This chapter examines the evolution of international society through European expansion. It considers, first, the nature of international society: does such a society exist? What are its features? What purpose does it serve? And does it have the requisite unity to act as an agent in international relations? The discussion here draws upon the work of the English School which pioneered the notion of international society. Second, the differing approaches to international society taken by solidarism and pluralism will be navigated. Third, the history of international society through colonialism and decolonisation will be charted, revealing the neglected story of an ongoing capacity for ‘international society’ to colonise the space of non-liberal states. Such a capacity throws up a challenge to international society to act as a standard bearer for countries that continue to be subjugated to the interests of greater powers.
‘International society’ is a central term and focus of the English School (see Box 17.1). It is used to refer to both an influential concept and an actual society of states that is fundamental to world politics. This distinction matters because it is very easy to slip between these two meanings when thinking about international society; the concept doesn't easily correspond to how the world is actually constituted. Bearing this in mind, international society as an actual entity in world politics involves two stories; one of which is familiar and the other neglected.