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Towards a new world order: a twentieth century story

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 May 2001

Abstract

Andrew Williams, Failed Imagination? New World Orders of the Twentieth Century (Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1998)

International relations (IR) has had an opportunistic relationship with history. IR scholars have used the past, as Conal Condren has written of political theorists, as ‘a quarry ... [as a] ... source of useable facts; of entries to, and illustrations of, theoretical issues’. The result was an IR canon, of the ‘Plato to Nato’ variety, which was substantially anachronistic. Its dismantling over the last twenty years has much to do with efforts in the area of conceptual history. Despite this, and the keenness of post-positivist IR theorists to display an historical consciousness, IR and history maintain an uneasy association. Where the past is approached in contemporary IR writings, there is a tendency to build out of historical materials, or more worryingly commentaries on them, conceptual superstructures which are then accorded a determining force. Notions like the Enlightenment Project are the result of such acts of reification and are no less anachronistic than were the pantomime Machiavellis which used to pop up in IR text books. (It is doubtful that such a Project ever existed. Robert Wokler observes that the expression is of ‘more recent pedigree than “the Manhattan Project“‘.) What is purported to be historical explanation may seem more like a ghostly ballet in which structures, processes and agencies execute precisely choreographed routines.

Type
Review Article
Copyright
© 2001 British International Studies Association

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