Three Theses on the Current Crisis of International Liberalism

33 Pages Posted: 10 May 2018 Last revised: 26 Jun 2018

Date Written: April 24, 2018


This essay advances three theses on the current crisis of international liberalism. First, it is a composite one, comprising interrelated crises of domestic political representation and of global governance affecting the international and supranational arrangements that were constructed in the post-war period. Second, the crisis is a specific development of neoliberal governance, which requires distinguishing international liberalism’s two historical variants: “embedded liberalism” and “neoliberalism.” The turn from the post-war regime of “embedded liberalism” to the “neoliberalism” of recent decades has had the effect of undoing the domestic social contracts that underlay post-war political stability even while failing to secure peace and prosperity internationally. Third, neoliberal governance operates through a distinct form of legality from the embedded liberalism of the post-war period. The turn to neoliberalism involves a shift from the inter-state orientation that characterized the first decades of international liberalism to a “dialectic of globalization,” in which newly empowered transnational activity across states generates pressure for supranational governance above them. This dialectic has the effect of undermining the international legal order on which liberalism has depended historically, which suggests that the present crisis is at root the product of an internal transformation rather than the result of competition with external enemies.

Suggested Citation

Grewal, David Singh, Three Theses on the Current Crisis of International Liberalism (April 24, 2018). Yale Law & Economics Research Paper No. 594. Available at SSRN: or

David Singh Grewal (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

127 Wall St.
New Haven, CT 06511
United States


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