Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 October 2017
IR scholars have always invoked history as a valuable resource for understanding the present. However, the question of how should we go about investigating and interpreting the past is rarely asked, let alone answered. While most IR approaches are anchored to the attempt to situate oneself outside history – reading the past in terms of the present or in terms of a hypothetical future – this article strives to redress the kind of historical perspective adopted, if at all, by IR scholars. It does so by advancing a distinctive historicist approach that emphasises the importance of understanding past practices and discourses in their own historical and intellectual contexts. In order to substantiate this claim, the article goes on to critically engage with recent calls to historicise intervention in IR, arguing that a historicist mode of analysis represents a corrective to presentism as well as an alternative route into present-day debates.
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9 In their attempt to map the different philosophies of history at work in IR scholarship, MacKay and LaRoche in ‘The conduct of history in International Relations’ suggest an increasing tendency to move away from linear, teleological, and continuist views of history, and towards multilinear ones in which history has a plurality of more or less intelligible trajectories.
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34 Ibid., p. 136.
35 Ibid., p. 134.
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55 This view of history seems to sit astride four of the categories elaborated by MacKay and LaRoche, ‘The conduct of history in International Relations’: nonlinear, multilinear, familiar, and unfamiliar.
57 Hunter, ‘The history of philosophy and the persona of the philosopher’. For a discussion of the limits of historical approaches that presuppose a transcendent rationality and the advantages of an ethics of empiricism, see Haakonssen, Knud, ‘The philosophy of a persona’, History of European Ideas, 40:1 (2013), pp. 116–121 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
59 See the Special Issue on ‘Intervention and the Ordering of the Modern World’, Review of International Studies, 39:5 (2013)Google Scholar. For an early attempt to historicise intervention, see Finnemore, The Purpose of Intervention.
63 Ibid., pp. 80–2.
65 Niesen, Peter, ‘The “West divided”? Bentham and Kant on law and ethics in foreign policy’, in David Chandler and Volker Heins (eds), Rethinking Ethical Foreign Policy: Pitfalls, Possibilities and Paradoxes (New York: Routledge, 2007), pp. 93–115 Google Scholar.
66 Ibid., p. 111.
67 Ibid. For another anachronistic reading of Bentham, this time as a supporter – for supposedly humanitarian reasons – of British military intervention in the Greek War of Independence (1821–32), see Bass, Gary J., Freedom’s Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention (New York: Vintage Books, 2009)Google Scholar.
70 This is evident also in the Special Issue, ‘Interventionism as Practice’, Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding, 9:4 (2015)Google Scholar. Specifically, see the introductory piece, Olsson, Christian, ‘Interventionism as practice: On “ordinary transgressions” and their routinization’, Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding, 9:4 (2015), pp. 425–441 CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For a recent statement of the ‘practice turn’ in IR and an introduction to sociological practice theory, see Adler, Emmanuel and Pouliot, Vincent, ‘International practices’, International Theory, 3:1 (2011), pp. 1–36 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
71 For a recent collection of essays that ‘take seriously the “contextualist” challenge’ while thinking that ‘a close reading of classic texts can enhance our understanding of intervention’, see Recchia, Stefano and Welsh, Jennifer M., Just and Unjust Military Intervention: European Thinkers from Vitoria to Mill (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The extent to which the 12 contributors succeed in keeping this promise varies, of course.
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74 Ibid., pp. 9–10.
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86 Keene, Beyond the Anarchical Society.
88 Ibid., p. 1060.
89 Ibid., pp. 1060–2.
90 Ibid., p. 1059.