Anti-Imperialism/Foreign Policy

Realism, Liberalism, and Constructivism: A Primer on International Relations Theory

By Scott Duryea  Mises Institute

University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer gave a lecture to a group of university alumni in 2014 entitled “Why is Ukraine the West’s Fault,” essentially predicting the Russo-Ukrainian war. The lecture has over 24 million views. Even though he’s been accused of pro-Putin sympathies, Mearsheimer approached the topic of NATO encroachment and Russian security concerns from a dispassionate perspective, using international relations theory to see the situation from the Russian side.

Much how Misesians search for the “regularity in the concatenation and succession of events,” international relations theory tries to observe regularities in the way states behave. By understanding the operation of the international system of states, strategists and policymakers can generalize and hopefully predict global events, like incursions. Just like in economics, theory models empirical reality. For IR scholars, that reality is the relationships among states in the international system. Ultimately, the field of international relations offers three broad lenses through which observers can view the world: realism, liberalism, and constructivism.


John Mearsheimer is among the foremost experts in international relations who view the world through a realist lens. Realism focuses on the absence of an overarching global government that can harness the behavior of state and non-state actors. In other words, the world lives under a state of international anarchy. As a result, states pursue security above other concerns. Distrust of other states means that they can only truly rely on themselves to protect their national interests, a principle known as self-help.


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