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A Liberal World Order in Crisis

Choosing between Imposition and Restraint

Georg Sorensen

Publication Year: 2011

The collapse of the bipolar international system near the end of the twentieth century changed political liberalism from a regional system with aspirations of universality to global ideological dominance as the basic vision of how international life should be organized. Yet in the last two decades liberal democracies have not been able to create an effective and legitimate liberal world order. In A Liberal World Order in Crisis, Georg Sorensen suggests that this is connected to major tensions between two strains of liberalism: a "liberalism of imposition" affirms the universal validity of liberal values and is ready to use any means to secure the worldwide expansion of liberal principles. A "liberalism of restraint" emphasizes nonintervention, moderation, and respect for others.

This book is the first comprehensive discussion of how tensions in liberalism create problems for the establishment of a liberal world order. The book is also the first skeptical liberal statement to appear since the era of liberal optimism-based in anticipation of the end of history-in the 1990s. Sorensen identifies major competing analyses of world order and explains why their focus on balance-of-power competition, civilizational conflict, international terrorism, and fragile states is insufficient.

Published by: Cornell University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 1-6


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Most of the 1990s was a honeymoon period for liberal thinking about international affairs and for liberal politics: the Cold War had ended with liberal victory, and that created great expectations for a long phase of sustained progress for liberal democracy, liberal international institutions, the liberal world economy, and liberal values. ...

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Introduction: The Argument

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pp. 1-6

The current world order is more liberal than any previous order in history: it is dominated by free, democratic states, there is almost universal support for a state-market arrangement based on private property and free market exchange, and a vast network of international institutions articulate and support liberal doctrines. ...

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1. The Debate on World Order

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pp. 7-27

The lack of a general consensus on the major characteristics of world order has led to a considerable amount of confusion among scholars as well as among policymakers. What kind of order is emerging now? Is it the “liberal moment” (Fukuyama 1992); ...

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2. Tensions in Liberalism: Universal Values for All or a Pluralist World?

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pp. 28-65

It is a core argument of this book that the liberal values that make up the foundation for a liberal world order are fraught with tensions and possible contradictions. The liberal difficulties are connected to the very core of the liberal creed: the complex entity of liberty. ...

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3. Values and Liberal World Order

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pp. 66-87

The support for liberal values was identified earlier as a central element of liberal world order. At the same time, any endorsement of liberal values must confront the tension between a Liberalism of Restraint and a Liberalism of Imposition, as clarified in chapter 2. ...

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4. A Different Security Dilemma: Liberals Facing Weak and Failed States

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pp. 88-116

This chapter will demonstrate how the difficulties for liberal states of responding appropriately to the challenges of weak and failed states are intimately connected to the tension between Liberal Restraint and Liberal Imposition. A policy of Restraint was embarked upon in the context of decolonization; ...

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5. Free Markets for All: The Difficulties of Maintaining a Stable Liberal World Economy

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pp. 117-140

We now turn to the economic dimension of liberal world order. A stable global economy based on liberal principles of free markets and private property is a cornerstone of liberal world order. Some will see the economy as the easy part of the liberal project; ...

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6. Institutions and Liberal World Order

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pp. 141-166

Institutions, international as well as domestic, play a significant role in any liberal order. Institutions were defined in chapter 2 as sets of rules, formal and informal, that states and other actors play by. According to liberals, a rule-based order is much to be preferred to the alternative, an order without rules. ...

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Conclusion: Prospects for Liberal World Order

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pp. 167-188

Fifteen years ago, in 1996, one observer of Eastern Europe confirmed the rising popularity of liberal democracy: “to live under autocracy, or even to be an autocrat, seems backward, uncivilized, distasteful, not quite comme il faut—in a word, ‘uncool’ ” (Nadia 1996: 15). ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. 189-190


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pp. 191-212


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pp. 213-218

E-ISBN-13: 9780801463297
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801450228

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1