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Martin Hall

Martin Hall

PhD | Associate Professor | Senior Lecturer

Martin Hall

Liberal International theory: Eurocentric but not always Imperialist?


  • Martin Hall
  • John Hobson

Summary, in English

This article has two core objectives: first to challenge the conventional

understanding of liberal international theory (which we do by focussing specifically on classical liberalism) and second, to develop much further postcolonialism’s conception of Eurocentrism. These twin objectives come together insofar as we argue that classical liberalism does not always stand for anti-imperialism/noninterventionism given that significant parts of it were Eurocentric and proimperialist. But we also argue that in those cases where liberals rejected imperialism they did so not out of a commitment to cultural pluralism, as we are conventionally told, but as a function of either a specific Eurocentric or a scientific racist stance. This, in turn, means that Eurocentrism can be reduced neither to

scientific racism nor to imperialism. Thus while we draw on postcolonialism and its critique of liberalism as Eurocentric, we find its conception of Eurocentrism (and hence its vision of liberalism) to be overly reductive. Instead we differentiate four variants of ‘polymorphous Eurocentrism’ while revealing how two of these rejected imperialism and two supported it. And by revealing how classical liberalism was embedded within these variants of Eurocentrism so we recast the conventional interpretation. In doing so, we bring to light the ‘protean career of polymorphous liberalism’ as it crystallizes in either imperialist or anti-imperialist forms as a function of the different variants of Eurocentrism within which it is embedded. Finally, because two of these variants underpin modern liberalism

(as discussed in the Conclusions) so we challenge international relations scholars to rethink their conventional understanding of both classical- and modern-liberalism, as much as we challenge postcolonialists to rethink their conception of Eurocentrism.


  • Department of Political Science

Publishing year







International Theory





Document type

Journal article


Cambridge University Press


  • Political Science


  • liberalism
  • racism
  • Eurocentrism/Orientalism
  • interventionism/noninterventionism
  • imperialism/anti-imperialism
  • postcolonialism



Research group

  • Internationell politik
  • Politisk teori och metod


  • ISSN: 1752-9719