Although Realism is regarded as the dominant theory of international relations, Liberalism1 has a strong claim to being the historic alternative. Rather like political parties, Realism is the `natural' party of government and Liberalism is the leader of the opposition, whose main function is to hound the talking heads of power politics for their remorseless pessimism. And like historic parties of `opposition', Liberalism has occasionally found itself in the ascendancy, when its ideas and values set the agenda for international relations. In the twentieth century, Liberal thinking influenced policy'making élites and public opinion in a number of Western states after the First World War, an era often referred to in academic International Relations as Idealism. There was a brief resurgence of liberal sentiment at the end of World War II, with the birth of the United Nations, although these flames of hope were soon extinguished by the return of cold war power politics. The end of the cold war has seen a resurgence of Liberalism as Western state leaders proclaimed a `New World Order' and liberal intellectuals provided theoretical justifications for the inherent supremacy of Liberalism over all other competing ideologies.
One of the most respected contemporary theorists in the field, Stanley Hoffmann, once famously wrote that `international affairs have been the nemesis of liberalism'. `The essence of liberalism', Hoffmann continues, `is self?restraint, moderation, compromise and peace' whereas `the essence of international politics is exactly the opposite: troubled peace, at best, or the state of war' (Hoffmann 1987: 396). This explanation comes as no surprise to realists, who argue that there can be no progress, no law, and no justice, where there is no common power. Liberals to the logic of power politics should not interpret the fact that historically international politics has not been hospitable to liberal ideas as surrender.