The Evolution of International Society: A Comparative Historical Analysis

The Evolution of International Society: A Comparative Historical Analysis

The Evolution of International Society: A Comparative Historical Analysis

The Evolution of International Society: A Comparative Historical Analysis

Synopsis

This uniquely comprehensive historical study analyses and explains how international societies function. After examining the ancient state systems, the author looks in more detail at our worldwide contemporary society, which grew out of them.The book demonstrates that relations between states are not normally anarchic, but organized international or supernational societies regulated by elaborate rules and practices, which derive substantially from experience. Our present international society, for all its individuality, is only the latest in the series. The Evolution of International Society is a major contribution to international theory, and to our understanding of how relations between states operate. Current interest in international order and hegemonial authority, and the renewed concern with history in political science, make this a timely book.

Excerpt

In this section I want to examine a number of systems of states in the ancient world: that is, the world before the rise of European civilization.

It will not be possible, or necessary for our purpose, to examine every known system that binds together distinct political entities. We need to look at the more important and well-documented ones, and to cover a representative range of developed systems across our spectrum, from the most imperially integrated to the most fragmented clusters of multiple independences, in the same way that a general comparative study of states needs to extend from centralized and homogeneous examples to loosely federated and diverse ones.

We begin in the ancient near east with Sumer. This is the earliest point at which the archaeological written record enables us to discern, with some difficulty, how a states system operated; and what we find is a society of independent city states with hegemonial institutions, about halfway along the spectrum between anarchical freedom of action and rigid empire. The Assyrian system inherited much from Sumer but was more imperially organized; and its Persian successor larger and looser. We then turn to the much more familiar system of classical city-state Greece, where jealously defended independences were tempered by a succession of less institutionalized hegemonies and by continual involvement with Persia. The Greek and Persian systems merged after Alexander’s conquest to form the diverse Macedonian system, which adapted practices derived from many predecessors. Its successor, the Roman imperial system, was the ultimate classical synthesis; which in turn developed into the Byzantine and Arab systems, and into the highly original society of medieval Europe discussed at the beginning of the next section of the book. This succession of systems will enable us to examine the problem of continuity: how a system can inherit and adapt from its predecessors institutions and practices, specific ways of organizing the relations between

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