Liberal approach to the study of international politics has its roots in the development of liberal political theory in the 17th century. Closely connected with the emergence of the modern liberal state, the liberal tradition generally takes a positive view of human nature. Interestingly, some of the major contributors until the mid-20th Century were not international relations scholars, but political philosophers, political economists, and people generally interested in international affairs. For example, John Locke, widely considered the first liberal thinker of the 17th Century, saw a great potential for human progress in modern civil society and capitalists economy, both of which, he believed, could flourish in states that guaranteed individual liberty.
Liberals are generally of the view that the period since the late 17th Century constitutes a historical watershed during which a multifaceted progress of modernization has introduced or enhanced the possibility of a dramatic improvement in the moral character and material well being of humankind. In other words, the liberals argue that the process of modernization unleashed by the scientific revolution led to improved technologies which in turn made it possible to devise more efficient ways of producing goods and mastering nature. This was reinforced by the liberal intellectual revolution, which had great faith in human reason and rationality. Here lies the basis for the liberal belief in progress: the modern liberal state invokes a political and economic system that will bring, in Jeremy Bentham’s famous phrase. “The greatest happiness of the greatest number”.