, different approaches

Although the subject in question right now is the same, these three different approaches are used to explain the phenomenon of international politics and international relations. This means that each of these schools of thought give a different perspective or overview of what the subject is really about.

Realism says that states need to protect their own national interests first before anything else and this should be its top priority.

Liberalism says that the state should exercise its right to power but should not interfere with the rights and liberty of the people and lastly, constructivism says that whatever ideas or thoughts we have in our heads are a socially constructed reality and the political system is a by-product of this construction.

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