This chapter sets out the political theory of international relations understood as a 'society' with its own distinctive standards of conduct. It opens with a discussion of the social character of international relations and international history. It then enquires into the constitutional framework of international relations which has been and still is primarily a societas of states. It goes on to consider the place, in such a society, of international organizations, non-governmental organizations, transnational networks, and human rights. It investigates the distinction between an international system and an international society, the prudential and the procedural aspects of international activity, and, lastly, the role of political ideals in international law.
That international relations ought to be understood as a distinctive society is the fundamental premiss of the classical approach. 1 As indicated in an earlier chapter, classical theorists do not see international relations theory as involving 'models' designed by the researcher and 'applied' to explain the subject from outside. They see the theorist as somebody who enters into the subject and interprets it from inside. The theory of international society is thus by and large consistent with what Max Weber refers to as verstehen or interpretative sociology which focuses on social action. 2 However, the classical approach cannot stay with Weber's further assertion that 'the interpretive understanding of social action' can be employed 'to arrive at a causal explanation of its course and effects.' 3 Here Weber is disclosing a split personality virtually identical to that of