Are two theories better than one? A constructivist model of the neorealist-neoliberal debate

Cameron G. Thies

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


This article constructs a test of the logical consistency of neorealism and neoliberalism by applying McPhee's (1963) survival model to international relations theory. McPhee's model demonstrates how some cultural artifacts survive over time, while others are forgotten or eliminated from the cultural canon. Employing Wendt's notion of roles as cultural artifacts in conjunction with McPhee's model allows us to clarify the logical assumptions and implications of neorealism and neoliberalism. I argue that neorealism is best characterized by the logic of a single screening system and neoliberalism by a repetitive screening system. The logical test that follows demonstrates that both theories are internally consistent with respect to the cultures of anarchy they predict. However, the logic of the repetitive screening model demonstrates that neoliberalism is theoretically more capable of dealing with the complexity of interstate relations. I suggest that the distinction between neorealism and neoliberalism is based upon a flawed understanding of the operation of process and structure within the international system. This misunderstanding, when clarified by the survival model and constructivist theory, indicates that the two competing theories are actually variants of a single, underlying model.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)159-183+241-242
JournalInternational Political Science Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Constructivism
  • Interstate culture
  • Logical consistency
  • Neoliberalism
  • Neorealism
  • Survival model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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