The Ethics of Neoliberal Institutionalism

James L. Richardson

in The Oxford Handbook of International Relations

Published in print August 2008 | ISBN: 9780199219322
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:


The Ethics of Neoliberal Institutionalism

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Contemporary liberal institutional theory, originating in an enhanced awareness of interdependence in the 1970s, broke with earlier liberal thought in accepting some of the central assumptions of realist theory and defining itself solely in empirical terms. To the extent that normative presuppositions or implications may nonetheless be discerned, they remain implicit. This article focuses on the most prominent theoretical school, usually termed ‘neoliberal institutionalism’, which narrowed down liberalism's traditional normative commitments no less than its empirical assumptions. This article also takes note of certain alternative formulations of institutionalist theory and of the broadening scope of institutional theorizing in the present decade, and its re-emphasis on the normative. The normative writings of Robert Keohane, the central figure in the neoliberal school, demand special attention: while in some respects quite distinctive, they may reasonably be taken as representative of a widely shared American liberal outlook. It is argued that the values endorsed by these variants of liberal institutionalism are limited by their shared perspective: that of the predominant power of the day with its distinctive political culture.

Keywords: contemporary liberal institutional theory; liberal thought; realism; normative; Robert Keohane

Article.  4950 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; International Relations ; Political Theory

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