This is indeed what this book is about, and there can be no doubt about where Mearsheimer s sympathies lie However, reading some reviews here and in political publications, one might get the false impression that this is Mearsheimer s contribution to the fashionable food fight between contemporary nationalists and globalists This is not so He develops his reasoning largely in abstract terms, only briefly commenting on current or historical cases to support his theoretical arguments The subject of the book is eminently relevant to today s politics, but this is a work about political theory rather than political events.
Summary In an introductory chapter, Mearsheimer writes that his goal is to explain, in simple language, how the theory of realism in international relations IR and nationalism combine to limit the scope of political liberalism when it comes to interactions between sovereign states The core of his argument is plainly laid out while liberalism is, according to the author, the most desirable political order domestically, its emphasis on the supposedly universal, inalienable rights of individuals and its faith in the possibility of basing a society solely on civic norms and ideals such as tolerance and respect for private property make it particularly unsuitable as a foreign policy philosophy.
Mearsheimer s contention is that liberalism ignores the social aspect of human life by taking hypothetical blank slate individuals and their exogenous preferences as a starting point This is not a new criticism of liberalism Mearsheimer doesn t even believe that this is necesarily a fatal flaw, except when liberalism attempts to export itself through an aggressive foreign policy In this realm, the twin forces of nationalism and realism trump it In most situations, this is a non issue, because even liberal democracies are constrained by balance of power politics to act according to realist principles all nations ultimately act to maximize their chances of survival, given fundamental uncertainty about the intentions and future actions of other nations, including liberal democracies Even when immediate survival is not at stake, uncertainty forces nations to vigorously defend their interests and act to increase their power and be in a better position to defend themselves against future threats.
In rare situations, such as the one faced by the US in the 1990s, a liberal democracy finds itself so powerful that it is unchallenged, at least as far as military power goes It can then disregard realist principles and pursue a foreign policy Mearsheimer calls liberal hegemony This combines a universalist concern for human rights with liberal democratic peace theory in IR, the hypothesis that liberal democracies do not go to war with each other A liberal hegemony will systematically attempt to subvert or topple illiberal regimes abroad and replace them with liberal democracies Mearsheimer explains why such a policy is doomed to failure It is nearly impossible to build a liberal democracy ex nihilo In addition, nations other than the liberal hegemon are still constrained by nationalism and realism, and thus unlikely to cooperate with the hegemon even when given assurances that its actions are in the interest of their populations.
Mearsheimer examines a number of arguments for liberal democratic peace theory, including the claim that liberal democracies are unlikely to go to war, especially with each other, the claim that countries whose economies are interdependent through trade are less likely to go to war, and the claim that international institutions reduce the likelihood of war Unsurprisingly, Mearsheimer rejects all these claims, on both theoretical grounds and based on empirical studies from the IR literature.
A final argument presented against liberal hegemony is that, given the never ending task of opposing and subverting illiberal regimes, a country pursuing liberal hegemony effectively becomes addicted to war, and develops a vast military and surveillance apparatus which ultimately damages liberal values at home Mearsheimer gives the example of the NSA surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden, and the systematic use of drones and other covert operations to eliminate supposed enemies abroad with little to no judicial oversight.
The book concludes with an epilogue where the author makes a case for a restrained foreign policy that resorts to military intervention only when the fundamental interests of the nation are at stake.
Appraisal Some reviewers here and elsewhere have suggested that Mearsheimer equivocates between several meanings of the term liberalism in an effort to lay the failures of US foreign interventions solely at the foot of the political left This is not so His usage of the term to refer to a political outlook emphasizing individual rights and freedoms as ultimate ends, sometimes known as classical liberalism nowadays, is consistent with academic political theory To dispel any doubt, Mearsheimer correctly identifies both the American Democratic and Republican parties of the post war era as largely subscribing to progressive liberalism Progressive here does not refer to social attitudes, but to a willingness to use the instruments of the state to actively shape society and promote equality of opportunity He puts this strand of liberalism in opposition with modus vivendi liberalism also known as libertarianism , which is skeptical of the use of state power to enforce positive rights and any form of social engineering Mearsheimer states however that as far as his argument is concerned, the distinction between the two forms of liberalism is immaterial.
This book was deliberately written in plain language, and assumes no prior knowledge of political theory This perhaps makes it suitable as a succinct and partial introduction to the theory of international relations However, the lack of any detailed case studies makes for somewhat dull reading, not least because the book repeats its core points several times across its different chapters If you are already familiar with the most common criticisms of political liberalism, a large percentage of the book will have nothing new to offer Even when referring to the key examples of US foreign policy failures Somalia, Middle East, Ukraine, etc , Mearsheimer only briefly enunciates the bare facts as he sees them, and always does so in the context of theoretical arguments The final chapters contain a few references to the IR literature where specific cases are examined in detail, but the arguments of the book itself remain rather abstract throughout.
Below are two points of criticism of the book s content, as opposed to the presentation 1 Mearsheimer s use of the term nationalism and his general approach to the concept leave much to be desired He is of course familiar with the classical English language literature on the subject, and quotes from Gellner Nations and Nationalism , Arnold Imagined Communities , Yack, etc However, he ignores some of the insights in this literature when it suits him.
It seems at times that Mearsheimer uses the term nationalism in an idiosyncratic way to denote almost any commitment to a group or higher cause There is no other way to explain, for example, his complete omission from the book of religious, tribal or ethnic allegiance as powerful forces with relevance to foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East and South Asia Indeed, one of the many reasons for the failure of US efforts to consolidate central power in Iraq and Afghanistan is the lack of pre existing commitment to a national state authority among the populations of these countries It is one thing to note that naive liberalism ignores that people are social animals or places too much faith in civic institutions, but there is no straight line between people being social animals and the specific form of government embodied in the national state.
Mearsheimer also spends too much time trying to show that liberalism and nationalism are at odds with each other He recognizes that both can coexist the prime example being the United States , but insists that when push comes to shove, nationalism always wins the day This is a truncated view of things Many authors have noted that nationalism and liberalism often go hand in hand European nationalists of the 19th century were frequently also liberals, whose initial demands were that their respective ethnic minorities inside larger empires or dynastic states be allowed to freely speak and learn their language and culture The right to self determination is a liberal idea just like the inalienable rights dear to liberals, it is not a hard fact of life that follows in some logical way from human nature, but it is rather an ideal which is often at odds with realpolitik Many if not most ethnic groups around the world do not live in their own national state, and many understand that this situation is essentially permanent and have no interest in changing it ethnic Swedes in Finland, various ethnic groups in the Caucasus or ethnic Estonians in Russia.
The same applies to the principle of sovereignty, which demands that foreign powers do not intervene in the internal affairs of nations Although neoliberal interventionists did question this principle in the 1990s, it is easy to argue that it is a liberal principle as much as a nationalist one Just like other rights or social norms, it is irrelevant whenever it clashes with the interests of sufficiently powerful outside forces.
2 Although I broadly but not unconditionally agree with Mearsheimer s call for restraint, I do not believe that it is logically related to the arguments laid out in the book, which single out political liberalism as the cause for the foreign policy failures of the US since 1990.
First, Mearsheimer does not conclusively demonstrate that the ill advised policies he criticizes are necessary consequences of political liberalism Military interventions such as the Iraq war may be publicly backed by the liberal rhetoric of human rights and exporting democracy, but it is not clear that these are the real motivations for such interventions Mearsheimer is correct that establishing democracy in a foreign country is a difficult if not impossible task, but it is doubtful that there was ever a credible commitment to succeed at this task in Iraq For example, lessons from peacekeeping missions in the Balkans in 1990s and early 2000s, which were well known to US military and political leaders, suggest that much higher troop numbers would have been necessary to maintain order and allow the new government to consolidate its authority never mind democracy in the immediate aftermath of the invasion.
Second and importantly, Mearsheimer does not make a serious attempt to demonstrate that a powerful country adhering to nationalist or realist principles would better resist the urge to frequently intervene in foreign countries Many of the purported defects of progressive liberalism, such as a propensity towards social engineering and an unshakable faith in core principles at the expense of reasonable compromise, are also present in nationalism.
Certainly, realist or nationalist leaders are likely to justify aggressive or interventionist policies in different terms than would liberal leaders, even so when addressing their own population However, once one looks past the rhetoric, the end results are the same Witness China s and to a lesser extent Russia s efforts at establishing an international network of influence parallel to the United States in Asia and Africa All these investments abroad imply a commitment to protecting them Whether an empowered China will avoid American mistakes, ignore minor provocations and only risk war when its vital interests are at stake remains to be seen Mearsheimer s speculations about realism and nationalism helping countries automatically avoid such mistakes are just that, speculation.
In summary, I would recommend Mearsheimer s book The Tragedy of Great Power Politics over this one.
I really enjoyed the approach and development of the three basic isms of the book liberalism, nationalism and realism My eyes were opened to new horizons Mearsheimer deals with each ism and how the three interplay and clash in national and international politics, how both liberalism and nationalism thrive in national politics but fail in international political relationships, which is where realism becomes the only successful approach to the relationships between nation states, mainly because of the cultural differences of the nations Darnell Clevenger, author of The Shootings at Echo Creek High
The Party is over for the Neocons and Neo Liberals It might be America has been using it s vast power to impose social engineering upon the world The new reality is a lot of countries are getting tired of it Yes the world is getting tired of the liberals backed by the powerful Military industrial complex want the world to be as they want it to be Thus, we have Trump Brexit ect ect The author contends it is just reality Neoliberalism has pushed to far China, Russia and other have had enough People no longer will accept it They can t stand b.
eing pushed around much longer Trump getting out of wars and perhaps even NATO is just a kind of a new reality Fantastic book Simply communicated yet essential to understand Truth can hurt Our national security elites have for decades been failing us though Turns out money and Ivy league schools alone can not build us the best and brightest minds to run our country.