Taking Preferences Seriously: A Liberal Theory of International Politics

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Grounding liberal theory in a set of core social scientific assumptions helps overcome a disjuncture between contemporary empirical research on world politics and the language employed by scholars to describe IR as a field. Liberal hypotheses stressing variation in state preferences play an increasingly central role in IR scholarship. These include explanations stressing the causal importance of state-society relations as shaped by domestic institutions (for example, the “democratic peace”), by economic interdependence (for example, endogenous tariff theory), and by ideas about national, political, and socioeconomic public goods provision (for example, theories about the relationship between nationalism and conflict). Liberal hypotheses do not include, for reasons clarified later, functional regime theory. Yet the conceptual language of IR theory has not caught up with contemporary research. IR theorists continue to speak as if the dominant theoretical cleavage in the field were the dichotomy between realism and (“neoliberal”) institutionalism. The result: liberal IR theory of the kind outlined earlier is generally ignored as a major paradigmatic alternative.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationTheories of International Relations
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages41
ISBN (Electronic)9781351879743
ISBN (Print)9781315236339
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


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