No man is an island is a popular poem by John Donne. The message of the poem is the interconnected nature of mankind. This idea that we as humans are connected and must protect and care for each other is not uncommon. Within international relations, internationalism is a concept that promotes cooperation not just among people but among a larger unit of analysis – that of states. When it comes to matters such as global warming, terrorism, or peace and security, many nations realise that these issues cannot be tackled alone. Therefore an international community is not only desirable, but it is also a necessity. Let's take a closer look at internationalism in this article. 

Internationalism Internationalism

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Table of contents

    Internationalism meaning

    Internationalism is the idea of embracing cooperation among states - this includes political, economic, and even cultural cooperation. This unification is founded on adopting shared aims, values and a desire for a common good. While this meaning of internationalism is the same across different forms, there is a difference of opinion on the best method of global cooperation. At its core, internationalism is founded on several universalist presumptions regarding human nature.

    Internationalism is often compared and contrasted against nationalism due to its devotion to only a specific nation. This is because nationalism views the world in terms of state-specific borders and is concerned with the interests of the singular nation-state. Despite this contrast, internationalism is still viewed as being compatible with specific forms of nationalism.

    Internationalism Global cooperation StudySmarterFig. 1 Illustration of global cooperation

    Internationalism can also be embraced or rejected in multiple ways by a number of nation-states; for example, some states may seek to entirely remove themselves from the international community in order to protect their national interest. This is known as isolationism and was an approach adopted by the US in the 1920s, which saw the USA reach unprecedented economic prosperity and contributed to what is known as the 'Roaring Twenties'.

    Features of internationalism

    There are several important features of internationalism; these include humanitarianism, maintenance of peace and security, and economic stability.

    An emphasis on humanitarianism - This feature refers to the belief that everyone in the world must help one another, regardless of who the person pleading for assistance is. This is an important feature of internationalism, as it serves as a justification as to why nations should work collaboratively.

    Maintenance of peace and security is in the world's best interest if peace and security are maintained; having good relations with other states helps achieve this. Internationalism is forwarded as a way to ensure peace. It is only through internationalism that one can ever seek to achieve peace.

    Economic stability - This feature is concerned with maintaining good relations with nations allowing for economic stability, and encouraging international trade and commerce, which improves the world economy.

    Types of Internationalism

    Two important types of internationalism that you will need to know are liberal and socialist internationalism. Let's take a deeper look into what these are all about.

    Liberal Internationalism

    Liberal Internationalism is an approach based on the belief that nations can achieve their common goals through increased interaction and cooperation. Liberal internationalism asserts that each nation equally contributes to global peace and no nation is more important than another.

    Internationalism The UN general assembly hall StudySmarterFig. 2 The UN General Assembly hall

    Self-determination and interdependence are amongst the fundamental goals of internationalism, as well as a promotion of liberal democracy as the optimum structure of states.

    Interdependence in internationalism refers to the idea that nations will have an interlinked reliance on one another. This can be a general interdependence, or it may be specific to particular areas such as international security or economies.

    Liberal internationalism draws heavily on the liberal idea of self-determination; however, this idea is applied on an international and national level as opposed to an individual level. This makes liberal internationalism, compatible with Liberal Nationalism, as they both centre the liberal idea of self-determination. Both liberal internationalism and liberal nationalism call for cooperation between nations without the need to abandon the importance of national identity

    The United Nations (UN) is used as an example of liberal internationalism as it is an international body that is focused on the cooperation of nations with a particular focus on peace and prosperity. Liberal internationalism is viewed positively in an economic light as cooperation between states within the UN has the potential to increase the world GDP through an increase in international trade and efforts to raise the economy of poorer nations in a bid to bring them into the larger world economy, which will bring about national and international prosperity

    Check out this article on Liberalism!

    Socialist Internationalism

    Socialist internationalism is based upon class as the unifying or divisive factor. For socialist internationalists, class is the foundation of everything and any collective actions must be based upon class consciousness. Therefore, the prioritisation of other ideologies (e.g. nationalism or liberalism) and social phenomena (such as religion) are viewed solely as tools of distraction created by the capitalist system of oppression.

    In fact, ideologies are used as a tool to distract people from igniting class consciousness by providing people with an alternative focus. Socialist internationalists argue that nationalism is an ideology that has been guilty of this.

    Class consciousness is used frequently within Marxist and/or socialist rhetoric. It refers to the awareness one has of their position when it comes to systems based on social class, and it is most often used in relation to class struggles.

    The work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels serves as the inspiration for socialist internationalism, in the Communist Manifesto these thinkers expressed the idea working-class people have no country and therefore one can not take from them what they do not possess. Therefore, nationalism must be substituted for class consciousness in the form of socialist internationalism, in which there is an encouragement for the international overthrow of capitalism by the globe's proletariat.

    Proletariat refers to the collective working class and is a term most commonly associated with Marxism.

    Even though liberal and socialist internationalism are the most common types of internationalism, there are more such as revolutionary and hegemonic internationalism.

    Advantages of internationalism

    The advantages of internationalises can be summarised into the following points:

    1. Forward-looking/ progressive politics

    2. Shared benefits

    3. Collaborative efforts

    Because the idea of internationalism is concerned with how states relate to each other and advocates for mutually beneficial cooperation amongst states, internationalism is often described as a progressive political concept. This is because it looks forward to make change for the future, unlike regressive politics which look to reinstate the past. Progressive politics relates to solidarity and the use of politics to better society.

    Internationalism is an example of this, as within internationalism benefits and advantages are shared amongst nations. These advantages included protection, respect, freedom and social gains as well as collaboration on global issues that affect everyone such as terrorism, global warming and more recently how to tackle the coronavirus. The global battle against coronavirus is a demonstration of progressive politics and the advantages of internationalism.

    Internationalism Display of unity amongst nation states StudySmarterFig. 3: Display of unity amongst nation-states.

    Both internationalism and globalisation played an important role in the coronavirus pandemic of 2020. In previous centuries, an outbreak of a virus like Covid-19 would be relatively contained to a specific region. This was because travel across regions was much harder and less common. However, today as a result of globalisation the world is more connected than ever before, with hundreds of thousands of people travelling across the world each day and there not only can information be spread easily so can more frightening things like viruses and diseases.

    As a result of the international efforts of nations and the political cooperation and collaborative attempts to rid the world of coronavirus Multiple Covid vaccines were able to be developed in a short amount of time, this is an example of the advantageous effects of internationalism.

    Whilst internationalism has its advantages, some areas of internationalism are critiqued for their adverse or negative effects. A particular area of concern is that whilst internationalism may promote a shared global culture or aim, the cost of achieving this shared culture can be detrimental. In order to achieve a shared vision, some nations may be forced to conform to a specific mode of thinking, for example, the adoption of liberal democracy as the only way that a nation should operate. This can be concerning in regard to who gets to decide what the shared aim should be, as it can serve to create or sustain cultural hegemonies. This can be seen in the international sphere today, where non-liberal democracies are often excluded from the international community and this usually means developing countries.

    Internationalism - Key takeaways

    • Internationalism refers to how states relate to each other on a global level and promotes a principle of cooperation among states.
    • Social internationalism and liberal internationalism are the two main types of internationalism.
    • Socialist internationalism places class as the unifying factor among mankind.
    • The types of internationalism are not mutually exclusive and we can see more than one example of internationalism within a given international event.
    • The United Nations is a liberal internationalist organisation that is critiqued for not accurately upholding liberal internationalist deals.
    • There are several advantages of internationalism, especially progressive politics, shared benefits, and collaborative efforts.


    1. Fig. 2 UN General Assembly hall ( by Patrick Gruban ( licensed by CC-BY-SA-2.0 (
    Frequently Asked Questions about Internationalism

    What is internationalism?

    Internationalism refers to how states relate to each other on a global level and promotes a principle of cooperation amongst states.

    What are some benefits of internationalism?

    The benefits include protection, respect, freedom and social gains as well as collaboration on global issues that affect everyone such as terrorism, global warming and more recently how to tackle the coronavirus.

    What are the 3 types of internationalism?

    There are many types of internationalism such as liberal, socialist, revolutionary and hegemonic internationalism. They are all important. 

    What are examples of internationalism?

    The United Nations is an example of internationalism as it is an international body that is focused on the cooperation of nations with a particular focus on peace and prosperity. 

    What are the characteristics of internationalism?

    Self-determination, humanitarianism, peace, security and economic stability. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which one of these is an example of liberal internationalism?

    Which form of internationalism is compatible with Nationalism?

    Name three types of internationalism.


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