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Forum Introduction: Is the state a person? Why should we care?

  • Patrick Thaddeus Jackson

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In 1959, Arnold Wolfers published an essay entitled ‘The Actors In World Politics’ in which he suggested that the importance of the state as an actor, although undeniable, needed to be submitted to ‘empirical analysis’ and clearer theorisation if its precise role was to be ascertained. Unfortunately, almost no one seems to have heeded his advice, and the question about what we might call the person-hood of the state virtually vanished from the agenda of mainstream International Relations (IR) theory. Realists, neorealists, neoliberal institutionalists, theorists of international society, and even many Marxists were content to treat states as, in effect, big people, endowed with perceptions, desires, emotions, and the other attributes of person-hood. Significantly, they persisted in these practices even though they often admitted that – in Robert Gilpin's words – ‘strictly speaking . . . only individuals and individuals joined together into various types of coalitions can be said to have interests’ and therefore really be actors.

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Forum Introduction: Is the state a person? Why should we care?

  • Patrick Thaddeus Jackson

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