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Short circuits: society and tradition in international relations theory*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 October 2009


In a period when international relations theory has painfully awakened from its dreams of a decontextualized account of international reality, some theorists of international relations are likely to do what some political scientists already have done: turn to disciplinary history in search of remedies against what they take to be a threatening disciplinary anarchy:

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Copyright © British International Studies Association 1996

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1 Dryzek, J. S. and Leonard, S. T., ‘History and Discipline in Political Science’, American Political Science Review, 82 (1988), pp. 1245–60, p. 1249CrossRefGoogle Scholar. These authors draw heavily upon ideas developed by Imre Lakatos and Alasdair Maclntyre. See Lakatos, I., The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes (Cambridge, 1978)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Maclntyre, A., ‘Epistemological Crises, Dramatic Narratives, and the Philosophy of Science’, The Monist, 60 (1977), pp. 468–9.Google Scholar

2 Schmidt, B. C., ‘The Historiography of Academic International Relations’, Review of International Studies, 20 (1994), pp. 349–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

3 See for example Bernstein's discussion of the different functions of history in Bernstein, R., The New Constellation: The Ethical-Political Horizons of Modernity/Postmodernity (Cambridge, 1991), ch. 1.Google Scholar See also Rorty, R., ‘The Historiography of Philosophy: Four Genres’, in Rorty, R., Schneewind, J. B. and Skinner, Q. (eds.), Philosophy in History (Cambridge, 1984), pp. 4975;CrossRefGoogle ScholarGracia, J. J. E., Philosophy and Its History: Issues in Philosophical Historiography (New York, 1992).Google Scholar

4 For earlier comments, see Olson, W. and Onuf, N. G., ‘The Growth of a Discipline: Reviewed’, in Smith, S. (ed.), International Relations: British and American Perspectives (Oxford, 1985)Google Scholar; Jones, R. E., ‘The English School of International Relations: A Case for Closure’, Review of International Studies, 1 (1981), pp. 112CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Berridge, G., ‘The Political and Institutional History of States-Systems’, British Journal of International Studies, 6 (1980), pp. 8292CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Waever, O., ‘International Society—Theoretical Promises Unfulfilled?’, Cooperation and Conflict, 27 (1992), pp. 97128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

5 Wight, M., ‘An Anatomy of International Thought’, Review of International Studies, 13 (1987), p. 222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

6 Ibid., p. 222.

7 Bull, H., The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics (London, 1977), p. 13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

8 Ibid., pp. 9–10.

9 Hoffmann, S., ‘Hedley Bull and his Contribution to International Relations’, International Affairs, 62 (1986), pp. 182–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

10 Bull, H. and Watson, A., The Expansion of International Society (Oxford, 1984), p. 1.Google Scholar

11 Bull, Anarchical Society, p. 46.

12 Ibid., p. 16.

13 Hoffmann, ‘Hedley Bull’, p. 186.

14 Watson, A., The Evolution of International Society: A Comparative Historical Analysis (London, 1992), p. 14.Google Scholar

15 Ibid., pp. 13–18.

16 Cf. Buzan, B., ‘From International System to International Society: Structural Realism and Regime Theory Meet the English School’, International Organization, 41 (1993), pp. 327–52, pp. 343fCrossRefGoogle Scholar; see also Buzan, B., ‘The Idea of “International System”: Theory Meets History’, International Political Science Review, 15 (1994), pp. 231–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

17 Buzan, ‘From International System’, p. 332.

18 Cf. Buzan, B., ‘Rethinking System and Structure’, in Buzan, B., Jones, C. and Little, R., The Logic of Anarchy: Neorealism to Structural Realism (New York, 1993), pp. 2080, p. 71Google Scholar, where he uses the concept ‘interaction capacity' to distinguish between international system and international society.

19 Buzan, ‘From International System’, p. 342.

20 Ibid., pp. 345–6; Cf. Ringmar, E., ‘The Relevance of International Law: A Hegelian Interpretation of a Peculiar Seventeenth-Century Preoccupation’, Review of International Studies, 21 (1995), pp. 87103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

21 Buzan, ‘Rethinking System’, p. 31.

22 Hollis, M. and Smith, S., Explaining and Understanding International Relations (Oxford, 1990), p. 211.Google Scholar

23 James, A., ‘System or Society?’, Review of International Studies, 19 (1993), pp. 269–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

24 See for example Wendt, A., ‘The Agent-Structure Problem in International Relations Theory’, International Organization, 41 (1987), pp. 335–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Dessler, D., ‘What's at Stake in the Agent-Structure Debate?’, International Organization, 43 (1989), pp. 441–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

25 See for example Wendt, A., ‘Anarchy is What States Make of It: The Social Construction of Power Polities’, International Organization, 46 (1992), pp. 391425CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Wendt, A., ‘Collective Identity Formation and The International State’, American Political Science Review, 88 (1994), pp. 384–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

26 See Nardin, T., ‘Ethical Traditions in International Affairs’, in Nardin, T. and Mapel, D. R., Traditions of International Ethics (Cambridge, 1992), pp. 68CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Cf. also Krygier, M., ‘Law as Tradition’, Law and Philosophy, 5 (1986), pp. 237–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

27 Maclntyre, A., Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (London, 1988), p. 327.Google Scholar

28 For a well-known criticism of this view, see Skinner, Q., ‘Meaning and Understanding in the History of Ideas’, in Tully, J. (ed.), Meaning and Context: Quentin Skinner and his Critics (Cambridge, 1988), pp. 2967.Google Scholar

29 The failure to grasp this connection has fuelled some debate; see Bevir, M., ‘Are There Perennial Problems in Political Theory?’, Political Studies, 42 (1994), pp. 662–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

30 Cf. Gunnell, J. G., ‘The Myth of the Tradition’, American Political Science Review, 72 (1978), pp. 122–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

31 Hobsbawm, E. J. and Ranger, T. (eds.), The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge, 1983), p. 13.Google Scholar

32 This way of denning the concept of tradition is consistent with Pocock's notion of languages as the basic units of investigation in the history of ideas. See Pocock, J. G. A., ‘The State of the Art’, in Pocock, J. G. A., Virtue, Commerce and History (Cambridge, 1985), pp. 134CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Pocock, J. G. A., ‘The Concept of Language and the métier d'historien: Some Considerations on Practice’, in Pagden, A. (ed.), The Languages of Political Theory in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, 1987), pp. 1938.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

33 Just to mention a few examples of this widespread practice: Dougherty, J. E. andPfaltzgraff, R. L., Contending Theories of International Relations (Philadelphia, PA, 1971), pp. 10f, 65fGoogle Scholar; Holsti, K. J., The Dividing Discipline: Hegemony and Diversity in International Theory (Boston, MA, 1985), ch. 1Google Scholar; Clark, I., The Hierarchy of States: Reform and Resistance in the International Order (Cambridge, 1989), chs. 14CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Gilpin, R., ‘The Richness of the Tradition of Political Realism’, in Keohane, R. O. (ed.), Neorealism and its Critics (New York, 1986), pp. 301–21Google Scholar; Forde, S., ‘International Realism and the Science of Politics: Thucydides, Machiavelli, and Neorealism’, International Studies Quarterly, 39 (1995), pp. 141–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

34 This practice is not confined to international relations theory, since the opposition between a Grotian tradition and a Hobbesian one has animated most textbook histories of international law, sometimes to the point of being their unquestioned foundation. Just to take a few examples: Brierly, J. L., The Law of Nations: An Introduction to the International Law of Peace (Oxford, 1942), pp. 20fGoogle Scholar; H. Lauterpacht, ‘The Grotian Tradition in International Law’, British Yearbook of International Law 1946; Visscher, C. de, Théories et réaltiés en droit international public (Paris, 1953), pp. 22–3, 27–8Google Scholar; Ipsen, K., Völkerrechl (Munich, 1990), pp. 19ff.Google Scholar

35 Wight, ‘Anatomy’, pp. 222f; Wight, M., International Theory: The Three Traditions (Leicester, 1991), pp. 30fGoogle Scholar; Bull, H., ‘Society and Anarchy in International Relations’, in Wight, M. and Butterfield, H. (eds.), Diplomatic Investigations (London, 1966), pp. 37fGoogle Scholar; Bull, Anarchical Society, pp. 24f.

36 My omission of the Revolutionist or Kantian tradition can be justified on three separate grounds. First, since the opposition between a Grotian tradition and a Hobbesian one seems to be more widely taken for granted in the literature, and since their respective founders were roughly contemporaneous, it deserves more critical attention. Second, I have treated Kant and interpretations of him extensively elsewhere. See for example ‘The Trial of Judgment: A Note on Kant and the Paradoxes of Internationalism’, International Studies Quarterly, 39 (1995), pp. 255–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Third, the interpretation of Kant to which theorists of international society conventionally have subscribed has been questioned to the extent that the question of whether there exists a Kantian tradition or not has become quite uninteresting. See Hurrell, A., ‘Kant and the Kantian Paradigm in International Relations’, Review of International Studies, 16 (1990), pp. 183205CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

37 Wight, ‘Anatomy’, p. 226.

38 Bull, H., ‘Martin Wight and the Theory of International Relations’, British Journal of International Studies, 2 (1976), pp. 101–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar, p. 111.

39 Bull, Anarchical Society, p. 24.

40 Wight, ‘Anatomy’, p. 222; cf. Wight, M., ‘Western Values in International Relations’, p. 92Google Scholar, and ‘Why is There No International Theory?’, p. 31, both in Wight, and Butterfield, (eds.), Diplomatic Investigations, pp. 89131, 17–34.Google Scholar

41 Bull, ‘Society and Anarchy’, p. 40.

42 Hobbes, T., Leviathan (Cambridge, 1989), ch. XIII, p. 90.Google Scholar

43 Bull, H., ‘Hobbes and International Anarchy’, Social Research, 48 (1981), pp. 717–38, p. 721Google Scholar.

44 Bull, ‘Society and Anarchy’, p. 37.

45 Bull, Anarchical Society, pp. 24 – 5 .

46 Wight, ‘Western Values’, p. 95.

47 Bull, and Watson, , Expansion of International Society, p. 1Google Scholar.

48 Wight, ‘Anatomy’, p. 223.

49 Wight, ‘Western Values’, pp. 96–7.

50 Bull, , Anarchical Society, pp. 26–7Google Scholar.

51 Bull, H., ‘The Importance of Grotius in the Study of International Relations’, p. 78Google Scholar, in Bull, H., Kingsbury, B. and Roberts, A. (eds)., Hugo Grotius and International Relations (Oxford, 1990), pp. 6593Google Scholar.

52 Wight, International Theory, p. 39.

53 Bull, ‘Society and Anarchy’, p. 39.

54 Wight, International Theory, p. 39.

55 Bull, ‘Importance of Grotius’, p. 83.

56 Ibid., p. 78.

57 Wight, International Theory, p. 37.

58 Bull, ‘Importance of Grotius’, pp. 84, 87.

59 To take two important examples: Coke, R., Justice Vindicated from the False Focus put Upon It. by Thomas While Gent, Mr. Thomas Hobbes and Hugo Grotius (London, 1660)Google Scholar; Ascham, A., Of the Confusions and Revolutions of Governments (London, 1649)Google Scholar.

60 von Pufendorf, S., Specimen controveriarum circa jus naturale ipsi nuper motarum (Uppsala, 1678)Google Scholar, discussed in Tuck, R., ‘The “Modern” Theory of Natural Law’, in Pagden, (ed.), Languages, pp. 99122.Google Scholar

61 Barbeyrac, J., ‘An Historical and Critical Account of the Science of Morality’, preface to S. von Pufendorf, The Law of Nature and Nations, tr. Kennet, B. (London, 1749).Google Scholar

62 Wight, International Theory, p. 38.

63 Tuck, R., Natural Rights Theories: Their Origin and Development (Cambridge, 1979)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Tuck, R., Philosophy and Government 1572–1651 (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 154ff, 279ff.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

64 Tuck, Natural Rights Theories, pp. 50–7, 67, ch. 6; cf. Baumgold, D., Hobbes's Political Theory (Cambridge, 1988), p. 26.Google Scholar

65 Tuck, Natural Rights Theories, p. 61.

66 Grotius, H., De hire belli ac pads libri tres, tr. F. W. Kelsey (Oxford, 1925), p. 186.Google Scholar

67 Grotius, ‘Prolegomena’, De jure belli ac pacts, p. 15.

68 Tuck, Natural Rights Theories, p. 62.

69 For an influential interpretation, see Nussbaum, A., A Concise History of the Law of Nations (New York, 1950), pp. 112–18Google Scholar; more recently Kelly, J. M., A Short History of Western Legal Theory (Oxford,. 1992), pp. 212f.Google Scholar

70 Hobbes, Leviathan, p. 111.

71 Ibid., p. 91.

72 A. Pizzorno, ‘On the Individualistic Theory of Social Order’, in Bourdieu, P. and Coleman, J. S. (eds.), Social Theory fora Changing Society (Boulder, CO, 1991), pp. 209–34Google Scholar, pp. 217–19.

73 Ewin, R. E., Virtues and Rights: The Moral Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes (Boulder, CO, 1991), pp. 4Google Scholar, 66–8; Chabot, D., ‘Thomas Hobbes: Skeptical Moralist’, American Political Science Review, 89 (1995), pp. 401–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

74 To Grotius, the law of nature ‘can easily be brought into systematic form’, hence it is possible to treat matters of jurisprudence in the same fashion as ‘mathematicians treat their figures as abstracted from bodies' (Grotius, ‘Prolegomena’, De iure belli acpads, pp. 21, 30); Cf. Midgley, E. B. F., The Natural Law Tradition and International Relations (New York, 1975), p. 148Google Scholar; Toulmin, S., Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity (Chicago, 1990), p. 76Google Scholar; Dupré, L., Passage to Modernity: An Essay in the Hermeneutics of Nature(New Haven, CT, 1993), pp. 126–34.Google Scholar To Hobbes, the ‘skill of making, and maintaining Common-wealths, consisteth in certain Rules, as doth Arithmetique and Geometry' (Hobbes, Leviathan, p. 145). Cf. Skinner, Q., ‘”Scientia Chilis” in Classical Rhetoric and in the Early Hobbes’, in Phillipson, N. and Skinner, Q. (eds.), Political Discourse in Early-Modern Britain (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 6793Google Scholar; McNeilly, F. S., The Anatomy of Leviathan (London, 1968), p. 63.Google Scholar

75 B. Kingsbury and A. Roberts, ‘Introduction: Grotian Thought in International Relations’, pp. 51–64, in Bull et al. (eds.), Hugo Grolius, pp. 1–64.

76 Wight, International Theory, p. 37.

77 Tuck, Natural Rights Theories, p. 63.

78 See for example Knutsen, T. L., A History of International Relations Theory (Manchester, 1986), p. 86Google Scholar: ‘Grotius created a conception of international relations as political interaction in a society of states'.

79 H. Suganami, ‘A Note on the Origin of the Word “International”’, British Journal of International Studies, 4 (1978), pp. 226–32.

80 Cf. Knutsen, History of International Relations Theory, pp. 90f, who strangely reads into Leviathan the doctrine that the international anarchy emerged as a result of the establishment of states—a doctrine which had to await a Rousseau for its articulation.

81 Cutler, C., ‘The “Grotian Tradition” in International Relations’, Review of International Studies, 17 (1991), pp. 4165CrossRefGoogle Scholar, p. 49.

82 Cf. Haakonsen, K., ‘Hugo Grotius and the History of Political Thought’, Political Theory, 13 (1985), pp. 239–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Midgley, Natural Law Tradition, passim

83 Röling, B. V. A., ‘Are Grotius' Ideas Obsolete in an Expanded World?’, in Bull, et al. (eds.), Hugo Grotius, pp. 281–99Google Scholar; G. Schwarzenberger, ‘The Grotius Factor in International Law and Relations: A Functional Approach’, ibid., pp. 301–12.

84 H. Suganami, ‘Grotius and International Equality’, ibid., pp. 221–40.

85 Kennedy, D., ‘Primitive Legal Scholarship’, Harvard International Law Journal, 27 (1986), pp. 198Google Scholar, p. 90.

86 Cf.Forsyth, M., ‘The Tradition of International Law’, pp. 26Google Scholar, 37–8, in Nardin and Mapel (eds.), Traditions, pp. 23–41.

87 Kennedy, ‘Primitive Legal Scholarship’, p. 96.

88 Suganami, H., The Domestic Analogy and World Order Proposals (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 612.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

89 Hobbes, Leviathan, ch. XIII, p. 90.

90 Bartelson, J., A Genealogy of Sovereignly (Cambridge, 1995), ch. 6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

91 Vico, G., The New Science, tr. Bergin, T. G. and Fisch, M. H. (Ithaca, NY, 1968)Google Scholar, pp. 78fT.

92 Rousseau, J.-J., The Social Contract, p. 183Google Scholar, in Rousseau, J.-J., The Social Contract and the Discourses, tr. Cole, G. D. H. (London, 1990Google Scholar).

93 See Berlin, I., Vico and Herder. Two Studies in the History of Ideas (London, 1976Google Scholar).

94 Cf. D. Faucci, ‘”L'Estimazione del giusto” selon Grotius et selon Vico’, Grotiana, 1 (1980).

95 See for example Meinecke, F., Machiavellism: The Doctrine of Raison d'Etat and its Place in Modern History, tr. Scott, D. (Boulder, CO and London, 1984Google Scholar), pp. 207ff.

96 See for example Iggers, G., The German Conception of History: The National Tradition of Historical Thought from Herder to the Present (Middletown, CT, 1968), pp. 63174Google Scholar; Mommsen, W. J., ‘Ranke and the Neo-Rankean School in Imperial Germany’, in Iggers, G. G. and Powell, J. M. (eds), Leopold von Ranke and the Shaping of the Historical Discipline (Syracuse, NY, 1990), pp. 124140.Google Scholar

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