Liberalism, International Law, and Good Governance

Document Type : Original Article from Result of Thesis


1 PhD Student, Department of Public International Law, Karaj Branch, Islamic Azad University, Karaj, Iran.

2 Assistant Professor, Department of International Relations, Karaj Branch, Islamic Azad University, Karaj, Iran.

3 Assistant Professor, Department of International Law, Karaj Branch, Islamic Azad University, Karaj, Iran.


Within the framework of realism, hegemony requires the use of certain instruments such as the international law to maintain its legitimacy and institutionalize its values. In fact, the stability of a hegemonic order and the continuation of the current situation could be really advantageous. Legitimization through the implementation of the international law has proven efficient in stabilizing the superior positions of the dominant countries. Known as central players in international politics to consolidate power, governments are immersed in the calculation of profits and costs. Hence, they prefer cooperation to favor their national interests. However, liberalism plays an undisputed role in developing the international law to establish ever-lasting peace. By tying the realization of international peace to the legitimacy of representative systems and the internal components of states, liberalism has opened an opportunity to improve human rights. Assuming that liberal international solidarity and peace are established through good governance at a domestic level, this paper aims to determine whether the approach of liberalism to the international law has managed to enhance the standards of governance in the community. For this purpose, the research literature was reviewed to collect data from documents, books, articles, websites, and other Internet-based sources. Finally, liberalism was introduced as a theoretical foundation of good governance to globalize the norms of the human rights in a bid to standardize governance, analyze the rise of liberal governments, and ensure and enforce the human rights.



The international law focuses inherently on norms with its normative theory in international relations emphasizing the social aspects of establishing common international norms and values from the beginning of the third millennium AD. Hence, the theorists of international relations and international law scholars have always been in discussions and disputes (Ghavam & Mohseni, 2015 a:10).  

According to the results of assessing the correlations between international relations and the international law based on the theories of international relations, the theoretical approaches of international relations can be considered and used in the international law. Regarding the interdependence of these two disciplines, it can be stated that the international law seeks regularization, whereas international relations seek explanation and cognition. However, explanation and cognition should evidently regulate different phenomena. Furthermore, it is impossible to achieve regularization without knowledge. Therefore, there is a growing need for the interdisciplinary study of the international. In fact, interdisciplinary studies emphasize that the international law should not be viewed from a purely legal perspective; thus, it is necessary to increase the quality of analysis and richness of research through other relevant sciences such as international relations, politics, history, sociology, philosophy, and economics. The teachings of each of these sciences can be employed to provide scholars of the international law with a clearer insight into the international phenomena. (Mohseni & Ghavam, 2015: 140-124)

According to historians, liberalism began its life in Europe after the end of the Middle Ages and the collapse of the Dark Ages. It is believed that humans have always sought “freedom” and “prosperity” based on the superficial values of individuals and the worldwide spread of egalitarianism. Accordingly, justice will be served in the society only when citizens can freely criticize and challenge the governing body of power without fear and can simultaneously benefit from the minimum welfare and facilities of life. Within the framework of liberalism, this school of though is the only system of governance that has so far been able to provide the maximum degree of freedom and welfare for citizens. Hence, only a democratic (liberal) government with a free market economy and sociocultural foundations based on the rule of law and equality can give freedom and prosperity to its citizens (Dehshiar, 2009: 53).

Since the “theories of international relations” to the international law do not follow the same approach, they are characterized by different positions and roles. In fact, the school of liberalism is assumed to be a theoretical foundation of “good governance” which leads governments to adhere to the standards of democratic governance by emphasizing the norms of the international human rights. This paper addresses the role of the international law in this approach as a social fact based on common norms in a bid to determine whether the approach of the liberal school of thought to the international law can enhance the standards of good governance in the “world community”. In this regard, the origin and background of the liberal theories of the international law are first explained. The concept of the world community is then analyzed with reference to the theoretical foundations of the liberal school of thought on the dissemination of human rights norms for good governance. Finally, the effective roles of norms are determined in the integration of players in international relations. In fact, governments have been compelled to adhere to the standards of the international human rights as well as the “global standards of good governance”. The implementation of human rights can be guaranteed and made universal by standardizing the governance framework; hence, the international peace and security are consolidated and sustained.



In recent years, the theories of international relations have developed interesting scientific ideas in the international law. Therefore, this paper employs a methodology based on the approach to international relations and international law. For this purpose, websites and Internet-based sources were sought to collect data regarding the international law and international relations.


Results and Discussion

From a historical perspective, liberalism is the most important challenge to realism because of presenting a more optimistic worldview. For a number of ethical reasons, a government is responsible for guaranteeing the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens. Thus, the main concern of liberalism is to develop a just political system to protect their rights and freedoms by limiting and legitimizing the political power. The greatest contribution of liberalism to international relations is the theory of “democratic peace”, which decreases the likelihood of war between liberal states, for these states have a higher capacity of cooperation than non-democratic states due to their interests in democracy (Meiser, 2008:1/4).

The emphasis of liberalism on the international law reflects the fact that the adherence of governments to the international rules cannot simply be a matter of national interests and fear of retribution. However, they are well aware of the roles of common values ​​and norms in regulating relations. Even the international human rights thinkers emphasize that states are completely enclosed in a system of human rights and obligations and that their institutions, conventions, and international agreements require them to abide by the principles and rules of the international law (Ghanbari, 2018: 25).



Liberalism has ended the pervasiveness of the liberal democracy values by questioning the assumptions of realism. In fact, it can best meet the needs of the contemporary human. If it is accepted, governments will then be characterized by a similar structure. Established and run by the liberal community in the international community, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund play central roles in empowering states to implement good governance as agents of development and to protect the international peace from the threats of illiberal governments by expanding the territories of the liberal regions. Moreover, liberalism can effectively liberalize illiberal states in accordance with the liberal norms of the international law through good governance while protecting the human rights. Hence, the world will emerge with all liberal states as its members. In a liberal political system, a government is the true representative of citizens. It also observes the human rights and provides ways of implementing good governance by practically adhering to the vertical social contracts (government representation contracts with people). However, it may violate the standards of human rights and governance standards by limiting itself to these rules and showing reluctance to abandon them in order to maintain international credibility and legitimacy.


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