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"The crowning achievement of [Ikenberry's] decades-long work explaining and defending the liberal international order." —Michael Hirsch, Foreign Affairs
“A thoughtful and profound defence of liberal internationalism — both as a political philosophy and as a guide to future actions."—Gideon Rachman, Financial Times
For two hundred years, the grand project of liberal internationalism has been to build a world order that is open, loosely rules-based, and oriented toward progressive ideas. Today this project is in crisis, threatened from the outside by illiberal challengers and from the inside by nationalist-populist movements. This timely book offers the first full account of liberal internationalism’s long journey from its nineteenth-century roots to today’s fractured political moment. Creating an international “space” for liberal democracy, preserving rights and protections within and between countries, and balancing conflicting values such as liberty and equality, openness and social solidarity, and sovereignty and interdependence—these are the guiding aims that have propelled liberal internationalism through the upheavals of the past two centuries. G. John Ikenberry argues that in a twenty-first century marked by rising economic and security interdependence, liberal internationalism—reformed and reimagined—remains the most viable project to protect liberal democracy.
“John Ikenberry once more shows why he remains the most intelligent and most articulate defender of a world built over two centuries by Britain and the United States. Yet another tour de force by one of the most important voices in international relations today.”—Michael Cox, Emeritus Professor of International Relations, London School of Economics
"The foremost proponent of liberalism amongst current international relations scholars has delivered a timely and penetrating critical assessment of liberalism’s origins, development, contradictions, and prospects. This book is a thoughtful and valuable counterweight to the shallow and seductive blandishments of both populists and authoritarians."—Barry Buzan, London School of Economics and Political Science
"A World Safe for Democracy is a wide-ranging and masterly genealogy of liberal internationalism. While outlining the serious crises liberal internationalism faces today, Ikenberry presents an eloquent plea for its value and a thoughtful prescription for its survival."—Michael Doyle, Columbia University
"At a time when the liberal internationalist project is under sustained attack, a rigorous defense of it by a leading scholar is greatly to be welcomed. With deep research and careful analysis, John Ikenberry shows how the liberal world has worked in the past and can be made to work in the current era."—Robert Jervis, author of How Statesmen Think
"John Ikenberry is the preeminent theorist of liberal internationalism in the world. A World Safe for Democracy is the product of decades of study, including thoughtful and honest debates with realist and revisionist critiques of the liberal international order. The book couldn't be more timely. . . . A must-read."—Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO, New America
A conversation with G. John Ikenberry:
How should we understand “making the world safe for democracy”? What was Woodrow Wilson really proposing?
In declaring war against Germany in April 1917, Woodrow Wilson famously proclaimed that the struggle would be waged to make the world “safe for democracy.” These words, widely seen to embody the essence of liberal internationalism, have been read as a call to spread democracy worldwide. And they have been used to justify campaigns—including wars—to remake the world in America’s image. I argue that they can be read differently, as a call to organize the international order to make liberal democracies safe. This reading best captures the longer tradition of liberal internationalism, which begins a century before Wilson and unfolds in the century after him. The guiding impulse of this tradition is to encourage the cooperative organization of the international order so as to protect the security, welfare, and progress of liberal democracy—in short, to make the world safe for democracy.
Why is liberal internationalism worth defending?
Is liberal democracy worth defending? Liberal internationalism is the tradition of thought and action aimed at creating the international conditions for its defense. Liberal internationalism offers a vision of order in which sovereign states—led by liberal democracies—cooperate for mutual gain and protection within a loosely rules-based international space. Reconciling the dilemmas of sovereignty and openness, creating tools and capacities to manage complex global connections, seeking protections and preserving rights within and between states—these are the core aims that have propelled liberal internationalism through the upheavals of the past two centuries. Modernity constantly throws up new challenges, and in a world of rising economic and security interdependence, liberal internationalism remains the most coherent, functional, and widely acceptable way of organizing international relations.