There are two main schools in the theory of international relations – realism and liberalism.

Realism in International Relations

REALISTS believe that human nature is inherently flawed (the legacy of Hobbes’s anthropological pessimism and, on an even deeper level, the legacy of the Christian idea of the Fall, or lapsus in Latin) and cannot be fundamentally corrected, which means that selfishness, predation, and violence are impossible to eradicate. This leads to the conclusion that man (who, according to Hobbes, is a wolf to another man) can only be restrained and regulated by means of a strong state. The state is inevitable and is the bearer of supreme sovereignty. At the same time, the predatory and egoistic nature of man is projected onto the state; therefore, the nation-state has its own interests. These interests take into account only their own state, while the will to violence and greed mean war is always a possibility. Realists believe that this has always been and always will be.

International relations are therefore based only on a balance of power between wholly sovereign entities. No world order can exist in the long term; there is only chaos, which changes as some states weaken and others strengthen. At the same time, the term “chaos” in this theory is not bad in itself; it is merely a statement of the actual state of affairs, derived from taking the concept of sovereignty very seriously. If there are several truly sovereign powers, no supranational order can exist between them to which all would submit. Were such an order to exist, sovereignty would not be complete, in fact, it would not exist at all, and only this supranational authority itself would be sovereign.

The school of realism has traditionally been very strong in the US, starting with its first founders: Hans Morgenthau and George Kennan in the US, and Edward Carr in the UK.

Liberalism in International Relations

REALISTS are opposed by the liberal school of international relations. The liberal school does not rely on Hobbes, with his anthropological pessimism, but on Locke with his notion of man as a blank slate (tabula rasa) and partly on Kant with his pacifism derived from the morality of practical reason and its universality. The liberals in international relations believe that man can be changed by re-education and training. This is the Enlightenment project: to transform the predatory egoist into a reasonable and tolerant altruist who is willing to reckon with others and treat them with reason and tolerance. Hence the theory of progress. Whereas the realists believe that human nature cannot be changed, the liberals are convinced that it can and should be. But both believe that man is a former ape; the realists accept this as an irrevocable fact, while the liberals are convinced that society has the power to change the very nature of the former beast – to write anything on the “blank slate.”

But if so, then the state is necessary only for enlightenment. This is where its functions end, and once society becomes sufficiently liberal and civil, the state can be dissolved. Sovereignty therefore carries nothing absolute; it is a temporary measure. And the state that does not strive to transform its subjects into liberals becomes evil. Only liberal states can exist, since “democracies do not fight each other.”

Even these liberal states must gradually die out, giving way to a world government. Having forged civil society, they are abolished. This gradual abolition of states is undoubted progress. This is the logic we are observing in today’s European Union. American globalists like Biden, Obama, and “open society” promoter George Soros specify that in the course of this progress, a world government will be formed based on the US and its direct satellites – the League of Democracies project.

In a technical sense, liberalism in international relations, as opposed to realism, is often referred to as “idealism.” The realists in international relations believe that humanity is doomed to remain as it has essentially always been, while the liberals in international relations “idealistically” believe in progress and the possibility of changing human nature itself. Gender theory and posthumanism belong to this type of ideology; they stem from liberalism.

Marxism in International Relations

ANOTHER trend in international relations worth mentioning is Marxism. Here, “Marxism” is not exactly the ideology that served as the basis of Soviet foreign policy. The classic proponent of realism in international relations, Edward Carr, convincingly demonstrated that the foreign policy of the Soviet Union, above all under Stalin, was built on the principles of pure realism. In his practical steps, Stalin proceeded from the principle of full sovereignty, which he correlated not so much with the nation-state as with his “Red Empire” and its interests.

What is referred to as “Marxism in international relations” is represented more in Trotskyism or Wallerstein’s world system theories. This is also idealism, only a “proletarian” one.

Here, the whole world appears as a single zone of social progress that will lead to the capitalist system becoming global – i.e., the eventual creation of a world government with the total hegemony of global capital that is inherently international. Here, as the liberals also believe, the essence of man depends on society and, more precisely, on the relation to the ownership of the means of production. Therefore, human nature is based on class. Society abolishes the beast in him but turns him into a social mechanism that is completely dependent on class structure. Man does not live and does not think; it is the class within him that lives and thinks.

Unlike liberalism in international relations, however, Marxists in international relations believe that history will not end with the creation of a world government and humanity without states and cultures. After this (but not before, and this is the key divergence with the Soviet system and Stalinism), class contradictions will reach a climax and a world revolution will take place. And here the mistake of Stalinism was the attempt to build socialism in one country, which leads to a left-wing version of National Socialism. Only after capitalism completes its mission of destroying states and abolishing sovereignties is a real international proletarian revolution possible. In the meantime, it is necessary to support capitalism, and above all mass migration, the ideology of human rights, and all kinds of minorities – primarily sexual minorities.

Contemporary Marxism is predominantly pro-liberal, globalist, and accelerationist.

Realism in the Multipolar World Theory

HERE, we should ask: Is the theory of a multipolar world closer to realism or idealism?

I would like to recall that in this theory the subject is not the classical bourgeois nation-state of the New Age (in the spirit of the Westphalian system and the theory of sovereignty of Macchiavelli-Boden), but the Civilization State (Zhang Weiwei) or the “Large Space” (Carl Schmitt). A sketch of such a multipolar world order was shrewdly devised back in the early 1990s by Samuel Huntington. Several Civilization States, having carried out regional integration processes, become independent centers of world politics. I have developed this theme in my book The Theory of a Multipolar World.

At first glance, the theory of a multipolar world is about sovereignty – i.e., about realism. And this is true, but with a very important modification: Here the bearer of sovereignty is not just a nation-state, which is an aggregate of individual citizens, but the Civilization State, which unites entire peoples and cultures under a supreme umbrella – a religion, a historical mission, and a reigning idea (like the one Eurasians have). A Civilization State is a new, purely technical name for an Empire – the Chinese, Islamic, Russian, Ottoman, and of course the Western. Such Civilization States determined the balance of planetary politics in the pre-Columbian era.

The process of colonization and the rise of the West in the Modern Age altered this balance in favor of the West. Today, a certain historical correction is coming. The non-West is once again reasserting itself. Russia is battling the West in Ukraine for control of the most important limitrophe. China is competing for dominance in the world economy. Islam is waging cultural and religious jihad against Western imperialism and hegemony. India is growing into a full-fledged global actor. Africa’s resource and demographic potential automatically makes it the most important player in the near future. Latin America is also asserting its right to independence.

New agents – both Civilization States and civilizations that are increasingly considering integration into sovereign powerful blocs, “large spaces” – are understood to be new figures of planetary realism.

But unlike ordinary nation-states, created according to the patterns of European bourgeois regimes of the Modern Age, Civilization States are by definition more than a random association of aggressive egoistic animals, as Western realists understand society. Unlike ordinary states, Civilization States are built around a mission, an Idea, around a system of values that are far from being merely practical and pragmatic. This means that the principle of realism, which does not take into account this ideal dimension, cannot be fully applied here. That is to say, we are dealing with an idealism that is fundamentally different from the liberal one, because liberalism is the dominant ideology of only one of the civilizations – the Western one. All other civilizations, being distinctive and original and relying on their own traditional values, are oriented on other ideas. Therefore, we can call this idealism of the rising non-Western civilizations that is shaping a multipolar world illiberal.

Civilization States in the theory of a multipolar world thus simultaneously adopt elements of both realism and liberalism in international relations.

From realism they take the principle of absolute sovereignty, the absence of any binding authority at the planetary level. Each civilization is completely sovereign and is not subject to any world government. Therefore, a conditional “chaos” exists between the Civilization States, as postulated by the theories of classical realism. But in contrast to these theories, we are dealing with a different entity – not a nation-state established according to the principles of the European New Age, but with a fundamentally different system based on autonomous concepts of man, God, society, and space and time, derived from the peculiarities of a particular cultural code: Eurasian, Chinese, Islamic, Indian, etc.

This realism can be called civilizational, and it is founded not upon Hobbesian logic, which justifies the existence of the “Leviathan” by the inherently vicious and aggressive nature of man-beasts, but on the faith of large social groups united by a single tradition (most often sacral) in the supremacy of those ideas and norms that they consider universal. This universality is limited by the “large space” – i.e., the boundaries of a particular Empire. Within this “large space,” it is recognized and is constitutive. This is what its sovereignty is based on. But in this case, it is not egoistic and material, but sacral and spiritual.

Idealism in the Theory of a Multipolar World

BUT at the same time, we see quite a bit of idealism here. This is not the idealism of Locke or Kant, for there is no universalism, no notion that there are any “universal values” that are universally binding and for which sovereignty must be sacrificed. This idealism of civilizations is not liberal at all; moreover, it is illiberal. Each civilization believes in the absoluteness of its traditional values, and all of them differ significantly from what the modern globalist West offers. Religions are different, anthropologies are different, and ontologies are different. And political science, reduced to its American version where everything is based on the opposition of “democracies” and “authoritarian regimes,” is completely crossed out. Idealism is present, but not at all in favor of liberal democracy as “the goal and pinnacle of progress.” Each civilization has its own ideal. Some are completely different from the Western one. Some are similar, but only in part. The essence of illiberalism is the rejection of the theses of modern Western liberal civilization as a universal model. In their place, each civilization offers its own system of traditional values: the Russian, the Chinese, the Islamic, the Indian, etc.

In the case of Civilization States, idealism is paired with a specific Idea that reflects the goals, foundations, and orientations of that civilization. It is not simply a matter of relying on history and the past, but a project that requires the concentration of effort, will, and a significant intellectual horizon. The nature of this Idea is more than a simple safeguarding of national interests, which is what realism is limited to. The presence of a higher (transcendental, in a sense) goal determines the vector of the future – a development path that aligns with whatever each civilization considers to be good and the reference point of its historical existence. As in liberal idealism, this refers to striving for what should be, what is considered proper, which determines the goals and means of the course to the future. But the ideal itself is fundamentally different: Instead of extreme individualism, materialism, and the improvement of the purely technical aspect of society, which the liberal West seeks to affirm as a universal human criterion but in fact reflects only the historical and cultural West of the postmodern era itself, each of the non-Western civilizations puts forward its own form.

This form may well contain a claim to become universal in its turn, but, unlike the West, Civilization States recognize the legitimacy of other forms and respect and reckon with them. The multipolar world is founded on the recognition of the other, which is located nearby and may very well be dissimilar both in interests and values. That is to say, multipolarity recognizes the pluralism of ideas and ideals, reckons with it, and does not deny the other the right to be and to be different. This constitutes the principal contradiction between unipolarity and multipolarity.

The liberal West assumes that the whole of humanity has only one ideal and one development vector – the Western one. Anything that is different, that does not coincide with the identity and value system of the West itself, is seen as “hostile,” “authoritarian,” and “illegitimate.” At best, it is seen as a “backwardness and lagging behind the West” that needs fixing. Liberal idealism in its globalist expression therefore coincides in practice with cultural racism, imperialism, and hegemony. Civilization States in the multipolar model counter this “ideal” with their own ideas and orientations.

Versions of the Illiberal Idea

RUSSIA has traditionally tried to establish a continental Eurasian power based on the values of collectivism, solidarity and justice, and Orthodox Christian traditions. This is a very different ideal. Quite an illiberal one, if one is to accept the way modern Western liberalism defines itself. At the same time, Russian civilization (the Russian World) has its own special universalism, manifested both in the universal character of the Orthodox Church and, in the Soviet period, in the belief in the victory of socialism and communism on a global scale.

Xi’s “community of common destiny for mankind” (人類命運共同體) or the Tianxia concept (天下) represent the scaled principle of the traditional Confucian ideal of the “Celestial Heaven” – the Chinese empire at the center of the world that offers surrounding peoples the Chinese cultural code as an ethical, philosophical, and sociopolitical ideal. But the Chinese dream – both in its communist and openly antibourgeois, anti-individualist version and the traditionally Confucian version – is very far from Western liberalism in its foundations: i.e., it is essentially illiberal.

The Islamic civilization also has its own unshakable principles and is focused on spreading Islam globally as the “last religion.” It is normal for this civilization to base its sociopolitical system on principles of Sharia and fidelity to fundamental religious tenets. This is another illiberal project.

India in recent decades has been increasingly turning to the foundations of its Vedic civilization and partly to the caste (varna) system, as well as to liberation from colonial models of philosophy and the affirmation and promotion of Hindu principles in culture, education, and politics. And India also considers itself the center of a global civilization, and its tradition – the pinnacle of the human spirit. This is indirectly manifested through the spread of simplified proselytizing forms of Hinduism, such as yoga and lite versions of spiritual practices. Obviously, the philosophy of Vedanta has nothing to do with the principles and assumptions of liberal globalism. In the eyes of a traditional Hindu, modern Western society is an extreme form of degradation, where all values are mixed up and turned upside down, which is characteristic of the age of darkness, the Kali Yuga.

Civilizational projects are maturing on the African continent, primarily in the form of Pan-Africanism. They are based on the anti-Western vector and an appeal of the indigenous peoples of Africa to return to their precolonial traditions. Pan-Africanism has several trends that differently interpret the African Idea and ways of its implementation in the future. But they all unanimously reject liberalism, which means Africa is illiberally oriented.

The same is true for Latin American countries seeking to justify their differences from both the US and Western Europe. The Latin American Idea is founded upon a combination of Catholicism (declining or completely degenerated in the West, but quite alive in South America) and the revived traditions of autochthonous peoples. This is another case of civilizational illiberalism.

The Clash of Civilizations: A Struggle of Ideas

THUS, the Russian, the Chinese, and the Islamic Ideas have a pronounced universal potential. They are followed by India, while Africa and Latin America have so far limited their projects to their respective continents. Nevertheless, the widespread global presence of Africans is leading some theorists to conceive of a project of creating, primarily in the US and the EU, autonomous African self-governing zones on the principle of Brazilian quilombos. The growth of the Latin American population in the US could also eventually have a dramatic impact on the North American civilization and the dominant value system, which, due to its Catholic foundation and preserved connection with traditional society, would certainly sooner or later come into conflict with liberalism, which has Protestant and pronounced Anglo-Saxon foundations.

The struggle between a unipolar world order and a multipolar one is therefore a clash of Ideas – between liberalism, which is trying to defend its dominant position on a global scale, and several different versions of illiberalism, which is becoming increasingly clearly manifested in the countries that make up the multipolar bloc.