From the First World War to the terror attacks against major
Western countries today, conflicts have always been the key feature of the
international system. As a result, the international system is argued to be
conflictual and hierarchical by different International Relation theories.
Marxists believe it is capitalism which is deeply integrated with economic and
social-political system that cause conflicts. It categorises people into
classes and it is doomed to be overturned and replaced by communism. Liberals
take a different approach, suggesting that there is no higher authority above
sovereign states which result in the conflictual phenomena. This essay, by
adopting both Marxist and Liberal approach, argues that world politics is
inherently conflictual and hierarchical. This essay will first examine the
division of classes of people argued by Karl Marx, then it will evaluate the
alienating and exploiting characteristic of capitalism. Followed by the
explanation of Gramsci’s Culture Hegemony, this essay will evaluate liberals’
argument of the anarchical international system. After all, this essay
concludes world politics is conflictual and hierarchical.
system is argued to be conflictual and hierarchical. Indeed, the world today depicts
the picture that we live in a conflictual international system where conflicts,
warfare, tensions and terror attacks happen frequently. Therefore, it is
important to evaluate the inherent characteristic of global politics. From a Marxist
perspective, capitalism encourages class division, alienation, exploitation and
will eventually stimulate social conflicts and provoke social revolution.
Consequentially, Marxists argue that political reform and the transformation to
communism is both necessary and inevitable (Marx and Engels, 1848). Besides,
world politics is also argued to be hierarchical and conflictual because of its
anarchical feature. Neo-liberal scholars argue that because there is no higher
authority above all nation-states in the international system, the world is
inherently anarchical. However, liberals suggest peace can be maintained through
institutions and cooperation between states. Overall, this essay argues that
world politics is innately conflictual and hierarchical and there are two
reasons behind it. One is the problem of capitalism which dominates the global
political system. The other is the lack of higher authority and trusts between
sovereign states. This essay will use Marxism and liberalism to justify my
is the major reason that world politics is inherently conflictual. Influenced
by liberal cosmopolitanism, Marx and Engels believed that global economic
interdependence and worldwide capitalised governments will eventually provoke
the conflictual relationship between waged workers and bourgeoises. As a
result, social transformation and the overturn of capitalist class will occur
(Teschke, 2008). There are three key problems of capitalism that will
eventually cause its own end. Firstly, capitalism divides society into
different classes, it categorises people into those who own the means of
production and those who do not (Marx and Engel, 1848). This unique capitalist social relation, argued
by Rupert (2003), contributes to uneven social power between classes. The
capitalist class owns means of production as their private property and the
working class can only sell their labour for survival. Thus, capitalism
highlights the division of labour and it is inherently hierarchical.
also alienates the working-class people. Under the capitalist system, the working-class
people are alienated from the results of their labour. When workers produce objects,
they cannot have control or ownership of it, instead, the objects created by
workers are owned by capitalists (Marx, 1932). Moreover, capitalism also
alienates workers from the process of production. Workers not only have no
control over the products they created, they also cannot control their working
environment and. They are forced to sell their labour only to survive yet do
not feel content or achieve satisfaction from their work. Thirdly, workers are
alienated from their own species being. Marx, inspired by Hegel, believed that a
man is called man is because of his relationship to himself and his environment.
Men are driven by history, but he can also gain self-consciousness and change
the history and political environment around him. Man can create his own
history and emancipation is possible. (Buecker, 2003). However, under capitalism,
our ability is submerged. Therefore, with the loss of control over products and
creativity, workers also lose their humanity. Eventually, it is argued that
capitalism alienates a man from others. Workers are seen as commodities that
can be traded for profits (Cox, 1998). Hence, due to the alienating
characteristic of capitalism, Marx believes that it is innately problematic and
capitalism exploits workers and generates inequality in the society. Marx’s
labour theory of value explains this exploitative phenomenon. Marx
distinguished between use value and exchange value, however, in capitalist society
bourgeoisies only concentrated on exchange value and ignore the use value. The
price of commodities is not determined by the time and effort used to produce
it but depends on the pleasure of the user. In addition, the surplus value
initially created by workers are taken away and became profits of the
bourgeoises (Brewer, 2002). Hence workers are further exploited as they are
deprived of the value they generated. Also, Capitalism stimulates inequality
and widen the inequality gap between the rich and the poor which lead to
conflicts and social changes. Wallerstein (1974) illustrates the world
capitalist system as layers of stratification. He stated that the world economy
categorises states into three types: the core, the semi-periphery and the
periphery. The growing economy and industrialisation require further expansion
of states in search of raw materials. The periphery states are major suppliers
of raw materials to the core states and the semi-periphery states act as a
middle ground, being both the exploiter and exploited. With further
globalisation, inequality deeply widens between these states and the struggle
for raw materials eventually cause conflicts. For example, it is argued that one
major reason that the US intervened in the Persian Gulf War is the pursuit of
oil. The US has become increasingly dependent on oil, containing 25% of the
world oil consumption (Aarts, 1992). Furthermore, the capitalists’ pursuit of
materials also leads to imperialism and colonialism. Such as British Empire and
its colonisation of India, Ghana, Egypt, Zimbabwe and a number of countries in
Africa and Asian for raw material and new market. Thus, capitalism is the main
source of conflicts over raw material and the cause of colonisation and
there are certain problems with Marxism and capitalism did generate economic
growth in certain countries, boost production of commodities, and encourage
market competition. Marxism is flawed because of its false prediction of
political transformations in the industrialised states. Marx believed the
political revolution will occur in highly capitalised society such as Britain,
instead, revolutions occurred in Russia, a rural and relatively underdeveloped
state (Burchill, 2009). Furthermore, Walt criticised that Marxists ignored the
importance of geopolitics, nationalism and war but focused tremendously on
economic based and superstructure. He argued that nationalism was a more
important feature of society than working class and during the First World War
the working-class people found more in common with their national capitalists
rather than foreign workers (Burchill, 2009). Moreover, today’s social
structure changed dramatically, and it is more complex with the growing and
empowering middle class, rather than simplified identification of bourgeoises
the inconsistency of the empirical evidence and Marx’s predictions, Gramsci
developed the theory of hegemony to explain the reason capitalism still exists
with no challenges from major western countries despite its problematic
characteristic. Instead of economic-concentrated, Gramsci argued that political
leadership is based on a misleading consent that favours the ruling class
(Bates, 1975). He suggested the society is constituted of both civil and
political sector and the ruling class dominates both. By manipulating the
ideas, beliefs, values and perceptions of the society, the ruling class
eventually mislead the public and gains the consent to continue its domination.
The capitalist class created a cultural hegemony and its ideas and values
become the common sense so that working class thought they were pursuing their
interests while in reality, they were serving the interests of the elites by
accepting and enduring the status quo. For example, western states offer great
welfare system such as free education or healthcare so that their citizens
conceive to the capitalist system. Therefore, he calls for the construction of
intellectual-moral bloc so that the majority can enjoy intellectual progress
rather than a small number of elites and from there the division between leaders
and those to be led can disappear (Rupert, 2003). In such way, an emancipatory
culture can be built which can lead to social movement.
reason that world politics is hierarchical and problematic is that there is no
higher authority above states in international society. Neo-liberalism suggests
that the world is anarchical because there is no ruling state above nation
states (Axelrod and Keohane, 1985). Also, Mearsheimer (1995) argued that states
always prioritise their survival and national interests, therefore it is
unlikely for states to trust each other and cooperation between states are not
sustainable. Hence, the international system will always be conflictual as
today’s ally can be tomorrow’s enemy. Liberal suggests that even under the
anarchical international system, conflicts can be pacified, and peace can be
maintained mainly through international institutions and economic
interdependence. It is argued that because of the concern of trusts among
states as realists argued, international institutions and regimes are important
as they provide more information and tranquillity to actors, regulate and
monitor states’ behaviours, raise the costs of cheating and enforce punishment,
and reduce transactions costs (Milner, 1992). For instance, the European
Economic Community greatly reduces transaction costs with its member states and
the Single Market promotes free trade (European Union, 2017). Also, the Kyoto
Protocol in 1997 bound 37 states and the EU members to reduce greenhouse gas up
to 5% (United Nations, 2017), and the Paris agreement which 171 members joined
all show cooperative behaviours to combat climate change and achieve mutual
benefits. Furthermore, the establishment of the United Nations and the European
Union all present that cooperation is feasible and important to prevent further
devastating warfare and peacekeeping, as well as humanitarian interventions
contribute to the alleviation of conflicts and human suffering.
In addition, International regimes also boost
the worry of the shadow of the future where states’ current decision-making
will influence and have consequences in the future. International regimes can
punish those who cheat or defect, reminding states their current behaviour will
impact themselves in the future (Axelrod and Keohane, 1985). For example, the
breach of international law, regulations or rules might lead to economic and
political sanctions from other nation states. The United Nations Security
Council passed four rounds of sanctions against Iran for its failure to comply
with the Non-Proliferation Treaty (BBC, 2010). Also, in 2017 the UNSC led by
the US imposed further sanctions on North Korea, punishing the state for its
continuous aggressive missile testing behaviour (Gaouette and Joseph, 2017).
Hence, with the help of international institutions to monitor and regulate,
states face consequences for non-compliance and they make it easier for states
to cooperate with fewer concerns of cheating and rules-breaking. Admittedly
there are concerns over the unequal distribution of gains among states. Grieco (1988)
asserted that states would prioritise their relative gains rather than absolute
gains, and states might refuse to cooperate or embrace limited commitment if
other states are achieving greater relative gains. States might avoid
cooperation and worry that unequal distribution of benefits will generate
greater potentiality for some states to be future powerful enemies. For
instance, the US president signed the executive order to withdraw America from
the Trans-Pacific Partnership, claiming it hurts US interests and costs
American jobs (Bradner, 2017). Trump (White House, 2017) also withdrew the US from
Paris Agreement, arguing that the agreement and its restrictions on energy are
unfair and harmful to American business and workers while benefiting countries
such as China and India. Nonetheless, Keohane (1984) argued that relative
concern is not the major concern of states, instead, states intend to maximise
their absolute gains regardless of the relative gains of others.
conclude, this essay has examined that the world politics is both conflictual
and hierarchical from Marxists and liberal perspectives. Marxists argue that
international system widely adopts the ideology of capitalism which divides
people into different classes, alienates workers from their products, labour,
self-essence and other people and exploits the working-class to benefit the ruling
class. Capitalism is essentially conflict-prone, and it will eventually
stimulate social revolution to human emancipation. Liberals, on the other hand,
believe that there is an absence of ruling authority beyond states, therefore,
the international system is always involved with tensions and conflicts. States
always emphasize their self-interests and survival, but international
institution and cooperation can mitigate conflicts and promote peace. Although
realists argue that the problem of cheating and relative gains will minimise
the possibility of cooperation, it is asserted that states focus on the
absolute gains and cheating can be deterred when international institutions
function to monitor and punish states with future consequences. Overall, this
essay has examined with both Marxist and Liberal international theories that
world politics is inherently conflictual and hierarchical. (word count: 1999)
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