The Cultural Construction of International Relations: The Invention of the State of Nature

The Cultural Construction of International Relations: The Invention of the State of Nature

The Cultural Construction of International Relations: The Invention of the State of Nature

The Cultural Construction of International Relations: The Invention of the State of Nature

Synopsis

The discipline of international relations deals with the problem of culture by defining world politics as a state of nature, yet it ignores the fact that the concept of the state is itself a cultural product. This text uncovers the history of the concept.

Excerpt

This book tells a story, a story about the role of culture in International Relations. It is not, however, a straightforward story to tell, for mainstream International Relations theory, although it recognizes cultural diversity within humanity as one of the fundamental and defining problems of the international, nevertheless constructs the theory of International Relations on the basis of an apparent abstraction from that cultural diversity, namely the concept of the state of nature. Liberal as well as Realist International Relations theory attempts to cut across the problem of the cultural diversity of humanity not only by deriving its explanatory categories from this concept of the state of nature but also by grounding its policy advice on the assumption of a state of nature. This strategy is meant to achieve a theoretical as well as a practical aim. Any theory which aspires to making general statements about the interaction of culturally diverse actors in the world will confront the tension between its own claim to universal or general validity on the one hand, and the diverse, non-universal character of its subject matter on the other. The use of the concept of the state of nature, however, which presupposes a common, universal nature of human beings beneath their particular cultural identities, thus enables International Relations theory to make statements of general validity despite the cultural diversity of its subject matter.

Once posited, however, the assumption of a universal human nature also allows the discipline of International Relations to formulate practical political solutions to the problems generated by cultural diversity in the world based on nature. Hence, we find that for both Realists and Liberals the most important feature of human beings in the state of nature is reason. Reason, they assert, is common to all human beings irrespective of their particular cultural identities and can, therefore, be used to overcome the particularities and conflicts generated by cultural diversity. Reason, in the Realist account, does not only allow the scholar of International Relations to uncover and analyse the general and universal laws of international politics underneath their particular appearances, but it is also the means by which statesmen assess the international situation they are confronted with and on this basis interact with their counterparts; in this political practice, the statesmen, so to speak, rise above the cultural identities of their respective political . . .

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