Making progress?
Author: Casper Sylvest

This book explores the development, character and legacy of the ideology of liberal internationalism in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Britain. Liberal internationalism provided a powerful way of theorising and imagining international relations, and it dominated well-informed political discourse at a time when Britain was the most powerful country in the world. Its proponents focused on securing progress, generating order and enacting justice in international affairs, and it united a diverse group of intellectuals and public figures, leaving a lasting legacy in the twentieth century. The book elucidates the roots, trajectory and diversity of liberal internationalism, focusing in particular on three intellectual languages – international law, philosophy and history – through which it was promulgated, before tracing the impact of these ideas across the defining moment of the First World War. The liberal internationalist vision of the late nineteenth century remained popular well into the twentieth century and forms an important backdrop to the development of the academic study of International Relations in Britain.

Abstract only
Casper Sylvest

This book addresses the assumption that the historiography of International Relations (IR) and (British) intellectual history needs to be integrated, arguing that liberal internationalism is best conceptualised as an ideology focused on encouraging progress, sowing order and enacting justice in international affairs. It shows how liberal internationalism travelled into the twentieth century. The chapter then brings the insights of British intellectual history to bear on British international thought and to supply IR with a more sophisticated understanding of its own intellectual roots. Michael Freeden's approach provides tools for understanding how different versions of the same ideology coexist and change over time, and enables a differentiation of contexts or ‘languages’ in which liberal internationalism was promulgated by ideological agents. The book deploys a contextualist approach to the study of liberal internationalist ideology in Britain between 1880 and 1930. This chapter provides an overview of the chapters included in the book.

in British liberal internationalism, 1880–1930
Casper Sylvest

This chapter covers the historical components and emergence of liberal internationalism as a political ideology, discussing the Victorian liberalism and the visions of international politics that grew out of and were important for the ascendancy of internationalism. The popularity of Cobdenite ideas is closely related to their compatibility not only with dissent, but also with philosophical radicalism, traditional Whig views about war and peace, and the evangelically inspired, economic arguments in favour of free trade. William Ewart Gladstone argued against Lord Palmerston's meddling foreign policy, his conception of the English as ‘universal schoolmasters’, his ‘insular temper’ and his ‘self-glorifying tendency’. Lord Salisbury provides a helpful contrast to liberal internationalism. Internationalist ideology was underwritten by expectations of intellectual, moral and/or political progress, which would issue in a public morality and the reconciliation of nationalism and internationalism, ensuring the entrenchment of order and justice in international politics.

in British liberal internationalism, 1880–1930
Casper Sylvest

This chapter investigates the character and intellectual infrastructure of the emerging discipline of international law, and covers the history of British international legal thought prior to 1870. Victorian society and politics were always saturated in religious language and images. John Stuart Mill exemplifies how ‘civilisation’ could supply a teleology. Henry Sumner Maine's contribution to international law has generally been neglected or overshadowed by his other writings. Many different legal scholars later adapted and adopted his ideas. William Edward Hall, Thomas Joseph Lawrence and John Westlake provide insights into the mainstream of international legal reasoning. The chapter shows how evolutionary ideas were closely bound up with the concept of civilisation. The idea of evolution supplied international law with a historical framework that explained the current problems of the subject and its future redemption. Compared with Westlake, Lawrence was more anxious to fulfil the prophecy of a gradually emerging peace.

in British liberal internationalism, 1880–1930
Casper Sylvest

This chapter explores the internationalist ideology that emerged from the political and social thought of Herbert Spencer and Henry Sidgwick. A discussion of the role of philosophical idealists, including Thomas Hill Green, David George Ritchie and Bernard Bosanquet, is presented. Green influenced a new generation of liberals and internationalists in important ways. Ritchie foresaw how the struggle among states would be tamed through the development of ethics and the widening of communities. Spencer's ideas about international politics fall clearly within the bounds of liberal internationalism. It is Sidgwick's scepticism towards dogmatism in religious affairs that has coloured his image. The Elements of Politics and The Development of European Polity were consistent in their projection and pursuit of basic internationalist ideals. The analysis points to the concomitant diversity and strength of internationalism as a political ideology among successful liberal philosophers and their audiences in the late nineteenth century.

in British liberal internationalism, 1880–1930
Casper Sylvest

This chapter investigates the historical language of internationalist ideology as it was displayed in the writings of three prominent liberal historians who informed and augmented liberal internationalism: James Bryce, John Morley and Lord Acton. Their different approaches to the emerging discipline and the practice of history reflect the broad appeal of historical representations and its relationship to political debates. The Holy Roman Empire covered the ideas which bolstered that empire, and one of the most fascinating episodes of the story – what Bryce termed the ‘theory of the Medieval Empire’ – now appeared outrageously anachronistic. Morley's Cobden represented the pinnacle of an honest and simple liberalism. The Life of Gladstone is above all the story of the young conservative High Church disciple who became the grand old man of liberalism. Acton's spirit was truly the spirit of a combative internationalism that would have an army of historians on its side.

in British liberal internationalism, 1880–1930
Casper Sylvest

This chapter shows how ideas and arguments emerging within the legal, philosophical and historical languages of internationalism were exploited by a new and younger generation. Lassa Oppenheim deployed the language of legal evolution to advance a moral internationalist argument. George Edward Moore's cultivation of simple truths, aesthetics and personal experience, and Bertrand Russell's search for an unpolluted rational foundation of philosophical truth, could lead to withdrawal from politics. Leonard Trelawney Hobhouse, John Atkinson Hobson and Norman Angell took on board the brighter dimensions of Herbert Spencer's evolutionary theory and its focus on the international domain. Their writings were infused with the values of Richard Cobden, John Bright and William Ewart Gladstone. George Peabody Gooch is a fitting representative of early twentieth-century liberal internationalists, their debts to a previous generation, as well as the ideological innovation they represented.

in British liberal internationalism, 1880–1930
Abstract only
Casper Sylvest

This chapter summarises the arguments of the book and discusses their wider implications for, in particular, the historiography of International Relations (IR), contemporary liberal IR theory and British intellectual history of the period. Liberal internationalism enjoys a position in the current theoretical landscape of IR as opaque as that which it occupies in real-world political practice. The liberal internationalist vision is at once pervasive, ignored and exploited. Diversity in unity is a central characteristic of liberal internationalist ideology from the late nineteenth century through to the inter-war years. The history of internationalist ideas provides a marked contrast to the technical and bloodless versions of liberalism that are predominant in contemporary American IR. Liberal internationalism clearly had many drawbacks, including an unwarranted faith in gradual or manufactured progress and a complacent attitude towards the achievements of civilisation.

in British liberal internationalism, 1880–1930