, Volume 94, Number 1

G. John Ikenberry
These are not happy times for liberal internationalists. No one can be sure how deep the crisis of liberal internationalism runs. However, in what follows, I argue that despite its troubles, liberal internationalism still has a future. The nature of the crisis is surprising. The threats to liberal internationalism were expected to come from rising non-western states seeking to undermine or overturn the postwar order. In the face of hostile, revisionist states, the United States and Europe were expected to stand shoulder to shoulder to protect the gains from 70 years of cooperation. But, in fact, liberal internationalism is more deeply threatened by developments within the West itself. The centrist and progressive coalitions that lay behind the postwar liberal order have weakened. Liberal democracy itself appears fragile and polarized, vulnerable to far right populism and backlash politics. In recent decades, the working and middle classes in advanced industrial democracies—the original constituencies and beneficiaries of an open and cooperative international order—have faced rising economic inequality and stagnation. Within the West, liberal internationalism is increasingly seen, not as a source of stability and solidarity among like-minded states, but as a global playing field for the wealthy and influential. Liberal internationalism has lost its connection to the pursuit of social and economic advancement within western countries.

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