Liberal International theory: Eurocentric but not always Imperialist?

Martin Hall, John Hobson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article has two core objectives: first to challenge the conventional
understanding of liberal international theory (which we do by focussing specifically on classical liberalism) and second, to develop much further postcolonialism’s conception of Eurocentrism. These twin objectives come together insofar as we argue that classical liberalism does not always stand for anti-imperialism/noninterventionism given that significant parts of it were Eurocentric and proimperialist. But we also argue that in those cases where liberals rejected imperialism they did so not out of a commitment to cultural pluralism, as we are conventionally told, but as a function of either a specific Eurocentric or a scientific racist stance. This, in turn, means that Eurocentrism can be reduced neither to
scientific racism nor to imperialism. Thus while we draw on postcolonialism and its critique of liberalism as Eurocentric, we find its conception of Eurocentrism (and hence its vision of liberalism) to be overly reductive. Instead we differentiate four variants of ‘polymorphous Eurocentrism’ while revealing how two of these rejected imperialism and two supported it. And by revealing how classical liberalism was embedded within these variants of Eurocentrism so we recast the conventional interpretation. In doing so, we bring to light the ‘protean career of polymorphous liberalism’ as it crystallizes in either imperialist or anti-imperialist forms as a function of the different variants of Eurocentrism within which it is embedded. Finally, because two of these variants underpin modern liberalism
(as discussed in the Conclusions) so we challenge international relations scholars to rethink their conventional understanding of both classical- and modern-liberalism, as much as we challenge postcolonialists to rethink their conception of Eurocentrism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)210-245
JournalInternational Theory
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Political Science

Free keywords

  • liberalism
  • racism
  • Eurocentrism/Orientalism
  • interventionism/noninterventionism
  • imperialism/anti-imperialism
  • postcolonialism


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