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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: March 2017



The speculation that the ancient Greeks and Romans did not possess the equivalent of modern ethical sensitivities to violent harm and the contention that they did not condemn what has come to be known as genocide have framed this inquiry. A central objective has been to assess those empirical contentions about the differences between the dominant harm conventions in the ancient and modern states-systems. The investigation has specifically engaged with Wight's observation that all international societies appear to have developed within a bounded cultural region where sharp distinctions were presumed to exist between the ‘advanced’ and the ‘backward’ peoples, and by his claim – which has a direct parallel in Elias's writings – that modern ethical sensibilities to violence and suffering in warfare may have been absent in the ‘simpler civilizations’. Those observations were in competition with the proposition that international relations have barely changed in some fundamental respects over the millennia.

The relationship between civilizations and international societies and, particularly, the issue of how far ‘civilized’ values have influenced relations between independent political communities in the modern era have been fundamental to this approach to the sociology of states-systems. Wight's foundational essay on that subject was largely silent on how the two phenomena were related. There was no discussion of how civilizations – or civilizing processes – shaped, and were influenced by, the development of international societies. The argument in these pages has been that understanding the distinctive moral sensitivities to which Wight referred, requires an examination of the process which was central to Elias's exploration of long-term trends over approximately the last five centuries. As the last few chapters have argued, the process-sociological analysis of the development of civilized self-images has to be modified to show how state formation was the hub of a triad of interrelated developments that included the rise of the overseas empires and the emergence of a distinctive European international society. How far emotional attitudes to violence and suffering changed at each of those levels, and in interconnected ways, has been a central question in this inquiry.