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Civilising statecraft: Andrew Linklater and comparative sociologies of states-systems

  • Tim Dunne (a1) and Richard Devetak (a2)


In this contribution to the forum marking the publication of Andrew Linklater’s remarkable book on Violence and Civilization in the Western States-Systems we first locate the book in the context of Linklater’s overarching intellectual journey. While best known for his contribution to a critical international theory, it is through his engagement with Martin Wight’s comparative sociology of states-systems that Linklater found resonances with the work of process sociologist, Norbert Elias. Integrating Wight’s insights into the states-system with Elias’s insights into civilising processes, Violence and Civilization presents a high-level theoretical synthesis with the aim of historically tracing restraints on violence. The article identifies a tension between the cosmopolitan philosophical history which underpins the argument of the book, and which has underpinned all Linklater’s previous works, and the ‘Utrecht Enlightenment’ that offers a conception of ‘civilized statecraft’ at odds with a universal conception of morality and justice. The article then examines Linklater’s argument about the ‘global civilizing process’ as it applies to post-Second World War efforts to build greater institutional capability to protect peoples from harm. It is argued that Linklater over-estimates the extent to which solidarism has civilised international society, and that the extension of state responsibilities and development of civilised statecraft owe more to pluralism than solidarism.


Corresponding author

* Correspondence to: Professor Tim Dunne, Dean of HASS, Room E202, Forgan Smith Building, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD 4072, Australia. Author’s email:
** Correspondence to: Associate Professor Richard Devetak, Head of School, Political Science and International Studies, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD 4072, Australia. Author’s email:


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1 Beyond Realism and Marxism and The Transformation of Political Community were the sequels in the first trilogy, which, it must be said, was never formally presented to the reader in this way. Full citations to these three books are: Linklater, Andrew, Men and Citizens in the Theory of International Relations (London: Macmillan, 1982); Linklater, Andrew, Beyond Realism and Marxism: Critical Theory and International Relations (London: Macmillan, 1990); Linklater, Andrew, The Transformation of Political Community: Ethical Foundations of the Post-Westphalian Era (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1998). For an extended account of Linklater’s Men and Citizens, see Devetak, Richard and Gout, Juliette, ‘Obligations beyond the state: Andrew Linklater’s Men and Citizens in the Theory of International Relations ’, in Henrik Bliddal, Casper Sylvest, and Peter Wilson (eds), Classics of International Relations: Essays in Criticism and Appreciation (Abingdon: Routledge, 2013), pp. 177186 .

2 Linklater, Beyond Realism and Marxism, p. vii.

3 Linklater, Beyond Realism and Marxism, p. 17.

4 Linklater, The Transformation of Political Community, p. 150.

5 Linklater, Andrew and Suganami, Hidemi, The English School of International Relations: A Contemporary Reassessment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

6 ‘Rationalist’ here is used in the sense Wight gave it, drawing on John ‘Locke’s premise that men are reasonable, and that they live together according to reason even when they have no common government, as in the condition of international relations.’ Wight, Martin, International Theory: The Three Traditions, eds Gabriele Wight and Brian Porter (Leicester and London: Leicester University Press/The Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1991), p. 14; Linklater and Suganami, The English School of International Relations, p. 160. This appears in Chapter Five, one of the four chapters written by Linklater.

7 See, in particular, Buzan, Barry, From International to World Society? English School Theory and the Social Structure of Globalisation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

8 See Wight’s comment that international society ‘can be properly described only in historical and sociological depth’. Wight, Martin, ‘Western values in international relations’, in Herbert Butterfield and Martin Wight (eds), Diplomatic Investigations: Essays in the Theory of International Politics (London: Allen & Unwin, 1966), p. 96 .

9 Linklater, Andrew, The Problem of Harm in World Politics: Theoretical Investigations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), p. 5 .

10 Linklater, Andrew, Violence and Civilization in the Western States-Systems (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), p. xiv . Hereafter referred to as Violence and Civilization.

11 For two book length studies on Wight, see Hall, Ian, The International Thought of Martin Wight (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), and Chiaruzzi, Michele, Politica di Potenza nell’età del Leviatano: La Teoria Internazionale di Martin Wight (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2008).

12 Linklater, Violence and Civilization, p. 5.

13 Linklater, Violence and Civilization, p. 217. On Vattel, see Devetak, Richard, ‘Law of nations as reason of state: diplomacy and the balance of power in Vattel’s Law of Nations ’, Parergon, 28:2 (2011), pp. 105128 .

14 Linklater, Violence and Civilization, p. 222.

15 Ibid., p. 272.

16 Kant, Immanuel, ‘Perpetual peace: a philosophical sketch’, in Hans Reiss (ed.), Kant’s Political Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), pp. 93115 (p. 103).

17 See Hunter, Ian, Rival Enlightenments: Civil and Metaphysical Philosophy in Early Modern Germany (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001) and Hunter, Ian, ‘Kant’s regional cosmopolitanism’, Journal of the History of International Law, 12:2 (2010), pp. 165188 .

18 Pocock, J. G. A., ‘Enlightenment and counter-enlightenment, revolution and counter-revolution; a Eurosceptical enquiry’, History of Political Thought, 20:1 (1999), pp. 125139 (p. 128). See also Pocock, J. G. A., Barbarism and Religion, Volume Two: Narratives of Civil Government (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) on Enlightenment narratives of civil government.

19 Devetak, Richard, ‘Historiographical foundations of modern international thought: Histories of the European states-system from Florence to Göttingen’, History of European Ideas, 41:1 (2015), pp. 6277 (pp. 70–2).

20 See Hunter, ‘Kant’s regional cosmopolitanism’.

21 Wight, ‘Western values’, pp. 89–131; Wight, ‘The balance of power’, in Butterfield and Wight (eds), Diplomatic Investigations, pp. 132–75 (p. 153).

22 Hunter, Ian, ‘Vattel’s law of nations: Diplomatic casuistry for the protestant nation’, Grotiana, 31 (2010), pp. 108140 .

23 Ian Hall, The International Thought of Martin Wight, p. 97.

24 Hurrell, Andrew, ‘Society and anarchy in the 1990s’, in B. A. Roberson (ed.), International Society and the Development of International Relations Theory (London: Continuum, 2002), pp. 1742 (p. 36).

25 Linklater, Violence and Civilization, p. 341

26 See for example, Buchan, Bruce, ‘The empire of political thought: Civilization, savagery and perceptions of Indigenous government’, History of the Human Sciences, 18:1 (2005), pp. 122 ; see also Keal, Paul, ‘Beyond “war in the strict sense”’, in Tim Dunne and Christian Reus-Smit (eds), The Globalization of International Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), pp. 165184 .

27 Linklater, Violence and Civilization, p. 380.

28 Ibid., p. 307. Linklater quotes Elias in relation to this point: practices of violence, Elias argues, differ historically ‘mainly in terms of the techniques used and the numbers of people concerned’ ( Elias, Norbert, Involvement and Detachment: Collected Works (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2007), p. 175). While this may be true at a high level of generality, it should also be noted that some of the most brutal wars of extermination in the post-Cold War period were fought with hand-held knives and machetes.

29 Linklater, Violence and Civilization, p. 383.

30 Ibid., p. 396.

31 Ibid., p. 388. Linklater creatively draws on Elias as well as conventional IR writers such as Hinsley in his description of the attributes of statehood. ‘[T]he idea of sovereignty underpinned two other monopoly powers that reflect the linkages between state formation, the process of civilization, and the emergence of European international society: the legal right to represent the community in diplomatic negotiations and the associated authority to bind it in international law.’ For historical accounts of the globalization of the sovereign state and popular sovereignty, see Armitage, David, The Declaration of Independence: A Global History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007); and also Devetak, Richard and Tannock, Emily, ‘Imperial rivalry and the first global war’, in Dunne and Reus-Smit (eds), The Globalization of International Society, pp. 125144 .

32 Keene, Edward International Political Thought: An Historical Introduction (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005); Clark, Ian, Legitimacy in International Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); Dunne, and Reus-Smit, (eds), The Globalization of International Society .

33 Linklater, Violence and Civilization, p. 339.

34 Ibid., p. 400.

35 Hedley Bull, Justice in International Relations (Hagey Lectures, Ontario: University of Waterloo, I984), p. 12.

36 Linklater, Violence and Civilization, p. 401.

37 Michael Ignatieff, quoted in Barnett, Michael, Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011), p. 102 . For an alternative argument asserting that Ignatieff is wrong in attributing the rise of human rights to a response to the Holocaust because the postwar origins of human rights lie more in domestic European political debates about ‘how to create social freedom within the boundaries of the state’, see Moyn, Samuel, Human Rights and the Uses of History (London: Verso, 2014), pp. 7376 .

38 See Article I of The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide (The United Nations General Assembly 1948).

39 This description of the Genocide Convention draws on Dunne, Tim and Staunton, Eglantine, ‘The genocide convention and Cold War humanitarian intervention’, in Alex Bellamy and Tim Dunne (eds), The Oxford Handbook of the Responsibility to Protect (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), pp. 3855 . For debates about the Convention and its provisions, see Fein, Helen, Genocide: A Sociological Perspective (New York: SAGE Publications, 1993); Kuper, Leo, Genocide: Its Political Use in the Twentieth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982); Shaw, Martin, What is Genocide? (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007).

40 Glanville, Luke, Sovereignty and the Responsibility to Protect: A New History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), p. 148 .

41 Glanville, Sovereignty and the Responsibility to Protect.

42 Moyn, Samuel, ‘On the nonglobalization of ideas’, in Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori (eds), Global Intellectual History (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), pp. 187204 (p. 192).

43 Moyn, ‘On the nonglobalization of ideas’, p. 192; Moyn, Human Rights and the Uses of History, p. 76.

44 Reus-Smit, Christian, Individual Rights and the Making of the International System (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013). See also Gary J. Bass, ‘The old new thing’, New Republic (20 October 2010), available at: {}.

45 Linklater, Violence and Civilization, pp. 382–3.

46 Hurrell, Andrew, On Global Order: Power, Values and the Constitution of International Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

47 This is of course a variant of Linklater’s insightful remark: ‘If there is more to international politics than realists suggest, there will always be less than the idealist or cosmopolitan desires.’ Linklater, Andrew, ‘The English School’, in Scott Burchill et al. (eds), Theories of International Relations (5th edn, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), pp. 88112 (p. 90).

48 One can overstate how much they featured in Bull also. While pluralism and solidarism were foregrounded in ‘The Grotian conception of international society’ they feature much less prominently in The Anarchical Society. Compare Bull, Hedley, ‘The Grotian conception of international society’, in Butterfield and Wight (eds), Diplomatic Investigations , with Bull, Hedley, The Anarchical Society (London: Macmillan, 1977). For a discussion of the fraught character of scholarly attempts to categorise Wight’s thought, see Dunne, Tim, Inventing International Society: A History of the English School (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1998), ch. 3 , and Hall, , The International Thought of Martin Wight, particularly ch. 1 .

49 Karlsrud, John, ‘Towards UN counter-terrorism operations?’, Third World Quarterly, 38:6 (2017), pp. 12151231 .

50 Wheeler, Nicholas J., Saving Strangers: Humanitarian Intervention in International Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

51 Ban Ki-Moon, ‘Responsibility to Protect: State Responsibility and Prevention, Report of the Secretary-General’, General Assembly 67th Session (9 July 2013), available at: {}.

52 Bull, Hedley, ‘Conclusion’, in Hedley Bull (ed.), Intervention in World Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 195 .

53 With regard to Resolution 1973 there were ten affirmative votes, five abstentions, and no votes against.

54 After the armed attack on Tripoli, the Indian Ambassador to the UN, Hardeep Puri, referred to NATO as the ‘armed wing’ of the UN Security Council. Discussed in Adams, Simon, ‘Libya’, in Bellamy and Dunne (eds), The Oxford Handbook of The Responsibility To Protect, pp. 768785 (p. 772).

55 Wight, ‘Western values’, p. 97.


Civilising statecraft: Andrew Linklater and comparative sociologies of states-systems

  • Tim Dunne (a1) and Richard Devetak (a2)


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