Beyond the Anarchical Society: Grotius, Colonialism and Order in World Politics

Beyond the Anarchical Society: Grotius, Colonialism and Order in World Politics

Beyond the Anarchical Society: Grotius, Colonialism and Order in World Politics

Beyond the Anarchical Society: Grotius, Colonialism and Order in World Politics

Synopsis

It is commonly argued that the international system is currently in a state of upheaval, as state sovereignty is challenged by a variety of forces. Keene's book questions this assumption, arguing that sovereignty has never existed globally in any case, and suggesting that it has applied only to Western states. International relations elsewhere have been characterized by the norms of colonialism, rather than international law. The book examines the conduct of the British and Dutch empires, and how the traditions of colonialism have been challenged in the modern world.

Excerpt

As anyone who has studied international relations will probably be aware, the title of this book is a reference to Hedley Bull's famous work, The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics. My use of a similar language is intended in part as a tribute to the power and insight of Bull's argument, and in part as a criticism of its limitations. Before I present my own perspective on order in world politics, then, I want to explain briefly why I attach so much importance to Bull's approach, and where I think he went wrong.

To my mind, the most attractive feature of Bull's work is his lucid defence of the view that in certain respects international relations are social relations, and that order in world politics should therefore be conceived as a form of social order. Bull developed this position primarily to challenge the popular belief that international relations should be understood in 'Machiavellian' or 'Hobbesian' terms. In other words, he was taking issue with the argument that, because the international system is anarchic, all states have to obey the brutal logic of Realpolitik and must devote themselves to the pursuit of their own national interests. Bull acknowledged that this perspective captures some aspects of international relations, as does an alternative 'Kantian' perspective that highlights the importance of transnational or ideological solidarity and conflict, but he insisted that neither tells us the whole story. In particular, they underestimate the importance and frequency of cooperation and regulated intercourse among states, based on the norms, rules and institutions of the modern 'anarchical society' of equal and independent sovereign states. While it is important to explain how the logic of anarchy influences the behaviour of states, it is just as important to understand the normative structure of the order that has been created in this international society. As well as having to explain how states respond to the anarchical nature of the international system, theorists must also make sense of the relationship between the goals that are promoted by the existing order in the society of states and alternative goals that might conceivably be regarded as attributes of justice in world politics. Here, one of the key themes in . . .

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