Revolution and World Order: The Revolutionary State in International Society

By David Armstrong | Go to book overview
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1 The Westphalian Conception of International Society

The word 'society' is capable of sustaining a great many different meanings. It may, for example, refer in the broadest sense to the condition of living in association, company, or intercourse with others of the same species, as in 'human society'. It may refer to a particular group of individuals so associated, as in 'village society'. One Oxford English Dictionary definition—'the aggregate of persons living together in a more or less ordered community'—essentially derives from this meaning of the term, while also introducing the requirement of some degree of order. Here, the term 'society' will be employed to describe 'an association based upon certain common interests which accepts and maintains agreed rules and practices to further those common interests'. This in turn draws attention to one of the central questions about any rule-bound association: what is its principle of obligation? In other words, what is the source of the society's rules and why do people obey them? In the case of societies that have been formally constituted for some specific purpose, such as trade unions, the answer to this question is straightforward: the members themselves have designed the rules and agreed to be bound by them. In the case of the state—a form of association that claims much more far-reaching authority over its members—more complex and sophisticated explanations of obligation have been advanced. Many revolve around the idea of a social contract: the notion that the ultimate source of the state's exercise of legitimate authority is the consent of its citizens.

It is not immediately obvious that the term 'society', as defined here, has any significant application to international relations. Where is the evidence that the members of the 'international society' consider themselves to be obligated by any rules? What is the source of these rules? Who, indeed, are the members of the international society? Practices and institutions which make,

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