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What can the absence of anarchism tell us about the history and purpose of International Relations?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 September 2010


Anarchism does not feature in contemporary international relations (IR) as a discreet approach to world politics because until very recently it was antithetical to the traditional use-value of a discipline largely structured around the needs and intellectual demands of providing for the world's Foreign Offices and State Departments. This article tells part of the story of how this came to be so by revisiting the historiography of the discipline and an early debate between Harold Laski and Hans Morgenthau. What I will show here is that Morgenthau's Schmittian-informed theory of the nation state was diametrically opposed to Laski's Proudhon-informed pluralist state theory. Morgenthau's success and the triumph of Realism structured the subsequent evolution of the discipline. What was to characterise the early stages of this evolution was IR's professional and intellectual statism. The subsequent historiography of the discipline has also played a part in retrospectively keeping anarchism out. This article demonstrates how a return to this early debate and the historiography of the discipline opens up a little more room for anarchism in contemporary IR and suggests further avenues for research.

Research Article
Copyright © British International Studies Association 2010

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18 Martin Wight, ‘Why is There No International Theory?’, p. 34.

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39 That contemporary theorists of new medievalism, from Hedley Bull to Andrew Linklater and others ignore this set of historical antecedents is typical of a broad rejection of inter-war thinkers in IR. For a good survey of contemporary thinking on new medievalism, see Friedrichs, Jörg, ‘The Meaning of New Medievalism’, European Journal of International Relations, 7 (2001), pp. 475502CrossRefGoogle Scholar .

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48 Ibid., p. 375.

49 I have discussed Proudhon's international political theory in more detail elsewhere. See, for example, Prichard, ‘Justice, Order and Anarchy’; Prichard, ‘Deepening Anarchism’.

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57 For a fuller discussion of this see Proudhon, ‘Si Les Traites de 1815 ont Cessé d'éxister’.

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62 Ibid., p. 570.

63 Ibid., p. 569. This problematic use of sovereignty in this context was also typical of Proudhon's Principle of Federation.

64 Ibid., p. 571.

65 Ibid.

66 It is interesting that while Proudhon is often referenced by Laski, he refuses to classify anarchism in anything more than crudely syndicalist or anti-authoritarian terms. Laski's faith in the modern state meant he was not an anarchist in any truly meaningful sense of the word, despite being deeply indebted to Proudhonist ideas. See Laski, , Authority in the Modern State, pp. 88, 114Google Scholar .

67 Laski, ‘The Pluralist State’, p. 572.

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69 Ibid., p. 58.

70 Ibid., p. 74.

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75 Ibid., p. 109.

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78 Ibid., p. 224.

79 Laski, H. J., An Introduction to Politics, new edition prepared by Martin Wight (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1951), pp. 8890Google Scholar .

80 Ibid., p. 91.

81 Ibid., p. 99.

82 Schmitt, ‘Ethic of State’, p. 198. The return to Schmitt by the left is lamentable.

83 For a similar critique of Laski, see Sylvest, ‘Beyond the State?’.

84 Schmitt, ‘Ethic of State’, pp. 200–1.

85 Ibid., p. 205. For another example of the muddle Schmitt's misleading use of Proudhon's critique of universalism has caused for IR theorists, see Devetak, Richard, ‘Between Kant and Pufendorf: Humanitarian Intervention, Statist Anti-Cosmopolitanism and Critical International Theory’, Review of International Studies, 33 (2007), p. 157CrossRefGoogle Scholar ; Chandler, David, ‘The Revival of Carl Schmitt in International Relations: The Last Refuge of Critical Theorists?’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 37 (2008), p. 33CrossRefGoogle Scholar .

86 Schmitt, , Political Theology, pp. 5657Google Scholar .

87 For more myth-busting, see, for example, Hartley, David, ‘Communitarian Anarchism and Human Nature’, Anarchist Studies, 3 (1995), pp. 145164Google Scholar ; Morland, David, Demanding the Impossible? Human Nature and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Social Anarchism (London: Cassell, 1997)Google Scholar .

88 Ibid., p. 66.

89 Ibid., p. 60.

90 Future work relating human nature to world politics might consider Hauser's, MarcMoral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong (New York: Ecco, 2006)Google Scholar .

91 Ibid., pp. 55–6.

92 Wolin, Richard, ‘Carl Schmitt, Political Existentialism and the Total State’, Theory and Society, 19 (1990), pp. 389416CrossRefGoogle Scholar ; Wolin, Richard, ‘Carl Schmitt: The Conservative Revolutionary and the Aesthetics of Horror’, Political Theory, 20 (1992), pp. 424447CrossRefGoogle Scholar .

93 Schmitt, ‘Ethic of State’, pp. 207–8.

94 See, Honig, Jan Willem, ‘Totalitarianism and Realism: Hans Morgenthau's German Years’, in Frankel, Benjamin (ed.), Roots of Realism (London: Frank Cass, 1996), pp. 283313Google Scholar . First published in Security Studies, 5 (1995), pp. 283313CrossRefGoogle Scholar .

95 William Scheuerman has shown that Schmitt took Morgenthau's main critique of The Concept of the Political and revised subsequent editions accordingly, without referencing the source of his revised ideas. This is a strange intellectual relationship indeed, and one that has been widely written on. See Scheuerman, Carl Schmitt, chap. 9. See also, Scheuerman, William E., ‘Carl Schmitt and Hans Morgenthau: Realism and Beyond’, in Williams, Michael C. (ed.), Realism Reconsidered: The Legacy of Hans Morgenthau in International Relations, (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2007), pp. 6292Google Scholar .

96 Morgenthau, ‘The Corruption of Liberal Thought’, p. 29.

97 Ibid.

98 Morgenthau, , Politics Among Nations, p. 35Google Scholar .

99 Wolff, Robert Paul, In Defence of Anarchism (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1998)Google Scholar .

100 Morgenthau, ‘The Corruption of Liberal Thought’, p. 31.

101 Ibid., p. 32.

102 Morgenthau, , Politics Among Nations, p. 42Google Scholar .

103 Morgenthau, ‘The Corruption of Liberal Thought’, p. 33.

104 Indeed, recent critical scholarship is taking up where Proudhon and Laski left off by showing what the centralisation of power has meant for the possibility of human freedom in the twentieth century. The central text in this regard is Linklater, The Transformation of Political Community.

105 Ibid., p. 32.

106 Ish-Shalom, Piki, ‘The Triptych of Realism, Elitism and Conservatism’, International Studies Review, 8 (2006), pp. 441468CrossRefGoogle Scholar .

107 Morgenthau, , Politics Among Nations, p. 152Google Scholar .

108 Ibid., p. 154.

109 Schmidt, , The Political Discourse of Anarchy, pp. 51, 76Google Scholar .

110 Wight, Colin, Agents, Structures and International Relations: Politics as Ontology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar .

111 Scott, James C., Seeing Like a State: how certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed (New Haven, Conn.; Yale University Press, 1998)Google Scholar .

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