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Neoliberalism And Neorealism Essay

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Anarchy as the Primary Contention in Neorealist/Neoliberalist Thought Realist scholars conduct their work with a foundational assumption of
international anarchy; by which they mean a system without some sort of over­arching
world authority (i.e. a world government). Donnelly (2000) explains, "I use 'anarchy' as
it is ordinarily used in the international relations literature; that is, in the literal sense of
absence of rule, lack of government…anarchy does not imply chaos, absence of order; it
is simply the absence of 'hierarchical' political order based on formal subordination and
authority." He illustrates the idea with a quotation from Schuman (1941), "'In the
absence of international government, 'the law of the jungle' still prevails.'" He also
illustrates how anarchy is mentioned by almost all of the most influential contemporary
neorealist scholars. This essay will argue that in the contemporary neorealist -
neoliberalist debate, anarchy continues to be the major rift that divides the two schools
due to different interpretations concerning the future of the global international political
This essay begins by briefly defining the realist anarchical view as seen by most
scholars. From this point, it will then explain the process of development of this realist
view, which is important understanding both neorealist and neoliberal thought. Finally,
this essay will show how the realist understanding of the perpetuation and preservation of
anarchy is incompatible with contemporary liberal thought, and how this is the major
dividing line between the two schools at present.
From the realist view of anarchy defined above stem various other ideas, which
include: that of international relations that are state­centred, with the states' security and

2 survival as their primary concerns, as well as 'power politics' among the 'great powers'
(i.e. the most powerful states). This anarchical view is one that focuses on the structure of
the world political system. This way of thinking was first established by Kenneth Waltz
in his work, The Theory of International Politics (1979). As Waltz describes in his fourth
chapter, a structural or 'systems level' understanding of international relations solves the
problems encountered by scholars of needing to add new unit­level variables for every
phenomenon, or of trying to understand how the same effect can come about from
different causes. It is evident that the latter occurs because there the units (states) face
some set of constraints. If scholars pinpoint the structure, which is inherently a "set of
constraining conditions," they could potentially understand why unlike units may behave
in analogous ways. Waltz does note, however, that structures, are not direct causes for
they act "through socialization of the actors and through competition among them." According to Waltz, there are two types of political structures that are possible:
hierarchical or anarchical. Hierarchical structures tend to be characteristic of domestic
systems. On the other hand, at the global level, a state of political anarchy exists. As the
only possible global hierarchical system that could exist, according to Waltz, would be a
'world government' (which clearly is not present), a decentralized anarchical structure is
a basic feature in international relations. The second key feature of international relations
is the relative power between states, as consequence of the fact that the world politics are
a "self­help system." By "[abstracting] every attribute of states except their capabilities"
(Waltz 1979) it is possible to "highlight the ways in which the distribution of capabilities
in an anarchic order shapes relations" (Donnelly 2000).

3 Waltz maintains that in the system, or model, he is describing, states are the only
important actors. Though he acknowledges that other actors (like NGOs or IGOs) exist,
he sees them as inconsequential. Waltz describes this using an analogy to economic
thought, upon which his theory is based. Political actors are like firms. If all firms (or
states) were equally sized (or had equal power), they would all be important. However, in
the case of a market dominated by a small group of large firms (great power), the
economic (political) models would focus only on these. States are the most powerful
actors on the world stage, setting the rules of the game and retaining the most influence.
Thus, the international system is defined in terms of states. The importance of describing
the development of the neorealist theory in this essay, as has been done above, is to show
which of the core assumptions of realist thinkers are products of an belief in an
unchanging anarchical structure. It is just these core assumptions, it will be argued, that
neoliberalists counter. There are currently four main strains of liberal though in international relations as
identified by Jackson and Sorensen (2003). Of these four, three (sociological liberalism,
interdependence liberalism, and institutional liberalism) directly contradict the realist
view on anarchy. The sociological strain of liberalism emphasizes that International
Relations is a study of relations between individuals, groups and organizations, and
societies in addition to states/ national governments.
The sociological approach, like many aspects of the liberal tradition, challenges the
realists' focus on a state­centric anarchic system and its inability to see the contemporary
world's transition to a multi­centric world. At the core of the multi­centric ideal is the
importance of individuals. Rosenau (1992) identified five primary reasons for the rising

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