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Morning Session

Students will have three hours to complete their answers. Select ONE question from each section.


1.     Since the end of the Cold War, what effect have changes in the world had on state sovereignty? How has sovereignty been diminished or changed, and who or what has done it? 

1.     To what extent do the demands of economic security clash with those of political security in U.S. foreign policy?

2.     Ascertain the major trend and events in the post-Cold War era by discussing the shifts from "a balance of power" to "global equilibrium of power."


Section II covers Developing Nations and Regional Affairs. In addition to historical political economists such as Adam Smith, Alexander Hamilton, David Ricardo, Karl Marx, and Lenin, theorists associated with development such as Immanuel Wallerstein, Theotonio Dos Santos, and Hernando De Soto should be added. Commentators on globalization such as Joseph Stiglitz and Thomas Friedman are important for Section II and for much of the rest of the comprehensive examination as well. Staying current with regional and global economic issues is a good idea: what are sovereign wealth funds, for example, and how might they affect US national security; and, how will the 2008-2010 economic crisis affect US foreign policy, security, and interests?

1.     Many developing nations have lax environmental and labor regulations that allow multinational corporations (MNCs) to produce at a lower cost in these countries. How is this a problem for the United States? What should US policy be?

1.     By focusing on colonialism in one region of the world, discuss its impact in terms of claims that the West practiced political and economic exploitation.

2.     In the 1970s and 1980s, international economic aid tended to be project oriented. In the 1900s, international advisors have called for a greater emphasis on program-oriented aid. What is the economic logic behind this shift and what are the political associated with this shift?

Afternoon Session

Students will have three hours to complete their answers. Select ONE question from each section.

PART III. NATIONAL SECURITY(essentially US foreign policy and related issues)

Section III looks at National Security and deals with important world security issues, particularly as they affect the United States. Completing either IR 5524 American Foreign Policy or IR 6635 National Security Policy would be an advantage for this section, but other preparation can work as well. The Financial Times newspaper and The Economist newsmagazine are good sources of up-to-date information, but other sources are also available such as the US Department of State and White House websites – reviewing the “US National Security Strategy” is a good idea, for example.

The world is changing rapidly and you should be familiar with issues such as the rise of China and the other BRICS, the status of the War on Terror and US/allied operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, conditions within the European Union and other areas of vital US interest, and the status of US hegemony.

American foreign policy, shaped for decades by an ongoing Cold War with the former Soviet Union, is today still adjusting to post-Cold War realities. The dangerous, but relatively simple, bipolar world of two competing nuclear superpowers has dissolved into a unipolar or multipolar world, depending upon one's view of U.S. dominance of the international arena.

U.S. foreign and national security policy has shifted from containing Soviet communism to addressing conflicts in smaller, but still dangerous, hotspots throughout the world. Often in conjunction with international bodies like the United Nations or NATO, much of American foreign policy now focuses on peacekeeping efforts in places like the Kosovo, Iraq, or Afghanistan.

Debates over many foreign policy and national security issues continue to be drawn along traditional left-right lines. A leading example is defense spending, where conservatives call for significant increases and liberals a shifting of resources to domestic needs. But the left and right are themselves each split between internationalists, who believe the U.S. should maintain a strong international presence, and isolationists who believe the U.S. should avoid unnecessary international entanglements. Indeed, this split has a much longer history in American foreign policy, extending well back before the Cold War and World War II, when isolationists opposed U.S. entry until the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

American foreign policy, of course, encompasses much more than matters of war and peace. As the world becomes more intertwined, economically, issues of globalism, foreign trade, international investment and foreign aid are all increasingly important. All of these issues are the focus of this section.

1.     President Bush says that the United States is engaged in a “Global War on Terror.” In conceptual terms, what does such a war entail? What are the strengths and weaknesses of this approach to terrorism?

1.     Relate the notion of proxy and surrogate warfare between the 1960s and 1990s to the superpower status of the United States and the U.S.A.

2.     It can be said that international politics is inherently power politics. Discuss this proposition.

PART IV. INSTRUMENTS OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS (e.g., diplomacy, international law, and international organizations).

Section IV looks at Instruments of International Relations, such as international law, international organizations, and diplomacy, among other issues, and can sometimes be a problem for students. Additional research might be useful, such as surveying the websites of significant intergovernmental organizations [IGOs – such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and United Nations] and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs – such as the Red Cross, Amnesty International, and Greenpeace) and looking into international law issues on the websites of organizations such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Criminal Court (ICC). This section (and others) can include “world” issues such as environmental and health concerns and their effect on international relations.

1.     How do international institutions affect the behavior of nations? Can they modify or mitigate the state of anarchy in international relations? Give at least one example.

1.     Some analysts maintain that the outcome of any war has been heavily influenced by failure of intercultural communication among protagonists. Explain, giving examples.

2.     Identify different types of interest groups Compare the differences in the role and functions of the interest group between developed and developing countries.


Pick one of the three theories outlined in “One World, Rival Theories” in order to answer the following question. Was the United States justified in its invasion of Iraq? Give counter-arguments based on one of the other theories.

The decision by the United States government to invade the sovereign country of Iraq represents one of the most controversial moves by the government of a liberal democracy in the 21st century. In the modern era of the twenty-four hour news cycle, it is easy to frame the debate over such issues through thirty second sound. However, in the study of political science, theories such as realism, liberalism, and idealism have been developed for use as a lens through which to analyze the actions and motivations of state leaders.

The purpose of this essay is to identify the realist arguments in favor of using American force in Iraq as well as the counter arguments developed from the liberalist point of view.

In his article, “One World, Rival Theories,” Jack Snyder portrays realism, liberalism, and idealism as theories that “shape both public discourse and policy analysis [1].” He defines the core beliefs of realism as the relations between “self-interested states compet[ing] for power and security,” and those of liberalism as stating that the “spread of democracy, global ties, and international organizations will strengthen peace.” Under realism, the main instruments of international relations are wielded by states and comprised of military power and state diplomacy. Within the realm of liberalism, states come together in international institutions and global commerce in order to advance towards a common good.

In the case of Iraq, the United States had several reasons to sense a threat to its national security. The first was the perceived ability of Saddam Hussein to produce chemical, biological, and/or nuclear weapons of mass destruction (WMD). At a juncture in history where Al-Qaeda, a non-state actor, had recently executed the most deadly attack on the American homeland in generations, the ability of a state such as Iraq to supply terrorists with weapons they could use to engage the United States in asymmetric warfare stood as a significant threat. Also, after initiating two wars in the Middle East, a region whose oil reserves represent a strategic resource to the United States, Saddam Hussein remained a potential destabilizing threat.

The primary tenet of realism is that states are responsible for advancing their own security and interests through the use of military power and state diplomacy. Although Saddam Hussein had represented a potentially destabilizing threat to the Middle East’s oil supplies for decades, the combination of the September 11 attacks and perceived ability for Iraq to develop WMD left American realists in a position where they believed the United States faced a real and immediate threat. The realist’s toolbox consists primarily of state diplomacy and military power. After previously endorsing sanctions, the oil-for-food program, and engaging in limited air strikes, American realists believed their options for carrot and stick diplomacy were both exhausted and ineffectual. That left the option of exercising military power, which American realists favored and eventually saw employed.

The primary tenet of liberalism is the use of international institutions and global commerce to spread democracy, international cooperation, and economic ties. Their motivations are embodied by the concept that democracies do not fight one another. Therefore, the primary counter argument of a liberalist to the US invasion of Iraq would have been that international institutions, such as the United Nations, stood a better chance of identifying and enforcing a long term solution than immediate military action.

Primarily, this argument is driven by the notion that strong international norms promote their own adherence. Therefore, they would argue, the United States is better serving its own security interests by using the United Nations to confront its threats, than by setting a precedent that could be used in the future by other countries in a manner inconsistent with American security objectives.

In conclusion, the use of political theories as a lens allows for the debate of actions by states in a logical framework that bypasses a large part of the emotion and political wrangling of media portrayal. By understanding the varying methods used to confront a perceived threat by both realists and liberalists, the debate shifts towards the optimal manner in which to implement the tools of both viewpoints in a balanced manner, instead of simply blind support or rejection of state policies.

[1] Jack Snyder, "One World, Rival Theories," Foreign Policy, November/December 2004, pp. 53-62.


·          focuses on the shifting distribution of power and the enduring propensity for conflict, military power depends on economic growth and strong political institutions

·          key assumptions: states are the primary actors, anarchy is the international condition, states behave rationally, states seek to keep the system in balance (against capability, threat)

·          realism depicts the international system as composed of unitary, rational states motivated by a desire for security

·          neoclassical realists assume that states respond to the uncertainties of international anarchy by seeking to control and shape their external environment. As their relative power rises states will seek more influence abroad, and as it falls their actions and ambitions will be scaled back accordingly.

·          neorealism (or structural realism) focuses on the international system and argues that the relative position of a state in the system is the best explanation of its behavior.

·          argues that pragmatism about power can yield a more peaceful world

·          provides simple but powerful explanations for war, alliances, imperialism, obstacles to cooperation, and other international phenomena

·          stresses that policy must be based on positions of real strength and often favors modest and prudent approaches, states must not over-reach

·          argues international institutions cannot constrain a hegemonic power 

·          realism has been modified because states with similar domestic systems often act differently in the foreign policy sphere and dissimilar states in similar situations often act alike. 

·          theorists have sought to understand the influence of internal factors on external behavior. But there is not yet a coherent theory that links domestic with internationally politics causally.

Liberalism (institutionalism)

·          the triumph of the West in the Cold War boosted liberalism

·          argues that realism cannot account for progress and foresees a journey away from the anarchic world as trade and finance forge ties between nations, and democratic norms spread

·          globalization is changing the nature of world politics: interstate use and threat of military force have virtually disappeared in certain areas of the world

·          highlights the cooperative potential of mature democracies, especially when working together through effective institutions

·          argues that international institutions help overcome selfish state behavior by encouraging states to forego immediate gains for the greater benefits of enduring cooperation 

·          institutions cannot force states to behave in ways that are contrary to their interests, but even powerful states are increasingly reliant on institutions

·          argues that realism cannot explain this growth in the number and importance of institutions

·          "soft power" is becoming more important

·          theory of democratic peace holds that democracies never fight wars against each other. But they are prone to launch messianic struggles against warlike authoritarian regimes to “make the world safe for democracy.” In economic relations between democratic states, however, threats and coercion are ever present.

·          liberalism highlights the rising number of democracies and the turbulence of democratic transitions. Countries transitioning to democracy, with weak political institutions, are more likely than other states to get into international and civil wars

·          points out that the rising democratic tide creates the presumption that all nations ought to enjoy the benefits of self-determination which can also lead to conflict

·          doubts that nascent democracy and economic liberalism can always cohabitate

Idealism (constructivism) 

·          argues that foreign policy is and should be guided by ethical and legal standards

·          stresses that a consensus on values must underpin any stable political order

·          constructivists believe that debates about ideas are the fundamental building blocks of international life

·          a theory that emphasizes the role of ideologies, identities, persuasion, and transnational networks is highly relevant to understanding the post-9/11 world.

·          constructivists find absurd the idea of some identifiable and immutable “national interest,” which some realists cherish

·          constructivists often study the role of transnational activist networks—such as Human Rights Watch or the International Campaign to Ban Landmines—in promoting change. These movements often make pragmatic arguments as well as idealistic ones, but their distinctive power comes from the ability to highlight deviations from deeply held norms of appropriate behavior.

·          illuminates the changing norms of sovereignty, human rights, and international justice, as well as the increased potency of religious ideas in politics

·          the USA is a 'true revolutionary power'. Ronald Steel (NYT 1996):  "We purvey a culture based on mass entertainment and mass gratification ...the cultural message ... goes out across the world to capture, and also to undermine, other societies"

·          both liberal human rights movements and radical Islamic movements have transnational structures and principled motivations that challenge the traditional supremacy of self-interested states in international politics.


·          Niall Ferguson, “Power,” Foreign Policy, January/February 2003

·          Ethan B. Kapstein, “Is Realism Dead? The Domestic Sources of International Politics”, International Organization, 1995 

·          Robert O. Keohane, "International institutions: Can interdependence work?", Foreign Policy, 1998

·          Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye “Globalization: What’s New, What’s Not (and So What?),” Foreign Policy, Spring 2000:

·          David McCraw,  "The Howard Government's Foreign Policy: Really Realist?" Australian Journal of Political Science, September 2008, 43:3, 465 - 480

·          Gideon Rose, “Neoclassical Realism and Theories of Foreign Policy”, World Politics, 1998

·          Jack Snyder, "One World, Rival Theories", Foreign Policy, November / December 2004

·          Stephen M. Walt, "International Relations: One World, Many theories", Foreign Policy, 1998

·          Stephen M. Walt, "The relationship between theory and practice in international relations", Annual Review of Political Science, 2005

·          James Watson, “China’s Big Mac Attack,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2000


In the American study of international relations, idealism usually refers to the school of thought personified in American diplomatic history by Woodrow Wilson, such that it is sometimes referred to as Wilsonianism, or Wilsonian Idealism. Idealism holds that a state should make its internal political philosophy the goal of its foreign policy. For example, an idealist might believe that ending poverty at home should be coupled with tackling poverty abroad. Wilson's idealism was a precursor to liberal international relations theory, which would arise amongst the "institution-builders" after World War I. It particularly emphasized the ideal of American exceptionalism.

Idealism is also marked by the prominent role played by international law and international organizations in its conception of policy formation. One of the most well-known tenets of modern idealist thinking is democratic peace theory, which holds that states with similar modes of democratic governance do not fight one another. Wilson's idealistic thought was embodied in his Fourteen points speech, and in the creation of the League of Nations.

Idealism transcends the left-right political spectrum. Idealists can include both human rights campaigners (traditionally, but not always, associated with the left) and American neoconservatism which is usually associated with the right.

Idealism may find itself in opposition to Realism, a worldview which argues that a nation's national interest is more important than ethical or moral considerations; however, there need be no conflict between the two (see Neoconservatism for an example of a confluence of the two). Realist thinkers include Hans Morgenthau, Niccolò Machiavelli, Otto von Bismarck, George F. Kennan and others. Recent practitioners of Idealism in the United States have included Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.[4]


Liberal international relations theory arose after World War I in response to the inability of states to control and limit war in their international relations. Early adherents include Woodrow Wilson and Norman Angell, who argued vigorously that states mutually gained from cooperation and that war was so destructive to be essentially futile.

Liberalism was not recognized as a coherent theory as such until it was collectively and derisively termed idealism by E. H. Carr. A new version of "idealism" that focused on human rights as the basis of the legitimacy of international law was advanced by Hans Köchler.

Liberalism is one of the main schools of international relations theory. Its roots lie in the broader liberal thought originating in the Enlightenment. The central issues that it seeks to address are the problems of achieving lasting peace and cooperation in international relations, and the various methods that could contribute their achievement.

Broad areas of study within liberal international relations theory include:

·         The democratic peace theory, and, more broadly, the effect of domestic political regime types and domestic politics on international relations; states with similar modes of democratic governance do not fight one another;

·         The commercial peace theory, arguing that free trade has pacifying effects on international relations. Current explorations of globalization and interdependence are a broader continuation of this line of inquiry;

·         Institutional peace theory, which attempts to demonstrate how cooperation can be sustained in anarchy, how long-term interests can be pursued over short-term interests, and how actors may realize absolute gains instead of seeking relative gains;

·         Related, the effect of international organizations on international politics, both in their role as forums for states to pursue their interests, and in their role as actors in their own right;

·         The role of international law in moderating or constraining state behavior;

·         The effects of liberal norms on international politics, especially relations between liberal states;

·         The role of various types of unions in international politics, such as highly institutionalized alliances (e.g. NATO), confederations, leagues, federations, and evolving entities like the European Union; and,

·         The role, or potential role, of cosmopolitanism in transcending the state and affecting international relations.

Main article: Liberal international relations theory

Liberalism manifested a tempered version of Wilson's idealism in the wake of World War I. Cognizant of the failures of Idealism to prevent renewed isolationism following World War I, and its inability to manage the balance of power in Europe to prevent the outbreak of a new war, liberal thinkers devised a set of international institutions based on rule of law and regularized interaction. These international organizations, such as the United Nations and the NATO, or even international regimes such as the Bretton Woods system, and General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), were calculated both to maintain a balance of power as well as regularize cooperation between nations.

Democratic peace theory (or simply the "democratic peace") is the theory that democracies don't go to war with each other.[1] How well the theory matches reality depends a great deal on one's definition of "democracy" and "war".[2] For example,

Some have preferred terms like "mutual democratic pacifism"[3] or "inter-democracy nonaggression hypothesis" for the theory, to clarify that it is not the peace itself that is democratic, but rather the countries involved.[4]

Among proponents of the theory, several explanations have been offered for it:

·         that democratic leaders must answer to the voters for war, and therefore have an incentive to seek alternatives;

·         that such statesmen have practice settling matters by discussion, not by arms, and do the same in foreign policy;

·         that democracies view non-democracies as threatening, and go to war with them over issues which would have been settled peacefully between democracies;

·         that democracies tend to be wealthier than other countries, and the wealthy tend to avoid war, having more to lose.

Physicist turned historian Spencer R. Weart disagrees with this, saying, "It is not because of their advanced economic development--wealthy countries fight wars about as often as poor ones."[5]

Among those who dispute the theory, there are also several opinions: that the claim is a statistical artifact, explicable by chance; and that definitions of democracy and war can be deliberately cherry-picked to show a pattern that may not be there.


In the study of international relations, neoliberalism refers to a school of thought which believes that nation-states are, or at least should be, concerned first and foremost with absolute gains rather than relative gains to other nation-states. This theory is often mistaken with neoliberal economic ideology, although both use some common methodological tools, such as game theory.

As a part of liberal international relations theory, absolute gain is a term used to describe how (primarily) states will act in the international community. The theory says that international actors will look at the total effect of a decision on the state or organization and act accordingly. The international actor's interests not only include power ratios but also encompass the economic and cultural effects of an action as well. The theory is also interrelated with a non-zero-sum game which proposes that through use of comparative advantage, all states who engage in peaceful relations and trade can expand wealth. This differs from theories that employ relative gain, which seeks to describe the actions of states only in respect to power balances and without regard to other factors, such as economics. Relative gain is related to zero-sum game, which states that wealth cannot be expanded and the only way a state can become richer is to take wealth from another state.

Relative gain, in international relations, describes the actions of states only in respect to power balances and without regard to other factors, such as economics. In international relations, cooperation may be necessary to balance power, but concern for relative gains will limit that cooperation due to the low quality of information about other states' behavior and interests. Relative gain is related to zero-sum game, which states that wealth cannot be expanded and the only way a state can become richer is to take wealth from another state.[1] Relative gains differ from absolute gain, which is the total effect of a decision on the state or organization, regardless of gains made by others.

Neoliberalism, liberal institutionalism or neo-liberal institutionalism[21] is an advancement of liberal thinking. It argues that international institutions can allow nations to successfully cooperate in the international system.

Robert O. Keohane and Joseph S. Nye, in response to neorealism, develop an opposing theory they dub "Complex interdependence." Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye explain, “…complex interdependence sometimes comes closer to reality than does realism.”[3] In explaining this, Keohane and Nye cover the three assumptions in realist thought: First, states are coherent units and are the dominant actors in international relations; second, force is a usable and effective instrument of policy; and finally, the assumption that there is a hierarchy in international politics.[4] The heart of Keohane and Nye’s argument is that in international politics there are, in fact, multiple channels that connect societies exceeding the conventional Westphalian system of states. This manifests itself in many forms ranging from informal governmental ties to multinational corporations and organizations. Here they define their terminology; interstate relations are those channels assumed by realists; transgovernmental relations occur when one relaxes the realist assumption that states act coherently as units; transnational applies when one removes the assumption that states are the only units. It is through these channels that political exchange occurs, not through the limited interstate channel as championed by realists. Secondly, Keohane and Nye argue that there is not, in fact, a hierarchy among issues, meaning that not only is the martial arm of foreign policy not the supreme tool by which to carry out a state's agenda, but that there are a multitude of different agendas that come to the forefront. The line between domestic and foreign policy becomes blurred in this case, as realistically there is no clear agenda in interstate relations. Finally, the use of military force is not exercised when complex interdependence prevails. The idea is developed that between countries in which a complex interdependence exists, the role of the military in resolving disputes is negated. However, Keohane and Nye go on to state that the role of the military is in fact important in that "alliance’s political and military relations with a rival bloc."


Europe is living in a “Kantian worldly heaven”, while America is living in a “Hobbesian authorized universe.”

The heavenly Kantian world refers to the concept of a perpetual peace as described by Immanuel Kant, the German 18th century philosopher. This concept highlights the idea that to reach eternal peace on an international scale, a foedus pacificum should be formed. This is a peace federation which is approved of by countries that accept the Republican arrangement which honors moral autonomy, individualism and social order.

The Hobbesian universe refers to Thomas Hobbes’s dark view of society. This British philosopher from the 17th century regarded the natural human state to be one of anarchy, a constant war of all against all. Hobbes saw life as solitary, brutish, poor, nasty, and short. In these circumstances, a Leviathan power is needed which has absolute authority and the power to control anarchistic and brutal tendencies.

Woodrow Wilson (Idealism)

Morton Kaplan (Blanace Of Power) - Kaplan introduced a new analytical tool to the study of international relations, systems analysis.[4] His view contrasts with that of John Rawls - that it might be possible to isolate some basic social and political rules; rather Kaplan's alternative theory of justice is his test in principle, a kind of decision procedure for evaluating social, political, and moral choices, which attempts to circumvent the limitations of an egocentric or culturally narrow perspective while providing sufficient context to make a judgment.[4] Kaplan used systems analysis to differentiate among the various types of international state systems: the "balance of power" system, the loose bipolar system, the tight bipolar system, the universal international system, the hierarchical international system, and the Unit Veto International System.[5]
Hugo Grotius (1625) In the early 17th century, Grotius (1583–1645) introduced the modern idea of natural rights of individuals. Grotius postulates that each individual has natural rights that enable self-preservation and employs this idea as a basis for moral consensus in the face of religious diversity and the rise of natural science. He seeks to find a parsimonious basis for a moral beginning for society, a kind of natural law that everyone could accept. He goes so far as to say in his On the Law of War and Peace that even if we were to concede what we cannot concede without the utmost wickedness, that there is no God, these laws would still hold. The idea was considered incendiary since it suggested that power can ultimately go back to the individuals if the political society that they have set up forfeits the purpose for which it was originally established, which is to preserve themselves. In other words, the individual people, are sovereign. Grotius says that the people are sui juris (under their own jurisdiction). People have rights as human beings but there is a delineation of those rights because of what is possible for everyone to accept morally; everyone has to accept that people as individuals are entitled to try to preserve themselves. We should, therefore, avoid doing harm to or interfere with one another. Any breach of these rights should be punished.

Samual Huntington (Clash Of Civilizations) “In his Clash of Civilizations, Samuel Huntington argues that international conflicts in the future will be characterized by cultural difference in contrast to the ideological differences of the Cold War era.”

Alexander Hamliton –Argued for the primacy of politics over economics in his “Report on Manufactures”. Hamiliton’s view is considered an intellectual precursor to economic nationalism or neomercantilism in its advocacy of economic self-sufficiency. He asserted that the U.S. government should actively promote a highly diversified economy based on industrial production. A strong, diverse domestic economy is crucial to a natiion’s security because it enables a state to take care of itself in times of crisis. Hamilton advocates a central role for the government in the development and protection of key national industries and the management of the economy.

Adam Smith – Opposed Mercantilism (the practice of maintaining a trade surplus on the erroneous belief that doing so increase wealth), he argued for free trade and open markets and paved the way for Comparative Advantage. His The Wealth of Nations addresses the essence of human beings and the role of government in society. According to Smith, human beings have a natural inclination to “truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another.” Human beings are essentially economic creatures driven by a quest to acquire and dispose of property. Society is born out of economic exchange between individuals. Smith argues that self-interest motivates individuals to act, yet this selfish behavior can have a surprising result—social harmony. Unlike Hobbes, who argues that selfish behavior makes life particularly nasty, Smith argues that the “market” can harness the selfish impulses of individuals and propel a society to progressively higher levels of development. According to Smith, the market is governed by an “invisible hand” that regulates the behavior of individuals in a society. Self-interested individuals interacting with other self interested individuals will create competition to generate the goods and services a society needs and wants at a price it is willing to pay. Goods and services are not produced out of kindness and goodwill. They are provided out of self-interest of the producer. Competition ensures that no one provider will artificially raise prices to take advantage of consumers, because a competitor will offer the same good or service at a fair price. For Smith, self-regulating market promotes the welfare of individuals and societies.

David RicardoComparative Advantage:  Builds on the work of Adam Smith and highlights the importance of international trade for states in his classic work, The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation. International trade is important to states because domestic economies are constrained by limited resources and conflicting interests, while the international economy provides additional avenues for growth and expansion. States benefit from international trade by exporting products in which they have a comparative advantage.

Karl Marx – Communism’s most zealous intellectual advocate. According to Marx, capitalism contained the seeds of its own destruction. Communism was the inevitable end to the process of evolution begun with feudalism and passing through capitalism and socialism. Marx wrote extensively about the economic causes of this process in Capital. Volume one was published in 1867 and the later two volumes, heavily edited by Engels, were published posthumously in 1885 and 1894.

The labor theory of value, decreasing rates of profit, and increasing concentration of wealth are key components of Marx’s economic thought. His comprehensive treatment of capitalism stands in stark contrast, however, to his treatment of socialism and communism, which Marx handled only superficially. He declined to speculate on how those two economic systems would operate.

          Market Prices

         Something is worth what someone is willing to pay for it.

         Entirely Subjective

          Labor Theory of Value (Marx)

         Something is worth the amount of labor put into it



Immanuel Kant - In Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch[72] Kant listed several conditions that he thought necessary for ending wars and creating a lasting peace. They included a world of constitutional republics.[73] His classical republican theory was extended in the Science of Right', the first part of the Metaphysics of Morals (1797).[74]

"Kant's political teaching may be summarized in a phrase: republican government and international organization. In more characteristically Kantian terms, it is doctrine of the state based upon the law (Rechtsstaat) and of eternal peace. Indeed, in each of these formulations, both terms express the same idea: that of legal constitution or of "peace through law." ... Taken simply by itself, Kant's political philosophy, being essentially a legal doctrine, rejects by definition the opposition between moral education and the play of passions as alternate foundations for social life. The state is defined as the union of men under law. The state rightly so called is constituted by laws which are necessary a priory because they flow from very concept of law. A regime can be judged by no other criteria nor be assigned any other functions, than those proper to the lawful order as such." [75]

He opposed "democracy," which at his time meant direct democracy, believing that majority rule posed a threat to individual liberty. He stated, "...democracy is, properly speaking, necessarily a despotism, because it establishes an executive power in which 'all' decide for or even against one who does not agree; that is, 'all,' who are not quite all, decide, and this is a contradiction of the general will with itself and with freedom."[76] As most writers at the time he distinguished three forms of government i.e. democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy with mixed government as the most ideal form of it.

REALISM focuses on state security and power above all else. Early realists such as E.H. Carr and Hans Morgenthau argued that states are self-interested, power-seeking rational actors, who seek to maximize their security and chances of survival. Cooperation between states is a way to maximize each individual state's security (as opposed to more idealistic reasons). Similarly, any act of war must be based on self-interest, rather than on idealism. Many realists saw World War II as the vindication of their theory.

It should be noted that classical writers such as Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hobbes and Theodore Roosevelt, are often cited as "founding fathers" of realism by contemporary self-described realists.[citation needed] However, while their work may support realist doctrine, it is not likely that they would have classified themselves as realists (in this sense of the term). Realists are often split up into two groups: Classical or Human Nature Realists (as described here) and Structural or Neorealists (below).

Political realism believes that politics, like society in general, is governed by objective laws that have their roots in human nature. To improve society, it is first necessary to understand the laws by which society lives. The operation of these laws being impervious to our preferences, persons will challenge them only at the risk of failure. Realism, believing as it does in the objectivity of the laws of politics, must also believe in the possibility of developing a rational theory that reflects, however imperfectly and one-sidedly, these objective laws. It believes also, then, in the possibility of distinguishing in politics between truth and opinion-between what is true objectively and rationally, supported by evidence and illuminated by reason, and what is only a subjective judgment, divorced from the facts as they are and informed by prejudice and wishful thinking.

The placement of Realism under positivism is far from unproblematic however. E.H. Carr's 'What is History' was a deliberate critique of positivism, and Hans Morgenthau's aim in 'Scientific Man vs Power Politics' - as the title implies - was to demolish any conception that international politics/power politics can be studied scientifically.

Realism or political realism[8] has been the dominant theory of international relations since the conception of the discipline.[9] The theory claims to rely upon an ancient tradition of thought which includes writers such as Thucydides, Machiavelli, and Rousseau. Early realism can be characterized as a reaction against interwar idealist thinking. The outbreak of World War II was seen by realists as evidence of the deficiencies of idealist thinking. There are various strands of modern day realist thinking. However, the main tenets of the theory have been identified as statism, survival, and self-help.[9]


Realist theories tend to uphold that:

·         The international system exists in a state of constant antagonism.

·         There is no actor above states capable of regulating their interactions; states must arrive at relations with other states on their own, rather than it being dictated to them by some higher controlling entity (see international anarchy).

·         In pursuit of national security, states strive to attain as many resources as possible.

·         States are unitary actors each moving towards their own national interest. There is a general distrust of long-term cooperation or alliance.

·         The overriding national interest of each state is its survival.

·         Relations between states are determined by their levels of power derived primarily from their military and economic capabilities.

·         The interjection of morality and values into international relations causes reckless commitments, diplomatic rigidity, and the escalation of conflict.

·         Sovereign states are the principal actors in the international system and special attention is afforded to large powers as they have the most influence on the international stage. International institutions, non-governmental organizations, multinational corporations, individuals and other sub-state or trans-state actors are viewed as having little independent influence.

In summary, realists believe that mankind is not inherently benevolent but rather self-centered and competitive. This perspective, which is shared by theorists such as Thomas Hobbes, views human nature as egocentric (not necessarily selfish) and conflictual unless there exist conditions under which humans may coexist. This view contrasts with the approach of liberalism to international relations.

Realists believe that states are inherently aggressive (offensive realism) and/or obsessed with security (defensive realism), and that territorial expansion is only constrained by opposing power(s). This aggressive build-up, however, leads to a security dilemma whereby increasing one's security may bring along even greater instability as an opposing power builds up its own arms in response (an arms race). Thus, security becomes a zero-sum game where only relative gains can be made.


Realists believe that there are no universal principles with which all states may guide their actions. Instead, a state must always be aware of the actions of the states around it and must use a pragmatic approach to resolve problems as they arise.

·         Statism: Realists believe that nation states are the main actors in international politics.[10] As such it is a state-centric theory of international relations. This contrasts with liberal international relations theories which accommodate roles for non-state actors and international institutions. This difference is sometimes expressed by describing a realist world view as one which sees nation states as billiard balls, liberals would consider relationships between states to be more of a cobweb.

·         Survival: Realists believe that the international system is governed by anarchy, meaning that there is no central authority.[8] Therefore, international politics is a struggle for power between self-interested states.[11]

·         Self-help: Realists believe that no other states can be relied upon to help guarantee the state's survival.

Realism makes several key assumptions. It assumes that nation-states are unitary, geographically-based actors in an anarchic international system with no authority above capable of regulating interactions between states as no true authoritative world government exists. Secondly, it assumes that sovereign states, rather than IGOs, NGOs or MNCs, are the primary actors in international affairs. Thus, states, as the highest order, are in competition with one another. As such, a state acts as a rational autonomous actor in pursuit of its own self-interest with a primary goal to maintain and ensure its own security—and thus its sovereignty and survival. Realism holds that in pursuit of their interests, states will attempt to amass resources, and that relations between states are determined by their relative levels of power. That level of power is in turn determined by the state's military, economic, and political capabilities.

Some realists (human nature realists)[12] believe that states are inherently aggressive, that territorial expansion is constrained only by opposing powers, while others (offensive/defensive realists)[13] believe that states are obsessed with the security and continuation of the state's existence. The defensive view can lead to a security dilemma where increasing one's own security can bring along greater instability as the opponent(s) builds up its own arms, making security a zero-sum game where only relative gains can be made.

Historic antecedents

Realist thinkers include Hans Morgenthau, Niccolò Machiavelli, Otto von Bismarck, George F. Kennan and others.

While Realism as a formal discipline in international relations did not arrive until World War II, its primary assumptions have been expressed in earlier writings:[2][3]

·         Sun Tzu (or Sunzi), an ancient Chinese military strategist who wrote the Art of War.

·         Thucydides, an ancient Greek historian who wrote the History of the Peloponnesian War and is also cited as an intellectual forebearer of realpolitik.

·         Chanakya (or Kautilya) early Indian statesman, and writer on the Arthashastra.

·         Han Feizi, Chinese scholar who theorised Legalism (or Legism) and who served in the court of the King of Qin - later unifier of China ending the Warring States Period. His writings include The Two Handles (about punishments and rewards as tools of governance). He theorised about a neutral, manipulative ruler who would act as Head of State while secretly controlling the executive through his ministers - the ones to take real responsibility for any policy.

·         Niccolò Machiavelli, a Florentine political philosopher, who wrote Il Principe (The Prince) in which he held that the sole aim of a prince (politician) was to seek power, regardless of religious or ethical considerations.

·         Cardinal Richelieu, French statesman who destroyed domestic factionalism and guided France to a position of dominance in foreign affairs.

·         Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher who wrote Leviathan in which he stated the state of nature was prone to a "war of all against all".

·         Frederick the Great, Prussian monarch who transformed Prussia into a great European power through warfare and diplomacy.

·         Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, French diplomat who guided France and Europe through a variety of political systems.

·         Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich, Koblenz-born Austrian statesman opposed to political revolution.

·         Carl von Clausewitz, 18-19th century Prussian general and military theorist who wrote On War (Vom Kriege).

·         Otto von Bismarck, Prussian statesman who coined the term balance of power. Balancing power means keeping the peace and careful realpolitik practitioners try to avoid arms races.

·         20th century proponents of realism include Henry Kissinger, the National Security Adviser and Secretary of State to President Richard Nixon, French General and President Charles de Gaulle, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.

CLASSICAL REALISM is a school of thought in international relations theory associated with thinkers such as Machiavelli and Hobbes.

·         Thucydides

·         Niccolò Machiavelli

·         Thomas Hobbes

·         George F. Kennan

·         Hans Morgenthau

Classical realism states that it is fundamentally the nature of man that pushes states and individuals to act in a way that places interests over ideologies. Classical realism is defined as the "drive for power and the will to dominate [that are] held to be fundamental aspects of human nature".[4]

Modern realism began as a serious field of research in the United States during and after World War II. This evolution was partly fueled by European war migrants like Hans Morgenthau.

·         George F. Kennan - Containment

·         Nicholas Spykman - Geostrategy, Containment

·         Herman Kahn - Nuclear strategy

·         E.H. Carr

Thucydides (classical realism)

·          States are unequal in power

·          Choices are limited and have consequences

·          Power overrides Justice

·          States must be pragmatic in making decisions

He has also been called the father of the school of political realism, which views the relations between nations as based on might rather than right.[2] His text is still studied at advanced military colleges worldwide, and the Melian dialogue remains a seminal work of international relations theory.

Machiavelli- (classical realism)          

·          World is dangerous and opportune place

·          Power and deception are primary means of foreign policy

·          Christian ethics are counterproductive

Thomas Hobbes-  (classical realism)

English philosopher and political theorist best known for his book Leviathan (1651), in which he argues that the only way to secure civil society is through universal submission to the absolute authority of a sovereign.

·          State of Nature – All at war with all, Security Dilemma

·          State is Leviathan created to protect individuals

·          State of nature between states persists

Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan (1651)

The first modern philosopher to articulate a detailed contract theory was Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679). According to Hobbes, the lives of individuals in the state of nature were "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short", a state in which self-interest and the absence of rights and contracts prevented the 'social', or society. Life was 'anarchic' (without leadership/ the concept of sovereignty). Individuals in the state of nature were apolitical and asocial. This state of nature is followed by the social contract.

The social contract was an 'occurrence' during which individuals came together and ceded some of their individual rights so that others would cede theirs (e.g. person A gives up his/her right to kill person B if person B does the same). This resulted in the establishment of the state, a sovereign entity (like the individuals, now under its rule, used to be) which would create laws to regulate social interactions. Human life was thus no longer "a war of all against all".

But the state system, which grew out of the social contract, was anarchic (without leadership). Just as the individuals in the state of nature had been sovereigns and thus guided by self-interest and the absence of rights, so states now acted in their self-interest in competition with each other. Just like the state of nature, states were thus bound to be in conflict because there was no sovereign over and above the state (i.e. more powerful) capable of imposing social-contract laws. Indeed, Hobbes' work helped to serve as a basis for the realism theories of international relations, advanced by E.H. Carr and Hans Morgenthau.

The US has taken a centralized authority system stance that was discussed by the classic realists Thomas Hobbes in which the state alone is entrusted with acting out against potential aggressors

His 1651 book Leviathan established the foundation for most of Western political philosophy from the perspective of social contract theory.[2]

In Leviathan, Hobbes set out his doctrine of the foundation of states and legitimate governments – originating social contract theory. Leviathan was written during the English Civil War; much of the book is occupied with demonstrating the necessity of a strong central authority to avoid the evil of discord and civil war.

Hobbes was a champion of absolutism for the sovereign but he also developed some of the fundamentals of European liberal thought: the right of the individual; the natural equality of all men; the artificial character of the political order (which led to the later distinction between civil society and the state); the view that all legitimate political power must be "representative" and based on the consent of the people; and a liberal interpretation of law which leaves people free to do whatever the law does not explicitly forbid.[3]

He was one of the founders of modern political philosophy. His understanding of humans as being matter and motion, obeying the same physical laws as other matter and motion, remains influential; and his account of human nature as self-interested cooperation, and of political communities as being based upon a "social contract" remains one of the major topics of political philosophy.

E.H. Carr (Realist Cretique Of Idealism)
Carr contributed to the foundation of what is now known as classical realism in International relations theory. Through study of history (work of Thucydides and Machiavelli) and reflection and deep epistemological disagreement with Idealism, the dominant International relations theory between the World Wars, he came up with realism. In his book The Twenty Years' Crisis, Carr defined three dichotomies of realism and utopianism (Idealism), derived from Machiavellian realism:

In the first place, history is a sequence of cause and effect, whose course can be analysed and understood by intellectual effort, but not (as the utopians believe) directed by " imagination ". Secondly; theory does not (as the utopians assume) create practice, but practice theory. In Machiavelli's words, " good counsels, whence so ever they come, are born of the wisdom of the prince, and not the wisdom of the prince from good counsels ". Thirdly, politics are not (as the utopians pretend) a function of ethics, but ethics of politics. Men " are kept honest by constraint ". Machiavelli recognised the importance of morality, but thought that there could be no effective morality where there was no effective authority. Morality is the product of power. [Carr, 1939]

The Twenty Years' Crisis': 1919-1939 is a book on international relations written by Edward Hallett Carr (usually known as E. H. Carr). The book was written in the 1930s shortly before the outbreak of World War II in Europe and the first edition was published in September 1939, shortly after the war' s outbreak.[1] Carr published a second edition in 1945. In the revised edition, Carr did not "re-write every passage which had been in someway modified by the subsequent course of events", but rather decided "to modify a few sentences" and undertake other small efforts to improve the clarity of the work.[2] The text is considered a classic in International Relations theory, and is often dubbed one of the first modern Realist texts, following in the fashion of Thucydides and Machiavelli. Carr's analysis begins with post-Great War optimism, as embodied in the League of Nations declarations and various international treaties aimed at the permanent prevention of military conflict. He proceeds to demonstrate how rational, well-conceived ideas of peace and cooperation among states were undermined in short order by the realities of chaos and insecurity in the international realm. By assessing the military, economic, ideological and juridical facets and applications of power, Carr brings harsh criticism to bear on utopian theorists and others inclined to imagine that lofty rhetoric conditions state behavior more forcefully than the exigencies of survival and competition.Carr does not, however, consider the prospect of human improvement a lost cause. At the end of "The Twenty Years' Crisis" he actually advocates for the role of morality in international politics, and suggests that unmitigated Realism amounts to a dismal defeatism which we can ill afford. The sine qua non of his analysis is simply that in the conduct of international affairs, the relative balance of power must be acknowledged as a starting point.

[edit] Carr's distinctions of Realism and Utopianism

In the second part of the book The Twenty Years' Crisis, Carr defined six distinctions between Realism and Utopianism. The first being two schematic descriptions of idealism and realism (utopia and reality). The utopian believes in the possibility of transforming society by an act of will. The main problem of the utopian is his/her lack of information regarding the constraints that the reality poses upon us. Not regarding these constraints seriously, the utopian cannot assess his/her current position and thus is unable to move from the actual state of affairs to his/her desire. A Utopian may want a world in peace, but have no viable plan of action to bring peace on Earth, only the belief that it should be so and the conviction that such a belief will bring peace into being.

On the other hand, the realists take the society we live in as a historical consequence. The social reality is the product of a long chain of causality, a predetermined result. Thus, it cannot be changed by an act of will. The realist, taking things as they are, deprives him/herself from the possibility of changing the world.

The second distinction is that between theory and practice. For the utopian, we derive the answer to "what should be done?" from theory. The all-important question is to be able to conceive of a utopia. Once the target is constructed in mind, all we have to do is to get there. Thus, utopian confuses what "is" and what "ought to be". When a utopian says "men are equal", he actually means "men ought to be equal". The difference is crucial and confusing in actual politics. For the realist, theory is derived from reality, the actual state of affairs. While the utopian tries to reproduce reality with reference to theory, the realist tries to produce theory from reality. Thus, for a realist, a theory based on the equality of men is simply wrong or wishful thinking. The realist theory is descriptive, and you cannot derive policy from that theory; it is not prescriptive.

For Carr, one has to see the interdependence of the two. Most of our reality is the product of some ideas that took shape in the form of institutions or applied rules. Every theory carries in it a part of reality and vice versa. The problems we face in reality force us to think and imagine new ways of reality. The theory (solution) we produce changes reality and becomes part of reality. When that reality creates new problems, we come up with further theory to solve them and it goes on like this. That is a circle of causality.

The third distinction is that between the intellectual who derives the truth from books and the bureaucrat who derives it from actual experience. The intellectual believes in the predominance of theory and thus thinks of himself as the true guide of the so-called man of action. The bureaucrat is bound up with the existing order. He has no formula or theory that guides him. He merely tries to make the existing order, within which he exists, continue to exist.

The fourth distinction is that between left and right. The left is progressive in the utopian sense while the right is conservative in the realist sense.

The fifth is between radical and conservative (left and right, though Carr notes, that not always radicals and conservatives represent those political orientation). Radicals are utopians, intellectuals, theoretician, while conservatives are realists, bureaucrats and people from practice.

Finally, the same distinction appears between ethics and politics. The utopian believes in the predominance of ethics as a guide to policy. The realist believes that ethics is derived from the relations of power as they stand. Thus, politics predominates. For Carr, the ability to see from both angles is the right way to go about.

Hanns Morgenthau (Realists)- Politics Among Nations (1960, 3rd ed)

Six Principles

·          Politics rooted in human nature (unchanging, self-interested, etc.)

·          Politics is autonomous sphere distinct from economics and ethics

·          Self-interest is a basic fact of the human condition

·          Political ethics are different from private morality

·          Imposing ideologies on other states is dangerous for system and the state

·          Statecraft is sober exercise in limits of choice and human imperfections.

 [edit] Neoclassical realists

Schelling- (Realists) Strategy of Conflict (1980), Arms and Influence

Schelling's book, The Strategy of Conflict (1960),[5] has pioneered the study of bargaining and strategic behavior in what Schelling refers to, in the book, as "conflict behavior".

·          Focuses of foreign policy decision making (as opposed to systems models)

·          Diplomacy is bargaining under threat of military action

·          How can threats be sued to get adversary to do what you want?

·          Coercion: Threats, Credibility, Thresholds

·          Compellence vs Deterrence


[edit] Neorealists

[edit] Neorealism or structural realism

Main article: Neorealism (international relations)

Neorealism derives from classical realism except that instead of human nature, its focus is predominantly on the international system. While states remain the principal actors, greater attention is given to the forces above and below the states through levels of analysis or structure-agency debate. The international system is seen as a structure acting on the state with individuals below the level of the state acting as agency on the state as a whole.

While neorealism shares a focus on the international system with the English School, neorealism differs in the emphasis it places on the permanence of conflict. To ensure state security, states must be on constant preparation for conflict through economic and military build-up.

Prominent neorealists:

Neorealism or structural realism[14] is a development of realism advanced by Kenneth Waltz in Theory of International Politics. It is, however, only one strand of neorealism. Joseph Grieco has combined neo-realist thinking with more traditional realists. This strand of theory is sometimes called "modern realism".[15] Waltz's neorealism contends that the effect of structure must be taken into account in explaining state behavior. Structure is defined twofold as a) the ordering principle of the international system which is anarchy and b) the distribution of capabilities across units. Waltz also challenges traditional realism's emphasis on traditional military power, instead characterizing power in terms of the combined capabilities of the state.[16]

Neorealism derives from classical realism except that instead of human nature, its focus is predominantly on the international system. While states remain the principal actors, greater attention is given to the forces above and below the states through levels of analysis or structure-agency debate. The international system is seen as a structure acting on the state with individuals below the level of the state acting as agency on the state as a whole.

While neorealism shares a focus on the international system with the English School, neorealism differs in the emphasis it places on the permanence of conflict. To ensure state security, states must be on constant preparation for conflict through economic and military build-up.

·          Neo-Realism Key Assumptions

o    States are principal actors,

o    States are unitary

o    Sates are rational and seek to maximize security (defend sovereignty)

o    World is in a state of anarchy, self-help is the rule

·          Neo-Realists: What’s in a name

o    Kauppi and Viotti: Neorealists focus on distribution of power, Traditional realists include norms

o    Robert Keohane: Neo realists – security is goal of state; traditionals- power is goal of state

·          Dependent Variables

o    War

o    Alliances (intervening variable)

·          Independent Variables

o    International system: distribution of capabilities

·          Key Propositions:

o    Security Dilemma: (Kenneth Waltz)anything one state does to make itself more secure (i.e., more powerful) makes other states feel less secure. Security is Zero-sum game, cooperation is unlikely

o    Balance of Power Theory: (Kenneth Waltz) War is least likely between two nations with the same capabilities Bi-polar systems are more stable that multi-polar systems.

o    Hegemonic Stability Theory: (Robert Gilpin):  War is least likely in a system dominated by one large power.

o    Power Transition Theory: War is most likely when a challenger to a hegemon is rising.

o    Relative Gains (Joe Grieco): Nations will tend to trade with allies to prevent a shift in relative capabilities.

o    Alliance Formation (Stephen Walt): Balancing vs Bandwagoning

o    System Structure (Stephen Krasner): World system reflects the distribution of capabilities 

Kenneth Waltz – (NeoRealism) Theory of International Politics (1979)

·          Focuses on structure of international system

·          Seeks scientific explanation of IR

·          Balance of Power Theory

·          Waltz's initial contribution to the field of political science was his 1959 book, "Man, the State, and War", which classified theories of international relations into three categories, or levels of analysis. The first level explained international politics as being driven primarily by actions of individuals, or outcomes of psychological forces. The second level explained international politics as being driven by the domestic regimes of states, while the third level focused on the role of systemic factors, or the effect that international anarchy was exerting on state behavior. "Anarchy" in this context is meant not as a condition of chaos or disorder, but one in which there is no sovereign body that governs nation-states.

·          Waltz's key contribution to the realm of political science is in the creation of neorealism (or structural realism, as he calls it), a theory of International Relations which posits that states' actions can often be explained by the pressures exerted on them by international competition, which limits and constrains their choices. Neorealism thus aims to explain recurring patterns of state behavior, such as why the relations between Sparta and Athens resembled in important ways the relations between the US and the USSR.

·          Waltz argues that the world exists in a state of perpetual international anarchy. Waltz distinguishes the anarchy of the international environment from the order of the domestic one. In the domestic realm, all actors may appeal to, and be compelled by, a central authority - 'the state' or 'the government' - but in the international realm, no such source of order exists. The anarchy of international politics – its lack of a central enforcer – means that states must act in a way that ensures their security above all, or else risk falling behind. This is a fundamental fact of political life faced by democracies and dictatorships alike: except in rare cases, they cannot count on the good will of others to help them, so they must always be ready to fend for themselves.

·          Like most neorealists Waltz accepts that globalization is posing new challenges to states, but he does not believe states are being replaced, because no other non-state actor can equal the capabilities of the state. Waltz has suggested that globalization is a fad of the 1990s and if anything the role of the state has expanded its functions in response to global transformations.

·          Neorealism was Waltz's response to what he saw as the deficiencies of classical realism. Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, neorealism and realism have a number of fundamental differences. The main distinction between the two theories is that classical realism puts human nature, or the urge to dominate, at the center of its explanation for war, while neorealism stakes no claim on human nature and argues instead that the pressures of anarchy shape outcomes regardless of human nature or domestic regimes.

·          Waltz's theory, as he explicitly makes clear in "Theory of International Politics", is not a theory of foreign policy and does not attempt to predict or explain specific state actions, such as the collapse of the Soviet Union. The theory explains only general principles of behavior that govern relations between states in an anarchic international system, rather than specific actions. These recurring principles of behavior include balancing of power (the theory was revised by Stephan Walt, modifying the "balance of power" concept to "balance of threat"), entering into individually sub-optimal arms races, and exercising restraint in proportion to relative power. In Theory of International Politics (1979:6) Waltz suggests that explanation rather than prediction is expected from a good social science theory, since social scientists cannot run controlled experiments that give the natural sciences so much predictive power.

[edit] LIBERAL REALISM or the English school or rationalism

Main article: English school of international relations theory

The English School holds that the international system, while anarchical in structure, forms a "society of states" where common norms and interests allow for more order and stability than what might be expected in a strict realist view. Prominent English School writer Hedley Bull's 1977 classic entitled The Anarchical Society is a key statement of this position.

Prominent liberal realists:


Political Realism in International Relations

First published Mon Jul 26, 2010

In the discipline of international relations there are contending general theories or theoretical perspectives. Realism, also known as political realism, is a view of international politics that stresses its competitive and conflictual side. It is usually contrasted with idealism or liberalism, which tends to emphasize cooperation. Realists consider the principal actors in the international arena to be states, which are concerned with their own security, act in pursuit of their own national interests, and struggle for power. The negative side of the realists' emphasis on power and self-interest is their skepticism regarding the relevance of ethical norms to relations among states. National politics is the realm of authority and law, whereas international politics, they sometimes claim, is a sphere without justice, characterized by active or potential conflict among states.

Not all realists, however, deny the presence of ethics in international relations. The distinction should be drawn between classical realism—represented by such twentieth-century theorists as Reinhold Niebuhr and Hans Morgenthau—and radical or extreme realism. While classical realism emphasizes the concept of national interest, it is not the Machiavellian doctrine “that anything is justified by reason of state” (Bull 1995, 189). Nor does it involve the glorification of war or conflict. The classical realists do not reject the possibility of moral judgment in international politics. Rather, they are critical of moralism—abstract moral discourse that does not take into account political realities. They assign supreme value to successful political action based on prudence: the ability to judge the rightness of a given action from among possible alternatives on the basis of its likely political consequences.

Realism encompasses a variety of approaches and claims a long theoretical tradition. Among its founding fathers, Thucydides, Machiavelli and Hobbes are the names most usually mentioned. Twentieth-century classical realism has today been largely replaced by neorealism, which is an attempt to construct a more scientific approach to the study of international relations. Both classical realism and neorealism have been subjected to criticism from IR theorists representing liberal, critical, and post-modern perspectives.

1. The Roots of the Realist Tradition

1.1 Thucydides and the Importance of Power

Like other classical political theorists, Thucydides (460–411 B.C.E.) saw politics as involving moral questions. Most importantly, he asks whether relations among states to which power is crucial can also be guided by the norms of justice. His History of the Peloponnesian War is in fact neither a work of political philosophy nor a sustained theory of international relations. Much of this work, which presents a partial account of the armed conflict between Athens and Sparta that took place from 431 to 404 B.C.E., consists of paired speeches by personages who argue opposing sides of an issue. Nevertheless, if the History is described as the only acknowledged classical text in international relations, and if it inspires theorists from Hobbes to contemporary international relations scholars, this is because it is more than a chronicle of events, and a theoretical position can be extrapolated from it. Realism is expressed in the very first speech of the Athenians recorded in the History—a speech given at the debate that took place in Sparta just before the war. Moreover, a realist perspective is implied in the way Thucydides explains the cause of the Peloponnesian War, and also in the famous “Melian Dialogue,” in the statements made by the Athenian envoys.

1.1.1 General Features of Realism in International Relations

International relations realists emphasize the constraints imposed on politics by the nature of human beings, whom they consider egoistic, and by the absence of international government. Together these factors contribute to a conflict-based paradigm of international relations, in which the key actors are states, in which power and security become the main issues, and in which there is little place for morality. The set of premises concerning state actors, egoism, anarchy, power, security, and morality that define the realist tradition are all present in Thucydides.

(1) Human nature is a starting point for realism in international relations. Realists view human beings as inherently egoistic and self-interested to the extent that self-interest overcomes moral principles. At the debate in Sparta, described in Book I of Thucydides' History, the Athenians affirm the priority of self-interest over morality. They say that considerations of right and wrong have “never turned people aside from the opportunities of aggrandizement offered by superior strength” (chap. 1 par. 76).

(2) Realists, and especially today's neorealists, consider the absence of government, literally anarchy, to be the primary determinant of international political outcomes. The lack of a common rule-making and enforcing authority means, they argue, that the international arena is essentially a self-help system. Each state is responsible for its own survival and is free to define its own interests and to pursue power. Anarchy thus leads to a situation in which power has the overriding role in shaping interstate relations. In the words of the Athenian envoys at Melos, without any common authority that can enforce order, “the independent states survive [only] when they are powerful” (5.97).

(3) Insofar as realists envision the world of states as anarchic, they likewise view security as a central issue. To attain security, states try to increase their power and engage in power-balancing for the purpose of deterring potential aggressors. Wars are fought to prevent competing nations from becoming militarily stronger. Thucydides, while distinguishing between the immediate and underlying causes of the Peloponnesian War, does not see its real cause in any of the particular events that immediately preceded its outbreak. He instead locates the cause of the war in the changing distribution of power between the two blocs of Greek city-states: the Delian League, under the leadership of Athens, and the Peloponnesian League, under the leadership of Sparta. According to him, the growth of Athenian power made the Spartans afraid for their security, and thus propelled them into war (1.23).

(4) Realists are generally skeptical about the relevance of morality to international politics. This can lead them to claim that there is no place for morality in international relations, or that there is a tension between demands of morality and requirements of successful political action, or that states have their own morality that is different from customary morality, or that morality, if any, is merely used instrumentally to justify states' conduct. A clear case of the rejection of ethical norms in relations among states can be found in the “Melian Dialogue” (5.85–113). This dialogue relates to the events of 416 B.C.E., when Athens invaded the island of Melos. The Athenian envoys presented the Melians with a choice, destruction or surrender, and from the outset asked them not to appeal to justice, but to think only about their survival. In the envoys' words, “We both know that the decisions about justice are made in human discussions only when both sides are under equal compulsion, but when one side is stronger, it gets as much as it can, and the weak must accept that” (5.89). To be “under equal compulsion” means to be under the force of law, and thus to be subjected to a common lawgiving authority (Korab-Karpowicz 2006, 234). Since such an authority above states does not exist, the Athenians argue that in this lawless condition of international anarchy, the only right is the right of the stronger to dominate the weaker. They explicitly equate right with might, and exclude considerations of justice from foreign affairs.

1.1.2 TheMelian Dialogue”—The First Realist-Idealist Debate

We can thus find strong support for a realist perspective in the statements of the Athenians. The question remains, however, to what extent their realism coincides with Thucydides' own viewpoint. Although substantial passages of the “Melian Dialogue,” as well as other parts of the History support a realistic reading, Thucydides' position cannot be deduced from such selected fragments, but rather must be assessed on the basis of the wider context of his book. In fact, even the “Melian Dialogue” itself provides us with a number of contending views.

Political realism is usually contrasted by IR scholars with idealism or liberalism, a theoretical perspective that emphasizes international norms, interdependence among states, and international cooperation. The “Melian Dialogue,” which is one of the most frequently commented-upon parts of Thucydides' History, presents the classic debate between the idealist and realist views: Can international politics be based on a moral order derived from the principles of justice, or will it forever remain the arena of conflicting national interests and power?

For the Melians, who employ idealistic arguments, the choice is between war and subjection (5.86). They are courageous and love their country. They do not wish to lose their freedom, and in spite of the fact that they are militarily weaker than the Athenians, they are prepared to defend themselves (5.100; 5.112). They base their arguments on an appeal to justice, which they associate with fairness, and regard the Athenians as unjust (5.90; 5.104). They are pious, believing that gods will support their just cause and compensate for their weakness, and trust in alliances, thinking that their allies, the Spartans, who are also related to them, will help them (5.104; 5.112). Hence, one can identify in the speech of the Melians elements of the idealistic or liberal world view: the belief that nations have the right to exercise political independence, that they have mutual obligations to one another and will carry out such obligations, and that a war of aggression is unjust. What the Melians nevertheless lack are resources and foresight. In their decision to defend themselves, they are guided more by their hopes than by the evidence at hand or by prudent calculations.

The Athenian argument is based on key realist concepts such as security and power, and is informed not by what the world should be, but by what it is. The Athenians disregard any moral talk and urge the Melians to look at the facts—that is, to recognize their military inferiority, to consider the potential consequences of their decision, and to think about their own survival (5.87; 5.101). There appears to be a powerful realist logic behind the Athenian arguments. Their position, based on security concerns and self-interest, seemingly involves reliance on rationality, intelligence, and foresight. However, upon close examination, their logic proves to be seriously flawed. Melos, a relatively weak state, does not pose any real security threat to them. The eventual destruction of Melos does not change the course of the Peloponnesian War, which Athens will lose a few years later.

In the History, Thucydides shows that power, if it is unrestrained by moderation and a sense of justice, brings about the uncontrolled desire for more power. There are no logical limits to the size of an empire. Drunk with the prospect of glory and gain after conquering Melos, the Athenians engaged in war against Sicily. They paid no attention to the Melian argument that considerations of justice are useful to all in the longer run (5.90). And, as the Athenians overestimate their strength and in the end lose the war, their self-interested logic proves to be very shortsighted indeed.

It is utopian to ignore the reality of power in international relations, but it is equally blind to rely on power alone. Thucydides appears to support neither the naive idealism of the Melians nor the cynicism of their Athenian opponents. He teaches us to be on guard “against naïve-dreaming on international politics,” on the one hand, and “against the other pernicious extreme: unrestrained cynicism,” on the other (Donnelly 2000, 193). If he can be regarded as a political realist, his realism is nonetheless not a prefiguring of either realpolitik, in which traditional ethics is denied, or today's scientific neorealism, in which moral questions are largely ignored. Thucydides' realism, neither immoral nor amoral, can rather be compared to that of Hans Morgenthau, Raymond Aron, and other twentieth-century classical realists, who, although sensible to the demands of national interest, would not deny that political actors on the international scene are subject to moral judgment.

1.2 Machiavelli's Critique of the Moral Tradition

Idealism in international relations, like realism, can lay claim to a long tradition. Unsatisfied with the world as they have found it, idealists have always tried to answer the question of “what ought to be” in politics. Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero were all political idealists who believed that there were some universal moral values on which political life could be based. Building on the work of his predecessors, Cicero developed the idea of a natural moral law that was applicable to both domestic and international politics. His ideas concerning righteousness in war were carried further in the writings of the Christian thinkers St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. In the late fifteenth century, when Niccolò Machiavelli was born, the idea that politics, including the relations among states, should be virtuous, and that the methods of warfare should remain subordinated to ethical standards, still predominated in political literature.

Machiavelli (1469–1527) challenged this well-established moral tradition, thus positioning himself as a political innovator. The novelty of his approach lies in his critique of classical Western political thought as unrealistic, and in his separation of politics from ethics. He thereby lays the foundations for modern politics. In chapter XV of The Prince, Machiavelli announces that in departing from the teachings of earlier thinkers, he seeks “the effectual truth of the matter rather than the imagined one.” The “effectual truth” is for him the only truth worth seeking. It represents the sum of the practical conditions that he believes are required to make both the individual and the country prosperous and strong. Machiavelli replaces the ancient virtue (a moral quality of the individual, such as justice or self-restraint) with virtù, ability or vigor. As a prophet of virtù, he promises to lead both nations and individuals to earthly glory and power.

Machiavellianism is a radical type of political realism that is applied to both domestic and international affairs. It is a doctrine which denies the relevance of morality in politics, and claims that all means (moral and immoral) are justified to achieve certain political ends. Although Machiavelli never uses the phrase ragione di stato or its French equivalent, raison d'état, what ultimately counts for him is precisely that: whatever is good for the state and not ethical scruples or norms

Machiavelli justified immoral actions in politics, but never refused to admit that they are evil. He operated within the single framework of traditional morality. It became a specific task of his nineteenth-century followers to develop the doctrine of a double ethics: one public and one private, to push Machiavellian realism to even further extremes, and to apply it to international relations. By asserting that “the state has no higher duty than of maintaining itself,” Hegel gave an ethical sanction to the state's promotion of its own interest and advantage against other states (Meinecke 357). Thus he overturned the traditional morality. The good of the state was perversely interpreted as the highest moral value, with the extension of national power regarded as a nation's right and duty. Referring to Machiavelli, Heinrich von Treitschke declared that the state was power, precisely in order to assert itself as against other equally independent powers, and that the supreme moral duty of the state was to foster this power. He considered international agreements to be binding only insofar as it was expedient for the state. The idea of an autonomous ethics of state behavior and the concept of realpolitik were thus introduced. Traditional ethics was denied and power politics was associated with a “higher” type of morality. These concepts, along with the belief in the superiority of Germanic culture, served as weapons with which German statesmen, from the eighteenth century to the end of the Second World War, justified their policies of conquest and extermination.

Machiavelli is often praised for his prudential advice to leaders (which has caused him to be regarded as a founding master of modern political strategy) and for his defense of the republican form of government. There are certainly many aspects of his thought that merit such praise. Nevertheless, it is also possible to see him as the thinker who bears foremost responsibility for demoralization of Europe. The argument of the Athenian envoys presented in Thucydides' “Melian Dialogue,” that of Thrasymachus in Plato's Republic, or that of Carneades, to whom Cicero refers—all of these challenge the ancient and Christian views of the unity of politics and ethics. However, before Machiavelli, this amoral or immoral mode of thinking had never prevailed in the mainstream of Western political thought. It was the force and timeliness of his justification of resorting to evil as a legitimate means of achieving political ends that persuaded so many of the thinkers and political practitioners who followed him. The effects of Machiavellian ideas, such as the notion that the employment of all possible means was permissible in war, would be seen on the battlefields of modern Europe, as mass citizen armies fought against each other to the deadly end without regard for the rules of justice. The tension between expediency and morality lost its validity in the sphere of politics. The concept of a double ethics, private and public, that created a further damage to traditional, customary ethics was invented. The doctrine of raison d'état ultimately led to the politics of Lebensraum, two world wars, and the Holocaust.

Perhaps the greatest problem with realism in international relations is that it has a tendency to slip into its extreme version, which accepts any policy that can benefit the state at the expense of other states, no matter how morally problematic the policy is. Even if they do not explicitly raise ethical questions, in the works of Waltz and of many other of today's neorealists, a double ethics is presupposed and words such realpolitik no longer have the negative connotations that they had for classical realists, such as Hans Morgenthau.

1.3 Hobbes's Anarchic State of Nature

Thomas Hobbes (1588–1683) was part of an intellectual movement whose goal was to free the emerging modern science from the constraints of the classical and scholastic heritage. According to classical political philosophy, on which the idealist perspective is based, human beings can control their desires through reason and can work for the benefit of others, even at the expense of their own benefit. They are thus both rational and moral agents, capable of distinguishing between right and wrong, and of making moral choices. They are also naturally social. With great skill Hobbes attacks these views. His human beings, extremely individualistic rather than moral or social, are subject to “a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceases only in death” (Leviathan XI 2). They therefore inevitably struggle for power. In setting out such ideas, Hobbes contributes to some of the basic conceptions fundamental to the realist tradition in international relations, and especially to neorealism. These include the characterization of human nature as egoistic, the concept of international anarchy, and the view that politics, rooted in the struggle for power, can be rationalized and studied scientifically.

One of the most widely known Hobbesian concepts is that of the anarchic state of nature, seen as entailing a state of war—and “such a war as is of every man against every man” (XII 8). He derives his notion of the state of war from his views of both human nature and the condition in which individuals exist. Since in the state of nature there is no government and everyone enjoys equal status, every individual has a right to everything; that is, there are no constraints on an individual's behavior. Anyone may at any time use force, and all must constantly be ready to counter such force with force. Hence, driven by acquisitiveness, having no moral restraints, and motivated to compete for scarce goods, individuals are apt to “invade” one another for gain. Being suspicious of one another and driven by fear, they are also likely to engage in preemptive actions and invade one another to ensure their own safety. Finally, individuals are also driven by pride and a desire for glory. Whether for gain, safety, or reputation, power-seeking individuals will thus “endeavor to destroy or subdue one another” (XIII 3). In such uncertain conditions where everyone is a potential aggressor, making war on others is a more advantageous strategy than peaceable behavior, and one needs to learn that domination over others is necessary for one's own continued survival.

Hobbes is primarily concerned with the relationship between individuals and the state, and his comments about relations among states are scarce. Nevertheless, what he says about the lives of individuals in the state of nature can often also be interpreted as a description of how states exist in relation to one another. Once states are established, the individual drive for power becomes the basis for the states' behavior, which often manifests itself in their efforts to dominate other states and peoples. States, “for their own security,” writes Hobbes, “enlarge their dominions upon all pretences of danger and fear of invasion or assistance that may be given to invaders, [and] endeavour as much as they can, to subdue and weaken their neighbors” (XIX 4). Accordingly, the quest and struggle for power lies at the core of the Hobbesian vision of relations among states. The same would later be true of the model of international relations developed by Hans Morgenthau, who was deeply influenced by Hobbes and adopted the same view of human nature. Similarly, the neorealist Kenneth Waltz would follow Hobbes' lead regarding international anarchy (the fact that sovereign states are not subject to any higher common sovereign) as the essential element of international relations.

By subjecting themselves to a sovereign, individuals escape the war of all against all which Hobbes associates with the state of nature; however, this war continues to dominate relations among states. This does not mean that states are always fighting, but rather that they have a disposition to fight (XIII 8). With each state deciding for itself whether or not to use force, war may break out at any time. The achievement of domestic security through the creation of a state is then paralleled by a condition of inter-state insecurity. One can argue that if Hobbes were fully consistent, he would agree with the notion that, to escape this condition, states should also enter into a contract and submit themselves to a world sovereign. Although the idea of a world state would find support among some of today's realists, this is not a position taken by Hobbes himself. He does not propose that a social contract among nations be implemented to bring international anarchy to an end. This is because the condition of insecurity in which states are placed does not necessarily lead to insecurity for individuals. As long as an armed conflict or other type of hostility between states does not actually break out, individuals within a state can feel relatively secure. He does not expect that war could ever be removed from the face of earth or banned.

The denial of the existence of universal moral principles in the relations among states brings Hobbes close to the Machiavellians and the followers of the doctrine of raison d'état. His theory of international relations, which assumes that independent states, like independent individuals, are enemies by nature, asocial and selfish, and that there is no moral limitation on their behavior, is a great challenge to the idealist political vision based on human sociability and to the concept of the international jurisprudence that is built on this vision. However, what separates Hobbes from Machiavelli and associates him more with classical realism is his insistence on the defensive character of foreign policy. His political theory does not put forward the invitation to do whatever may be advantageous for the state. His approach to international relations is prudential and pacific: sovereign states, like individuals, should be disposed towards peace which is commended by reason.

What Waltz and other neorealist readers of Hobbes's works sometimes overlook is that he does not perceive international anarchy as an environment without any rules. By suggesting that certain dictates of reason apply even in the state of nature, he affirms that more peaceful and cooperative international relations are possible. Neither does he deny the existence of international law. Sovereign states can sign treaties with one another to provide a legal basis for their relations. At the same time, however, Hobbes seems aware that international rules will often prove ineffective in restraining the struggle for power. States will interpret them to their own advantage, and so international law will be obeyed or ignored according to the interests of the states affected. Hence, international relations will always tend to be a precarious affair. This grim view of global politics lies at the core of Hobbes's realism.

2. Twentieth Century Classical Realism

Twentieth-century realism was born in response to the idealist perspective that dominated international relations scholarship in the aftermath of the First World War. The idealists of the 1920s and 1930s (also called liberal internationalists or utopians) had the goal of building peace in order to prevent another world conflict. They saw the solution to inter-state problems as being the creation of a respected system of international law, backed by international organizations. This interwar idealism resulted in the founding of the League of Nations in 1920 and in the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 outlawing war and providing for the peaceful settlements of disputes. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, scholars such as Norman Angell, Alfred Zimmern, and Reymond D. Fosdick, and other prominent idealists of the era, gave their intellectual support to the League of Nations. Instead of focusing on what some might see as the inevitability of conflict between states and peoples, they chose to emphasize the common interests that could unite humanity, and attempted to appeal to rationality and morality. For them, war did not originate in an egoistic human nature, but rather in imperfect social conditions and political arrangements, which could be improved. Yet their ideas were already being criticized in the early 1930s by Reinhold Niebuhr and within a few years by E. H. Carr. The League of Nations, which the United States never joined, and from which Japan and Germany withdrew, could not prevent the outbreak of the Second World War. This fact, perhaps more than any theoretical argument, produced a strong realist reaction. Although the United Nations, founded in 1945, can still be regarded as a product of idealist political thinking, the discipline of international relations was profoundly influenced in the initial years of the post-war period by the works of “classical” realists such as John H. Herz, Hans Morgenthau, George Kennan, and Raymond Aron. Then, during the 1950s and 1960s, classical realism came under challenge of scholars who tried to introduce a more scientific approach to the study of international politics. During the 1980s it gave way to another trend in international relations theory—neorealism.

Since it is impossible within the scope of this article to introduce all of the thinkers who contributed to the development of twentieth-century classical realism, E. H. Carr and Hans Morgenthau, as perhaps the most influential among them, have been selected for discussion here.

2.1 E. H. Carr's Challenge of Utopian Idealism

In his main work on international relations, The Twenty Years' Crisis, first published in July 1939, Edward Hallett Carr (1892–1982) attacks the idealist position, which he describes as “utopianism.” He characterizes this position as encompassing faith in reason, confidence in progress, a sense of moral rectitude, and a belief in an underlying harmony of interests. According to the idealists, war is an aberration in the course of normal life and the way to prevent it is to educate people for peace, and to build systems of collective security such as the League of Nations or today's United Nations. Carr challenges idealism by questioning its claim to moral universalism and its idea of the harmony of interests. He declares that “morality can only be relative, not universal” (19), and states that the doctrine of the harmony of interests is invoked by privileged groups “to justify and maintain their dominant position” (75).

Carr uses the concept of the relativity of thought, which he traces to Marx and other modern theorists, to show that standards by which policies are judged are the products of circumstances and interests. His central idea is that the interests of a given party always determine what this party regards as moral principles, and hence, these principles are not universal. Carr observes that politicians, for example, often use the language of justice to cloak the particular interests of their own countries, or to create negative images of other people to justify acts of aggression. The existence of such instances of morally discrediting a potential enemy or morally justifying one's own position shows, he argues, that moral ideas are derived from actual policies. Policies are not, as the idealists would have it, based on some universal norms, independent of interests of the parties involved.

If specific moral standards are de facto founded on interests, Carr's argument goes, there are also interests underlying what are regarded as absolute principles or universal moral values. While the idealists tend to regard such values, such as peace or justice, as universal and claim that upholding them is in the interest of all, Carr argues against this view. According to him, there are neither universal values nor universal interests. He says those who refer to universal interests are in fact acting in their own interests (71). They claim that what is best for them is best for everyone, and identify their own interests with the universal interest of the world at large.

The idealist concept of the harmony of interests is based on the notion that human beings can rationally recognize that they have some interests in common, and that cooperation is therefore possible. Carr contrasts this idea with the reality of conflict of interests. According to him, the world is torn apart by the particular interests of different individuals and groups. In such a conflictual environment, order is based on power, not on morality. Further, morality itself is the product of power (61). Like Hobbes, Carr regards morality as constructed by the particular legal system that is enforced by a coercive power. International moral norms are imposed on other countries by dominant nations or groups of nations that present themselves as the international community as a whole. They are invented to perpetuate those nations' dominance.

Values that idealists view as good for all, such as peace, social justice, prosperity, and international order, are regarded by Carr as mere status quo notions. The powers that are satisfied with the status quo regard the arrangement in place as just and therefore preach peace. They try to rally everyone around their idea of what is good. “Just as the ruling class in a community prays for domestic peace, which guarantees its own security and predominance, … so international peace becomes a special vested interest of predominant powers” (76). On the other hand, the unsatisfied powers consider the same arrangement as unjust, and so prepare for war. Hence, the way to obtain peace, if it cannot be simply enforced, is to satisfy the unsatisfied powers. “Those who profit most by [international] order can in the longer run only hope to maintain it by making sufficient concessions to make it tolerable to those who profit by it least” (152). The logical conclusion to be drawn by the reader of Carr's book is the policy of appeasement.

Carr was a sophisticated thinker. He recognized himself that the logic of “pure realism can offer nothing but a naked struggle for power which makes any kind of international society impossible” (87). Although he demolishes what he calls “the current utopia” of idealism, he at the same time attempts to build “a new utopia,” a realist world order (ibid.). Thus, he acknowledges that human beings need certain fundamental, universally acknowledged norms and values, and contradicts his own argument by which he tries to deny universality to any norms or values. To make further objections, the fact that the language of universal moral values can be misused in politics for the benefit of one party or another, and that such values can only be imperfectly implemented in political institutions, does not mean that such values do not exist. There is a deep yearning in many human beings, both privileged and unprivileged, for peace, order, prosperity, and justice. The legitimacy of idealism consists in the constant attempt to reflect upon and uphold these values. Idealists fail if in their attempt they do not pay enough attention to the reality of power. On the other hand, in the world of pure realism, in which all values are made relative to interests, life turns into nothing more than a power game and is unbearable.

The Twenty Years' Crisis touches on a number of universal ideas, but it also reflects the spirit of its time. While we can fault the interwar idealists for their inability to construct international institutions strong enough to prevent the outbreak of the Second World War, this book indicates that interwar realists were likewise unprepared to meet the challenge. Carr frequently refers to Germany under Nazi rule as if it were a country like any other. He says that should Germany cease to be an unsatisfied power and “become supreme in Europe,” it would adopt a language of international solidarity similar to that of other Western powers (79). The inability of Carr and other realists to recognize the perilous nature of Nazism, and their belief that Germany could be satisfied by territorial concessions, helped to foster a political environment in which the latter was to grow in power, annex Czechoslovakia at will, and be militarily opposed in September 1939 by Poland alone.

A theory of international relations is not just an intellectual enterprise; it has practical consequences. It influences our thinking and political practice. On the practical side, the realists of the 1930s, to whom Carr gave intellectual support, were people opposed to the system of collective security embodied in the League of Nations. Working within the foreign policy establishments of the day, they contributed to its weakness. Once they had weakened the League, they pursued a policy of appeasement and accommodation with Germany as an alternative to collective security (Ashworth 46). After the annexation of Czechoslovakia, when the failure of the anti-League realist conservatives gathered around Neville Chamberlain and of this policy became clear, they tried to rebuild the very security system they had earlier demolished. Those who supported collective security were labeled idealists.

2.2 Hans Morgenthau's Realist Principles

Hans J. Morgenthau (1904–1980) developed realism into a comprehensive international relations theory. Influenced by the Protestant theologian and political writer Reinhold Niebuhr, as well as by Hobbes, he places selfishness and power-lust at the center of his picture of human existence. The insatiable human lust for power, timeless and universal, which he identifies with animus dominandi, the desire to dominate, is for him the main cause of conflict. As he asserts in his main work, Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, first published in 1948, “international politics, like all politics, is a struggle for power” (25).

Morgenthau systematizes realism in international relations on the basis of six principles that he includes in the second edition of Politics among Nations. Although he is a traditionalist and opposes the so-called scientists (the scholars who, especially in the 1950s, tried to reduce the discipline of international relations to a branch of behavioral science), in the first principle he states that realism is based on objective laws that have their roots in unchanging human nature (4). He wants to develop realism into both a theory of international politics and a political art, a useful tool of foreign policy.

The keystone of Morgenthau's realist theory is the concept of power or “of interest defined in terms of power,” which informs his second principle: the assumption that political leaders “think and act in terms of interest defined as power” (5). This concept defines the autonomy of politics, and allows for the analysis of foreign policy regardless of the different motives, preferences, and intellectual and moral qualities of individual politicians. Furthermore, it is the foundation of a rational picture of politics.

Although, as Morgenthau explains in the third principle, interest defined as power is a universally valid category, and indeed an essential element of politics, various things can be associated with interest or power at different times and in different circumstances. Its content and the manner of its use are determined by the political and cultural environment.

In the fourth principle, Morgenthau considers the relationship between realism and ethics. He says that while realists are aware of the moral significance of political action, they are also aware of the tension between morality and the requirements of successful political action. “Universal moral principles,” he asserts, “cannot be applied to the actions of states in their abstract universal formulation, but …they must be filtered through the concrete circumstances of time and place” (9). These principles must be accompanied by prudence for as he cautions “there can be no political morality without prudence; that is, without consideration of the political consequences of seemingly moral action” (ibid.).

Prudence, and not conviction of one's own moral or ideological superiority, should guide political action. This is stressed in the fifth principle, where Morgenthau again emphasizes the idea that all state actors, including our own, must be looked at solely as political entities pursuing their respective interests defined in terms of power. By taking this point of view vis-à-vis its counterparts and thus avoiding ideological confrontation, a state would then be able to pursue policies that respected the interests of other states, while protecting and promoting its own.

Insofar as power or interest defined as power is the concept that defines politics, politics is an autonomous sphere, as Morgenthau says in his sixth principle of realism. It cannot be subordinated to ethics. However, ethics does still play a role in politics. “A man who was nothing but ‘political man’ would be a beast, for he would be completely lacking in moral restraints. A man who was nothing but ‘moral man’ would be a fool, for he would be completely lacking in prudence” (12). Political art requires that these two dimensions of human life, power and morality, be taken into consideration.

While Morgenthau's six principles of realism contain repetitions and inconsistencies, we can nonetheless obtain from them the following picture: Power or interest is the central concept that makes politics into an autonomous discipline. Rational state actors pursue their national interests. Therefore, a rational theory of international politics can be constructed. Such a theory is not concerned with the morality, religious beliefs, motives or ideological preferences of individual political leaders. It also indicates that in order to avoid conflicts, states should avoid moral crusades or ideological confrontations, and look for compromise on the basis of satisfaction of their mutual interests alone.

Although he defines politics as an autonomous sphere, Morgenthau does not follow the Machiavellian route of completely removing ethics from politics. He suggests that, although human beings are political animals, who pursue their interests, they are moral animals. Deprived of any morality, they would descend to the level of beasts or sub-humans. Even if it is not guided by universal moral principles, political action thus has for Morgenthau a moral significance. Ultimately directed toward the objective of national survival, it also involves prudence. The effective protection of citizens' lives from harm is not merely a forceful physical action; it has prudential and moral dimensions.

Morgenthau regards realism as a way of thinking about international relations and a useful tool for devising policies. However, some of the basic conceptions of his theory, and especially the idea of conflict as stemming from human nature, as well as the concept of power itself, have provoked criticism.

International politics, like all politics, is for Morgenthau a struggle for power because of the basic human lust for power. But regarding every individual as being engaged in a perpetual quest for power—the view that he shares with Hobbes—is a questionable premise. Human nature is an unobservable. It cannot be proved by any empirical research, but only imposed on us as a matter of belief and inculcated by education.

Morgenthau himself reinforces this belief by introducing a normative aspect of his theory, which is rationality. A rational foreign policy is considered “to be a good foreign policy” (7). But he defines rationality as a process of calculating the costs and benefits of all alternative policies in order to determine their relative utility, i.e. their ability to maximize power. Statesmen “think and act in terms of interest defined as power” (5). Only intellectual weakness of policy makers can result in foreign policies that deviate from a rational course aimed at minimizing risks and maximizing benefits. Rather than presenting an actual portrait of human affairs, Morgenthau emphasizes the pursuit of power and sets it up as a norm.

As Raymond Aron and other scholars have noticed, power, the fundamental concept of Morgenthau's realism, is ambiguous. It can be either a means or an end in politics. But if power is only a means for gaining something else, it does not define the nature of international politics in the way Morgenthau claims. It does not allow us to understand the actions of states independently from the motives and ideological preferences of their political leaders. It cannot serve as the basis for defining politics as an autonomous sphere. Morgenthau's principles of realism are thus open to doubt. “Is this true,” Aron asks, “that states, whatever their regime, pursue the same kind of foreign policy” (597) and that the foreign policies of Napoleon or Stalin are essentially identical to those of Hitler, Louis XVI or Nicholas II, amounting to no more than the struggle for power? “If one answers yes, then the proposition is incontestable, but not very instructive” (598). Accordingly, it is useless to define actions of states by exclusive reference to power, security or national interest. International politics cannot be studied independently of the wider historical and cultural context.

Although Carr and Morgenthau concentrate primarily on international relations, their realism can also be applied to domestic politics. To be a classical realist is in general to perceive politics a conflict of interests and a struggle for power, and to seek peace by trying to recognize common group and individual interests rather than by moralizing.

3. Neorealism

In spite of its ambiguities and weaknesses, Morgenthau's Politics among Nations became a standard textbook and influenced thinking about international politics for a generation or so. At the same time, as mentioned above, there was an attempt to develop a more methodologically rigorous approach to theorizing about international affairs. In the 1950s and 1960s a large influx of scientists from different fields entered the discipline of International Relations and attempted to replace the “wisdom literature” of classical realists with scientific concepts and reasoning (Brown 35). This in turn provoked a counterattack by Morgenthau and scholars associated with the so-called English School, especially Hedley Bull, who defended a traditional approach. Nevertheless, the scientists had established a strong presence in the field, especially in the area of methodology. By the mid-1960s, the majority of American students in international relations were trained in quantitative research, game theory, and other new research techniques of the social sciences. This, along with the changing international environment, had a significant effect on the discipline.

The realist assumption was that the state is the key actor in international politics, and that relations among states are the core of actual international relations. However, with the receding of the Cold War during the 1970s, one could witness the growing importance of international and non-governmental organizations, as well as of multinational corporations. This development led to a revival of idealist thinking, which became known as neoliberalism or pluralism. While accepting some basic assumptions of realism, the leading pluralists, Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye, have proposed the concept of complex interdependence to describe this more sophisticated picture of global politics. They would argue that there can be progress in international relations and that the future does not need to look like the past.

3.1 Kenneth Waltz's International System

The realist response came most prominently from Kenneth N. Waltz, who reformulated realism in international relations in a new and distinctive way. In his book Theory of International Politics, first published in 1979, he responds to the liberal challenge and attempts to cure the defects of the classical realism of Hans Morgenthau with his more scientific approach, which has became known as structural realism or neorealism. Whereas Morgenthau rooted his theory in the struggle for power, which he related to human nature, Waltz made an effort to avoid any philosophical discussion of human nature, and set out instead to build a theory of international politics analogous to microeconomics. He argues that states in the international system are like firms in a domestic economy and have the same fundamental interest: to survive. “Internationally, the environment of states' actions, or the structure of their system, is set by the fact that some states prefer survival over other ends obtainable in the short run and act with relative efficiency to achieve that end” (93).

Waltz maintains that by paying attention to the individual state, and to ideological, moral and economic issues, both traditional liberals and classical realists make the same mistake. They fail to develop a serious account of the international system—one that can be abstracted from the wider socio-political domain. Waltz acknowledges that such an abstraction distorts reality and omits many of the factors that were important for classical realism. It does not allow for the analysis of the development of specific foreign policies. However, it also has utility. Notably, it assists in understanding the primary determinants of international politics. Waltz's neorealist theory cannot be applied to domestic politics. It cannot serve to develop policies of states concerning their international or domestic affairs. His theory helps only to explain why states behave in similar ways despite their different forms of government and diverse political ideologies, and why, despite of their growing interdependence, the overall picture of international relations is unlikely to change.

According to Waltz, the uniform behavior of states over centuries can be explained by the constraints on their behavior that are imposed by the structure of the international system. A system's structure is defined first by the principle by which it is organized, then by the differentiation of its units, and finally by the distribution of capabilities (power) across units. Anarchy, or the absence of central authority, is for Waltz the ordering principle of the international system. The units of the international system are states. Waltz recognizes the existence of non-state actors, but dismisses them as relatively unimportant. Since all states want to survive, and anarchy presupposes a self-help system in which each state has to take care of itself, there is no division of labor or functional differentiation among them. While functionally similar, they are nonetheless distinguished by their relative capabilities (the power each of them represents) to perform the same function.

Consequently, Waltz sees power and state behavior in a different way from the classical realists. For Morgenthau power was both a means and an end, and rational state behavior was understood as simply the course of action that would accumulate the most power. In contrast, neorealists assume that the fundamental interest of each state is security and would therefore concentrate on the distribution of power. What also sets neorealism apart from classical realism is methodological rigor and scientific self-conception (Guzinni 1998, 127-128). Waltz insists on empirical testability of knowledge and on falsificationism as a methodological ideal, which, as he himself admits, can have only a limited application in international relations.

The distribution of capabilities among states can vary; however, anarchy, the ordering principle of international relations, remains unchanged. This has a lasting effect on the behavior of states that become socialized into the logic of self-help. Trying to refute neoliberal ideas concerning the effects of interdependence, Waltz identifies two reasons why the anarchic international system limits cooperation: insecurity and unequal gains. In the context of anarchy, each state is uncertain about the intentions of others and is afraid that the possible gains resulting from cooperation may favor other states more than itself, and thus lead it to dependence on others. “States do not willingly place themselves in situations of increased dependence. In a self-help system, considerations of security subordinate economic gain to political interest.” (Waltz 1979, 107).

Because of its theoretical elegance and methodological rigor, neorealism has become very influential within the discipline of international relations. However, it has also provoked strong critiques on a number of fronts.

3.2 Objections to Neorealism

In 1979 Waltz wrote that in the nuclear age the international bipolar system, based on two superpowers—the United States and the Soviet Union—was not only stable but likely to persist (176–7). With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent disintegration of the USSR this prediction was proven wrong. The bipolar world turned out to have been more precarious than most realist analysts had supposed. Its end opened new possibilities and challenges related to globalization. This has led many critics to argue that neorealism, like classical realism, cannot adequately account for changes in world politics.

The new debate between international (neo)realists and (neo)liberals is no longer concerned with the questions of morality and human nature, but with the extent to which state behavior is influenced by anarchic structure rather than by institutions, learning, and other factors that are conductive to cooperation. In his 1989 book International Institutions and State Power, Robert Keohane accepts Waltz's emphasis on system-level theory and his general assumption that states are self-interested actors that rationally pursue their goals. However, by employing game theory he shows that states can widen the perception of their self-interest through economic cooperation and involvement in international institutions. Patterns of interdependence can thus affect world politics. Keohane calls for systemic theories that would be able to deal better with factors affecting state interaction, and with change.

Critical theorists, such as Robert W. Cox, also focus on the alleged inability of neorealism to deal with change. In their view, both classical realists and neorealists take a particular, historically determined state-based structure of international relations and assume it to be universally valid. In contrast, critical theorists believe that by analyzing the interplay of ideas, material factors, and social forces, one can understand how this structure has come about, and how it may eventually change. They contend that neorealism ignores both the historical process during which identities and interests are formed, and the diverse methodological possibilities. It legitimates the existing status quo of strategic relations among states and considers the scientific method as the only way of obtaining knowledge. It represents an exclusionary practice, an interest in domination and control.

While realists are concerned with relations among states, the focus for critical theorists is social emancipation. Despite their differences, critical theory, postmodernism and feminism all take issue with the notion of state sovereignty and envision new political communities that would be less exclusionary vis-à-vis marginal and disenfranchised groups. Critical theory argues against state-based exclusion and denies that the interests of a country's citizens take precedence over those of outsiders. It insists that politicians should give as much weight to the interests of foreigners are they give to those of their compatriots and envisions political structures beyond the “fortress” nation-state. Postmodernism questions the state's claim to be a legitimate focus of human loyalties and its right to impose social and political boundaries. It supports cultural diversity and stresses the interests of minorities. Feminism argues that the realist theory exhibits a masculine bias and advocates the inclusion of woman and alternative values into public life.

The critical theory and other alternative perspectives, sometimes called “reflectivist,” (Weaver 165) represent a radical departure from the neorealist and neoliberal “rationalist” international relations theories. Constructivists, such as Alexander Wendt, try to build a bridge between these two approaches by on the one hand, taking the present state system and anarchy seriously, and on the other hand, by focusing on the formation of identities and interests. Countering neorealist ideas Wendt argues that self-help does not follow logically or casually from the principle of anarchy. It is socially constructed. Wendt's idea that states' identities and interests are socially constructed has earned his position the label “constructivism”. Consequently, in his view, “self-help and power politics are institutions, and not essential features of anarchy. Anarchy is what states make of it” (Wendt 1987 395). There is no single logic of anarchy but rather several, depending on the roles with which states identify themselves and each other. Power and interests are constituted by ideas and norms. Wendt claims that neorealism cannot account for change in world politics, but his norm-based constructivism can.

A similar conclusion, although derived in a traditional way, comes from the theorists of the English school (International Society approach) who emphasize both systemic and normative constraints on the behavior of states. Referring to the classical view of the human being as an individual that is basically social and rational, capable of cooperating and learning from past experiences, these theorists emphasize that states, like individuals, have legitimate interests that others can recognize and respect, and that they can recognize the general advantages of observing a principle of reciprocity in their mutual relations (Jackson and Sørensen 167). Therefore, states can bind themselves to other states by treaties and develop some common values with other states. Hence, the structure of the international system is not unchangeable as the neorealists claim. It is not a permanent Hobbesian anarchy, permeated by the danger of war. An anarchic international system based on pure power relations among actors can evolve into a more cooperative and peaceful international society, in which state behavior is shaped by commonly shared values and norms. A practical expression of international society are international organizations that uphold the rule of law in international relations, especially the UN.

4. Conclusion: The Cautionary and Positive Character of Realism

An unintended and unfortunate consequence of the debate about neorealism is that neorealism and a large part of its critique (a notable exception is the English School), expressed in abstract scientific and philosophical terms, have made the theory of international politics almost inaccessible to a layperson and have divided the discipline of international relations into incompatible parts. Whereas classical realism was a theory aimed at supporting diplomatic practice and provided a guide to be followed by those seeking to understand and deal with potential threats, today's theories, concerned with various grand pictures and projects, are ill-suited to perform this task.

Nevertheless, whatever its weakness may be—including those that have been indicated throughout the text—the realist tradition in international relations continues to perform a useful role. Realism warns us against progressivism, moralism, legalism, and other orientations that lose touch with the reality of self-interest and power. The neorealist revival of the 1970s can also be interpreted as a necessary corrective to an overoptimistic liberal belief in international cooperation and change resulting from interdependence. However, as Donnelly rightly notices, once that correction has been made, the time of realism “as a fruitful dominant mode of thinking has passed” (2000, 194). By denying any progress in interstate relations, realism turns into an ideology. Its emphasis on power politics and national interest can be misused to justify aggression. It has to be supplanted by theories that take better account of the cooperation and changing picture of global politics. To its merely negative, cautionary function, positive norms must be added. These norms extend from the rationality and prudence stressed by classical realists, through the vision of multilateralism, international law, and an international society emphasized by liberals and members of the English School, to the cosmopolitanism and global solidarity advocated by many of today's writers.


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·          Peace and War, by Raymond Aron.

·          Globalization and Governance, by Kenneth Waltz.


First published Sat May 31, 2003; substantive revision Tue Jun 8, 2010

Sovereignty, though its meanings have varied across history, also has a core meaning, supreme authority within a territory. It is a modern notion of political authority. Historical variants can be understood along three dimensions — the holder of sovereignty, the absoluteness of sovereignty, and the internal and external dimensions of sovereignty. The state is the political institution in which sovereignty is embodied. An assemblage of states forms a sovereign states system.

The history of sovereignty can be understood through two broad movements, manifested in both practical institutions and political thought. The first is the development of a system of sovereign states, culminating at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Contemporaneously, sovereignty became prominent in political thought through the writings of Machiavelli, Luther, Bodin, and Hobbes. The second movement is the circumscription of the sovereign state, which began in practice after World War II and has since continued through European integration and the growth and strengthening of laws and practices to protect human rights. The most prominent corresponding political thought occurs in the writings of critics of sovereignty like Bertrand de Jouvenel and Jacques Maritain.

1. A Definition of Sovereignty

In his classic, The King's Two Bodies (1957), medievalist Ernst Kantorowicz describes a profound transformation in the concept of political authority over the course of the Middle Ages. The change began when the concept of the body of Christ evolved into a notion of two bodies — one, the corpus naturale, the consecrated host on the altar, the other, the corpus mysticum, the social body of the church with its attendant administrative structure. This latter notion — of a collective social organization having an enduring, mystical essence — would come to be transferred to political entities, the body politic. Kantorowicz then describes the emergence, in the late Middle Ages, of the concept of the king's two bodies, vivified in Shakespeare's Richard II and applicable to the early modern body politic. Whereas the king's natural, mortal body would pass away with his death, he was also thought to have an enduring, supernatural one that could not be destroyed, even by assassination, for it represented the mystical dignity and justice of the body politic. The modern polity that emerged dominant in early modern Europe manifested the qualities of the collectivity that Kantorowicz described — a single, unified one, confined within territorial borders, possessing a single set of interests, ruled by an authority that was bundled into a single entity and held supremacy in advancing the interests of the polity. Though in early modern times, kings would hold this authority, later practitioners of it would include the people ruling through a constitution, nations, the Communist Party, dictators, juntas, and theocracies. The modern polity is known as the state, and the fundamental characteristic of authority within it, sovereignty.

The evolution that Kantorowicz described is formative, for sovereignty is a signature feature of modern politics. Some scholars have doubted whether a stable, essential notion of sovereignty exists. But there is in fact a definition that captures what sovereignty came to mean in early modern Europe and of which most subsequent definitions are a variant: supreme authority within a territory. This is the quality that early modern states possessed, but which popes, emperors, kings, bishops, and most nobles and vassals during the Middle Ages lacked.

Each component of this definition highlights an important aspect of the concept. First, a holder of sovereignty possesses authority. That is to say, the person or entity does not merely wield coercive power, defined as A's ability to cause B to do what he would otherwise not do. Authority is rather what philosopher R.P. Wolff proposed: “the right to command and correlatively the right to be obeyed” (Wolff, 1990, 20). What is most important here is the term “right,” connoting legitimacy. A holder of sovereignty derives authority from some mutually acknowledged source of legitimacy — natural law, a divine mandate, hereditary law, a constitution, even international law. In the contemporary era, some body of law is ubiquitously the source of sovereignty.

But if sovereignty is a matter of authority, it is not a matter of mere authority, but of supreme authority. Supremacy is what makes the constitution of the United States superior to the government of Pennsylvania, or any holder of sovereignty different from a police chief or corporate executive. The holder of sovereignty is superior to all authorities under its purview. Supremacy, too, is endemic to modernity. During the Middle Ages, manifold authorities held some sort of legal warrant for their authority, whether feudal, canonical, or otherwise, but very rarely did such warrant confer supremacy.

A final ingredient of sovereignty is territoriality, also a feature of political authority in modernity. Territoriality is a principle by which members of a community are to be defined. It specifies that their membership derives from their residence within borders. It is a powerful principle, for it defines membership in a way that may not correspond with identity. The borders of a sovereign state may not at all circumscribe a “people” or a “nation,” and may in fact encompass several of these identities, as national self-determination and irredentist movements make evident. It is rather by simple virtue of their location within geographic borders that people belong to a state and fall under the authority of its ruler. It is within a geographic territory that modern sovereigns are supremely authoritative.

Territoriality is now deeply taken for granted. It is a feature of authority all across the globe. Even supranational and international institutions like the European Union and the United Nations are composed of states whose membership is in turn defined territorially. This universality of form is distinctive of modernity and underlines sovereignty's connection with modernity. Though territoriality has existed in different eras and locales, other principles of membership like family kinship, religion, tribe, and feudal ties have also held great prestige. Most vividly contrasting with territoriality is a wandering tribe, whose authority structure is completely disassociated with a particular piece of land. Territoriality specifies by what quality citizens are subject to authority — their geographic location within a set of boundaries. International relations theorists have indeed pointed out the similarity between sovereignty and another institution in which lines demarcate land — private property. Indeed, the two prominently rose together in the thought of Thomas Hobbes.

Supreme authority within a territory — this is the general definition of sovereignty. Historical manifestations of sovereignty are almost always specific instances of this general definition. It is in fact the instances of which philosophers and the politically motivated have spoken most often, making their claim for the sovereignty of this person or that body of law. Understanding sovereignty, then, involves understanding claims to it, or at least some of the most important of these claims.

Over the past half millennium, these claims have taken extraordinarily diverse forms — nations asserting independence from mother states, communists seeking freedom from colonialists, the vox populi contending with ancien regimes, theocracies who reject the authority of secular states, and sundry others. It is indeed a mark of the resilience and flexibility of the sovereign state that it has accommodated such diverse sorts of authority. Though a catalog of these authorities is not possible here, three dimensions along which they may be understood will help to categorize them: the holders of sovereignty, the absolute or non-absolute nature of sovereignty, and the relationship between the internal and external dimensions of sovereignty.

As suggested, diverse authorities have held sovereignty — kings, dictators, peoples ruling through constitutions, and the like. The character of the holder of supreme authority within a territory is probably the most important dimension of sovereignty. In early modern times, French theorist Jean Bodin thought that sovereignty must reside in a single individual. Both he and English philosopher Thomas Hobbes conceived the sovereign as being above the law. Later thinkers differed, coming to envision new loci for sovereignty, but remaining committed to the principle.

Sovereignty can also be absolute or non-absolute. How is it possible that sovereignty might be non-absolute if it is also supreme? After all, scholars like Alan James argue that sovereignty can only be either present or absent, and cannot exist partially (James 1999, 462–4). But here, absoluteness refers not to the extent or character of sovereignty, which must always be supreme, but rather to the scope of matters over which a holder of authority is sovereign. Bodin and Hobbes envisioned sovereignty as absolute, extending to all matters within the territory, unconditionally. It is possible for an authority to be sovereign over some matters within a territory, but not all. Today, many European Union (EU) member states exhibit non-absoluteness. They are sovereign in governing defense, but not in governing their currencies, trade policies, and many social welfare policies, which they administer in cooperation with EU authorities as set forth in EU law. Absolute sovereignty is quintessential modern sovereignty. But in recent decades, it has begun to be circumscribed by institutions like the EU, the UN's practices of sanctioning intervention, and the international criminal court.

A final pair of adjectives that define sovereignty is “internal” and “external.” In this case, the words do not describe exclusive sorts of sovereignty, but different aspects of sovereignty that are coexistent and omnipresent. Sovereign authority is exercised within borders, but also, by definition, with respect to outsiders, who may not interfere with the sovereign's governance. The state has been the chief holder of external sovereignty since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, after which interference in other states’ governing prerogatives became illegitimate. The concept of sovereignty in international law most often connotes external sovereignty. Alan James similarly conceives of external sovereignty as constitutional independence — a state's freedom from outside influence upon its basic prerogatives (James 1999, 460–462). Significantly, external sovereignty depends on recognition by outsiders. To states, this recognition is what a no-trespassing law is to private property — a set of mutual understandings that give property, or the state, immunity from outside interference. It is also external sovereignty that establishes the basic condition of international relations — anarchy, meaning the lack of a higher authority that makes claims on lower authorities. An assemblage of states, both internally and externally sovereign, makes up an international system, where sovereign entities ally, trade, make war, and make peace.

2. The Rise of the Sovereign State: Theory and Practice

Supreme authority with a territory — within this definition, sovereignty can then be understood more precisely only through its history. This history can be told as one of two broad movements — the first, a centuries long evolution towards a European continent, then a globe, of sovereign states, the second, a circumscription of absolute sovereign prerogatives in the second half of the twentieth century.

It was at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 that Europe consolidated its long transition from the Middle Ages to a world of sovereign states. According to historian J.R. Strayer, Britain and France looked a lot like sovereign states by around 1300, their kings possessing supremacy within bounded territories. But as late as the beginning of the Reformation in 1517, Europe remained distant from Westphalia. It was just around then that a great reversal in historical momentum occurred when Charles V of Spain ascended to the throne, uniting Castile, Aragon and the Netherlands, at the same time becoming Holy Roman Emperor, gaining prerogatives over lands in Central Europe, while taking on the role of enforcer of the Catholic Church's still significant temporal prerogatives inside the Empire, especially its enforcement of ecclesiastical orthodoxy. But within the Empire, Charles V was not sovereign, either, for princes and nobles there retained prerogatives over which he exercised no control. In 1555, a system of sovereign states gained important ground in the Peace of Augsburg, whose formula cuius regio, eius religio, allowed German princes to enforce their own faith within their territory. But Augsburg was unstable. Manifold contests over the settlement's provisions resulted in constant wars, culminating finally in the Thirty Years War, which did not end until 1648, at the Peace of Westphalia.

What features of Westphalia make it the origin of the sovereign states system? In fact, not all scholars agree that it deserves this status (see Krasner 1999). Nowhere in the settlement's treaties is a sovereign states system or even the state as the reigning legitimate unit, prescribed. Certainly, Westphalia did not create a sovereign states system ex nihilo, for components of the system had been accumulating for centuries up to the settlement; afterwards, some medieval anomalies persisted. In two broad respects, though, in both legal prerogatives and practical powers, the system of sovereign states triumphed. First, states emerged as virtually the sole form of substantive constitutional authority in Europe, their authority no longer seriously challenged by the Holy Roman Empire. The Netherlands and Switzerland gained uncontested sovereignty, the German states of the Holy Roman Empire accrued the right to ally outside the empire, while both the diplomatic communications and foreign policy designs of contemporary great powers revealed a common understanding of a system of sovereign states. The temporal powers of the Church were also curtailed to the point that they no longer challenged any state's sovereignty. In reaction, Pope Innocent X condemned the treaties of the peace as “null, void, invalid, iniquitous, unjust, damnable, reprobate, inane, empty of meaning and effect for all time” (quoted in Maland 1966, 16).

Second, Westphalia brought an end to intervention in matters of religion, up to then the most commonly practiced abridgement of sovereign prerogatives. After decades of armed contestation, the design of the Peace of Augsburg was finally consolidated, not in the exact form of 1555, but effectively establishing the authority of princes and kings over religion. In ensuing decades, no European state would fight to affect the religious governance of another state, this in stark contrast to the previous 130 years, when wars of religion sundered Europe. As the sovereign states system became more generalized in ensuing decades, this proscription of intervention would become more generalized, too, evolving into a foundational norm of the international system.

The sovereign states system that came to dominate Europe at Westphalia spread worldwide over the next three centuries, culminating in the decline of the European colonial empires in the mid-20th century, when the state became the only form of polity ever to cover the entire land surface of the globe. Today, norms of sovereignty are enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, whose article 2(4) prohibits attacks on “political independence and territorial integrity,” and whose Article 2(7) sharply restricts intervention.

As the sovereign state was occupying the European continent, piece by piece, in early modern times, eventually forming the system that came to occupy the globe, contemporary political philosophers embraced this form of polity and described what made it legitimate. They were not originators of the concept, for even during medieval times, philosophers like Dante and Marsilius of Padua advocated a separation of temporal and religious powers that would be achieved through a transfer of prerogatives into temporal ruler's hands. Then, in early modern times, there were two roughly contemporary philosophers who did not write explicitly or consciously of sovereignty, yet whose ideas amounted in substance to important developments of the concept. Machiavelli observed the politics of city states in his Renaissance Italy and described what a prince had to do to promote a flourishing republic in terms that conferred on him supreme authority within his territory. Manifestly, he was not to be bound by natural law, canon law, Gospel precepts, or any of the norms or authorities that obligated members of Christendom. Rather, he would have to be prepared “not to be good,” and to be ready to perform evil, not because evil was no longer evil, but because it was sometimes necessary to further an end that was central for Machiavelli, an end that amounts to the unifying idea of his thought: the strength and well-ordering of the state. The obligation of the prince was raison d’état. He was supreme within the state's territory and responsible for the well being of this singular, unitary body.

Purveying sovereignty from quite a different perspective was Martin Luther. His theology of the Reformation advocated stripping the Catholic Church of its many powers, not only its ecclesiastical powers, but powers that are, by any modern definition, temporal. Luther held that the Church should no longer be thought of as a visible, hierarchical institution, but was rather the invisibly united aggregate of local churches that adhered to right doctrine. Thus, the Catholic Church no longer legitimately held vast tracts of land that it taxed and defended, and whose justice it administered; it was no longer legitimate for its bishops to hold temporal offices under princes and kings; nor would the Pope be able to depose secular rulers through his power of excommunication; most importantly, the Holy Roman Emperor would no longer legitimately enforce Catholic uniformity. No longer would the Church and those who acted in its name exercise political or economic authority. Who, then, would take up such relinquished powers? Territorial princes. “By the destruction of the independence of the Church and its hold on an extra-territorial public opinion, the last obstacle to unity within the State was removed,” writes political philosopher J.N. Figgis (72). It was this vision that triumphed at Westphalia.

Luther's political theology explained all of this. He taught that under God's authority, two orders with two forms of government existed. “The realm of the spirit” was the order in which Christ was related to the soul of the believer. The realm of the world was the order of secular society, where civil authorities ran governmental institutions through law and coercion. Both realms furthered the good of believers, but in different senses; they were to be separately organized. Leaders of the church would perform spiritual duties; princes, kings and magistrates would perform temporal ones. Freed from the power of the pope and the Catholic Church, having appropriated temporal powers within their realm, princes were now effectively sovereign. In that era, princes even exercised considerable control over Protestant churches, often appointing their regional leaders, as described by the doctrine of “Erastianism.” Though neither Luther nor other Protestant reformers discussed the doctrine of sovereignty in any detail, they prescribed for princes all of its substance. Again, Figgis:

The unity and universality and essential rightness of the sovereign territorial State, and the denial of every extra-territorial or independent communal form of life, are Luther's lasting contribution to politics. (91)

Other early modern philosophers, of course, espoused the doctrine of sovereignty explicitly, and are thus more familiarly associated with it. French philosopher Jean Bodin was the first European philosopher to treat the concept extensively. His concept of souveraineté featured as a central concept in his work, De la république, which he wrote in 1576, during a time when France was sundered by civil war between Calvinist Huguenots and the Catholic monarchy. He viewed the problem of order as central and did not think that it could be solved through outdated medieval notions of a segmented society, but only through a concept in which rulers and ruled were integrated into a single, unitary body politic that was above any other human law, and was in fact the source of human law. This concept was sovereignty. Only a supreme authority within a territory could strengthen a fractured community.

To be sure, Bodin thought that the body that exercised sovereignty was bound by natural and divine law, though no human law could judge or appeal to it. More curiously, he also thought that sovereignty rightly exercised would respect customary and property rights. It is not clear how such a restraint was to be reconciled with the supreme status of sovereign authority. Possibly, Bodin thought that such rights were to be features of a legal regime which was itself sovereign with respect to other authorities. Indeed, he also thought the form of government that exercised sovereign powers could legitimately vary among monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, though he preferred monarchy. Whatever the sovereign body looked like, though, it was not subject to any external human law or authority within its territory. F.H. Hinsley writes:

At a time when it had become imperative that the conflict between rulers and ruled should be terminated, [Bodin] realized — and it was an impressive intellectual feat — that the conflict would be solved only if it was possible both to establish the existence of a necessarily unrestricted ruling power and to distinguish this power from an absolutism that was free to disregard all laws and regulations. He did this by founding both the legality of this power and the wisdom of observing the limitations which hedged its proper use upon the nature of the body politic as a political society comprising both ruler and ruled — and his statement of sovereignty was the necessary, only possible, result (124–125).

Bodin's “statement of sovereignty” is the first systematic one in modern European philosophy, and thus deserves a landmark status.

The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes also wrote during a time of civil war and also arrived at the notion of sovereignty as a solution. For Hobbes, the people established sovereign authority through a contract in which they transferred all of their rights to the Leviathan, which represented the abstract notion of the state. The will of the Leviathan reigned supreme and represented the will of all those who had alienated their rights to it. Like Bodin's sovereign, Hobbes’ Leviathan was above the law, a mortal god unbound by any constitution or contractual obligations with any external party. Like Bodin, Hobbes also thought the sovereign to be accountable to God and most likely to the natural law in some form. Otherwise, though, law was the command of the sovereign ruler, emanating from his will, and the obligation to obey it absolute.

Both Bodin and Hobbes argued for sovereignty as supreme authority. The concept continues to prevail as the presumption of political rule in states throughout the globe today, including ones where the sovereign body of law institutes limited government and civil rights for individuals. Over the centuries, new notions of the holders of sovereignty have evolved. Rousseau, far different from Bodin or Hobbes, saw the collective people within a state as the sovereign, ruling through their general will. In constitutional government, it is the people ruling through a body of law that is sovereign. That is the version that commands legitimacy most commonly in the world today.

Yet versions of sovereignty evocative of Hobbes' and Bodin's have carried forth into the twentieth century. Explicitly invoking both of these philosophers was the early twentieth century German philosopher and jurist Carl Schmitt, for instance. His Political Theology, originally published in 1922, opens with the line, “sovereign is he who decides on the exceptions.” Schmitt thought that the sovereign was above any constitutional law and ought to be able to “make a decision” on behalf of the good of the state during a time of emergency. He had little respect for liberal constitutionalism, which he thought wholly inadequate to contain the power struggle that politics involves. By and large, there is little indicating that, at least in this work, Schmitt thought the sovereign to be bound by divine law or natural law. The liberal constitutionalism of Weimar Germany was his chief piece of evidence for this conviction; during the 1930s he fervently supported the National Socialist regime, one whose emergency powers were just those that he thought necessary.

3. The Circumscription of the Sovereign State: Theory and Practice

The rise and global expansion of sovereignty, described and even lauded by political philosophers, amounts to one of the most formidable and successful political trends in modern times. But from its earliest days, sovereignty has also met with both doubters and qualified supporters, many of whom have regarded any body of law's claim to sovereign status as a form of idolatry, sometimes as a carapace behind which rulers carry out cruelties and injustices free from legitimate outside scrutiny. It was indeed after the Holocaust that meaningful legal and institutional circumscriptions of sovereignty in fact arose, many of which have come to abridge the rights of sovereign states quite significantly. The two most prominent curtailments are conventions on human rights and European integration.

It was in 1948 that the vast majority of states signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, committing themselves to respect over 30 separate rights for individuals. As it was not a legally binding declaration and contained no enforcement provisions, the declaration left states’ sovereignty intact, but it was a first step towards tethering them to international, universal obligations regarding their internal affairs. Over decades, these human rights would come to enjoy ever stronger legal status. One of the most robust human rights conventions, one that indeed curtails sovereignty, even if mildly, through its arbitration mechanisms, is the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, formed in 1950. Roughly contemporaneous, signed on December 9, 1948, was the Genocide Convention, committing signing states to refrain from and punish genocide. Then, in the mid-1960's, two covenants — the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights — legally bound most of the world's states to respecting the human rights of their people. Again, the signatories’ constitutional authority remained largely intact, since they would not allow any of these commitments to infringe upon their sovereignty. Subsequent human rights covenants, also signed by the vast majority of the world's states, contained similar reservations.

Only a practice of human rights backed up by military enforcement or robust judicial procedures would circumscribe sovereignty in a serious way. Progress in this direction began to occur after the Cold War through a historic revision of the Peace of Westphalia, one that curtails a norm strongly advanced by its treaties — non-intervention. In a series of several episodes beginning in 1990, the United Nations or another international organization has endorsed a political action, usually involving military force, that the broad consensus of states would have previously regarded as illegitimate interference in internal affairs. The episodes have involved the approval of military operations to remedy an injustice within the boundaries of a state or the outside administration of domestic matters like police operations. Unlike peacekeeping operations during the Cold War, the operations have usually lacked the consent of the government of the target state. They have occurred in Iraq, the former Yugoslavia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti, Cambodia, Liberia, and elsewhere. Although the legitimacy and wisdom of individual interventions is often contested among states — the U.S. bombing of Iraq in December 1999 and NATO's intervention in Kosovo, for instance, failed to elicit U.N. Security Council endorsement, as did the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 — the broad practice of intervention is likely to continue to enjoy broad endorsement within the U.N. Security Council and other international organizations.

An explicit call to revise the concept of sovereignty so as to allow for internationally sanctioned intervention arose with The Responsibility to Protect, a document written and produced in 2001 by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, a commission that the Government of Canada convened at the behest of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. The document proposes a strong revision of the classical conception by which sovereignty involves a “responsibility to protect” on the part of a state towards its own citizens, a responsibility that outsiders may assume when a state perpetrates massive injustice or cannot protect its own citizens. Responsibility to Protect has garnered wide international attention and serves as a manifesto for a concept of sovereignty that is non-absolute and conditional upon outside obligations.

The other way in which sovereignty is being circumscribed is through European integration. This idea also arose in reaction to the Holocaust, a calamity that many European leaders attributed at least in part to the sovereign state's lack of accountability. Historically, the most enthusiastic supporters of European integration have indeed come from Catholic Christian Democratic parties, whose ideals are rooted in medieval Christendom, where at least in theory, no leader was sovereign and all leaders were accountable to a universal set of values. In the modern language of human rights and democracy, they echo Pope Innocent X's excoriation of the Peace of Westphalia.

European integration began in 1950, when six states formed the European Coal and Steel Community in the Treaty of Paris. The community established joint international authority over the coal and steel industries of these six countries, entailing executive control through a permanent bureaucracy and a decision-making Council of Ministers composed of foreign ministers of each state. This same model was expanded to a general economic zone in the Treaty of Rome in 1957. It was enhanced by a judicial body, the European Court of Justice, and a legislature, the European Parliament, a directly elected Europe-wide body. Over time, European integration has widened, as the institution now consists of twenty-seven members, and deepened, as it did in the 1991 Maastricht Treaty, which expanded the institution's powers and reconfigured it as the European Union. Far from a replacement for states, the European Union rather “pools” important aspects of their sovereignty into a “supranational” institution in which their freedom of action is constrained (Keohane & Hoffman 1991). They are no longer absolutely sovereign. Today, European integration proceeds apace. On December 1, 2009, the Treaty of Lisbon came into full force, pooling sovereignty further by strengthening the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, creating a High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to represent a unified European Union position, and making the European Union's Charter of Fundamental Human Rights legally binding.

This circumscription of the sovereign state, through international norms and supranational institutions, finds a parallel in contemporary philosophers who attack the notion of absolute sovereignty. Their thought is not entirely new, for even in early modern times, philosophers like Hugo Grotius, Alberico Gentili, and Francisco Suarez, though they accepted the state as a legitimate institution, thought that its authority ought to be limited, not absolute. The cruel prince, for instance, could be subject to a disciplining action from neighboring princes that is much like contemporary notions of humanitarian intervention.

Perhaps the two most prominent attacks on sovereignty from political philosophers since World War II come from Bertrand de Jouvenel and Jacques Maritain. In his prominent work of 1957, Sovereignty: An Inquiry Into the Political Good, Jouvenel acknowledges that sovereignty is an important attribute of modern political authority, needed to quell disputes within the state and to muster cooperation in defense against outsiders. But he roundly decries the modern concept of sovereignty, which creates a power who is above the rules, a power whose decrees are to be considered legitimate simply because they emanate from his will. To Jouvenel, sovereignty reached its peak in Hobbes, in whose “horrific conception everything comes back to means of constraint, which enable the sovereign to issue rights and dictate laws in any way he pleases. But these means of constraint are themselves but a fraction of the social forces concentrated in the hand of the sovereign” (197). Despite their differences over the locus and form of sovereignty, subsequent thinkers like Locke, Pufendorf, and Rousseau “were to feel the lure of this mechanically perfect construction” (198). This was “the hour of sovereignty in itself,” writes Jouvenel, the existence of which “hardly anyone would thenceforward have the hardihood to deny” (198).

As his description of Hobbes intimates, Jouvenel views early modern absolute sovereignty with great alarm. “[I]t is the idea itself which is dangerous,” he writes (198). But rather than calling for the concept to be abrogated, he holds that sovereignty must be channeled so that sovereign authority wills nothing but what is legitimate. Far from being defined by the sovereign, morality has an independent validity. Appealing to the perspective of “Christian thinkers,” he argues that “there are . . . wills which are just and wills which are unjust” (201). “Authority,” then, “carries with it the obligation to command the thing that should be commanded” (201). This was the understanding of authority held by the ancien regime, where effective advisers to the monarch could channel his efforts towards the common good. What can channel the sovereign will today? Jouvenel seems to doubt that judicial or constitutional design is alone enough. Rather, he places his hope in the shared moral concepts of the citizenry, which act as a constraint upon the choices of the sovereign.

In Chapter Two of his enduring work of 1951, Man and the State, Jacques Maritain shows little sympathy for sovereignty at all, not even the qualified sympathy of Jouvenel:

It is my contention that political philosophy must get rid of the word, as well as the concept, of Sovereignty:-not because it is an antiquated concept, or by virtue of a sociological-juridical theory of “objective law”; and not only because the concept of Sovereignty creates insuperable difficulties and theoretical entanglements in the field of international law; but because, considered in its genuine meaning, and in the perspective of the proper scientific realm to which it belongs — political philosophy — this concept is intrinsically wrong and bound to mislead us if we keep on using it — assuming that it has been too long and too largely accepted to be permissibly rejected, and unaware of the false connotations that are inherent in it (29–30).

Bodin's and Hobbes’ mistake was in conceiving of sovereignty as authority that the people permanently transferred and alienated to an external entity, here the monarch. Rather than representing the people and being accountable to it, the sovereign became a transcendent entity, holding the supreme and inalienable right to rule over the people, independently of them, rather than representing the people, accountable to them. Like Jouvenel, Maritain rues the exaltation of the sovereign's will such that what is just is what serves his interest. This is idolatry. Any transfer of the authority of the body politic either to some part of itself or to some outside entity — the apparatus of the state, a monarch, or even the people — is illegitimate, for the validity of a government is rooted in its relationship to natural law. Sovereignty gives rise to three dysfunctionalities. First, its external dimension renders inconceivable international law and a world state, to both of which Maritain is highly sympathetic. Second, the internal dimension of sovereignty, the absolute power of the state over the body politic, results in centralism, not pluralism. Third, the supreme power of the sovereign state is contrary to the democratic notion of accountability.

As a Catholic philosopher, Maritain's arguments run similar to Christian philosophers of early modern Europe who criticized absolute sovereignty. Witnessing the rise of the formidable entity of the state, they sought to place limits on its power and authority. They are the ancestors of those who now demand limits on the state's authority in the name of human rights, of the right to quell genocide and disaster and deliver relief from the outside, of an international criminal court, and of a supranational entity that assumes power of governance over economic, and now, maybe, military affairs.


·          Bartelson, J., 1995. A Genealogy of Sovereignty, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

·          Bodin, J., 1992. On Sovereignty: Four Chapters From Six Books of the Commonwealth, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

·          Figgis, J. N., 1907. From Gerson to Grotius 1414–1625, 2nd edition; reprinted, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1916.

·          Fowler, M. R. and J. M. Bunck, 1995. Law, Power, and the Sovereign State, University Park, PA: Penn State Press.

·          Grotius, H., 1625. The Rights of War and Peace, London: M. Walter Dunne, 1901.

·          Hinsley, F. H., 1986. Sovereignty, second edition, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

·          Hobbes, T., 1651. Leviathan, Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1968.

·          International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty: Report. 2001. The Responsibility to Protect, International Development Research Centre Publications [Preprint available online].

·          James, A., 1986. Sovereign Statehood, London: Allen & Unwin.

·          James, A., 1999. ‘The Practice of Sovereign Statehood in Contemporary International Society,’ Political Studies, 47(3): 457–473.

·          de Jouvenel, B., 1957. Sovereignty: An Inquiry Into the Political Good, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

·          Kantorowicz, E., 1957. The King's Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

·          Keohane, R. O. and S. Hoffmann, 1991. ‘Institutional Change in Europe in the 1980s,’ in The New European Community: Decisionmaking and Institutional Change, R. O. Keohane and S. Hoffmann (eds.), Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

·          Krasner, S. D., 1999. Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

·          Kratochwil, F., 1989. Rules, Norms, and Decisions: On the Conditions of Practical and Legal Reasoning in International Relations and Domestic Affairs, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

·          Luther, M., 1523. Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed, Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1967.

·          Machiavelli, N., 1532. The Prince and the Discourses, New York, NY: The Modern Library, 1950.

·          Maland, David, 1966, Europe in the Seventeenth Century, London: Macmillan.

·          Maritain, J., 1951. Man and the State, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

·          Philpott, D., 2001. Revolutions in Sovereignty: How Ideas Shaped Modern International Relations, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

·          Pogge, T., 1992, ‘Cosmopolitanism and Sovereignty,’ Ethics, 103: 48–75.

·          Schmitt, Carl, 1922. Political Theology, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1985.

·          Spruyt, H., 1994. The Sovereign State and Its Competitors, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

·          Wolff, R. P., 1990. The Conflict Between Authority and Autonomy, Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Other Internet Resources

·          Something Happened. Sovereignty and European Integration”, by Adrián Tokár, preprint of article in Extraordinary Times, Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen, Junior Visiting Fellows Conferences, Vol. 11: Vienna 2001

·          State sovereignty and the protection of fundamental human rights: an international law perspective”, by Alain Pellet (University of Paris X-Nanterre, member and former Chairman of the International Law Commission of the United Nations)

·          Popular Sovereignty, by John F. Knutsen

Hobbes's Moral and Political Philosophy

First published Tue Feb 12, 2002; substantive revision Sat Aug 23, 2008

The 17th Century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes is now widely regarded as one of a handful of truly great political philosophers, whose masterwork Leviathan rivals in significance the political writings of Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, and Rawls. Hobbes is famous for his early and elaborate development of what has come to be known as “social contract theory”, the method of justifying political principles or arrangements by appeal to the agreement that would be made among suitably situated rational, free, and equal persons. He is infamous for having used the social contract method to arrive at the astonishing conclusion that we ought to submit to the authority of an absolute—undivided and unlimited—sovereign power. While his methodological innovation had a profound constructive impact on subsequent work in political philosophy, his substantive conclusions have served mostly as a foil for the development of more palatable philosophical positions. Hobbes's moral philosophy has been less influential than his political philosophy, in part because that theory is too ambiguous to have garnered any general consensus as to its content. Most scholars have taken Hobbes to have affirmed some sort of personal relativism or subjectivism; but views that Hobbes espoused divine command theory, virtue ethics, rule egoism, or a form of projectivism also find support in Hobbes's texts and among scholars. Because Hobbes held that “the true doctrine of the Lawes of Nature is the true Morall philosophie”, differences in interpretation of Hobbes's moral philosophy can be traced to differing understandings of the status and operation of Hobbes's “laws of nature”, which laws will be discussed below. The formerly dominant view that Hobbes espoused psychological egoism as the foundation of his moral theory is currently widely rejected, and there has been to date no fully systematic study of Hobbes's moral psychology.

1. Major Political Writings

Hobbes wrote several versions of his political philosophy, including The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic (also under the titles Human Nature and De Corpore Politico) published in 1650, De Cive (1642) published in English as Philosophical Rudiments Concerning Government and Society in 1651, the English Leviathan published in 1651, and its Latin revision in 1668. Others of his works are also important in understanding his political philosophy, especially his history of the English Civil War, Behemoth (published 1679), De Corpore (1655), De Homine (1658), Dialogue Between a Philosopher and a Student of the Common Laws of England (1681), and The Questions Concerning Liberty, Necessity, and Chance (1656). All of Hobbes's major writings are collected in The English Works of Thomas Hobbes, edited by Sir William Molesworth (11 volumes, London 1839-45), and Thomae Hobbes Opera Philosophica Quae Latina Scripsit Omnia, also edited by Molesworth (5 volumes; London, 1839-45). Oxford University Press has undertaken a projected 26 volume collection of the Clarendon Edition of the Works of Thomas Hobbes. So far 3 volumes are available: De Cive (edited by Howard Warrender), The Correspondence of Thomas Hobbes (edited by Noel Malcolm), and Writings on Common Law and Hereditary Right (edited by Alan Cromartie and Quentin Skinner). Readers new to Hobbes should begin with Leviathan, being sure to read Parts Three and Four, as well as the more familiar and often excerpted Parts One and Two. There are many fine overviews of Hobbes's normative philosophy, some of which are listed in the following selected bibliography of secondary works.

2. The Philosophical Project

Hobbes sought to discover rational principles for the construction of a civil polity that would not be subject to destruction from within. Having lived through the period of political disintegration culminating in the English Civil War, he came to the view that the burdens of even the most oppressive government are “scarce sensible, in respect of the miseries, and horrible calamities, that accompany a Civill Warre”. Because virtually any government would be better than a civil war, and, according to Hobbes's analysis, all but absolute governments are systematically prone to dissolution into civil war, people ought to submit themselves to an absolute political authority. Continued stability will require that they also refrain from the sorts of actions that might undermine such a regime. For example, subjects should not dispute the sovereign power and under no circumstances should they rebel. In general, Hobbes aimed to demonstrate the reciprocal relationship between political obedience and peace.

3. The State of Nature

To establish these conclusions, Hobbes invites us to consider what life would be like in a state of nature, that is, a condition without government. Perhaps we would imagine that people might fare best in such a state, where each decides for herself how to act, and is judge, jury and executioner in her own case whenever disputes arise—and that at any rate, this state is the appropriate baseline against which to judge the justifiability of political arrangements. Hobbes terms this situation “the condition of mere nature”, a state of perfectly private judgment, in which there is no agency with recognized authority to arbitrate disputes and effective power to enforce its decisions.

Hobbes's near descendant, John Locke, insisted in his Second Treatise of Government that the state of nature was indeed to be preferred to subjection to the arbitrary power of an absolute sovereign. But Hobbes famously argued that such a “dissolute condition of masterlesse men, without subjection to Lawes, and a coercive Power to tye their hands from rapine, and revenge” would make impossible all of the basic security upon which comfortable, sociable, civilized life depends. There would be “no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.” If this is the state of nature, people have strong reasons to avoid it, which can be done only by submitting to some mutually recognized public authority, for “so long a man is in the condition of mere nature, (which is a condition of war,) as private appetite is the measure of good and evill.”

Although many readers have criticized Hobbes's state of nature as unduly pessimistic, he constructs it from a number of individually plausible empirical and normative assumptions. He assumes that people are sufficiently similar in their mental and physical attributes that no one is invulnerable nor can expect to be able to dominate the others. Hobbes assumes that people generally “shun death”, and that the desire to preserve their own lives is very strong in most people. While people have local affections, their benevolence is limited, and they have a tendency to partiality. Concerned that others should agree with their own high opinions of themselves, people are sensitive to slights. They make evaluative judgments, but often use seemingly impersonal terms like ‘good’ and ‘bad’ to stand for their own personal preferences. They are curious about the causes of events, and anxious about their futures; according to Hobbes, these characteristics incline people to adopt religious beliefs, although the content of those beliefs will differ depending upon the sort of religious education one has happened to receive.

With respect to normative assumptions, Hobbes ascribes to each person in the state of nature a liberty right to preserve herself, which he terms “the right of nature”. This is the right to do whatever one sincerely judges needful for one's preservation; yet because it is at least possible that virtually anything might be judged necessary for one's preservation, this theoretically limited right of nature becomes in practice an unlimited right to potentially anything, or, as Hobbes puts it, a right “to all things”. Hobbes further assumes as a principle of practical rationality, that people should adopt what they see to be the necessary means to their most important ends.

4. The State of Nature Is a State of War

Taken together, these plausible descriptive and normative assumptions yield a state of nature potentially fraught with divisive struggle. The right of each to all things invites serious conflict, especially if there is competition for resources, as there will surely be over at least scarce goods such as the most desirable lands, spouses, etc. People will quite naturally fear that others may (citing the right of nature) invade them, and may rationally plan to strike first as an anticipatory defense. Moreover, that minority of prideful or “vain-glorious” persons who take pleasure in exercising power over others will naturally elicit preemptive defensive responses from others. Conflict will be further fueled by disagreement in religious views, in moral judgments, and over matters as mundane as what goods one actually needs, and what respect one properly merits. Hobbes imagines a state of nature in which each person is free to decide for herself what she needs, what she's owed, what's respectful, right, pious, prudent, and also free to decide all of these questions for the behavior of everyone else as well, and to act on her judgments as she thinks best, enforcing her views where she can. In this situation where there is no common authority to resolve these many and serious disputes, we can easily imagine with Hobbes that the state of nature would become a “state of war”, even worse, a war of “all against all”.

5. Further Questions About the State of Nature

In response to the natural question whether humanity ever was generally in any such state of nature, Hobbes gives three examples of putative states of nature. First, he notes that all sovereigns are in this state with respect to one another. This claim has made Hobbes the representative example of a “realist” in international relations. Second, he opined that many now civilized peoples were formerly in that state, and some few peoples—“the savage people in many places of America” (Leviathan, XIII), for instance—were still to his day in the state of nature. Third and most significantly, Hobbes asserts that the state of nature will be easily recognized by those whose formerly peaceful states have collapsed into civil war. While the state of nature's condition of perfectly private judgment is an abstraction, something resembling it too closely for comfort remains a perpetually present possibility, to be feared, and avoided.

Do the other assumptions of Hobbes's philosophy license the existence of this imagined state of isolated individuals pursuing their private judgments? Probably not, since, as feminist critics among others have noted, children are by Hobbes's theory assumed to have undertaken an obligation of obedience to their parents in exchange for nurturing, and so the primitive units in the state of nature will include families ordered by internal obligations, as well as individuals. The bonds of affection, sexual affinity, and friendship—as well as of clan membership and shared religious belief—may further decrease the accuracy of any purely individualistic model of the state of nature. This concession need not impugn Hobbes's analysis of conflict in the state of nature, since it may turn out that competition, diffidence and glory-seeking are disastrous sources of conflicts among small groups just as much as they are among individuals. Still, commentators seeking to answer the question how precisely we should understand Hobbes's state of nature are investigating the degree to which Hobbes imagines that to be a condition of interaction among isolated individuals.

Another important open question is that of what, exactly, it is about human beings that makes it the case (supposing Hobbes is right) that our communal life is prone to disaster when we are left to interact according only to our own individual judgments. Perhaps, while people do wish to act for their own best long-term interest, they are shortsighted, and so indulge their current interests without properly considering the effects of their current behavior on their long-term interest. This would be a type of failure of rationality. Alternative, it may be that people in the state of nature are fully rational, but are trapped in a situation that makes it individually rational for each to act in a way that is sub-optimal for all, perhaps finding themselves in the familiar ‘prisoner's dilemma’ of game theory. Or again, it may be that Hobbes's state of nature would be peaceful but for the presence of persons (just a few, or perhaps all, to some degree) whose passions overrule their calmer judgments; who are prideful, spiteful, partial, envious, jealous, and in other ways prone to behave in ways that lead to war. Such an account would understand irrational human passions to be the source of conflict. Which, if any, of these accounts adequately answers to Hobbes's text is a matter of continuing debate among Hobbes scholars. Game theorists have been particularly active in these debates, experimenting with different models for the state of nature and the conflict it engenders.

6. The Laws of Nature

Hobbes argues that the state of nature is a miserable state of war in which none of our important human ends are reliably realizable. Happily, human nature also provides resources to escape this miserable condition. Hobbes argues that each of us, as a rational being, can see that a war of all against all is inimical to the satisfaction of her interests, and so can agree that “peace is good, and therefore also the way or means of peace are good”. Humans will recognize as imperatives the injunction to seek peace, and to do those things necessary to secure it, when they can do so safely. Hobbes calls these practical imperatives “Lawes of Nature”, the sum of which is not to treat others in ways we would not have them treat us. These “precepts”, “conclusions” or “theorems” of reason are “eternal and immutable”, always commanding our assent even when they may not safely be acted upon. They forbid many familiar vices such as iniquity, cruelty, and ingratitude. Although commentators do not agree on whether these laws should be regarded as mere precepts of prudence, or rather as divine commands, or moral imperatives of some other sort, all agree that Hobbes understands them to direct people to submit to political authority. They tell us to seek peace with willing others by laying down part of our “right to all things”, by mutually covenanting to submit to the authority of a sovereign, and further direct us to keep that covenant establishing sovereignty.

7. Establishing Sovereign Authority

When people mutually covenant each to the others to obey a common authority, they have established what Hobbes calls “sovereignty by institution”. When, threatened by a conqueror, they covenant for protection by promising obedience, they have established “sovereignty by acquisition”. These are equally legitimate ways of establishing sovereignty, according to Hobbes, and their underlying motivation is the same—namely fear—whether of one's fellows or of a conqueror. The social covenant involves both the renunciation or transfer of right and the authorization of the sovereign power. Political legitimacy depends not on how a government came to power, but only on whether it can effectively protect those who have consented to obey it; political obligation ends when protection ceases.

8. Absolutism

Although Hobbes offered some mild pragmatic grounds for preferring monarchy to other forms of government, his main concern was to argue that effective government—whatever its form—must have absolute authority. Its powers must be neither divided nor limited. The powers of legislation, adjudication, enforcement, taxation, war-making (and the less familiar right of control of normative doctrine) are connected in such a way that a loss of one may thwart effective exercise of the rest; for example, legislation without interpretation and enforcement will not serve to regulate conduct. Only a government that possesses all of what Hobbes terms the “essential rights of sovereignty” can be reliably effective, since where partial sets of these rights are held by different bodies that disagree in their judgments as to what is to be done, paralysis of effective government, or degeneration into a civil war to settle their dispute, may occur.

Similarly, to impose limitation on the authority of the government is to invite irresoluble disputes over whether it has overstepped those limits. If each person is to decide for herself whether the government should be obeyed, factional disagreement—and war to settle the issue, or at least paralysis of effective government—are quite possible. To refer resolution of the question to some further authority, itself also limited and so open to challenge for overstepping its bounds, would be to initiate an infinite regress of non-authoritative ‘authorities’ (where the buck never stops). To refer it to a further authority itself unlimited, would be just to relocate the seat of absolute sovereignty, a position entirely consistent with Hobbes's insistence on absolutism. To avoid the horrible prospect of governmental collapse and return to the state of nature, people should treat their sovereign as having absolute authority.

9. The Limits of Political Obligation

While Hobbes insists that we should regard our governments as having absolute authority, he reserves to subjects the liberty of disobeying some of their government's commands. He argues that subjects retain a right of self-defense against the sovereign power, giving them the right to disobey or resist when their lives are in danger. He also gives them seemingly broad resistance rights in cases in which their families or even their honor are at stake. These exceptions have understandably intrigued those who study Hobbes. His ascription of apparently inalienable rights—what he calls the “true liberties of subjects”—seems incompatible with his defense of absolute sovereignty. Moreover, if the sovereign's failure to provide adequate protection to subjects extinguishes their obligation to obey, and if it is left to each subject to judge for herself the adequacy of that protection, it seems that people have never really exited the fearsome state of nature. This aspect of Hobbes's political philosophy has been hotly debated ever since Hobbes's time. Bishop Bramhall, one of Hobbes's contemporaries, famously accused Leviathan of being a “Rebell's Catechism.” More recently, some commentators have argued that Hobbes's discussion of the limits of political obligation is the Achilles' heel of his theory. It is not clear whether or not this charge can stand up to scrutiny, but it will surely be the subject of much continued discussion.

10. Religion and Social Instability

The last crucial aspect of Hobbes's political philosophy is his treatment of religion. Hobbes progressively expands his discussion of Christian religion in each revision of his political philosophy, until it comes in Leviathan to comprise roughly half the book. There is no settled consensus on how Hobbes understands the significance of religion within his political theory. Some commentators have argued that Hobbes is trying to demonstrate to his readers the compatibility of his political theory with core Christian commitments, since it may seem that Christians' religious duties forbid their affording the sort of absolute obedience to their governors which Hobbes's theory requires of them. Others have doubted the sincerity of his professed Christianity, arguing that by the use of irony or other subtle rhetorical devices, Hobbes sought to undermine his readers' religious beliefs. Howsoever his intentions are properly understood, Hobbes's obvious concern with the power of religious belief is a fact that interpreters of his political philosophy must seek to explain.


The secondary literature on Hobbes's moral and political philosophy (not to speak of his entire body of work) is vast, appearing across many disciplines and in many languages. The following is a narrow selection of fairly recent works by philosophers, political theorists, and intellectual historians, available in English, on main areas of inquiry in Hobbes's moral and political thought. Very helpful for further reference is the critical bibliography of Hobbes scholarship to 1990 contained in Zagorin, P., 1990, “Hobbes on Our Mind”, Journal of the History of Ideas, 51(2).


·         Hobbes Studies is an annually published journal devoted to scholarly research on all aspects of Hobbes's work.


·          Brown, K.C., (ed.), 1965, Hobbes Studies, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, contains important papers by A.E. Taylor, J.W. N. Watkins, Howard Warrender, and John Plamenatz, among others.

·          Caws, P., (ed.), 1989, The Causes of Quarrell: Essays on Peace, War, and Thomas Hobbes, Boston: Beacon Press.

·          Dietz, M., (ed.), 1990, Thomas Hobbes and Political Theory, Lawrence: University of Kansas Press.

·          Finkelstein, C., (ed.), 2005, Hobbes on Law, Aldershot: Ashgate.

·          Foisneau, L. and T. Sorell, (eds.), 2004, Leviathan after 350 years, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

·          Lloyd, S.A., (ed.), 2001, “Special Issue on Recent Work on the Moral and Political Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes”, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 82 (3&4).

·          Rogers, G.A.J. and A. Ryan, (eds.), 1988, Perspectives on Thomas Hobbes, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

·          Rogers, G.A.J., (ed.), 1995, Leviathan: Contemporary Responses to the Political Theory of Thomas Hobbes, Bristol: Thoemmes Press.

·          Shaver, R., (ed.), 1999, Hobbes, Hanover: Dartmouth Press.

·          Sorell, T. (ed.), 1996, The Cambridge Companion to Hobbes Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

·          Sorrell, T. and G.A.J. Rogers, (eds.), 2000, Hobbes and History, London: Routledge.

·          Springboard, P., (ed.), 2007, The Cambridge Companion to Hobbes's Leviathan, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Books and Articles

·          Armitage, D., 2007, “Hobbes and the foundations of modern international thought”, in Rethinking the Foundations of Modern Political Thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

·          Ashcraft, R., 1971, “Hobbes's Natural Man: A Study in Ideology Formation”, Journal of Politics, 33: 1076-1117.

·          Baumgold, D., 1988, Hobbes's Political Thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

·          Boonin-Vail, D., 1994, Thomas Hobbes and the Science of Moral Virtue, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

·          Collins, J., 2005, The Allegiance of Thomas Hobbes, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

·          Curley, E., 1988, “I durst not write so boldly: or how to read Hobbes' theological-political treatise”, E. Giancotti (ed.), Proceedings of the Conference on Hobbes and Spinoza, Urbino.

·          –––, 1994, “Introduction to Hobbes's Leviathan”, Leviathan with selected variants from the Latin edition of 1668, E. Curley (ed.), Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

·          Curran, E., 2006, “Can Rights Curb the Hobbesian Sovereign? The Full Right to Self-preservation, Duties of Sovereignty and the Limitations of Hohfeld”, Law and Philosophy, 25: 243-265.

·          –––, 2007, Reclaiming the Rights of Hobbesian Subjects, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

·          Darwall, S., 1995. The British Moralists and the Internal 'Ought', 1640-1740, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

·          ––– 2000, “Normativity and Projection in Hobbes's Leviathan”, The Philosophical Review, 109 (3): 313-347.

·          Ewin, R.E., 1991, Virtues and Rights: The Moral Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, Boulder: Westview Press.

·          Gauthier, D., 1969, The Logic of 'Leviathan': the Moral and political Theory of Thomas Hobbes, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

·          Gert, B., 1967, “Hobbes and psychological egoism”, Journal of the History of Ideas, 28: 503-520.

·          ––– 1978, “Introduction to Man and Citizen”, Man and Citizen, B. Gert, (ed.), New York: Humanities Press.

·          ––– 1988, “The law of nature and the moral law”, Hobbes Studies, 1: 26-44.

·          Goldsmith, M. M., 1966, Hobbes's Science of Politics, New York: Columbia University Press

·          Hampton, J., 1986, Hobbes and the Social Contract Tradition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

·          Hoekstra, K., 1999, “Nothing to Declare: Hobbes and the Advocate of Injustice”, Political Theory, 27 (2): 230-235.

·          –––, 2003, “Hobbes on Law, Nature and Reason”, Journal of the History of Philosophy, 41 (1): 111-120.

·          –––, 2007, “A lion in the house: Hobbes and democracy” in Rethinking the Foundations of Modern Political Thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

·          Hood, E.C., 1964. The Divine Politics of Thomas Hobbes, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

·          Johnston, D., 1986, The Rhetoric of'Leviathan': Thomas Hobbes and the Politics of Cultural Transformation, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

·          Kavka, G., 1986, Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

·          LeBuffe, M., 2003, “Hobbes on the Origin of Obligation”, British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 11(1): 15-39.

·          Lloyd, S.A., 1992, Ideals as Interests in Hobbes's 'Leviathan': the Power of Mind over Matter, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

·          –––, 1998, “Contemporary Uses of Hobbes's political philosophy”, in Rational Commitment and Social Justice: Essays for Gregory Kavka, J. Coleman and C. Morris (eds.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

·          Macpherson, C.B., 1962, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

·          –––, 1968, “Introduction”, Leviathan, C.B. Macpherson, (ed.), London: Penguine.

·          Malcolm, N., 2002, Aspects of Hobbes, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

·          Martinich, A.P., 1992, The Two Gods of Leviathan: Thomas Hobbes on Religion and Politics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

·          –––, 1995, A Hobbes Dictionary, Oxford: Blackwell.

·          –––, 1999, Hobbes: A Biography, Cambridge: Cambridg University Press.

·          –––, 2005, Hobbes, New York: Routledge.

·          Murphy, M. 2000, “Hobbes on the Evil of Death”, Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie, 82: 36-61.

·          Nagel, T., 1959, “Hobbes's Concept of Obligation”, Philosophical Review, 68: 68-83.

·          Oakeshott, M., 1975. Hobbes on Civil Association, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

·          Raphael, D. D., 1977, Hobbes: Morals and Politics, London: Routledge Press.

·          Ryan, A., 1986, “A More Tolerant Hobbes?”, S. Mendus, (ed.), Justifying Toleration, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

·          Schneewind, J.B., 1997, The Invention of Autonomy: History of Modern Moral Philosophy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

·          Schwitzgebel, E., 2007, “Human Nature and Moral Education in Mencius, Xunzi, Hobbes, and Rousseau”, History of Philosophy Quarterly, 24 (2): 147-168.

·          Skinner, Q., 1996, Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

·          –––, 2002, Visions of Politics Volume 3: Hobbes and Civil Science, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

·          Sommerville, J., 1992, Thomas Hobbes: Political Ideas in Historical Context, London: Macmillan.

·          Sorell, T., 1986, Hobbes, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

·          Strauss, L., 1936, The Political Philosophy of Hobbes: its Basis and Genesis, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

·          Tuck, R., 1979, Natural Rights Theories: Their Origin and Development, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

·          –––, 1989, Hobbes, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

·          –––, 1991, “Introduction”, Leviathan, R. Tuck, (ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

·          –––, 1993, Philosophy and Government 1572-1651, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

·          Warrender, H., 1957, The Political Philosophy of Hobbes: his Theory of Obligation, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

·          Watkins, J.W.N., 1965, Hobbes's System of Ideas, London: Hutchison and Co.

Other Internet Resources

·          Entry on Thomas Hobbes, by Garrath Williams, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

·          A blog discussing Hobbes's relevance to contemporary issues.


Why does America insist on going to war with Iraq while France opposes it? Indeed, the military solution to disarm Saddam Hussein’s regime of its weapons of mass destruction is opposed by the whole world. Though the UN will not authorize the use of force, America is going ahead. Why have France, Germany and other countries in the European Union, formerly America’s allies and heirs of the renaissance who adore the values of liberty, individual autonomy and democracy, been so against the war?

The conflict between America and Continental Europe over Iraq is more than a dissagreement over the choice between war and peace. Robert Kagan, an expert on American international relationships, has discussed this in his book Of Paradise and Power (2003) wherein he defends American interests.  According to Kagan, currently there is a sharp divergence between America and Europe over national priorities concerning the Iraqi threat as well as in defining common defense and foreign policy affairs. In Kagan’s idiom, Europe is living in a “Kantian worldly heaven”, while America is living in a “Hobbesian authorized universe.”

The heavenly Kantian world refers to the concept of a perpetual peace as described by Immanuel Kant, the German 18th century philosopher. This concept highlights the idea that to reach eternal peace on an international scale, a foedus pacificum should be formed. This is a peace federation which is approved of by countries that accept the Republican arrangement which honors moral autonomy, individualism and social order.

The Hobbesian universe refers to Thomas Hobbes’s dark view of society. This British philosopher from the 17th century regarded the natural human state to be one of anarchy, a constant war of all against all. Hobbes saw life as solitary, brutish, poor, nasty, and short. In these circumstances, a Leviathan power is needed which has absolute authority and the power to control anarchistic and brutal tendencies.

Continental Europe prefers the idea of a Kantian heaven world because they are wary of a world based on pure power politics, a world that they have endured for centuries and which involved dictatorships, narrow nationalisms and finally two ruinous world wars.

Today Europe is enjoying the foedus pacificum heaven. They are no longer interested in enlarging their defense and military budgets. Instead they prefer to rely on international constitutions, negotiation, diplomacy, and transnational teamwork for solving world problems. That’s why in the Iraqi case they call for a peaceful and multilateral resolution for the crisis. 

America, as the leading hegemonic state since the second world war and the only hyper- power since the Soviet collapse, views the world as the battlefield between good and the evil in a Hobbesian way. As the idiom says, “If you have a hammer, everything appears as nails.” For America, with its unassailable powers, it is the hammer which views the world as nails. In a Hobbesian world view, America is the Leviathan that controls anarchy through force and power. 

In Kagan’s point of view, America’s position is natural because basically the choice is between peace and war, Kantian or Hobbesian. During the 19th century, while American military power was deteriorating, it tended towards Kantianism, while Europe tended to Hobbesianism. Now as America turns into a militaristic state and Europe’s power wanes, their positions shift correspondingly. 

I feel disturbed by this kind of thesis not because it is a weak argument, but because of its worrying implications, particularly in the geopolitical context of the WTC tragedy in which global terrorism is haunting everyone. Kagan concludes that peaceful and multilateral approaches are merely signs of weakness. In short, if you are powerful, why behave in a multilateral way? This thinking characterizes the Bush government’s foreign policy.

America is the only invincible hyper power at the moment. Its defense budget is much larger than all the defense budgets of the European Union put together. According to the latest Newsweek, next years American defense budget will be greater than the defense budget of all the 191 countries in the world. Its economic power eclipses that of Japan, Germany, and Britain combined. A country that is populated by five percent of the total world’s population possesses 43 percent of the world’s economic industry and is responsible for 50 percent of high end technological production.

Due to its hyper power, America can do anything it wants in a unilateral fashion, finding it unnecessary to have other’s authorization or to listen to other’s suggestions. This is really ironic because when the September 11th tragedy occurred, the majority of the world’s people, except Osama Bin Laden and the fundamentalists, affirmed their sympathy and solidarity for America. For example, Le Monde, a French magazine, proclaimed that “We are all American now” and NATO expressed total support for America. America’ s call for “War against global terrorism” was welcomed virtually everywhere.

In the war against the terrorism, you cannot neglect the weak party, even though you are a superpower. Not because you could not do it alone, but because when you are very powerful, you will always be the target of terrorism. Therefore you should build and expand the networks of trust in both strong and weak circles to isolate the terrorists.

Unfortunately Bush is not doing this. Instead of isolating the terrorists, he is isolating America through unilateral action and thus wasting the international sympathy for the WTC tragedy. He appears to feel capable of ordering the world’s anarchy alone. It is as if America is proclaiming through its unilateral actions—“I am a Leviathan, therefore I am.”

It is even more worrying that the basis for the attack of Iraq is the belief that it involves liberation rather than conquest. According to Bush, “Liberty for the Iraqi people is the magnificent moral motive.” Overthrowing Saddam is merely the beginning of a campaign for spreading democracy across the globe.

In the American context, actually it is not Bush alone who possesses this belief.  American history is full of similar examples. Since the beginning, the self-image built by America is that it is a concrete manifestation of the universal liberty’s idea, which becomes the human liberty’s realization model in the future.

Abraham Lincoln said in America’s declaration if Independance,  “Liberty, is not only for the people of this country, but also the hope for the world in the future.” In order to manifest this, Lincoln was not reluctant to execute war. In his famous speech at Gettysburg during the civil war, Lincoln called for the war against the South because their refusal to abolish slavery. Lincoln’s two objectives were to liberate slaves and to assure that the government is from the people, by the people and for the people.

At that time America had not yet become a hegemonic state. After the second world war, when America became a superpower, its role as a liberator was accepted by the world because the American president at that time, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman, prefered to uphold international co-operation not imperialism. Then, as a superpower, America took the multilateral initiative.

At present, Bush combines the American belief as the liberator and a hyper power which does not trust others. Thus moral absolutism emerges. This happens when the Leviathan thinks it deserves to judge between good and evil, to provide “liberty from God” and to decide which countries are in the axis of evil.

Shakespeare said in Julius Caesar: “The abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power.” A Leviathan which only believes in its own power because it feels unbeatable is an example of power disjoined from remorse. While the US Leviathan boasts about delivereing liberty through attacking Iraq, the world’s people do not see this as the libertion of the Iraqi people. Instead, they percieve an arrogant Leviathan that agonizes the world. American unilateralism is a form of ignorance which has no trust in the world’s voice. Consequently, the world does not trust the US either.

Bush’s main mistake is that he violated Thomas Jefferson’s original message that America should always harbour “a decent respect to the opinions of humankind”.


Is the realist paradigm the best approach for national security considerations?  What are the main flaws and greatest strengths of realism as an approach?  Cite examples to illustrate your points.

 “Realism and the realist paradigm have been central to the operation of the international system and American attitudes toward the world (Snow 21)”. Realism has been the central foundation for state policies throughout the centuries. This realist paradigm builds upon the concept of state sovereignty. It also asserts that this anarchic international community is a result of these actors having certain interests that are so important that compromise is unacceptable and force is justifiable as a means to protect these interests. Because states zealously pursue these interests and scarcity is often the case in international relations, political processes have developed as a means of resolution. When these processes fail, force is the instrument of choice. In order to use force successfully, a state must possess the political, diplomatic, economic, and military power to succeed in achieving their goals.

 Sovereignty is at the heart of the realist paradigm.  Sovereignty means that a nation will not be imposed standards from the outside.  Some argue that the birth of realism occurred with Thucydides' "History of the Peloponesian Wars," written in the 5th century B.C.  Machiavelli's "The Prince," written in the sixteenth century, is also a major contributor to realism. Six propositions compose the realist paradigm.  One, the international system is composed of sovereign states.  Two, these sovereign states possess vital interests.  Three, vital interests become matters of international concern when scarcity exists.  Four, power must be used to rectify number three.  Five, power is the political means of conflict resolution.  Six, one political instrument of power is military force.

Realism can be beneficial because states exist in an international arena of anarchy.  Although not discussed by Snow, anarchy is paramount to the realist paradigm.  Because of this anarchy, states are the strongest players.  The states that exude the most power will be the most successful because all states are in competition with one another.  For example, the Bush administration invaded Iraq without much international support because they felt it was in their nation's best interest.  Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 because they felt that they needed to limit US influence in the Pacific. The realist paradigm at present is probably the best approach to national security policy due to its acceptance as the standard of conduct of states’ interaction with one another.  I view realism as the lowest common denominator (LCM) in which to base state action.  Snow (2011, p 28) does a pretty good job in determining where the LCM is placed based on national interests. Most states resort to the realist paradigm when interest vital to national security is involved.  For example, China’s military buildup along the Strait of Formosa is in direct response to the threat China feels from the US-Japan Bilateral security alliance. The US and Japan have both stated a threat to Taiwan from the China mainland represents a threat to regional stability.  When China conducted a show of force exercise, which “bracketed” the Taiwanese ports of Keelung and Kaosuing with cruise missiles, the US issued a statement warning “grave consequences” should China actually attack Taiwan.  In this specific case, the realist paradigm is clearly evident as the US and Japan is balanced against China.  China is, in turn, building up its military capabilities to counter the perceived threat of the opposing alliance.  Both actions indicate ongoing power politics between the three states.

The realist paradigm is not without its faults.  One of the main detractors to following realist policy is realism’s focus on “conflict rather than cooperation (Snow, 2011, p 35).”  Using the example of the security dilemma between the US, Japan, and mainland China, many courses of action resulting in peaceful resolution of the issue of Taiwan’s reunification versus independence, are due solely to the practice of realist policies by all sides.  The US-Japan alliance and China are untrusting of the opposite party solely based upon each other’s apparent intentions of resorting to conflict to resolve said issue. Another fault of realism is the exogenous assumption of the state being the only actor in international relations.  This notion has been challenged by constructivists and is most evident in the conflict formerly known as the Global War on Terror (GWOT).  Al-Qaeda is an international terrorist organization that does not have its location in one state.  In the case of Operation Enduring Freedom, it was easy to target Afghanistan as the source of al-Qaeda support and therefore restore some familiarity to the realist paradigm, but beyond that specific scenario, realist power politics toward al-Qaeda have been more ambiguous.  This ambiguity may have contributed to the George W. Bush era neoconservative perception of the use of force for US policies involving major issues of security.

Critics of realism argue that the international arena is guaranteed to be full of conflict rather than cooperation.  Although realism still dominates most nations, it's critiques are increasing.  The first Gulf War in 1990/1991 is proof that the international arena will not stand pat while one nation (Iraq) invades another (Kuwait).  Critics argue that realists legitimize the use of force as a means of achieving states' interests. There are several critical stances that have been taken regarding this realist paradigm upon which many states build their security policies. The world’s events are fluid. Critics claim that realism cannot explain all the world’s happenings, and the realist paradigm, they argue, is not entirely accurate.  The concept of state sovereignty tends to receive most negative attention. Those not in favor of a realist approach to national security argue that state sovereignty creates a world of conflict rather than peaceful interactions between nations as states pursue their own interests. However, sovereign states are hardly unaffected by the interactions of others. International interference is seen throughout the world. Economic globalization and increased and improved communications have made states around the world more connected and reliant on one another. Because of this interconnectivity instruments such as sanctions have become effective. The international community recently threatened such sanctions on Iran in hopes of stalling their nuclear program.  

Excellent analysis on the realist paradigm and national security considerations.  Nation's acting in their own interest is a good observation of reality.  The problem is that a nation's interest is not so easily defined.  National interests are formed through identity creation (a constructivist perspective).  What one nation's decision maker may think is in his or her nation's best interest is not the same as other nation's decision makers.  Understanding the almost limitless number of variables that influence the creation of interests and identities truly is mind bending.  While realism points out the importance of nation's acting in their own interests, constructivism points out the importance of how those interests are formed.  For example, Switzerland's idealistic foreign policy and neutrality during WWII can be viewed as in its best interest because of numerous factors that influenced its outcome.  Various identity factors coupled with its lack of ability to stop a German invasion resulted in an outcome of neutrality and the eventual construction of the idealistic foreign policy of today. Thanks again for your discussion. -Stephen

As states become more intertwined and sovereignty slips away, the framework that the realist paradigm lays out for national security also decays. The use of force to achieve state goals is nowhere near as acceptable today as it has been in the past. The Cold War was a prime example of a time when the realist paradigm was optimal. National security and survival, states number one goal, were at stake. The Soviet Union’s possession and possible intent of using a nuclear arsenal against the United states provided “clear guidance for the development, deployment, and potential employment of force” (Snow 36). The United States’ response to the attack on September 11th was also justified under the realist paradigm.  Another critique of a realist approach is that it emphasizes military force as a means to the ends. International cooperation is increasing, however, raising doubts as to the effectiveness of this paradigm. Realism certainly worked as the building blocks in national security in the past, however, as the world is changing, so too, must national security policies.

Realism, however, is an effective policy to use between states of relative equal power. The past has shown states will refrain from conflict if said conflicts will seriously the vital interest of state survival.  The Cold War is the best example of how well realism can function.  The US and USSR, in conjunction with a myriad allied states competed for forty years, and yet major conflict never occurred.  Both sides, unsure of their survival should a major war commence, remained largely nonviolent towards one another until the USSR disintegrated in 1990.

I'm stuck in the middle on this one.  Newer theories such as constructivism make sense to me, but I also steadfastly believe that nations act in their own interests.  I think if a nation wants to be idealistic, that is fine, but that nation may be left behind in the dust.  For example, Switzerland, with its idealistic foreign policy, would not exist today if it weren't for the millions of soldiers who sacrificed their lives in WW2.  Switzerland chose to remain neutral in the war, but had Germany won, they surely would have eventually invaded them.  As long as nations exist that are not democratic, the world will continue to be a violent place, so realism may still be the best approach to foreign policy. –Chuck

Despite its limitations and mounting criticism of it, realism remains the dominant granizational device by which the governments of sovereign states organize their approach to dealing with the world. The criticisms are, without doubt, growing.



First published Thu Nov 28, 1996; substantive revision Thu Sep 16, 2010

As soon as one examines it, ‘liberalism’ fractures into a variety of types and competing visions. In this entry we focus on debates within the liberal tradition. We begin by (1) examining different interpretations of liberalism's core commitment — liberty. We then consider (2) the longstanding debate between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ liberalism. In section (3) we turn to the more recent controversy about whether liberalism is a ‘comprehensive’ or a ‘political’ doctrine. We close in (4) by considering disagreements as to ‘the reach’ of liberalism — does it apply to all humankind, and must all political communities be liberal?

1. The Debate About Liberty

1.1 The Presumption in Favor of Liberty

‘By definition’, Maurice Cranston rightly points out, ‘a liberal is a man who believes in liberty’ (1967: 459). In two different ways, liberals accord liberty primacy as a political value. (i) Liberals have typically maintained that humans are naturally in ‘a State of perfect Freedom to order their Actions…as they think fit…without asking leave, or depending on the Will of any other Man’ (Locke, 1960 [1689]: 287). Mill too argued that ‘the burden of proof is supposed to be with those who are against liberty; who contend for any restriction or prohibition…. The a priori assumption is in favour of freedom…’ (1963, vol. 21: 262). Recent liberal thinkers such as as Joel Feinberg (1984: 9), Stanley Benn (1988: 87) and John Rawls (2001: 44, 112) agree. This might be called the Fundamental Liberal Principle (Gaus, 1996: 162-166): freedom is normatively basic, and so the onus of justification is on those who would limit freedom, especially through coercive means. It follows from this that political authority and law must be justified, as they limit the liberty of citizens. Consequently, a central question of liberal political theory is whether political authority can be justified, and if so, how. It is for this reason that social contract theory, as developed by Thomas Hobbes (1948 [1651]), John Locke (1960 [1689]), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1973 [1762]) and Immanuel Kant (1965 [1797]), is usually viewed as liberal even though the actual political prescriptions of, say, Hobbes and Rousseau, have distinctly illiberal features. Insofar as they take as their starting point a state of nature in which humans are free and equal, and so argue that any limitation of this freedom and equality stands in need of justification (i.e., by the social contract), the contractual tradition expresses the Fundamental Liberal Principle.

(ii) The Fundamental Liberal Principle holds that restrictions on liberty must be justified, and because he accepts this, we can understand Hobbes as espousing a liberal political theory. But Hobbes is at best a qualified liberal, for he also argues that drastic limitations on liberty can be justified. Paradigmatic liberals such as Locke not only advocate the Fundamental Liberal Principle, but also maintain that justified limitations on liberty are fairly modest. Only a limited government can be justified; indeed, the basic task of government is to protect the equal liberty of citizens. Thus John Rawls's first principle of justice: ‘Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive system of equal basic liberty compatible with a similar system for all’ (Rawls, 1999b: 220).

1.2 Negative Liberty

Liberals disagree, however, about the concept of liberty, and as a result the liberal ideal of protecting individual liberty can lead to very different conceptions of the task of government. As is well-known, Isaiah Berlin advocated a negative conception of liberty:

I am normally said to be free to the degree to which no man or body of men interferes with my activity. Political liberty in this sense is simply the area within which a man can act unobstructed by others. If I am prevented by others from doing what I could otherwise do, I am to that degree unfree; and if this area is contracted by other men beyond a certain minimum, I can be described as being coerced, or, it may be, enslaved. Coercion is not, however, a term that covers every form of inability. If I say that I am unable to jump more than ten feet in the air, or cannot read because I am blind…it would be eccentric to say that I am to that degree enslaved or coerced. Coercion implies the deliberate interference of other human beings within the area in which I could otherwise act. You lack political liberty or freedom only if you are prevented from attaining a goal by other human beings (Berlin, 1969: 122).

For Berlin and those who follow him, then, the heart of liberty is the absence of coercion by others; consequently, the liberal state's commitment to protecting liberty is, essentially, the job of ensuring that citizens do not coerce each other without compelling justification. So understood, negative liberty is an opportunity-concept. Being free is merely a matter of what we can do, what options are open to us, regardless of whether or not we exercise such options (Taylor, 1979).

1.3 Positive Liberty

Many liberals have been attracted to more ‘positive’ conceptions of liberty. Although Rousseau (1973 [1762]) seemed to advocate a positive conception of liberty, according to which one was free when one acted according to one's true will (the general will), the positive conception was best developed by the British neo-Hegelians of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such as Thomas Hill Green and Bernard Bosanquet (2001 [1923]). Green acknowledged that ‘…it must be of course admitted that every usage of the term [i.e., ‘freedom’] to express anything but a social and political relation of one man to other involves a metaphor…It always implies…some exemption from compulsion by another…’(1986 [1895]: 229). Nevertheless, Green went on to claim that a person can be unfree if he is subject to an impulse or craving that cannot be controlled. Such a person, Green argued, is ‘…in the condition of a bondsman who is carrying out the will of another, not his own’ (1986 [1895]: 228). Just as a slave is not doing what he really wants to do, one who is, say, an alcoholic, is being led by a craving to look for satisfaction where it cannot, ultimately, be found.

For Green, a person is free only if she is self-directed or autonomous. Running throughout liberal political theory is an ideal of a free person as one whose actions are in some sense her own.In this sense, positive liberty is an exercise-concept. One is free merely to the degree that one has effectively determined oneself and the shape of one's life (Taylor, 1979). Such a person is not subject to compulsions, critically reflects on her ideals and so does not unreflectively follow custom, and does not ignore her long-term interests for short-term pleasures. This ideal of freedom as autonomy has its roots not only in Rousseau's and Kant's political theory, but also in John Stuart Mill's On Liberty. And today it is a dominant strain in liberalism, as witnessed by the work of S.I. Benn (1988), Gerald Dworkin (1988), and Joseph Raz (1986); see also the essays in Christman and Anderson (2005).

This Greenian, autonomy-based, conception of positive freedom is often run together with a very different notion of ‘positive’ freedom: freedom as effective power to act or to pursue one's ends. In the words of the British socialist R. H. Tawney, freedom thus understood is ‘the ability act’ (1931: 221; see also Gaus, 2000; ch. 5.) On this view of positive freedom, a person who is not prohibited from being a member of a Country Club but who is too poor to afford membership is not free to be a member: she does not have an effective power to act. Although the Greenian autonomy-based conception of positive freedom certainly had implications for the distribution of resources (education, for example, should be easily available so that all can develop their capacities), positive freedom qua effective power to act closely ties freedom to material resources. It was this conception of positive liberty that Hayek had in mind when he insisted that although ‘freedom and wealth are both good things…they still remain different’ (1960: 17-18).

1.4 Republican Liberty

An older notion of liberty that has recently undergone resurgence is the republican, or neo-Roman, conception of liberty which has its roots in the writings of Cicero and Niccolo Machiavelli (1950 [1513]). According to Philip Pettit, ‘The contrary of the liber, or free, person in Roman, republican usage was the servus, or slave, and up to at least the beginning of the last century, the dominant connotation of freedom, emphasized in the long republican tradition, was not having to live in servitude to another: not being subject to the arbitrary power of another’ (Pettit, 1996: 576). On this view, the opposite of freedom is domination. An agent is said to be unfree if she is ‘subject to the potentially capricious will or the potentially idiosyncratic judgement of another’ (Pettit, 1997: 5). The ideal liberty-protecting government, then, ensures that no agent, including itself, has arbitrary power over any citizen. The key method by which this is accomplished is through an equal disbursement of power. Each person has power that offsets the power of another to arbitrarily interfere with her activities (Pettit, 1997: 67).

The republican conception of liberty is certainly distinct from both Greenian positive and negative conceptions. Unlike Greenian positive liberty, republican liberty is not primarily concerned with rational autonomy, realizing one's true nature, or becoming one's higher self. When all dominating power has been dispersed, republican theorists are generally silent about these goals (Larmore 2001). Unlike negative liberty, republican liberty is primarily focused upon ‘defenseless susceptibility to interference, rather than actual interference’ (Pettit, 1996: 577). Thus, in contrast to the ordinary negative conception, on the republican conception the mere possibility of arbitrary interference appears to constitute a limitation of liberty. Republican liberty thus seems to involve a modal claim about the possibility of interference, and this is often cashed out in terms of complex counterfactual claims. It is not clear whether these claims can be adequately explicated (Gaus, 2003; cf. Larmore, 2004).

Some republican theorists, such as Quentin Skinner (1998: 113), Maurizio Viroli (2002: 6) and Pettit (1997: 8-11), view republicanism as an alternative to liberalism. Insofar as republican liberty is seen as a basis for criticizing market liberty and market society, this is plausible (Gaus, 2003b). However, when liberalism is understood more expansively, and not so closely tied to either negative liberty or market society, republicanism becomes indistinguishable from liberalism (Ghosh, 2008; Rogers, 2008; Larmore, 2001; Dagger, 1997).

2. The Debate Between the ‘Old’ and the ‘New’

2.1 Classical Liberalism

Liberal political theory, then, fractures over the conception of liberty. But a more important division concerns the place of private property and the market order. For classical liberals — sometimes called the ‘old’ liberalism — liberty and private property are intimately related. From the eighteenth century right up to today, classical liberals have insisted that an economic system based on private property is uniquely consistent with individual liberty, allowing each to live her life —including employing her labor and her capital — as she sees fit. Indeed, classical liberals and libertarians have often asserted that in some way liberty and property are really the same thing; it has been argued, for example, that all rights, including liberty rights, are forms of property; others have maintained that property is itself a form of freedom (Gaus, 1994; Steiner, 1994). A market order based on private property is thus seen as an embodiment of freedom (Robbins, 1961: 104). Unless people are free to make contracts and to sell their labour, or unless they are free to save their incomes and then invest them as they see fit, or unless they are free to run enterprises when they have obtained the capital, they are not really free.

Classical liberals employ a second argument connecting liberty and private property. Rather than insisting that the freedom to obtain and employ private property is simply one aspect of people's liberty, this second argument insists that private property is the only effective means for the protection of liberty. Here the idea is that the dispersion of power that results from a free market economy based on private property protects the liberty of subjects against encroachments by the state. As F.A. Hayek argues, ‘There can be no freedom of press if the instruments of printing are under government control, no freedom of assembly if the needed rooms are so controlled, no freedom of movement if the means of transport are a government monopoly’ (1978: 149).

Although classical liberals agree on the fundamental importance of private property to a free society, the classical liberal tradition itself refracts into a spectrum of views, from near-anarchist to those that attribute a significant role to the state in economic and social policy (on this spectrum, see Mack and Gaus, 2004). Towards the most extreme ‘libertarian’ end of the classical liberal spectrum are views of justified states as legitimate monopolies that may with justice charge for their necessary rights-protection services: taxation is legitimate so long as it is necessary to protect liberty and property rights. As we go further ‘leftward’ we encounter classical liberal views that allow taxation for (other) public goods and social infrastructure and, moving yet further ‘left’, some classical liberal views allow for a modest social minimum.(e.g., Hayek, 1976: 87). Most nineteenth century classical liberal economists endorsed a variety of state policies, encompassing not only the criminal law and enforcement of contracts, but the licensing of professionals, health, safety and fire regulations, banking regulations, commercial infrastructure (roads, harbors and canals) and often encouraged unionization (Gaus, 1983b). Although today classical liberalism is often associated with extreme forms of libertarianism, the classical liberal tradition was centrally concerned with bettering the lot of the working class. The aim, as Bentham put it, was to make the poor richer, not the rich poorer (Bentham, 1952 [1795]: vol. 1, 226n). Consequently, classical liberals reject the redistribution of wealth as a legitimate aim of government.

2.2 The ‘New Liberalism’

What has come to be known as ‘new’, ‘revisionist’, ‘welfare state’, or perhaps best, ‘social justice’, liberalism challenges this intimate connection between personal liberty and a private property based market order (Freeden, 1978; Gaus, 1983b; Paul, Miller and Paul, 2007). Three factors help explain the rise of this revisionist theory. First, the new liberalism arose in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a period in which the ability of a free market to sustain what Lord Beveridge (1944: 96) called a ‘prosperous equilibrium’ was being questioned. Believing that a private property based market tended to be unstable, or could, as Keynes argued (1973 [1936]), get stuck in an equilibrium with high unemployment, new liberals came to doubt that it was an adequate foundation for a stable, free society. Here the second factor comes into play: just as the new liberals were losing faith in the market, their faith in government as a means of supervising economic life was increasing. This was partly due to the experiences of the First World War, in which government attempts at economic planning seemed to succeed (Dewey, 1929: 551-60); more importantly, this reevaluation of the state was spurred by the democratization of western states, and the conviction that, for the first time, elected officials could truly be, in J.A. Hobson's phrase ‘representatives of the community’ (1922: 49). As D.G. Ritchie proclaimed:

be it observed that arguments used against ‘government’ action, where the government is entirely or mainly in the hands of a ruling class or caste, exercising wisely or unwisely a paternal or grandmotherly authority — such arguments lose their force just in proportion as the government becomes more and more genuinely the government of the people by the people themselves (1896: 64).

The third factor underlying the development of the new liberalism was probably the most fundamental: a growing conviction that, so far from being ‘the guardian of every other right’ (Ely, 1992: 26), property rights generated an unjust inequality of power that led to a less-than-equal liberty (typically, ‘positive liberty’) for the working class. This theme is central to what is usually called ‘liberalism’ in American politics, combining a strong endorsement of civil and personal liberties with, at best, an indifference, and often enough an antipathy, to private ownership. The seeds of this newer liberalism can be found in Mill's On Liberty. Although Mill insisted that the ‘so-called doctrine of Free Trade’ rested on ‘equally solid’ grounds as did the ‘principle of individual liberty’ (1963, vol. 18: 293), he nevertheless insisted that the justifications of personal and economic liberty were distinct. And in his Principles of Political Economy Mill consistently emphasized that it is an open question whether personal liberty can flourish without private property (1963, vol. 2; 203-210), a view that Rawls was to reassert over a century later (2001: Part IV).

2.3 Liberal Theories of Social Justice

One of the many consequences of Rawls's great work, A Theory of Justice (1999 [first published in 1971]) is that the ‘new liberalism’ has become focused on developing a theory of social justice. For over thirty-five years liberal political philosophers have analyzed, and disputed, his famous ‘difference principle’ according to which a just basic structure of society arranges social and economic inequalities such that they are to the greatest advantage of the least well off representative group (1999b: 266). For Rawls, the default is an equal distribution of (basically) income and wealth; only inequalities that best enhance the long-term prospects of the least advantaged are just. As Rawls sees it, the difference principle constitutes a public recognition of the principle of reciprocity: the basic structure is to be arranged such that no social group advances at the cost of another (2001: 122-24). Many followers of Rawls have focused less on the ideal of reciprocity than the commitment to equality (Dworkin, 2000). Indeed, what was previously called ‘welfare state’ liberalism is now often described as ‘egalitarian’ liberalism. And in one way that is especially appropriate: in his later work Rawls insists that welfare-state capitalism does not constitute a just basic structure (2001: 137-38). If some version of capitalism is to be just it must be a ‘property owning democracy’ with a wide diffusion of ownership; a market socialist regime, in Rawls's view, is more just than welfare-state capitalism (2001: 135-38). Not too surprisingly, classical liberals such as Hayek (1976) insist that the contemporary liberal fixation on ‘the mirage of social justice’ leads them to ignore the way that freedom depends on a decentralized market based on private property, the overall results of which are unpredictable. In a similar vein, Robert Nozick (1974: 160ff) famously argued that any attempt to ensure that market transactions conform to any specific pattern of holdings will involve constant interferences with individual freedom.

3. The Debate About the Comprehensiveness of Liberalism

3.1 Political Liberalism

As his work evolved, Rawls (1996: 5ff) insisted that his liberalism was not a ‘comprehensive’ doctrine, that is, one which includes an overall theory of value, an ethical theory, an epistemology, or a controversial metaphysics of the person and society. Our modern societies, characterized by a ‘reasonable pluralism’, are already filled with such doctrines. The aim of ‘political liberalism’ is not to add yet another sectarian doctrine, but to provide a political framework that is neutral between such controversial comprehensive doctrines (Larmore, 1996: 121ff). If it is to serve as the basis for public reasoning in our diverse western societies, liberalism must be restricted to a core set of political principles that are, or can be, the subject of consensus among all reasonable citizens. Rawls's notion of a purely political conception of liberalism seems more austere than the traditional liberal political theories discussed above, being largely restricted to constitutional principles upholding basic civil liberties and the democratic process.

As Gaus (2004) has argued, the distinction between ‘political’ and ‘comprehensive’ liberalism misses a great deal. Liberal theories form a broad continuum, from those that constitute full-blown philosophical systems, to those that rely on a full theory of value and the good, to those that rely on a theory of the right (but not the good), all the way to those that seek to be purely political doctrines. Nevertheless, it is important to appreciate that, though liberalism is primarily a political theory, it has been associated with broader theories of ethics, value and society. Indeed, many believe that liberalism cannot rid itself of all controversial metaphysical (Hampton, 1989) or epistemological (Raz, 1990) commitments.

3.2 Liberal Ethics

Following Wilhelm von Humboldt (1993 [1854]), in On Liberty Mill argues that one basis for endorsing freedom (Mill believes that there are many), is the goodness of developing individuality and cultivating capacities:

Individuality is the same thing with development, and…it is only the cultivation of individuality which produces, or can produce, well-developed human beings…what more can be said of any condition of human affairs, than that it brings human beings themselves nearer to the best thing they can be? or what worse can be said of any obstruction to good, than that it prevents this? (Mill, 1963, vol. 18: 267)

This is not just a theory about politics: it is a substantive, perfectionist, moral theory about the good. And, on this view, the right thing to do is to promote development or perfection, and only a regime securing extensive liberty for each person can accomplish this (Wall, 1998). This moral ideal of human perfection and development dominated liberal thinking in the latter part of the nineteenth, and for most of the twentieth, century: not only Mill, but T.H. Green, L.T. Hobhouse, Bernard Bosanquet, John Dewey and even Rawls show allegiance to variants of this perfectionist ethic and the claim that it provides a foundation for endorsing a regime of liberal rights (Gaus, 1983a). And it is fundamental to the proponents of liberal autonomy discussed above, as well as ‘liberal virtue’ theorists such as William Galston (1980). That the good life is necessarily a freely chosen one in which a person develops his unique capacities as part of a plan of life is probably the dominant liberal ethic of the past century.

The main challenge to Millian perfectionism as the distinctly liberal ethic comes from moral contractualism, which can be divided into what might very roughly be labeled ‘Kantian’ and ‘Hobbesian’ versions. According to Kantian contractualism, ‘society, being composed of a plurality of persons, each with his own aims, interests, and conceptions of the good, is best arranged when it is governed by principles that do not themselves presuppose any particular conception of the good…’(Sandel, 1982: 1). On this view, respect for the person of others demands that we refrain from imposing our view of the good life on them. Only principles that can be justified to all respect the personhood of each. We thus witness the tendency of recent liberal theory (Reiman, 1990; Scanlon, 1998) to transform the social contract from an account of the state to an overall justification of morality, or at least a social morality. Basic to such ‘Kantian contractualism’ is the idea that suitably idealized individuals are motivated not by the pursuit of gain, but by a commitment or desire to publicly justify the claims they make on others (Reiman, 1990; Scanlon, 1982). A moral code that could be the object of agreement among such individuals is thus a publicly justified morality.

In contrast, the Hobbesian version of contractualism supposes only that individuals are self-interested, and correctly perceive that each person's ability to effectively pursue her interests is enhanced by a framework of norms that structure social life and divide the fruits of social cooperation (Gauither, 1986; Hampton, 1986; Kavka, 1986). Morality, then, is a common framework that advances the self-interest of each. The claim of Hobbesian contractualism to be a distinctly liberal conception of morality stems from the importance of individual freedom and property in such a common framework: only systems of norms that allow each person great freedom to pursue her interests as she sees fit could, it is argued, be the object of consensus among self-interested agents (Courtland, 2008; Gaus 2003a: chap. 3; Ridge, 1998; Gauthier, 1995). The continuing problem for Hobbesian contractualism is the apparent rationality of free-riding: if everyone (or enough) complies with the terms of the contract, and so social order is achieved, it would seem rational to defect, and act immorally when one can gain by doing so. This is essentially the argument of Hobbes's ‘Foole’, and from Hobbes (1948 [1651]: 94ff) to Gauthier (1986: 160ff), Hobbesians have tried to reply to it.

3.3 Liberal Theories of Value

Turning from rightness to goodness, we can identify three main candidates for a liberal theory of value. We have already encountered the first: perfectionism. Insofar as perfectionism is a theory of right action, it can be understood as an account of morality. Obviously, however, it is an account of rightness that presupposes a theory of value or the good: the ultimate human value is developed personality or an autonomous life. Competing with this objectivist theory of value are two other liberal accounts: pluralism and subjectivism.

In his famous defence of negative liberty, Berlin insisted that values or ends are plural, and no interpersonally justifiable ranking among these many ends is to be had. More than that, Berlin maintained that the pursuit of one end necessarily implies that other ends will not be achieved. In this sense ends collide or, in the more prosaic terms of economics, the pursuit of one end necessarily entails opportunity costs in relation to others which cannot be impersonally shown to be less worthy. So there is no interpersonally justifiable way to rank the ends, and there is no way to achieve them all. The upshot is that each person must devote herself to some ends at the cost of ignoring others. For the pluralist, then, autonomy, perfection or development are not necessarily ranked higher than hedonistic pleasures, environmental preservation or economic equality. All compete for our allegiance, but because they are incommensurable, no choice can be interpersonally justified as correct.

The pluralist is not a subjectivist: that values are many, competing and incommensurable does not imply that they are somehow dependent on subjective experiences. But the claim that what a person values rests on experiences that vary from person to person has long been a part of the liberal tradition. To Hobbes, what one values depends on what one desires (1948 [1651]: 48). Locke advances a ‘taste theory of value’:

The Mind has a different relish, as well as the Palate; and you will as fruitlessly endeavour to delight all Man with Riches or Glory, (which yet some Men place their Happiness in,) as you would satisfy all men's Hunger with Cheese or Lobsters; which, though very agreeable and delicious fare to some, are to others extremely nauseous and offensive: And many People would with reason preferr [sic] the griping of an hungry Belly, to those Dishes, which are a Feast to others. Hence it was, I think, that the Philosophers of old did in vain enquire, whether the Summum bonum consisted in Riches, or bodily Delights, or Virtue, or Contemplation: And they might have as reasonably disputed, whether the best Relish were to be found in Apples, Plumbs or Nuts; and have divided themselves into Sects upon it. For…pleasant Tastes depend not on the things themselves, but their agreeableness to this or that particulare Palate, wherein there is great variety…(1975 [1706]: 269).

The perfectionist, the pluralist and the subjectivist concur on the crucial point: the nature of value is such that reasonable people pursue different ways of living. To the perfectionist, this is because each person has unique capacities, the development of which confers value on her life; to the pluralist, it is because values are many and conflicting, and no one life can include them all, or make the interpersonally correct choice among them; and to the subjectivist, it is because our ideas about what is valuable stem from our desires or tastes, and these differ from one individual to another. All three views, then, defend the basic liberal idea that people rationally follow very different ways of living. But in themselves, such notions of the good do not constitute a full-fledged liberal ethic, for an additional argument is required linking liberal value with norms of equal liberty. To be sure, Berlin seems to believe this is a very quick argument: the inherent plurality of ends points to the political preeminence of liberty. Guaranteeing each a measure of negative liberty is, Berlin argues, the most humane ideal, as it recognises that ‘human goals are many’, and no one can make a choice that is right for all people (1969: 171). But the move from diversity to equal liberty and individual rights seems a complicated one; it is here that both subjectivists and pluralists often rely on versions of moral contractualism. Those who insist that liberalism is ultimately a nihilistic theory can be interpreted as arguing that this transition cannot be made successfully: liberals, on their view, are stuck with a subjectivistic or pluralistic theory of value, and no account of the right emerges from it.

3.4 The Metaphysics of Liberalism

Throughout the last century, liberalism has been beset by controversies between, on the one hand, those broadly identified as ‘individualists’ and, on the other, ‘collectivists’, ‘communitarians’ or ‘organicists’ (for skepticism about this, though, see Bird, 1999). These vague and sweeping designations have been applied to a wide array of disputes; we focus here on controversies concerning (i) the nature of society; (ii) the nature of the self.

Liberalism is, of course, usually associated with individualist analyses of society. ‘Human beings in society’, Mill claimed, ‘have no properties but those which are derived from, and which may be resolved into, the laws of the nature of individual men’ (1963, Vol. 8: 879; see also Bentham: 1970 [1823]: chap. I, sec. 4). Herbert Spencer agreed: ‘the properties of the mass are dependent upon the attributes of its component parts’ (1995 [1851]: 1). In the last years of the nineteenth century this individualist view was increasingly subject to attack, especially by those who were influenced by idealist philosophy. D. G. Ritche, criticizing Spencer's individualist liberalism, explicitly rejected the idea that society is simply a ‘heap’ of individuals, insisting that it is more akin to an organism, with a complex internal life (1896: 13). Liberals such as L. T. Hobhouse and Dewey refused to adopt radically collectivist views such as those advocated by Bernard Bosanquet (2001), but they too rejected the radical individualism of Bentham, Mill and Spencer. Throughout most of the first half of the twentieth century such ‘organic’ analyses of society held sway in liberal theory, even in economics (see A.F Mummery and J. A. Hobson, 1956: 106; J.M. Keynes, 1972: 275).

During and after the Second World War the idea that liberalism was based on inherently individualist analysis of humans-in-society arose again. Karl Popper's The Open Society and its Enemies (1945) presented a sustained critique of Hegelian and Marxist theory and its collectivist and historicist, and to Popper, inherently illiberal, understanding of society. The reemergence of economic analysis in liberal theory brought to the fore a thoroughgoing methodological individualism. Writing in the early 1960s, James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock adamantly defended the ‘individualistic postulate’ against all forms of ‘organicism’: ‘This [organicist] approach or theory of the collectivity….is essentially opposed to the Western philosophical tradition in which the human individual is the primary philosophical entity’ (1965: 11-12). Human beings, insisted Buchanan and Tullock, are the only real choosers and decision-makers, and their preferences determine both public and private actions. The renascent individualism of late-twentieth century liberalism was closely bound up with the induction of Hobbes as a member of the liberal pantheon. Hobbes's relentlessly individualistic account of society, and the manner in which his analysis of the state of nature lent itself to game-theoretical modeling, yielded a highly individualist, formal analysis of the liberal state and liberal morality.

Of course, as is widely known, the last twenty-five years have witnessed a renewed interest in collectivist analyses of liberal society —though the term ‘collectivist’ is abjured in favor of ‘communitarian’. Writing in 1985, Amy Gutmann observed that ‘we are witnessing a revival of communitarian criticisms of liberal political theory. Like the critics of the 1960s, those of the 1980s fault liberalism for being mistakenly and irreparably individualistic’ (1985: 308). Starting with Michael Sandel's (1982) famous criticism of Rawls, a number of critics charged that liberalism was necessarily premised on an abstract conception of individual selves as pure choosers, whose commitments, values and concerns are possessions of the self, but never constitute the self. Although the now famous, not to say infamous, ‘liberal-communitarian’ debate ultimately involved wide-ranging moral, political and sociological disputes about the nature of communities, and the rights and responsibilities of their members, the heart of the debate was about the nature of liberal selves. For Sandel the flaw at the heart of Rawls's liberalism was its implausibly abstract theory of the self, the pure autonomous chooser. Rawls, he charges, ultimately assumes that it makes sense to identify us with a pure capacity for choice, and that such pure choosers might reject any or all of their attachments and values and yet retain their identity.

From the mid-1980s onwards various liberals sought to show how liberalism may consistently advocate a theory of the self which finds room for cultural membership and other non-chosen attachments and commitments which at least partially constitute the self (Kymlicka, 1989). Much of liberal theory has became focused on the issue as to how we can be social creatures, members of cultures and raised in various traditions, while also being autonomous choosers who employ our liberty to construct lives of our own.

4. The Debate About The Reach of Liberalism

4.1 Is Liberalism Justified in All Political Communities?

In On Liberty Mill argued that ‘Liberty, as a principle, has no application to any state of things anterior to the time when mankind have become capable of being improved by free and equal discussion’ (1963, vol. 18: 224). Thus ‘Despotism is a legitimate form of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement…. ’(1963, vol. 18: 224). This passage — infused with the spirit of nineteenth century imperialism — is often ignored by defenders of Mill as an embarrassment. Nevertheless, it raises a question that still divides liberals: are liberal political principles justified for all political communities? In The Law of Peoples Rawls argues that they are not. According to Rawls there can be a ‘decent hierarchical society’ which is not based on the liberal conception of all persons as free and equal, but instead views persons as ‘responsible and cooperating members of their respective groups’ but not inherently equal (1999a: 66). Given this, the full liberal conception of justice cannot be constructed out of shared ideas of this ‘people’, though basic human rights, implicit in the very idea of a social cooperative structure, apply to all peoples. David Miller (2002) develops a different defense of this anti-universalistic position, while those such as Thomas Pogge (2002: ch. 4) and Martha Nussbaum (2002) reject Rawls's position, instead advocating versions of moral universalism: they claim that liberal moral principles apply to all states.

4.2 Is Liberalism a Cosmopolitan or a State-centered Theory?

The debate about whether liberal principles apply to all political communities should not be confused with the debate as to whether liberalism is a state-centered theory, or whether, at least ideally, it is a cosmopolitan political theory for the community of all humankind. Immanuel Kant — a moral universalist if ever there was one — argued that all states should respect the dignity of their citizens as free and equal persons, yet denied that humanity forms one political community. Thus he rejected the ideal of a universal cosmopolitan liberal political community in favor of a world of states, all with internally just constitutions, and united in a confederation to assure peace (1970 [1795]).

On a classical liberal theory, the difference between a world of liberal communities and a world liberal community is not of fundamental importance. Since the aim of government in a community is to assure the basic liberty and property rights of its citizens, borders are not of great moral significance in classical liberalism (Lomasky, 2007; but cf. Pogge, 2002: ch. 2). In contrast under the ‘new’ liberalism, which stresses redistributive programs to achieve social justice, it matters a great deal who is included within the political or moral community. If liberal principles require significant redistribution, then it is crucially important whether these principles apply only within particular communities, or whether their reach is global. Thus a fundamental debate between Rawls and many of his followers is whether the difference principle should only be applied within a liberal state such as the United States (where the least well off are the least well off Americans), or whether it should be applied globally (where the least well off are the least well off in the world) (Rawls, 1999a: 113ff; Beitz, 1973: 143ff; Pogge, 1989: Part Three).

4.3 Liberal Interaction with Non-Liberal Groups: International

Liberal political theory also fractures concerning the appropriate response to groups (cultural, religious, etc.) which endorse illiberal policies and values. These groups may deny education to some of their members, advocate female genital mutilation, restrict religious freedom, maintain an inequitable caste system, and so on. When, if ever, is it reasonable for a liberal group to interfere with the internal governance of an illiberal group?

Suppose first that the illiberal group is another political community or state. Can liberals intervene in the affairs of non-liberal states? Mill provides a complicated answer in his 1859 essay ‘A Few Words on Non-Intervention’. Reiterating his claim from On Liberty that civilized and non-civilized countries are to be treated differently, he insists that ‘barbarians have no rights as a nation, except a right to such treatment as may, at the earliest possible period, fit them for becoming one. The only moral laws for the relation between a civilized and a barbarous government, are the universal rules of morality between man and man’ (1963, vol. 21: 119). Although this strikes us today as simply a case for an objectionable paternalistic imperialism (and it certainly was such a case), Mill's argument for the conclusion is more complex, including a claim that, since international morality depends on reciprocity, ‘barbarous’ governments that cannot be counted on to engage in reciprocal behavior have no rights qua governments. In any event, when Mill turns to interventions among ‘civilized’ peoples he develops an altogether more sophisticated account as to when one state can intervene in the affairs of another to protect liberal principles. Here Mill is generally against intervention. ‘The reason is, that there can seldom be anything approaching to assurance that intervention, even if successful, would be for the good of the people themselves. The only test possessing any real value, of a people's having become fit for popular institutions, is that they, or a sufficient proportion of them to prevail in the contest, are willing to brave labour and danger for their liberation’ (1963, vol. 21: 122).

In addition to questions of efficacy, to the extent that peoples or groups have rights to collective self-determination, intervention by a liberal group to induce a non-liberal community to adopt liberal principles will be morally objectionable. As with individuals, liberals may think that peoples or groups have freedom to make mistakes in managing their collective affairs. If people's self-conceptions are based on their participation in such groups, even those whose liberties are denied may object to, and perhaps in some way harmed by, the imposition of liberal principles (Margalit and Raz, 1990; Tamir, 1993). Thus rather than proposing a doctrine of intervention many liberals propose various principles of toleration which specify to what extent liberals must tolerate non-liberal peoples and cultures. As is usual, Rawls's discussion is subtle and enlightening. In his account of the foreign affairs of liberal peoples, Rawls argues that liberal peoples must distinguish ‘decent’ non-liberal societies from ‘outlaw’ and other states; the former have a claim on liberal peoples to tolerance while the latter do not (1999a: 59-61). Decent peoples, argues Rawls, ‘simply do not tolerate’ outlaw states which ignore human rights: such states may be subject to ‘forceful sanctions and even to intervention’ (1999a: 81). In contrast, Rawls insists that ‘liberal peoples must try to encourage [non-liberal] decent peoples and not frustrate their vitality by coercively insisting that all societies be liberal’ (1999a: 62). Chandran Kukathas (2003) — whose liberalism derives from the classical tradition — is inclined to almost complete toleration of non-liberal peoples, with the proviso that there must be exit rights.

4.4 Liberal Interaction with Non-Liberal Groups: Domestic

The status of non-liberal groups within liberal societies has increasingly become a subject of debate, especially with respect to some citizens of faith. We should distinguish two questions: (i) to what extent should non-liberal cultural and religious communities be exempt from the requirements of the liberal state? and, (ii) to what extent can they be allowed to participate in decision-making in the liberal state?

Turning to (i), liberalism has a long history of seeking to accommodate religious groups that have deep objections to certain public policies, such as the Quakers, Mennonites or Sikhs. The most difficult issues in this regard arise in relation to children and education (see Galston, 2003) Mill, for example, writes:

Consider … the case of education. Is it not almost a self-evident axiom, that the State should require and compel the education, up to a certain standard, of every human being who is born its citizen? Yet who is there that is not afraid to recognize and assert this truth? Hardly any one indeed will deny that it is one of the most sacred duties of the parents (or, as law and usage now stand, the father), after summoning a human being into the world, to give to that being an education fitting him to perform his part well in life towards others and towards himself … . that to bring a child into existence without a fair prospect of being able, not only to provide food for its body, but instruction and training for its mind, is a moral crime, both against the unfortunate offspring and against society … . (1963, vol. 18)

Over the last thirty years, there has been a particular case that is at the core of this debate — Wisconsin vs. Yoder: [406 U.S. 205 (1972)]. In this case, the United States Supreme Court upheld the right of Amish parents to avoid compulsory schooling laws and remove their children from school at the age of 14 — thus, according to the Amish, avoiding secular influences that might undermine the traditional Amish way of life. Because cultural and religious communities raise and educate children, they cannot be seen as purely voluntary opt-outs from the liberal state: they exercise coercive power over children, and so basic liberal principles about protecting the innocent from unjustified coercion come into play. Some have maintained that liberal principles require that the state should intervene (against groups like the Amish) in order to [1] provide the children with an effective right of exit that would otherwise be denied via a lack of education (Okin, 2002), [2] to protect the children's right to an autonomous and ‘open future’ (Feinberg, 1980) and/or [3] to insure that children will have the cognitive tools to prepare them for their future role as citizens (Galston, 1995: p. 529; Macedo, 1995: pp. 285-6). Other liberal theorists, on the other hand, have argued that the state should not intervene because it might undermine the inculcation of certain values that are necessary for the continued existence of certain comprehensive doctrines (Galston, 1995: p. 533; Stolzenberg, 1993: pp. 582-3). Moreover, some such as Harry Brighouse (1998) have argued that the inculcation of liberal values through compulsory education might undermine the legitimacy of liberal states because children would not (due to possible indoctrination) be free to consent to such institutions.

Question (ii) — the extent to which non-liberal beliefs and values may be employed in liberal political discussion— has become the subject of sustained debate in the years following Rawls's Political Liberalism. According to Rawls's liberalism — and what we might call ‘public reason liberalism’ more generally — because our societies are characterized by ‘reasonable pluralism’, coercion cannot be justified on the basis of comprehensive moral or religious systems of belief. But many friends of religion (e.g., Eberle, 2002; Perry, 1993) argue that this is objectionably ‘exclusionary’: conscientious believers are barred from voting on their deepest convictions. Again liberals diverge in their responses. Some such as Stephen Macedo take a pretty hard-nosed attitude: ‘if some people…feel “silenced” or “marginalized” by the fact that some of us believe that it is wrong to shape basic liberties on the basis of religious or metaphysical claims, I can only say “grow up!”’ (2000: 35). Rawls, in contrast, seeks to be more accommodating, allowing that arguments based on religious comprehensive doctrines may enter into liberal politics on issues of basic justice ‘provided that, in due course, we give properly public reasons to support the principles and policies that our comprehensive doctrine is said to support’ (1999a: 144). Thus Rawls allows the legitimacy of religious-based arguments against slavery and in favor of the United States civil rights movement, because ultimately such arguments were supported by public reasons. Others (e.g., Greenawalt, 1995) hold that even this is too restrictive: it is difficult for liberals to justify a moral prohibition on a religious citizen from voicing her view in liberal political debate.

5. Conclusion

Given that liberalism fractures on so many issues — the nature of liberty, the place of property and democracy in a just society, the comprehensiveness and the reach of the liberal ideal — one might wonder whether there is any point in talking of ‘liberalism’ at all. It is not, though, an unimportant or trivial thing that all these theories take liberty to be the grounding political value. Radical democrats assert the overriding value of equality, communitarians maintain that the demands of belongingness trump freedom, and conservatives complain that the liberal devotion to freedom undermines traditional values and virtues and so social order itself. Intramural disputes aside, liberals join in rejecting these conceptions of political right.


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Balance of Power Theory

As a theory, balance of power predicts that rapid changes in international power and status—especially attempts by one state to conquer a region—will provoke counterbalancing actions. For this reason, the balancing process helps to maintain the stability of relations between states. A balance of power system functions most effectively when alliances are fluid, when they are easily formed or broken on the basis of expediency, regardless of values, religion, history, or form of government. Occasionally a single state plays a balancer role, shifting its support to oppose whatever state or alliance is strongest. A weakness of the balance of power concept is the difficulty of measuring power. (Extract from 'Balance of Power,' Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2000 © 1997-2000 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.)

Balance of Threat Theory


An approach to the study of politics or other social phenomena that focuses on the actions and interactions among units by using scientific methods of observation to include quantification of variables whenever possible. A practitioner of behavioralism is often referred to as a behavioralist. Behaviorism refers to the ideas held by those behavioral scientists who consider only observed behavior as relevant to the scientific enterprise and who reject what they consider to be metaphysical notions of "mind" or "consciousness" (Viotti, P. and M. Kauppi, (eds.). 1987. International Relations Theory. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York).

Chaos Theory

In mathematics and physics, chaos theory describes the behavior of certain nonlinear dynamical systems that may exhibit dynamics that are highly sensitive to initial conditions (popularly referred to as the butterfly effect). As a result of this sensitivity, which manifests itself as an exponential growth of perturbations in the initial conditions, the behavior of chaotic systems appears to be random. This happens even though these systems are deterministic, meaning that their future dynamics are fully defined by their initial conditions, with no random elements involved. This behavior is known as deterministic chaos, or simply chaos. Since the International System can be considered a nonlinear dynamic system, it is reasonable to take this theory into account for the study of the International Order. (Mostly from Wikipedia.)

Classical Realism

Also called human realism and associated with Morgenthau's exposition of realism in which the power pursuit propensity of states is derived from the basic nature of human beings as power maximisers. This perspective holds that ideological, as well as material, factors may constitute 'power' (e.g. power over public opinion) and hence has some social underpinning.

Collective Defense

Though the term existed before 1949, a common understanding of collective defense with regards to NATO can be found in Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty: 'The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them... shall be considered an attack against them all; and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area' (NATO Handbook: 232). In the context of NATO, then, collective defense is based on countering traditional challenges as understood by the realist/neorealist paradigm, specifically to territory, and finds its focus on an identifiable external threat or adversary.

Collective Security

Employed during the construction of the League of Nations, the concept of collective security goes beyond the pure idea of defence to include, according to Inis Claude, 'arrangements for facilitating peaceful settlement of disputes,' assuming that the mechanisms of preventing war and defending states under armed attack will 'supplement and reinforce each other' (1984:245). Writing during the Cold War, Claude identifies the concept as the post-WWI name given by the international community to the 'system for maintenance of international peace... intended as a replacement for the system commonly known as the balance-of-power' (1984:247). Most applicable to widely inclusive international organizations such as the League and the United Nations, ideally, the arrangement would transcend the reliance on deterrence of competing alliances through a network or scheme of 'national commitments and international mechanisms.' As in collective defence, collective security is based on the risk of retribution, but it can also involve economic and diplomatic responses, in addition to military retribution. From this, it is theorized that perfected collective security would discourage potential aggressors from angering a collectivity of states. Like balance-of-power, collective security works on the assumption that any potential aggressor would be deterred by the prospect of joint retaliation, but it goes beyond the military realm to include a wider array of security problems. It assumes that states will relinquish sovereignty and freedom of action or inaction to increasing interdependence and the premise of the indivisibility of peace. The security that can be derived from this is part of the foundation of the neoliberal institutionalist argument.


Comparative Advantage

Principle was derived by David Ricard in his 1817 book, Principles of Political Economy and Taxation.


Having a comparative advantage means that one state can produce a good or service at a lower cost than other states can. “The theory of comparative advantage holds that nations should produce and export those goods and services in which they hold a comparative advantage, and import those items that other nations can produce at a lower cost. Through comparative advantage, global resources and welfare can be maximized.


In economics, the theory of comparative advantage refers to the ability of a person or a country to produce a particular good or service at a lower marginal and opportunity cost. Even if one country is more efficient in the production of all goods (absolute advantage) than the other, both countries will still gain by trading with each other, as long as they have different relative efficiencies.

Complex Interdependence Theory

The term 'complex interdependence' was developed by Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye and refers to the various, complex transnational connections (interdependencies) between states and societies. Interdependence theorists noted that such relations, particularly economic ones, were increasing; while the use of military force and power balancing were decreasing (but remained important). Reflecting on these developments, they argued that the decline of military force as a policy tool and the increase in economic and other forms of interdependence should increase the probability of cooperation among states. The complex interdependence framework can be seen as an attempt to synthesise elements of realist and liberal thought. Finally, anticipating problems of cheating and relative gains raised by realists, interdependence theorists introduced the concept of 'regimes' to mitigate anarchy and facilitate cooperation. Here, we can see an obvious connection to neo-liberal institutionalism. See Keohane, R. and J. Nye. 1977. Power and Interdependence: World Politics in Transition. Little-Brown, Boston. (2nd edition,1989).

Complexity Theory

Complexity theory offers a rich array of concepts that can help us ask deeper questions. Taken together, these concepts argue for viewing world politics increasingly as a group of tightly bound actors evolving together, characterized more by context than their innate nature, vulnerable to surprise from new groups whose members decide independently to organize themselves in new ways and for new purposes. These concepts argue further for assuming that substantive consequences can arise, sometimes rapidly, from initially minor conditions and that organizations and countries will have a dangerous tendency to push themselves to limits beyond which catastrophe is almost unavoidable. The resultant picture of the 21st century world of high technology, instant communication, tight international connectivity at all levels of society, and universal education is one of a political world not only constantly evolving but evolving more rapidly, where actors can change course abruptly, policies that worked can suddenly fail, and success will go to the nimble. (William deB. Mills, Analyzing the Future Web site) (

Constitutional Order Theory

Philip Bobbitt’s central thesis (in his book The Shield of Achilles, 2002) that the interplay between strategic and constitutional innovation changes the constitutional order of the state. In putting his thesis, Bobbitt also contends that: epochal wars have brought a particular constitutional order to primacy; a constitutional order achieves dominance by best exploiting the strategic and constitutional innovations of its era; the peace treaties that end epochal wars ratify a particular constitutional order for the society of states; and each constitutional order asserts a unique basis for legitimacy. In terms of the current international system, Bobbitt argues that it is transitioning from an order of nation-states to market-states. The value of Bobbitt’s thesis is that it better explains relations between states, as well as changes within states and in the international system, than the (previously) dominant theory of neo-realism, which assumes that all states are the same and seek only to survive in an anarchical and competitive system through on-going power balancing.

Constitutive Theory

Constitutive theory is directly concerned with the importance of human reflection on the nature and character of world politics and the approach to its study. Reflections on the process of theorizing, including epistemological and ontological issues and questions, are typical. Constitutive theory is distinguished from explanatory or empirical theory (see below) and may be described as the philosophy of world politics or international relations.


Constructivist theory rejects the basic assumption of neo-realist theory that the state of anarchy (lack of a higher authority or government) is a structural condition inherent in the system of states. Rather, it argues, in Alexander Wendt's words, that 'Anarchy is what states make of it'. That is, anarchy is a condition of the system of states because states in some sense 'choose' to make it so. Anarchy is the result of a process that constructs the rules or norms that govern the interaction of states. The condition of the system of states today as self-helpers in the midst of anarchy is a result of the process by which states and the system of states was constructed. It is not an inherent fact of state-to-state relations. Thus, constructivist theory holds that it is possible to change the anarchic nature of the system of states. (See Alexander Wendt, 'Anarchy is What States Make of It', International Organization, 46, 2, Spring 1992.)



The word ‘cosmopolitan’, which derives from the Greek word kosmopolitês (‘citizen of the world’), has been used to describe a wide variety of important views in moral and socio-political philosophy. The nebulous core shared by all cosmopolitan views is the idea that all human beings, regardless of their political affiliation, do (or at least can) belong to a single community, and that this community should be cultivated. Different versions of cosmopolitanism envision this community in different ways, some focusing on political institutions, others on moral norms or relationships, and still others focusing on shared markets or forms of cultural expression. The philosophical interest in cosmopolitanism lies in its challenge to commonly recognized attachments to fellow-citizens, the local state, parochially shared cultures, and the like. (

Critical Social Theory

Not really a theory, but an approach or methodology which seeks to take a critical stance towards itself by recognising its own presuppositions and role in the world; and secondly, towards the social reality that it investigates by providing grounds for the justification and criticism of the institutions, practices and mentalities that make up that reality. Critical social theory therefore attempts to bridge the divides in social thought between explanation and justification, philosophical and substantive concerns, pure and applied theory, and contemporary and earlier thinking.

Cultural Internationalism

Decision Making Analysis

Defensive Realism

Defensive realism is an umbrella term for several theories of international politics and foreign policy that build upon Robert Jervis's writings on the security dilemma and to a lesser extent upon Kenneth Waltz's balance-of-power theory (neorealism). Defensive realism holds that the international system provides incentives for expansion only under certain conditions. Anarchy (the absence of a universal sovereign or worldwide government) creates situations where by the tools that one state uses to increase it security decreases the security of other states. This security dilemma causes states to worry about one another's future intentions and relative power. Pairs of states may pursue purely security seeking strategies, but inadvertently generate spirals of mutual hostility or conflict. States often, although not always, pursue expansionist policies because their leaders mistakenly believe that aggression is the only way to make their state secure. Defensive realism predicts great variation in internationally driven expansion and suggests that states ought to generally pursue moderate strategies as the best route to security. Under most circumstances, the stronger states in the international system should pursue military, diplomatic, and foreign economic policies that communicate restraint. Examples of defensive realism include: offense-defense theory (Jervis, Stephen Van Evera, Sean Lynn-Jones, and Charles Glaser), balance-of-power theory (Barry Posen, Michael Mastanduno), balance-of-threat theory (Stephen Walt), domestic mobilization theories (Jack Snyder, Thomas Christensen, and Aron Friedberg), and security dilemma theory (Thomas Christensen, Robert Ross, and William Rose). (Sources: Jeffrey W. Taliaferro, 'Security-Seeking Under Anarchy: Defensive Realism Reconsidered,' International Security, 25, 3, Winter 2000/2001: 152-86; and John J. Mearsheimer, (2002), Tragedy of Great Power Politics, W.W. Norton, New York).

Democratic Peace

All democratic peace theories seek to explain the disputed empirical fact that two constitutional democracies have never gone to war with each other in recent history (1816 onwards). As such, they rest on a similar hypothesis: that relations between pairings of democratic states are inherently more peaceful than relations between other regime-type pairings (i.e. democratic versus non-democratic or non-democratic versus non-democratic). To prove the reality of the democratic peace, theorists such as Michael Doyle have sought to show a causal relationship between the independent variable - 'democratic political structures at the unit level' - and the dependant variable - 'the asserted absence of war between democratic states'. Critics, such as Ido Oren, dispute the claims of democratic peace theorists by insisting that there is a liberal bias in the interpretation of 'democracy' which weakens the evidence.

Dependency Theory

Dependency theorists assert that so-called 'third-world' countries were not always 'poor', but became impoverished through colonial domination and forced incorporation into the world economy by expansionist 'first-world' powers. Thus, 'third-world' economies became geared more toward the needs of their 'first-world' colonial masters than the domestic needs of their own societies. Proponents of dependency theory contend that relationships of dependency have continued long after formal colonization ended. Thus, the primary obstacles to autonomous development are seen as external rather than internal, and so 'third-world' countries face a global economy dominated by rich industrial countries. Because 'first-world' countries never had to contend with colonialism or a world full of richer, more powerful competitors, dependency theorists argue that it is unfair to compare contemporary 'third-world' societies with those of the 'first-world' in the early stages of development.

Deterrence Theory

Deterrence is commonly thought about in terms of convincing opponents that a particular action would elicit a response resulting in unacceptable damage that would outweigh any likely benefit. Rather than a simple cost/benefits calculation, however, deterrence is more usefully thought of in terms of a dynamic process with provisions for continuous feedback. The process initially involves determining who shall attempt to deter whom from doing what, and by what means. Several important assumptions underlie most thinking about deterrence. Practitioners tend to assume, for example, that states are unitary actors, and logical according to Western concepts of rationality. Deterrence also assumes that we can adequately understand the calculations of an opponent. One of the most important assumptions during the Cold War was that nuclear weapons were the most effective deterrent to war between the states of the East and the West. This assumption, carried into the post-Cold War era, however, may promote nuclear proliferation. Indeed, some authors suggest that the spread of nuclear weapons would deter more states from going to war against one another. The weapons would, it is argued, provide weaker states with more security against attacks by stronger neighbors. Of course, this view is also predicated on the assumption that every state actor's rationality will work against the use of such weapons, and that nuclear arms races will therefore not end in nuclear warfare. (Edited extract from Post-Cold War Conflict Deterrence, Naval Studies Board, National Research Council, National Acadamy of Sciences, 1997.)

Dialectical Functionalism

Domino Theory

This theory was pronounced in the early 1950s by the US government fearing the spread of communism in Asia, in the early phase of the Cold War. In essence, the domino theory argues that if one South East Asian state becomes Marxist then this will trigger neighbouring states into becoming Marxist and so on. Internal crises in Asian states coupled with their interdependence means that Marxist revolutions or insurgencies will occur and spread. This is akin to toppling a row of dominoes. The Chinese revolution of 1949 followed by the Korean war of 1950-53 seemed to suggest that this domino effect was occurring. Though this theory is somewhat simplistic and based more on observation than scientific reasoning, the logic of the domino theory was perhaps one reason why the US became involved in the Vietnam War to stop this domino effect.

Dynamic Interaction Theory

Emancipatory International Relations

Emancipatory international relations is characterized by a number of schools of thought most broadly falling under the umbrella of Wesern or Hegelian Marxism, such as neo-Gramscian theory and approaches to IR based on the Frankfurt School philosophy. These approaches to emancipatory IR can be shown to be reformist rather than revolutionary, in the sense that visions of an alternative world order fail to transcend the state. Thus, some would suggest that approaches to IR that are derived from an anarchist political philosophy, for example, are more appropriate for an emancipatory conception of IR which is revolutionary rather than reformist.

Empirical Theory

An empirical theory in the social or natural sciences relates to facts and provides an explanation or prediction for observed phenomena. Hypotheses associated with empirical theories are subject to test against real-world data or facts. The theorist need not have any purpose in developing such empirical theories other than satisfying his or her intellectual curiosity, although many will seek to make their work "policy relevant" (Viotti, P. and M. Kauppi, (eds.). 1987. International Relations Theory. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York).

Ethnic Conflict Theory

Ethnic conflicts are old. It is violence for state recognition, autonomy or to join a neighboring state. Such conflicts received serious attention by scholars in the aftermath of the Cold War and with the demise of the former Yugoslavia and USSR into several independent states. Ethnic conflict studies can be a source for understanding international relations bearing in mind that no single book, concept or theory can expect to capture such a complex phenomena in its entirety. Political scientists use concepts and theories of sociologists such as Evans (1993), Giddens (1993), Smith (1986), Rex (1986), Hurd (1986) and Laitin (1986) to explain endemic ethnic conflicts caused by alienation and deprivation of ethnic minority groups bonded by history, descent, language, religion and culture living in a defined territory. This group perceives itself as 'me-you,' 'we-they,' 'insiders-outsiders,' and 'minority-majority.' Three contending ethnic conflict theories: a) Primordialists stress the importance of instinctive behavior of belonging; b) Instrumentalist or Circumstantialists cite compelling socio-economic-political factors; and c) Constructivists point to the social nature of ethnic groups. For ethnic conflict management models of political 'accommodation' or 'arrangements' see Walker, C. 1994, Ethnocentrism: The Quest for Understanding (Chapters 6 & 8), Princeton University Press; McGarry, J. and O'Leary, B. (eds), 1993, The Politics of Ethnic Conflict Resolution: Case Studies of Protracted Ethnic Conflicts (Chapter 1), Routledge; and Lijphart, A. 1997, Democracy in Plural Societies (Chapters 1 & 2), Yale University Press. For further perspectives, see Toft, M. 2003, The Geography of Ethnic Violence: Identity, Interests, and the Indivisibilty of Territory, Princeton University Press; Anderson, B. 1991, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Verso; and Huntington, P. 1996, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Simon & Schuster.

Evolutionary World Politics

A sub-field of the study of International Relations that poses the question: what explains structural change in world politics, in the past millennium in particular? It rests on two core premises: that political change at the global level is the product of evolutionary processes, and that such processes might be best understood through the application of evolutionary concepts such as selection or learning, without yet embracing biological determinism. Focussing on longer-term, institutional, change it contrasts with, and complements, rational choice approaches that illuminate shorter-term, ends-means decision-making. Components of it might be recognized both in the realist, and the liberal schools of international relations. Structural change may be studied at three levels: at the actor level, by looking at long cycles of global politics; at the level of global political formation, by inquiring into world empire, the nation-state system with global leadership, and global organization, as alternative forms of coping with global problems; and at the of human species evolution, by asking about the emergence of basic world institutions. Global political change co-evolves with cognate processes in the world economy, and is nested in the longer-term developments in democratization, and changes in world opinion. For recent research, reports and bibliography see The Evolutionary World Politics Home Page. (

Expected Utility Theory


A branch of Critical Social Theory (see above) that seeks to explore how we think, or do not think, or avoid thinking about gender in international relations (IR). Feminists argue that traditional IR thinking has avoided thinking of men and women in the capacity of embodied and socially constituted subject categories by subsuming them in other categories (e.g. statesmen, soldiers, refugees), too readily accepting that women are located inside the typically separate sphere of domestic life, and retreating to abstractions (i.e. the state) that mask a masculine identity. Gender-minded analysts therefore seek to move from suspicion of officially ungendered IR texts to their subversion and to replacement theories. Some recent gender-attentive research streams include: critique and reappropriation of stories told about the proper scope of the field of IR; revisions of war and peace narratives; reevaluations of women and development in the international system and its parts; feminist interpretations of human rights; and feminist understandings of international political economy and globalisation. (These notes are an adaptation of a piece by Christine Sylvester: 'Feminist Theory and Gender Studies in International Relations'.)

Fourth World Theory

A theoretical framework, based on the distinction between nations and states, examining how colonial empires and modern states invaded and now encapsulate most of the world's enduring peoples. The term Fourth World refers to nations forcefully incorporated into states which maintain a distinct political culture but are internationally unrecognized (Griggs, R. 1992. 'The Meaning of 'Nation' and 'State' in the Fourth World', Center for World Indigenous Studies). Fourth World analyses, writings and maps aim to rectify the distorting and obscuring of indigenous nations' identities, geographies and histories and expose the usually hidden 'other side' of invasions and occupations that generate most of the world's wars, refugees, genocide, human rights violations and environmental destruction. The distinction between political terms such as nation, state, nation-state, a people and ethnic group - which are commonly used interchangeably in both popular and academic literature despite the fact that each has a unique connotation - provides a geopolitical perspective from which one can paint a 'ground-up' portrait of the significance and centrality of people in most world issues, problems and solutions. Fourth World Theory was fashioned by a diverse assortment of people, including activists, human rights lawyers, academics and leaders of indigenous nations. Similar to World Systems Analysis (see below) scholars, proponents of Fourth World Theory seek to change the world, not just describe or explain it.

Frustration-Aggression Theory

A theory that argues that collective behavior is an aggressive response to feelings of frustration.


A focus on purposes or tasks, particularly those performed by organisations. Some theorists have explained the growth of organisations, particularly international organisations, as a response to an increase in the number of purposes or tasks demanding attention. Neofunctionalism as a theory of regional integration emphasizes the political calculation and pay-off to elites who agree to collaborate in the performance of certain tasks (Viotti, P. and M. Kauppi, (eds.). 1987. International Relations Theory. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York).

Game Theory

A decision-making approach based on the assumption of actor rationality in a situation of competition. Each actor tries to maximize gains or minimize losses under conditions of uncertainty and incomplete information, which requires each actor to rank order preferences, estimate probabilities, and try to discern what the other actor is going to do. In a two-person zero-sum game, what one actor wins the other loses; if A wins, 5, B loses 5, and the sum is zero. In a two-person non-zero or variable sum game, gains and losses are not necessarily equal; it is possible that both sides may gain. This is sometimes referred to as a positive-sum game. In some games, both parties can lose, and by different amounts or to a different degree. So-called n-person games include more than two actors or sides. Game theory has contributed to the development of models of deterrence and arms race spirals, but it is also the basis for work concerning the question of how collaboration among competitive states in an anarchic world can be achieved: The central problem is that the rational decision for an individual actor such as a state may be to "defect" and go it alone as opposed to taking a chance on collaboration with another state actor. Dealing with this problem is a central concern of much of the literature on international regimes, regional integration, and conflict resolution (Viotti, P. and M. Kauppi, (eds.). 1987. International Relations Theory. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York).


Globalization, as a theory, argues that states and societies are increasingly being 'disciplined' to behave as if they were private markets operating in a global territory. 'Disciplinary' forces affecting states and societies are attributed to the global capital market, transnational corporations (TNCs), and structural adjustment policies of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, which are all driven by neo-liberal economic ideology. Some scholars, such as Stephen Gill, see these agents as representing an emerging system of global economic governance ('disciplinary neo-liberalism') based on a quasiconstitutional framework for the reconstitution of the legal rights, prerogatives, and freedom of movement for capital on a world scale ('new constitutionalism'). See Gill, S. 'New Constitutionalism, Democratisation and Global Political Economy', in Pacifica Review 10, 1, 1998.


An image of politics different from realism and pluralism. Globalism focuses on the importance of economy, especially capitalist relations of dominance or exploitation, to understanding world politics. The globalist image is influenced by Marxist analyses of exploitative relations, although not all globalists are Marxists. Dependency theory, whether understood in Marxist or non-Marxist terms, is categorised here as part of the globalist image. Also included is the view that international relations are best understood if one sees them as occurring within a world-capitalist system (Viotti, P. and M. Kauppi, (eds.). 1987. International Relations Theory. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York).

Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention

Thomas Friedman's theory that no two countries that both had McDonald's had fought a war against each other since each got its McDonald's. More specifically, Friedman articulates it thus: 'when a country reached the level of economic development where it had a middle class big enough to support a McDonald's network, it became a McDonald's country. And people in McDonald's countries didn't like to fight wars anymore, they preferred to wait in line for burgers'. (See Chapter 12 in Thomas L. Friedman, (2000), The Lexus and The Olive Tree, Harper Collins Publishers, London.)


Grand Strategy

Hegemonic Stability Theory

The central idea of this theory is that the stability of the international system requires a single dominant state to articulate and enforce the rules of interaction among the most important members of the system. For a state to be a hegemon, it must have three attributes: the capability to enforce the rules of the system, the will to do so, and a commitment to a system which is perceived as mutually beneficial to the major states. A hegemon's capability rests upon the likes of a large, growing economy, dominance in a leading technological or economic sector, and political power backed up by projective military power. An unstable system will result if economic, technological, and other changes erode the international hierarchy and undermine the position of the dominant state. Pretenders to hegemonic control will emerge if the benefits of the system are viewed as unacceptably unfair. (Extract from lecture notes on the theory of hegemonic stability by Vincent Ferraro, Ruth C. Lawson Professor of International Politics at Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts.)

Historical Internationalism

Historical Materialism

Historical materialism is articulated in the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin. The basic assumption of the theory is that the historical process is determined by the type of economic relations prevalent during a specific time period. That is, the economy, or mode of life, determines the political, cultural, religious, legal and other dimensions of society.

Historical Sociology


Idealism is so widely defined that only certain basic tenets can be described. Idealists believe strongly in the affective power of ideas, in that it is possible to base a political system primarily on morality, and that the baser and more selfish impulses of humans can be muted in order to build national and international norms of behavior that foment peace, prosperity, cooperation, and justice. Idealism then is not only heavily reformist, but the tradition has often attracted those who feel that idealistic principles are the "next-step" in the evolution of the human character. One of the first and foremost pieces of the "old world" and "old thinking" to be tossed on the trash heap of history by idealism is that destructive human institution of war. War, in the idealistic view, is now no longer considered by either elites or the populace of the great powers as being a plausible way of achieving goals, as the costs of war, even for the victor, exceed the benefits. As John Mueller says in his book Quiet Cataclysm, war is passing into that consciousness stage where slavery and dueling reside - it can fade away without any adverse effect, and with no need for replacement.


Hans J. Morgenthau defines imperialism as a national foreign policy aimed at acquiring more power than the state actually has, through a reversal of existing power relations, in other words, a favorable change in power status. Imperialism as a national foreign policy is in contrast to 'status quo' foreign policy and a foreign policy of 'prestige.' The policy of imperialism assumes the classical realist theory perspective of analysis at the unit level in international relations. Furthermore, imperialism is based on a 'balance-of-power' construct in international relations. The three types of imperialism as outlined by Morgenthau are: Marxist theory of imperialism which rests on the foundation that all political phenomena are the reflection of economic forces; the Liberal theory of imperialism which results because of maladjustments in the global capitalist system (e.g., surplus of goods and capital which seek outlets in foreign markets); and finally, the 'devil' theory of imperialism which posits that manufacturers and bankers plan wars in order to enrich themselves. From Morgenthau, Hans J. 1948. Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace. McGraw-Hill, Boston. (Chapter 5, The Struggle for Power: Imperialism).


Integration Theory


In its most basic form, intergovernmentalism explains interstate cooperation and especially regional integration (e.g. EU) as a function of the alignment of state interests and preferences coupled with power. That is, contrary to the expectations of functionalism and neofunctionalism, integration and cooperation are actually caused by rational self-interested states bargaining with one another. Moreover, as would be expected, those states with more ‘power’ likely will have more of their interests fulfilled. For example, with regard to the EU, it is not surprising, according to proponents of this theory, that many of the agreed-upon institutional arrangements are in line with the preferences of France and Germany, the so-called ‘Franco-German core.’ Andrew Moravcsik is probably the most well-known proponent of intergovernmentalism right now. (See for example: Andrew Moravcsik, ‘Preferences and Power in the European Community: A Liberal Intergovernmentalist Approach,’ Journal of Common Market Studies, December, 1993.)


Internationalism is a political movement that advocates greater economic and political cooperation among participating actors for the benefit of all. It is by nature opposed to ultranationalism, jingoism and national chauvinism and presupposes the recognition of other nations as equal, in spite of all their differences. Indeed, it is most commonly expressed as an appreciation for the diverse cultures in the world and as a desire for world peace. It also encompasses an obligation to assist the world through leadership and cooperation, advocating robust global governance and the presence of international organizations, such as the United Nations.

International Order Theory

International Political Economy

A method of analysis concerning the social, political and economic arrangements affecting the global systems of production, exchange and distribution, and the mix of values reflected therein (Strange, S. 1988. States and Markets. Pinter Publishers, London. p18). As an analytical method, political economy is based on the assumption that what occurs in the economy reflects, and affects, social power relations.

International Regime Theory

A perspective that focuses on cooperation among actors in a given area of international relations. An international regime is viewed as a set of implicit and explicit principles, norms, rules, and procedures around which actors' expectations converge in a particular issue-area. An issue-area comprises interactions in such diverse areas as nuclear nonproliferation, telecommunications, human rights, or environmental problems. A basic idea behind international regimes is that they provide for transparent state behaviour and a degree of stability under conditions of anarchy in the international system. International regime analysis has been offering a meeting ground for debate between the various schools of thought in IR theory. See Krasner, S. 1983. International Regimes. Cornell University Press, Ithaca.

Just War Theory

Normative theory referring to conditions under which (1) states rightfully go to war (jus ad bellum) with just cause, as in self-defense in response to aggression, when the decision to go to war is made by legitimate authority in the state, as a last resort after exhausting peaceful remedies, and with some reasonable hope of achieving legitimate objectives; (2) states exercise right conduct in war (jus in bello) when the means employed are proportional to the ends sought, when noncombatants are spared, when weapons or other means that are immoral in themselves are not used (typically those that are indiscriminate or cause needless suffering), and when actions are taken with a right intention to accomplish legitimate military objectives and to minimize collateral death and destruction. Many of these principles of just war are part of the body of international law and thus are legally binding on states and their agents (Viotti, P. and M. Kauppi, (eds.). 1987. International Relations Theory. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York).

Legal Positivism

A legal theory that identifies international law with positive acts of state consent. Herein, states are the only official 'subjects' or 'persons' of international law because they have the capacity to enter into legal relations and to have legal rights and duties. Indeed, they are the only entities with full, original and universal legal personality; the only proper actors bound by international law. As far as non-state entities (such as individuals, corporations, and international organisations) are concerned, their ability to assert legal personality is only derivative of and conditional upon state personality and state consent. This predominant ideology originated in the nineteenth century when legal positivism took the eighteenth century law of nations, a law common to individuals and states, and transformed it into public and private international law, with the former being deemed to apply to states and the latter to individuals. Thus, only states enjoy full international legal personality, which can be defined as the capacity to bring claims arising from the violation of international law, to conclude valid international agreements, and to enjoy priveleges and immunities from national jurisdiction. (Edited text taken from Cutler, C. 2000. 'Globalization, Law and Transnational Corporations: a Deepening of Market Discipline', in Cohn, T., S. McBride and J. Wiseman (eds.). Power in the Global Era. Macmillan Press Ltd.).

Liberalism (Liberal Internationalism)

A political theory founded on the natural goodness of humans and the autonomy of the individual. It favours civil and political liberties, government by law with the consent of the governed, and protection from arbitrary authority. In IR liberalism covers a fairly broad perspective ranging from Wilsonian Idealism through to contemporary neo-liberal theories and the democratic peace thesis. Here states are but one actor in world politics, and even states can cooperate together through institutional mechanisms and bargaining that undermine the propensity to base interests simply in military terms. States are interdependent and other actors such as Transnational Corporations, the IMF and the United Nations play a role.


A body of thought inspired by Karl Marx. It emphasizes the dialectical unfolding of historical stages, the importance of economic and material forces and class analysis. It predicts that contradictions inherent in each historical epoch eventually lead to the rise of a new dominant class. The era of capitalism, according to Marx, is dominated by the bourgeoisie and will give way to a proletarian, or working class, revolution and an era of socialism in which workers own the means of production and move toward a classless, communist society in which the state, historically a tool of the dominant class, will wither away. A number of contemporary theorists have drawn on Marxian insights and categories of analysis - an influence most evident in work on dependency and the world capitalist system (Viotti, P. and M. Kauppi, (eds.). 1987. International Relations Theory. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York).


Modernisation Theory

A theory presuming that all countries had similiar starting points and follow similar paths to 'development' along the lines of contemporary 'first-world' societies.

Mutually Assured Destruction Theory

This theory is based on the same initial input as for security dilemma theory, but differs in terms of the outcome. According to mutually assured destruction theory, when two or more states all acquire a nuclear potential sufficient to destroy any other one, then nuclear conflict is impossible because a first strike will inevitably lead to a response and the subsequent mutual destruction of the actors involved. In other words, a nuclear arsenal is a good deterrent because it does not allow anyone to become a winner in a conflict.

Neoclassical Realism


Neoliberal Institutionalism

Encompasses those theories which argue that international institutions play an important role in coordinating international cooperation. Proponents begin with the same assumptions used by realists, except for the following: where realists assume that states focus on relative gains and the potential for conflict, neoliberal institutionalists assume that states concentrate on absolute gains and the prospects for cooperation. Neoliberal institutionalists believe that the potential for conflict is overstated by realists and suggest that there are countervailing forces, such as repeated interactions, that propel states toward cooperation. They regard cheating as the greatest threat to cooperation and anarchy as the lack of organization to enforce rules against cheating. Institutions are described by neoliberals as 'persistent and connected sets of rules (formal or informal) that prescribe behavioral roles, constrain activity, and shape expectations' (Keohane, R. 'International Institutions: Two Approaches', in International Studies Quarterly 32, 1988). Robert Keohane is the scholar most closely identified with neoliberal institutionalism.




A theory developed by Kenneth Waltz in which states seek to survive within an anarchical system. Although states may seek survival through power balancing, balancing is not the aim of that behaviour. Balancing is a product of the aim to survive. And because the international system is regarded as anarchic and based on self-help, the most powerful units set the scene of action for others as well as themselves. These major powers are referred to as poles; hence the international system (or a regional subsystem), at a particular point in time, may be characterised as unipolar, bipolar or multipolar.


New War Theory

Mary Kaldor’s new war theory argues that contemporary types of warfare are distinct from the classic modern forms of warfare based on nation-states. New wars are part of a globalised war economy underpinned by transnational ethnicities, globalised arms markets and internationalised Western-global interventions. The new type of warfare is a predatory social condition which damages the economies of neighbouring regions as well as the zone of conflict itself, spreading refugees, identity-based politics and illegal trade. It is also characterised by new forms of violence (the systematic murder of ‘others’, forced population expulsion and rendering areas uninhabitable) carried out by new militaries (the decaying remnants of state armies, paramilitary groups, self-defence units, mercenaries and international troops) funded by remittances, diaspora fund-raising, external government assistance and the diversion of international humanitarian aid. Whereas 80 per cent of war victims early last century were military personnel, it is estimated that 80 per cent of victims in contemporary wars are civilians. According to Kaldor, this new form of warfare is a political rather than a military challenge, involving the breakdown of legitimacy and the need for a new cosmopolitan politics to reconstruct affected communities and societies. See Kaldor, Mary. 1999. New and Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era. Polity, Cambridge.

Normative Theory

Normative theory deals precisely with values and value preferences. Unlike empirical theory, however, propositions in normative theory are not subject to empirical test as a means of establishing their truth or falsehood. Normative theory deals not with what is, the domain of empirical theory. Rather, normative theory deals explicitly with what ought to be - the way the world should be ordered and the value choices decision makers should make (Viotti, P. and M. Kauppi, (eds.). 1987. International Relations Theory. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York).

Nuclear Utilisation Theory

Offensive Realism

Offensive realism is a covering term for several theories of international politics and foreign policy that give analytical primacy to the hostile and unforgiving nature of the international system as the cause of conflict. Like defensive realism, some variants of offensive realism build upon and depart from Waltz's neorealism. Offensive realism holds that anarchy (the absence of a worldwide government or universal sovereign) provides strong incentives for expansion. All states strive to maximize their relative power because only the strongest states can guarantee their survival. They pursue expansionist policies when and where the benefits of doing so outweigh the costs. States face the ever-present threat that other states will use force to harm or conquer them. This compels them to improve their relative power positions through arms build-ups, unilateral diplomacy, mercantile (or even autarkic) foreign economic policies, and opportunistic expansion. Ultimately every state in the international system strives to become a regional hegemon - a state that enjoys a preponderance of military, economic, and potential power in its part of the globe. Offensive realists however, disagree over the historical prevalence of hegemonic regional systems and the likely responses of weaker states to would-be regional hegemons (e.g., balancing, buck-passing, or bandwagoning). In particular, there is a sharp disagreement between proponents of the balance-of-power tradition (John Mearsheimer, Eric Labs, Fareed Zakaria, Kier Lieber, and Christopher Layne) and proponents of the security variant of hegemonic stability theory (Robert Gilpin, William Wohlforth, and Stephen Brooks). (Sources: Jeffrey W. Taliaferro, 'Security-Seeking Under Anarchy: Defensive Realism Reconsidered,' International Security, 25, 3, Winter 2000/2001: 152-86; and John J. Mearsheimer, (2002), Tragedy of Great Power Politics, W.W. Norton, New York).

Parallelism Theory

Based on a fusion of Weberian and Freudian concepts, Parallelism argues that, at the macro level, states fall into two general categories, paternal and fraternal, and that the struggle between the two types characterizes international relations. In the ancient world, paternal systems were predominant because they were militarily superior, but since the rise of the nation-state, fraternal states have become predominant. The engine of historical change is the revolution-hegemonic war cycle, which brings paternal and fraternal systems into conflict with one another. There are at least four examples of this type of hegemonic conflict occurring in documented history: 1) the rise of Macedonia and Alexander the Great's war with Persia; 2) the rise of Mongolia and Gheghis Khan's war of expansion; 3) the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars; and 4) Weimar Germany and World War II. There are other types of hegemonic conflicts (e.g., WW I, Seven Years War), but these four represent parallel events. Victory in revolutionary and hegemonic conflict has determined the direction of the world system, towards paternalism or fraternalism. For more information, refer to the Center for the Study of Political Parallelism. (

Peripheral Realism

A foreign policy theory arising from the special perspective of (Latin American) peripheral states and represented by the work of Carlos Escude, for example. This view of international relations regards the international system as having an incipient hierarchical structure based on perceived differences between states: those that give orders, those that obey, and those that rebel. The peripheral approach introduces a different way of understanding the internatonal system: that is, from the unique viewpoint of states that do not impose 'rules of the game' and which suffer high costs when they confront them. Thus, the foreign policies of peripheral states are typically framed and implemented in such a way that the national interest is defined in terms of development, confrontation with great powers is avoided, and autonomy is not understood as freedom of action but rather in terms of the costs of using that freedom.

Phantom State

A state that is not widely recognised internationally or which has a unique set of sovereignty issues that provide only partial legitimacy and partial recognition of sovereignty among established nation-states. Examples are: Taiwan - successful phantom state using its ambiguity and US support to maintain partial independence; Palestine - less successful, especially at internal governance issues, but better at establishing legitimacy internationally as a cause rather than a state.


A tradition in international relations that argued that politics, and hence policy, was the product of a myriad of competing interests, hence depriving the state of any independent status. Pluralism can be seen to derive principally from a liberal tradition, rooted in Locke's 'Second Treatise of Government', and to pose an anti-realist vision of the centrality of the state in world politics. Pluralists make four key assumptions about international relations. Primarily, non-state actors are important entities in world politics. Secondly, the State is not looked upon as a unified actor, rather, competition, coalition building, and compromise between various interest groups including multinational enterprises will eventually culminate into a 'decision' announced in the name of the state. Thirdly, pluralists challenge the realist assumption of the state as a rational actor, and this derives from the second assumption where the clash of competing interests may not always provide for a rational decision making process. Finally, the fourth assumption revolves around the nature of the international agenda, where it is deemed extensive by the pluralists and includes issues of national security as well as economic, social and environmental issues. Hence, pluralists reject the 'high politics' 'low politics' divide characteristic of realism. They also contend with the predominance of a physical conception of power inherent in realism.

Policy-Relevant Theory

Policy-relevant theories may have explicit purposes that stem from the value preferences of the theorist, such as reducing the likelihood of war or curbing the arms race. Acting on such theories, of course, is the domain of the policy maker, a task separate from that of the empirical theorist. Theorists who become policy makers may well make choices informed by what theories say will be the likely outcomes of implementing one or another alternative. Their choices may be informed by empirical theory or understanding of world events, but the decisions they make are still based on value preferences (Viotti, P. and M. Kauppi, (eds.). 1987. International Relations Theory. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York).

Poliheuristic Theory of Foreign Policy Decision Making

Poliheuristic theory suggests that leaders simplify their choice problems according to a two-stage decision process. During the first stage, the set of possible options and outcomes is reduced by application of a 'noncompensatory principle' to eliminate any alternative with an unacceptable return on a critical, typically political, decision dimension (Mintz 1993). Once the choice set has been reduced to alternatives that are acceptable to the decision maker, the process moves to a second stage 'during which the decision maker can either use a more analytic, expected utility-like strategy or switch to a lexicographic decision strategy.' (Mintz 1997; Mintz et al. 1997; Mintz and Geva 1997; Mintz and Astorino-Courtois 2001). In setting out a pivotal preliminary stage to expected utility decision making, the poliheuristic theory bridges the gap between research in cognitive psychology (Taber and Steenbergen 1995) and the considerable insights provided by rational analyses of decision making (e.g., Bueno de Mesquita 1981; Bueno de Mesquita and Lalman 1992; Morrow 1997). From Mintz, A. 2003. Integrating Cognitive and Rational Theories of Foreign Policy Decision Making. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.




Unlike many other theories, postinternational theory is organized around the premise that our time is marked by profound and continuous transformations and turbulence. It seeks to account for the dynamics of change and anticipate where they might be leading the world. Its prime focus is on the transformation of three basic parameters: one at the micro level of individuals, another at the micro-macro level where individuals and their collectivities interact, and the third is at the macro level of collectivities and their global structures. The central concept at the micro level involves a skill revolution, whereas at the micro-macro level it involves the pervasiveness of authority crises experienced by all kinds of collectivities; and at the macro level it posits a bifurcation of global structures into the state-centric world of sovereignty-bound actors and the multi-centric world of sovereignty-free actors. This formulation is theoretical in the sense that it anticipates the conditions under which continual turbulence and transformation are likely to sustain world affairs. Examples of transformations at each level include the increasingly manifest readiness of individuals to engage in collective action (micro level), the 'battle of Seattle' (micro-macro level), and the pattern - indeed, institutionalization - whereby the NGO and state-centric worlds converge around common interests (macro level). See James Rosenau's (1990) Turbulence in World Politics and Heidi Hobbs' (ed.) (2000) Pondering Postinternationalism.


A more extreme branch of Critical Social Theory (see above) that can be identified in terms of its critical stance toward (western) modernity and the unambiguous narratives of reason, truth and progress. Whereas the dominant narrative of modernity upholds reason as the foundation of objective truth and the source of progress, postmodernism emphasises the interplay of a plurality of discursive practices, ways of knowing, social identities and possible worlds.



Power Transition Theory

Created by A.F.K. Organski and originally published in his textbook, World Politics (1958), power transition theory today describes international politics as a hierarchy with (1) a "dominant" state, the one with the largest proportion of power resources (population, productivity, and political capacity meaning coherence and stability); (2) "great powers," a collection of potential rivals to the dominant state and who share in the tasks of maintaining the system and controlling the allocation of power resources; (3) "middle powers" of regional significance similar to the dominant state, but unable to challenge the dominant state or the system structure, and (4) "small powers," the rest. The principle predictive power of the theory is in the likelihood of war and the stability of alliances. War is most likely, of longest duration, and greatest magnitude, when a challenger to the dominant power enters into approximate parity with the dominant state and is dissatisfied with the existing system. Similarly, alliances are most stable when the parties to the alliance are satisfied with the system structure. There are further nuances to the theory: for instance, the sources of power transition vary in their volitility, population change being the least volatile and political capacity (defined as the ability of the government to control resources internal to the country) the most volatile. (Best single text and the source of the above description: Power Transitions: Strategies for the 21st Century, by Ronald L. Tammen et al., published by Seven Bridges Press, 2000.)

Pragmatic Idealism

Pragmatic Idealism was first developed as a conceptual and axiological clarification of 'Canadian internationalism' in Costas Melakopides' Pragmatic Idealism: Canadian Foreign Policy 19945-1995 (McGill-Queens Úniversity Press, 1998). It argued that Canada, along with such 'like-minded middle powers' as Australia, Denmark, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden, had adopted during the Cold War a self-conscious departure from classic Realpolitik, through foreign policies that cultivated moderation, mediation, legal and diplomatic solutions to international conflicts, and authentic commitment to peacekeeping, peace-making, human rights, foreign aid, and ecological rationality. Today, Pragmatic Idealism can be said to characterize any foreign policy - including the international role of the European Union - that embraces the aforementioned principles and values.

Prisoner's Dilemma

Cooperation is usually analysed in game theory by means of a non-zero-sum game called the "Prisoner's Dilemma" (Axelrod, 1984). The two players in the game can choose between two moves, either "cooperate" or "defect". The idea is that each player gains when both cooperate, but if only one of them cooperates, the other one, who defects, will gain more. If both defect, both lose (or gain very little) but not as much as the "cheated" cooperator whose cooperation is not returned. The problem with the prisoner's dilemma is that if both decision-makers were purely rational, they would never cooperate. Indeed, rational decision-making means that you make the decision which is best for you whatever the other actor chooses. Suppose the other one would defect, then it is rational to defect yourself: you won't gain anything, but if you do not defect you will be stuck with a loss. Suppose the other one would cooperate, then you will gain anyway, but you will gain more if you do not cooperate, so here too the rational choice is to defect. The problem is that if both actors are rational, both will decide to defect, and none of them will gain anything. However, if both would "irrationally" decide to cooperate, both would gain.

Prospect Theory

Prospect theory is a psychological theory of decision-making under conditions of risk and derives its name from the tenet that the notion of risk involves some prospect of loss. Thus prospect theory posits loss-aversion, rather than risk-aversion (as claimed by rational choice theorists) and takes into account the psychological primacy of relative positioning. The theory states that there are two phases affecting decision-making: 1) framing, where perception or presentation of the situation in which decisions must be made affect the disposition towards some alternatives over others; and 2) evaluation, where the decision-maker assesses gains and losses relative to a movable reference point depending on the perspective of the decision-maker. It helps focus on how utilities are formed rather than how they are maximised. Prospect theory originally was called 'value theory' by its founders Kahneman and Tversky in the late 1970s. (Edited passages from McDermott, R. (ed.). (2004). Political Psychology. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford).

Psycho-Cultural Theory

Racial Internationalism


A theoretical qualification to the pessimism of realism and the idealism of liberal internationalism. Rationalists view states as comprising an international society, not merely an international system. States come to be a part of an international society by accepting that various principles and institutions govern the way in which they conduct their foreign relations. In doing so, it can be argued, states also display a commitment to the idea that it is inappropriate to promote the national interest without any regard for international law and morality.


A particular view of the world, or paradigm, defined by the following assumptions: the international realm is anarchic and consists of independent political units called states; states are the primary actors and inherently possess some offensive military capability or power which makes them potentially dangerous to each other; states can never be sure about the intentions of other states; the basic motive driving states is survival or the maintenance of sovereignty; states are instrumentally rational and think strategically about how to survive.


Regime Theory

See International Regime Theory above.

Schema Theory

Securitization Theory

Securitization theory was developed by Buzan and Waever and explores the constructivist dimension of security. That is, it deals not with security per se, but the process of securitization. Accordingly, politicians can position certain facts or problems as existential threats even though they may not be threats in their own right. Therefore, securitization is the process whereby the security label is attached to certain phenomena. A good example is airport security checks: even though their effectiveness may be limited, they are considered essential for safety by the public and therefore subject to little doubt or critique.

Security Dilemma

Robert Jervis’s “Cooperation under the Security Dilemma” explains that the security dilemma is the key to understanding how in an anarchic international system states with fundamentally compatible goals still end up in comepetition and at war. The security dilemma exists when “many of the means by which a state tries to increase its security decrease the security of others”.


A security dilemma refers to a situation wherein two or more states are drawn into conflict, possibly even war, over security concerns, even though none of the states actually desire conflict. Essentially, the security dilemma occurs when two or more states each feel insecure in relation to other states. None of the states involved want relations to deteriorate, let alone for war to be declared, but as each state acts militarily or diplomatically to make itself more secure, the other states interpret its actions as threatening. An ironic cycle of unintended provocations emerges, resulting in an escalation of the conflict which may eventually lead to open warfare. (Kanji, O. 2003. 'Security' in Burgess, G. and H. Burgess (eds.). Beyond Intractability. Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado).

Social Contract Theory

The social contract or political contract is an intellectual device intended to explain the appropriate relationship between individuals and their governments. Social contract arguments assert that individuals unite into political societies by a process of mutual consent, agreeing to abide by common rules and accept corresponding duties to protect themselves and one another from violence and other kinds of harm.[citation needed]

Social contract theory played an important historical role in the emergence of the idea that political authority must be derived from the consent of the governed. The starting point for most social contract theories is a heuristic examination of the human condition absent from any political order, usually termed the “state of nature”. In this condition, individuals' actions are bound only by their personal power and conscience. From this shared starting point, social contract theorists seek to demonstrate, in different ways, why a rational individual would voluntarily give up his or her natural freedom to obtain the benefits of political order.

Thomas Hobbes (1651), John Locke (1689), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762) are the most famous social contract thinkers. Each drew quite different conclusions about the nature of political authority. Hobbes advocated absolute monarchy, Locke advocated natural rights, and Rousseau advocated collective sovereignty in the name of "the general will".[citation needed] The Lockean concept of the social contract was invoked in the United States Declaration of Independence, and social contract notions have recently been invoked, in a quite different sense, by thinkers such as John Rawls.

Social Constructivism

Social constructivism is about human consciousness and its role in international life. As such, constructivism rests on an irreducibly intersubjective dimension of human action: the capacity and will of people to take a deliberate attitude towards the world and to lend it significance. This capacity gives rise to social facts, or facts that depend on human agreement that they exist and typically require human institutions for their existence (money, property rights, sovereignty, marriage and Valentine's Day, for example). Constructivists contend that not only are identities and interests of actors socially constructed, but also that they must share the stage with a whole host of other ideational factors emanating from people as cultural beings. No general theory of the social construction of reality is available to be borrowed from other fields and international relations constructivists have not as yet managed to formulate a fully fledged theory of their own. As a result, constructivism remains more of a philosophically and theoretically informed perspective on and approach to the empirical study of international relations. (Edited passage from Ruggie, J. 'What Makes the World Hang Together? Neo-utilitarianism and the Social Constructivist Challenge', International Organization 52, 4, Autumn 1998).

State Cartel Theory

State cartel theory is an institutionalist approach with a focus on regional integration. It imports its terminology from the classical cartel theory of economic enterprises. Realising that the benefits of cooperation most often outweigh the costs of conflict, states are willing to cartelize political issues in international institutions. A members’ assembly is the primary institution, with further organisations being an expression of the will and needs of members. A good example is the Council of the European Union and its allied European Commission and European Court.

Structural Idealism



Supranationalism entails a formal transfer of decision-making and law-making from the state to an institution or international organization. The notion is to ‘pool sovereignty’ in order to prevent war by integrating sovereign states economically, politically and socially. Decision-making involves national governments using voting procedures other than unanimity but also that the new supranational institutions have the ability to take or enact decisions without the need for government votes. An example of supranationalism is the European Union in which various powers and functions of member states have been transferred to EU institutions. This means that the EU is ‘above the state’ in many key areas.


An approach to international relations that emphasises the studying of such disciplines as diplomatic history, international law, and philosophy in an attempt to develop better insights. Traditionalists tend to be skeptical of behavioralist approaches that are confined to strict scientific standards that include formal hypothesis testing and, usually, the use of statistical analysis (Viotti, P. and M. Kauppi, (eds.). 1987. International Relations Theory. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York).

Transnational Historical Materialism

Transnational historical materialism falls within the Marxist tradition. This comtemporary Marxism takes its inspiration from Antonio Gramsci and gives greater significance to the role of culture and ideas, along with focussing on economic aspects of order and change. It is seen as a corrective to the economism of classical Marxism.


Interactions and coalitions across state boundaries that involve such diverse nongovernmental actors as multinational corporations and banks, church groups, and terrorist networks. In some usages, transnationalism includes both nongovernmental as well as transgovernmental links. The term transnational is used both to label the actor (for example, a transnational actor) or a pattern of behavior (for example, an international organisation that acts transnationally - operates across state borders). Theorists focusing on transnationalism often deemphasise the state as primary and unitary actor (Viotti, P. and M. Kauppi, (eds.). 1987. International Relations Theory. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York).

Two-World Order

Virtual Theory

World Capitalist System

An approach to international relations that emphasises the impact of the world wide spread of capitalism. It focuses on class and economic relations and the division of the world into a dominant centre or core of industrialised countries, a subordinate periphery of less developed countries and a semi-periphery of countries that occupy an intermediate position between core and periphery (Viotti, P. and M. Kauppi, (eds.). 1987. International Relations Theory. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York).

World-Systems Analysis

World-systems analysis is not a theory or mode of theorizing, but a perspective and a critique of other perspectives within social science. Its social origins were located in the geopolitical emergence of the Third World in the late 1960s and the manifest insufficiencies of modernization theory to account for what was happening. The unit of analysis is the world-system rather than a state or society, with particular emphases on the long-term history and totality of the system. The notion of totality (globality, unidisciplinarity and holism) distinguishes world-systems analysis from similar approaches such as global or international political economy which look at the relationships between the two segregated streams of politics and economics. Proponents of world-systems analysis also regard it as an intellectual movement, capable of transforming social science into a vehicle for world-wide social change.


Kant's Social and Political Philosophy

First published Tue Jul 24, 2007

Kant wrote his social and political philosophy in order to champion the Enlightenment in general and the idea of freedom in particular.  His work came within both the natural law and the social contract traditions.  Kant held that every rational being had both a innate right to freedom and a duty to enter into a civil condition governed by a social contract in order to realize and preserve that freedom.

His writings on political philosophy consist of one book and several shorter works.  The "Doctrine of Right", Part One of his two-part Metaphysics of Morals and first published as a stand-alone book in February 1797, contains virtually every directly political topic he treats.  Other shorter works include a useful short summary of his discussion of the basis and role of the state in the second section of the essay "Theory and Practice", an extended discussion of international relations in the essay "Toward Perpetual Peace", and the essay "An Answer to the Question:  What is Enlightenment?."  Other published material relevant to the topics include material on history, on practical philosophy in general, and, for his social philosophy, his work on religion and anthropology.  Kant also offered a biannual lecture course on "Natural Right", a student's (Feyerabend) transcript of which is forthcoming in English translation.

1. The Place of Political Philosophy within Kant's Philosophical System

Kant's political philosophy is a branch of practical philosophy, one-half of one of the broadest divisions in Kant's thought between practical and theoretical philosophy.  This division between practical and theoretical strictly speaking holds only for the system of pure philosophical cognitions, the whole of which is distinct from the preparatory philosophical project of critique that investigates pure human faculties, in particular, reason (A841 / B869).  Kant's three critiques, according to this description, are neither practical nor theoretical but are all collectively critical.  Only the systematic metaphysical works, such as the Metaphysics of Morals, would properly speaking be considered practical.

While political philosophy is part of that practical element, it is also to be distinguished within practical philosophy from both empirical elements and from virtue proper.  The separation from virtue is treated in the next paragraph.  But here it is worth mentioning that practical philosophy, as the rules governing free behavior of rational beings, covers all human action in both its pure and applied (empirical, or "impure") aspects.  Pure practical philosophy, alleged to be the rational elements of practical philosophy in abstraction from anything empirical, is called by Kant "metaphysics of morals" (4:388).  Kant so emphasized the priority of the pure aspect of political philosophy that he wrote part of his essay "On the Common Saying:  That May be Correct in Theory, but it is of No Use in Practice" in opposition to the view he associates with Hobbes that the politician need not be concerned with abstract right but only with pragmatic governance (8:289-306).   Yet Kant also included the more pragmatic,  impure, empirical study of  human behavior as part of practical philosophy.  For ethics in general, Kant called the empirical study of human beings as agents within particular cultures and with particular natural capacities "anthropology".   Some of Kant's social philosophy fits into this rubric (See section 10). Is there a corresponding applied political philosophy for Kant? The advice he gives rulers regarding perpetual peace and some of the related work on history (section 8) is as close as Kant gets to an anthropology of political right.

Kant's practical philosophy and the categorical imperative that governs it were intended to form the basis not only of what is thought today to be ethics proper but also with everything that broadly speaking had to do with the deliberative human behavior. He defined practical philosophy as that concerned with "rules of behavior in regard to free choice", as opposed to theoretical philosophy that concerned "the rule of knowledge" (Kant 27: 243). Practical philosophy provided rules to govern human deliberative action. The Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals provided Kant's main arguments that the categorical imperative is the supreme rule for human deliberative action. In its Preface, he notes that the Groundwork is to be a preparatory book for a future Metaphysics of Morals. Twelve years later he published that Metaphysics of Morals in two parts, the "Doctrine of Right" and the "Doctrine of Virtue". Both are equally parts of Kant's practical philosophy, and both thus have the categorical imperative as their highest principle, although there is some scholarly disagreement about this relationship.

The book Metaphysics of Morals had two distinct parts: the "Doctrine of Right" and the "Doctrine of Virtue". Kant sought to separate political rights and duties from what we might call morals in the narrow sense. He limits right by stating three conditions (6:230) that have to be met for something to be enforceable as right: first, right concerns only actions that have influence on other persons, meaning duties to the self are excluded, second right does not concern the wish but only the choice of others, meaning that not mere desires but only decisions which bring about actions are at stake, and third right does not concern the matter of the other's act but only the form, meaning no particular desires or ends are assumed on the part of the agents. As an example of the latter he considers trade, which for right must have the form of being freely agreed by both parties but can have any matter or purpose the agents want. These criteria appear to be less rigid than Kant ultimately intends, for they would include under Right actions even those imperfect duties that "influence" others by improving their lot, such as benificent acts of charity. John Stuart Mill's "harm principle" does not face this problem since it specifies that the influence to be subject to law is always negative. In addition to these three conditions for right, Kant also offers direct contrasts between right and virtue. He thinks both relate to freedom but in different ways: right concerns outer freedom and virtue concerns inner freedom (being master of one's own passions) (6:406-07). Right concerns acts themselves independent of the motive an agent may have for performing them, virtue concerns the proper motive for dutiful actions (6:218-221). In another formulation (6:380-81) he says that right concerns universality as a formal condition of freedom while virtue concerns a necessary end beyond the mere formality of universality, thus appearing to tie the distinction to the first two formulas of the categorical imperative in the Groundwork. In yet another he says that right concerns narrow duties and virtue wide duties (6:390). In the Feyerabend lectures, Kant notes that right is the subset of morally correct actions that are also coercible (27:1327). These various alternative formulations of the distinction would exclude imperfect duties not because imperfect duties do not "influence" others (they do) but because, as imperfect, they cannot be coerced in particular instances, since imperfect duties always allow for the moderating role of an individual's inclinations. While these various formulations of the distinction appear to be quite different, they can in general be summarized by saying that right concerns outer action corresponding to perfect duty that affects others regardless of the individual's internal motivations or goals.

2. Freedom as the Basis of the State

"There is only one innate right," says Kant, "Freedom (independence from being constrained by another's choice), insofar as it can coexist with the freedom of every other in accordance with a universal law" (6:237). Kant rejects any other basis for the state, in particular arguing that the welfare of citizens cannot be the basis of state power. He argues that a state cannot legitimately impose any particular conception of happiness upon its citizens (8:290-91). To do so would be for the ruler to treat citizens as children, assuming that they are unable to understand what is truly useful or harmful to themselves.

This claim must be understood in light of Kant's more general claim that moral law cannot be based upon happiness or any other given empirical good. In the Groundwork Kant contrasts an ethics of autonomy, in which the will (Wille, or practical reason itself) is the basis of its own law, from the ethics of heteronomy, in which something independent of the will such as happiness is the basis of moral law (4:440-41). In the Critique of Practical Reason he argues that happiness (the agreeableness of life when things go in accordance with one's wishes and desires), although universally sought by human beings, is not specific enough to entail any universal desires in human beings. Further, even were there any universal desires among human beings, those desires would, as empirical, be merely contingent and thus unworthy of being the basis of any pure moral law (5:25-26). No particular conception of happiness can be the basis of the pure principle of the state, and the general conception of happiness is too vague to serve as the basis of a law. Hence, a "universal principle of right" cannot be based upon happiness but only on something truly universal, such as freedom. The "universal principle of right" Kant offers is thus "Any action is right if it can coexist with everyone's freedom in accordance with a universal law, or if on its maxim the freedom of choice of each can coexist with everyone's freedom in accordance with a universal law" (6:230).

This explains why happiness is not universal, but not why freedom is universal. By "freedom" in political philosophy, Kant is not referring to the transcendental conception of freedom usually associated with the problem of the freedom of the will amid determinism in accordance with laws of nature, a solution to which is provided in the Third Antinomy of the Critique of Pure Reason. Rather, freedom in political philosophy is defined, as in the claim above about the only innate right, as "independence from being constrained by another's choice". His concern in political philosophy is not with laws of nature determining a human being's choice but by other human beings determining a human being's choice, hence the kind of freedom Kant is concerned with in political philosophy is individual freedom of action. Still, the universality of political freedom is linked to transcendental freedom. Kant assumes that a human being's use of choice is (at least when properly guided by reason) free in the transcendental sense. Since every human being does enjoy transcendental freedom by virtue of being rational, freedom of choice is a universal human attribute. And this freedom of choice is to be respected and promoted, even when this choice is not exercised in rational or virtuous activity. Presumably respecting freedom of choice involves allowing it to be effective in determining actions; this is why Kant calls political freedom, or "independence from being constrained by another's choice", the only innate right. One might still object that this freedom of choice is incapable of being the basis of a pure principle of right for the same reason that happiness was incapable of being its basis, namely, that it is too vague in itself and that when specified by the particular decisions individuals make with their free choice, it loses its universality. Kant holds that this problem does not arise for freedom, since freedom of choice can be understood both in terms of its content (the particular decisions individuals make) and its form (the free, unconstrained nature of choice of any possible particular end) (6:230). Freedom is universal in the proper sense because, unlike happiness, it can be understood in such a way that it is susceptible to specification without losing its universality. Right will be based on the form of free choice.

The very existence of a state might seem to some as a limitation of freedom, since a state possesses power to control the external freedom of individual citizens through force. This is the basic claim of anarchism. Kant holds in contrast that the state is not an impediment to freedom but is the means for freedom. State action that is a hindrance to freedom can, when properly directed, support and maintain freedom if the state action is aimed at hindering actions that themselves would hinder the freedom of others. Given a subject's action that would limit the freedom of another subject, the state may hinder the first subject to defend the second by "hindering a hindrance to freedom". Such state coercion is compatible with the maximal freedom demanded in the principle of right because it does not reduce freedom but instead provides the necessary background conditions needed to secure freedom. The amount of freedom lost by the first subject through direct state coercion is equal to the amount gained by the second subject through lifting the hindrance to his actions. State action sustains the maximal amount of freedom consistent with identical freedom for all without reducing it.

Freedom is not the only basis for principles underlying the state. In "Theory and Practice" Kant makes freedom the first of three principles (8:290):

1.        The freedom of every member of the state as a human being.

2.        His equality with every other as a subject.

3.        The independence of every member of a commonwealth as a citizen.

Equality is not substantive but formal. Each member of the state is equal to every other member of the state before the law. Each has equal coercive right, that is, the right to invoke the power of the state to enforce the laws on her behalf. (Kant exempts the head of state from this equality, since the head of state cannot be coerced by anyone else). This formal equality is perfectly compatible with the inequality of members of the state in income, physical power, mental ability, possessions, etc. Further, this equality supports an equality of opportunity: every office or rank in the political structure must be open to all subjects without regard for any hereditary or similar restrictions.

Independence concerns a citizen being subject to laws he gives himself, i.e. as co-legislator of the laws. While this principle appears to require universal democratic decision making for particular laws, Kant instead understands this principle on two levels, one of which is not universal and the other of which is not for particular laws. All members of the state, as subjects of the law, must be able to will the basic law that governs them. This basic law is the "original contract" and will be discussed in the next section. The basic law is willed by each subject in the sense that the "will of all" or a "public will", or "general will" (Kant uses Rousseau's term) determines the basic law. Particular laws, in contrast, are to be determined by a majority of the citizens with voting rights, as will be discussed in section 4.

3. Social Contract

Kant provides two distinct discussions of social contract. One concerns property and will be treated in more detail in section 5 below. The second discussion of social contract comes in the essay "Theory and Practice" in the context of an a priori restriction on the legitimate policies the sovereign may pursue. The sovereign must recognize the "original contract" as an idea of reason that forces the sovereign to "give his laws in such a way that they could have arisen from the united will of a whole people and to regard each subject, insofar as he wants to be a citizen, as if he has joined in voting for such a will" (8:297). This original contract, Kant stresses, is only an idea of reason and not a historical event. Any rights and duties stemming from an original contract do so not because of any particular historical provenance, but because of the rightful relations embodied in the original contract. No empirical act, as a historical act would be, could be the foundation of any rightful duties or rights. The idea of an original contract limits the sovereign as legislator. No law may be promulgated that "a whole people could not possibly give its consent to" (8:297). The consent at issue, however, is also not an empirical consent based upon any actual act. The set of actual particular desires of citizens is not the basis of determining whether they could possibly consent to a law. Rather, the kind of possibility at issue is one of rational possible unanimity based upon fair distributions of burdens and rights in abstraction from empirical facts or desires. Kant's examples both exemplify this consideration of possible rational unanimity. His first example is a law that would provide hereditary privileges to members of a certain class of subjects. This law would be unjust because it would be irrational for those who would not be members of this class to agree to accept fewer privileges than members of the class. One might say that empirical information could not possibly cause all individuals to agree to this law. Kant's second example concerns a war tax. If the tax is administered fairly, it would not be unjust. Kant adds that even if the actual citizens opposed the war, the war tax would be just because it is possible that the war is being waged for legitimate reasons that the state but not the citizens know about. Here empirical information might cause all citizens to approve the law. In both these examples, the conception of "possibly consent" abstracts from actual desires individual citizens have. The possible consent is not based upon a hypothetical vote given actual preferences but is based on a rational conception of agreement given any possible empirical information.

Kant's is similar to the social contract theory of Hobbes in a few important characteristics. The social contract is not a historical document and does not involve a historical act. In fact it can be dangerous to the stability of the state to even search history for such empirical justification of state power (6:318). The current state must be understood, regardless of its origin, to embody the social contact. The social contract is a rational justification for state power, not a result of actual deal-making among individuals or between them and a government. Another link to Hobbes is that the social contract is not voluntary. Individuals may be forced into the civil condition against their consent (6:256). Social contract is not based on any actual consent, one might say the voluntary choice to join a society. Since the social contract reflects reason, each human being as a rational being already contains the basis for rational agreement to the state. Are individuals then coerced to recognize their subjection to state power against their will? Since Kant defines "will" as "practical reason itself" (Groundwork, 4:412), the answer for him is "no." If one defines "will" as arbitrary choice, then the answer is "yes." This is the same dichotomy that arises with regard to Kant's theory of punishment (section 7). A substantial difference between Kant and Hobbes is that Hobbes bases his argument on the individual benefit for each party to the contract, whereas Kant bases his argument on Right itself, understood as freedom for all persons in general, not even just for the individual benefit that each party to the contract obtains in his or her own freedom. To this extent Kant is influenced more by Rousseau's idea of the General Will.

4. Republics, Enlightenment, and Democracy

Kant was a central figure in the philosophy of the Enlightenment. One of his popular essays, "An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?" discusses Enlightenment in terms of the use of an individual's own reason (8:35f). To be Enlightened is to emerge from one's self-incurred minority (juvenile) status to a mature ability to think for oneself. In another essay, "What Does it Mean to Orient Oneself in Thought?" Kant defines Enlightenment as "the maxim of always thinking for oneself" (8:146). "What is Enlightenment" distinguishes between the public and private uses of reason. The private use of reason is, for government officials, the use of reason they must utilize in their official positions. For example, a member of the clergy (who in Kant's Prussia were employees of the state) is required to espouse the official doctrine in his sermons and teachings. The public use of reason is the use an individual makes of his reason as a scholar reaching the public world of readers. For example, the same member of the clergy could, as a scholar, explain what he takes to be shortcomings in that very same doctrine. Similarly, a military officer can, using public reason, question the methods and goals of his own military orders, but in his function as an officer, using private reason, is obliged to obey them. Since the sovereign might err, and individual citizens have the right to attempt to correct the error under the assumption that the sovereign does not intend to err, "a citizen must have, with the approval of the ruler himself, the authorization to make known publicly his opinions about what it is in the ruler's arrangements that seems to him to be a wrong against the commonwealth," writes Kant in "Theory and Practice" (8:304).

One would expect from this emphasis that Kant would insist that the proper political system is one that not only allows individuals to think for themselves about political issues, but also contains a mechanism such as voting to translate those well reasoned opinions into government policy. One would be wrong. Kant does not stress self-government. In his discussion in "Perpetual Peace" of the traditional division of the types of government Kant classifies governments in two dimensions (8:352). The first is the "form of sovereignty", concerning who rules, and here Kant identifies the traditional three forms: either rule by one person, rule by a small group of people, or rule by all people. The second is the "form of government" concerning how those people rule, and here Kant offers a variation on the traditional good/bad dichotomy: either republican or despotic. By "republican," Kant means "separation of the executive power (the government) from the legislative power". Despotism is their unity such that the regent has given laws to himself and in essence made his private will into the public will. Republics require representation in order to ensure that the executive power only enforces the public will by insisting that the executive enforce only laws that representatives of the people, not the executive itself, make. But a republic is compatible with a single individual acting as legislator provided that others act as executives; for example, a king would issue laws in the name of the people's will but the king's ministers would enforce those laws. Kant's claim that such a government is republican (see also 27:1384) showcases his view that a republican government need not require actual participation of the people in making the laws, even through elected representatives, as long as the laws are promulgated with the whole united will of the people in mind. Kant does, nonetheless, think that an elected representative legislator is the best form of a republic (8:353). Whether elected or unelected, the moral person who holds legislative power is representative of the people united as a whole, and is thus sovereign. The people themselves are sovereign only when they are electing a new set of representatives.

When Kant discusses voting for representatives, he adheres to many prevailing prejudices (8:295). The right to vote requires "being one's own master" and hence having property or some skill that can support one independently. The reason given for this, that if someone must acquire something from another to make a living he alienates what belongs to him, is so vague that Kant himself admits in a footnote "It is, I admit, somewhat difficult to determine what is required in order to be able to claim the rank of a human being who is his own master." Kant also leaves women out of the voting populations for what he calls "natural" reasons but does not specify.

Kant's state, then, does not require that actual decisions are made by the people at large, even through elected representatives. He holds that a single individual or small group can themselves adequately represent the people at large simply by adopting the point of view of the people. Insistence on a representative system (8:353) is not insistence on an elected representative system. Nonetheless it is clear that Kant holds that such an elective representative system is ideal. Republican constitutions, he claims, are prone to avoid war because, when the consent of the people is needed, they will consider the costs they must endure in a war (fighting, taxes, destruction of property, etc), whereas a non-republican ruler has no such concerns. In the "Doctrine of Right" he also notes that a republican system not only represents the people but does so "by all the citizens united and acting through their delegates" (6:342). These indications are not definitive but do point toward Kant favoring elected representatives.

5. Property and Contract Right

The book "Doctrine of Right" begins with a discussion of property, showing the importance of this right for the implementation of the innate right to freedom. Property is defined as that "with which I am so connected that another's use of it without my consent would wrong me" (6:245). In one sense, if I am holding an object such as an apple, and another snatches it out of my hands, I have been wronged because in taking the object from my physical possession, the other harms me (Kant does not specify whether this harm is because one's current use of the apple is terminated or because one's body is affected, but the latter fits the argument better). Kant calls this "physical" or "sensible" possession. It is not a sufficient sense of possession to count as rightful possession of an object. Rightful possession must be possession of an object without holding it so that another's use of the object without my consent harms me even when I am not physically affected and not currently using the object. Kant calls this "intelligible possession".

His proof that there must be this intelligible possession and not merely physical possession turns on the application of human choice (6:246). An object of choice is one that some human has the capacity to use for his purposes. Rightful possession would be the right to make use of such an object. Suppose that for some particular object, no one has rightful possession. This would mean that a usable object would be beyond possible use. Kant grants that such a condition does not contradict the principle of right because it is compatible with everyone's freedom in accordance with universal law. But putting an object beyond rightful use when humans have the capacity to use it would "annihilate" the object in a practical respect, treat it as nothing. Kant claims that this is problematic because in a practical respect an object is considered merely as an object of possible choice. This consideration of the mere form alone, the object simply as an object of choice, cannot contain any prohibition of use for an object, for any such prohibition would be freedom limiting itself for no reason. Thus in a practical respect an object cannot be treated as nothing, and so the object must be considered as at least potentially in rightful possession of some human being or other. So all objects within human capacity for use must be subject to rightful or intelligible possession.

Intelligible possession, then, is required by right in order for free beings to be able to realize their freedom by using objects for their freely chosen purposes. This conclusion entails the existence of private property but not any particular distribution of private property. All objects must be considered as potential property of some human being or other. Now if one human being is to have intelligible possession of a particular object, all other human beings must refrain from using that object. Such a one-sided relation would violate the universality of external right. Kant further worries that any unilateral declaration by one person that an object belongs to him alone would infringe on the freedom of others. The only way that intelligible possession is possible without violating the principle of right is when each person agrees to obligate mutually all others to recognize each individual's intelligible possessions. Each person must acknowledge that he is obligated to refrain from using objects that belong to another. Since no individual will can rightfully make and enforce such a law obligating everyone to respect others' property, this mutual obligation is possible only in accordance with a "collective general (common) and powerful will", in other words, only in a civil condition. The state itself obligates all citizens to respect the property of other citizens. Without a state to enforce these property rights, they are impossible.

This creation of a civil condition is Kant's first manner of discussing a social contract mentioned in section 3. Prior to a social contract the only manner in which human beings can control things is through empirical possession, actual occupation and use of land and objects. In order to gain full property rights to land and objects, individuals must all agree to respect the property rights of others in a social contract. They are in fact required, as a duty, to enter into a social condition in order to defend their own and everyone's property rights. Only in such a society can persons exercise their freedom, that is their pursuit of ends, by legitimately using objects for their own purposes without regard for others. Hence a social contract is the rational justification of the state because state power is necessary for each individual to be guaranteed access to some property in order to realize their freedom. While the discussion in "Theory and Practice" of a social contract as an idea of reason constrains the sovereign in promulgating laws, it does not explain why the state is necessary in the first place. The discussion in "Doctrine of Right" of property as the basis of a social contract explains why individuals are in fact rationally required to enter into a social contract.

A puzzle arises here with regard to property. If individuals are not able to have any intelligible property prior to the existence of a state, yet the state's role is to enforce property rights, where does the original assignment of property to individuals occur? John Locke had famously avoided this problem in his theory of property by making property a product of a single individual's activity. By "mixing" one's labor with an object in the commons, one comes to have property in the object. Kant objects to Locke's theory of property on the grounds that it makes property a relation between a person and a thing rather than between the wills of several persons (6:268-69). Since property is a relation of wills that can occur only in a civil condition under a common sovereign power, Kant suggests that prior to this civil condition property can be acquired only in anticipation of and in conformity with a civil condition. Provisional property is initial physical appropriation of objects with the intention of making them rightful property in a state (6:264, 267).

Property is of three types for Kant (6:247-48, 260). First is the right to a thing, to corporeal objects in space. Examples of these things include land. The second is the right against a person, the right to coerce that person to perform an action. This is contract right. The third is the "right to a person akin to a right to a thing", the most controversial of Kant's categories in which he includes spouses, children, and servants. Of these three types, the first has already been discussed in relation to acquisition. The middle of these, contract right, involves the possession by one person of the "deed" of another (6:274). One person is able to control the choice of another in order to apply the other's causal powers to some end. At first glance this contract right appears to violate the second formula of the categorical imperative which states that persons are to be treated always as ends and never merely as means. A contract appears to be a case in which an individual is used merely as a means. A homeowner, for example, hires a repair specialist specifically as a means for repairing his house. Kant turns the tables on this problem by showing that a contract is "the united choice of two persons" and thus treats both parties to the contract as ends. For example, he notes that the repair specialist who is contracted to work on a house has agreed to the exchange in order to obtain an end of his own, namely, money (27:1319). Each party to the contract is both means for the other and an end. In the third category, the right to a person akin to a thing, Kant argues that some contracts or rightful obligations such as the parent-child relation allow one party to the contract to control not only the choice of the other, but also to possess some power over the body of the other, such as the power to insist that the other remain in the household. His discussion of the legal relation of marriage treats marriage as reciprocal access to the other's sexual organs; here, despite his personal sexism, he describes this legal relation as equal.

6. Rebellion and Revolution

The very idea of a right to rebel against the government is incoherent, Kant argued, because the source of all right is the actually existing state. By this he did not mean that any actually existing state is always completely just, or that merely by virtue of having power, the state could determine what justice is. He meant that a rightful condition, the opposite of the state of nature, is possible only when there is some means for individuals to be governed by the "general legislative will" (6:320). Any state embodies the general legislative will better than no state. While such reasoning seems pragmatic, it is not. It is instead based upon the claims above that a rightful condition requires the centralizing of coercive power in a state as the only means to bring about reciprocal coercion and obligation. Kant also argues that a right to rebel would require that a people be authorized to resist the state. This kind of authorization for action, however, is an exercise of sovereign power, and to any people who claimed such a right would be claiming it (the people) rather than the state embodies sovereign power. It would thus "make the people, as subject, by one and the same judgment sovereign over him to whom it is subject" (6:320). This is a contradiction. The nature of sovereignty is such that sovereign power cannot be shared. Were it shared between the state and the people, then when a dispute arose between them, who would judge whether the state or the people are correct? There being no higher sovereign power to make such a judgment, all other means for resolving the dispute fall outside of rightful relations. This role of judgment relates to the judgment that Kant discusses with regard to the social contract. Under the idea of a social contract, the sovereign legislator may not make a law that the people could not make for itself because it possesses irrational, non-universal form. The state, not the people, is the judge of when a law is rational (8:297). People who argue for a right to revolution, Kant claims, misunderstand the nature of a social contract. They claim that the social contract must have been an actual historical occurrence from which the people could withdraw (8:301-02). But since the social contact is only an idea of reason which sets moral limits to the sovereign's legislative acts, and the sovereign's judgment alone determines how these limits are to be interpreted, there is no independent contractual agreement to which the people could refer in its complaints. Citizens are still allowed to voice their grievances through their use of public reason, but they can do nothing more than attempt to persuade the sovereign to alter his decision.

While the people cannot rebel against the state, Kant does not insist that citizens always obey the state. He allows at least for passive civil disobedience. This comes in two forms: in a republican representative system such as England's, there can be "a negative resistance, that is, a refusal of the people (in parliament) to accede to every demand the government puts forth as necessary for administering the state" (6:322). In the context of this discussion it is clear that Kant is referring to the use of the power of the legislature to refuse funding, and therefore approval, of actions of the executive. He clarifies that the legislature is not allowed to dictate any positive action to the executive, its legitimate resistance is only negative. A second form of acceptable resistance applies to individuals. Kant mentions that citizens are obligated to obey the sovereign "in whatever does not conflict with inner morality" (6:371). He does not elaborate on the term "inner morality".

Nor does Kant always reject the actions of revolutionaries. If a revolution is successful, citizens have as much obligation to obey the new they had to obey the old one (6:323). Since the new regime is in fact a state authority, it now possesses the right to rule. Further, in his theory of history, Kant argues that progress in the long run will come about in part through violent and unjust actions such as wars. Kant even takes it as a sign of progress that spectators of the French Revolution have greeted it with "a wishful participation that borders closely on enthusiasm" (7:85). Kant is not pointing to the revolution itself as a sign of progress but to the reaction of people such as himself to news of the revolution. The spectators endorse the revolution not because it is legitimate but because it is aimed at the creation of a civil constitution. Revolution, then, is wrong but still contributes to progress.

In fact, Kant did believe that the French Revolution was legitimate, and a look at his argument illuminates some of his complex terminology. The French king possessed sovereignty until he convened the Estates General as representative of the people, at which time sovereignty "passed to the people" even though the king had intended for the assembly to resolve specific problems and then return the reins of power to him (6:341-2). Further, the king could not have any power to restrain the actions of the assembly as a condition for it being given the sovereign power, for there can be no restrictions on this sovereign power. This understanding of sovereignty shows the difference between a rebellion against authority and an election. In an election, sovereignty is passed back to the people, so there is nothing wrong with the people replacing the entire government. Without an election (or similar method of designating the return of sovereignty to the people), any action aimed at replacing the government is wrong.

7. Punishment

Kant was long considered to be an exemplar of the retributivist theory of punishment. While he does claim that the only proper justification of punishment is guilt for a crime, he does not limit the usefulness of punishment to retributivist matters. Punishment can have as its justification only the guilt of the criminal. All other uses of punishment, such as rehabilitation (the alleged good of the criminal) or deterrence (alleged good to society) uses the criminal merely as a means (6:331). Once this guilt is determined, however, Kant does not deny that something useful can be drawn from the punishment. In Feyerabend lectures on Natural Right, Kant is clear that the sovereign "must punish in order to obtain security", and even while using the law of retribution, "in such a way the best security is obtained" (27:1390-91). The state is authorized to use its coercive force to defend freedom against limitations to freedom; more particularly, since right does not entail that each citizen must limit his own freedom but only that "freedom is limited" by conditions of right, it is right for another, i.e. the state, to actively limit citizens freedom in accord with right (6:231). The state is authorized to use force to defend property rights (6:256). Kant's view, then, is that punishment of a particular individual can serve deterrent functions even when it cannot be based on deterrence as its justification.

Retributivist theory holds not only that criminal guilt is required for punishment, but that the appropriate type and amount of punishment is also determined by the crime itself. Traditionally this is the heart of the ancient injunction "an eye for an eye". Kant supports this measurement for punishment because all other measurements bring into consideration elements besides strict justice (6:332), such as the psychological states of others that would measure the effectiveness of various possible punishments on deterrence. As a principle, retribution grounds but does not specify the exact punishment. Kant recognizes that "like for like" is not always possible to the letter, but believes that justice requires that it be used as the principle for specific judgments of punishment.

The retributivist theory of punishment leads to Kant's insistence on capital punishment. He argues that the only punishment possibly equivalent to death, the amount of inflicted harm, is death. Death is qualitatively different from any kind of life, so no substitute could be found that would equal death. Kant rejects the argument against capital punishment offered earlier in his century by the Italian reformer, the Marchese Cesare Beccaria, who argued that in a social contract no one would willingly give to the state power of his own life, for the preservation of that life is the fundamental reason one enters a social contract at all. Kant objects to Beccaria's claim by distinguishing between the source of a social contract in "pure reason in me" as opposed to the source of the crime, myself as capable of criminal acts. The latter person wills the crime but not the punishments, but the former person wills in the abstract that anyone who is convicted of a capital crime will be punished by death. Hence one and the same individual both commits the crime and endorses the punishment of death. This solution mirrors the claim that individuals can be coerced to join a civil condition: reason dictates that entering the civil condition is mandatory even if one's particular arbitrary choice might be to remain outside it (see section 3).

8. International Relations and History

Kant complains that the German word used to describe international right, "Völkerrecht", is misleading, for it means literally the right of nations or peoples. He distinguishes this kind of relation among groups of individuals, which he discusses as Cosmopolitan Right and will be covered in Section 9, from the relations among the political entities, which would better be called "Staatenrecht", the right of states. (Kant still uses the phrase "right of nations" and also discusses a "league of nations", although it is clear that he is referring not to nations as peoples but to states as organizations; this article will strictly adhere to the term "state" even when Kant did not.)

States must be considered to be in a state of nature relative to one another. Like individuals in the state of nature, then, they must be considered to be in a state of war with each other. Like individuals, the states are obligated to leave this state of nature to form a union under a social contract, in this case, a league of states. Before the creation of such a league of states, states do have a right to go to war against other states if another state threatens it or actively aggresses against it (6:346). But any declaration of war ought to be confirmed by the people "as colegislating members of a state" (6:345). Rulers who wage war without such consent are using their subjects as property, as mere means, rather than treating them as ends in themselves. This claim is one of Kant's strongest statements that actual voting by citizens is required: citizens "must therefore give their free assent, through their representatives, not only to waging war in general but also to each particular declaration of war" (6:345-46). Once war has been declared, states are obligated to conduct the war under principles that leave open the possibility of an eventual league of states. Actions that undermine future trust between states, such as the use of assassination, are prohibited.

States are obligated to leave this state of nature among states and enter into a congress, or league, of states. In his 1797 Metaphysics of Morals, Kant argues that this organization must be a voluntary coalition among states rather than a federation, or state of states, which would be indissoluble. Hence Kant holds that the league among nations is only analogous, not equivalent, to a state created by citizens, since each particular civil state is indisolluble. But in his essay "Toward Perpetual Peace" two years earlier, Kant had advocated a state of nations as the best possible relation among states (8:357). This state of nations would entail states subjecting themselves to public coercive laws. Kant recognizes that states will balk at such a surrender of their sovereign power, so accepts that the second best option, a league of states in which each state retains the right to leave, must be adopted. In a league of states, wars are replaced with negotiated settlements of differences.

In the essay "Toward Perpetual Peace", Kant offers a set of six "preliminary articles" which aim to reduce the likelihood of war, but cannot by themselves establish permanent peace (8:343-47). These are a ban on making temporary peace treaties while still planning for future wars, the prohibition of annexation of one state by another, the abolition of standing armies, the refusal to take on national debts for external affairs, a ban on interference by one state in the internal affairs of another, and a set of limits on the conduct of war that disallows acts that would breed mistrust and make peace impossible. These six articles are negative laws that prohibit states from engaging in certain kinds of conduct. They are not sufficient by themselves to prevent states from lapsing back into their old habits of warring on one another. To institute an international order that can genuinely bring about perpetual peace, Kant offers three "definitive articles". The first of these is that every state shall have a republican civil constitution (8:348, discussed in section 4 above). In a republican constitution, the people who decide whether there will be a war are the same people who would pay the price for the war, both in monetary terms (taxes and other financial burdens) and in flesh and blood. Republican states will therefore be very hesitant to go to war and will readily accept negotiations rather than resort to war. This consideration is Kant's most important contribution to the debate about securing peace. He believes that when states are ruled in accordance with the wishes of the people, their self-interest will provide a consistent basis for pacific relations among states. The second definitive article is that each state shall participate in a a federalism of states (8:354, discussed in the previous paragraph). The third definitive article advocates a cosmopolitan right of universal hospitality (8:357, discussed in section 9 below).

Kant's view of historical progress is tied to his view of international relations. He actually presents several versions of his argument for the progress of humanity toward the ideal condition in which states, each governed by a republican civil constitution and thus each providing maximal consistent freedom for its citizens, all cooperate in a league of states. In his essay "Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View" (8:15-31), he takes the basis of his claims for historical progress to be the culmination of the human ability to reason, which, as a natural property of human beings, must be worked out to perfection in the species. He argues that incessant wars will eventually lead rulers to recognize the benefits of peaceful negotiation. They will gradually increase the freedoms of their citizens, because freer citizens are economically more productive and hence make the state stronger in its international dealings. Importantly he claims that the creation of civil constitutions in particular states is dependent upon the creation of an international league of states, although he does not elaborate on this reasoning. In "Toward Perpetual Peace" Kant reverses that order, claiming that some particular state may, through "good fortune", become a republic and then act as a focal point for other states to join in peaceful relations, and that gradually such cooperation can spread to all states (8:356).

9. Cosmopolitan Right

Relations among the states of the world, covered above, are not the same as relations among the peoples (nations, Volk) of the world. Individuals can relate to states of which they are not members and to other individuals who are members of other states. In this they are considered "citizens of a universal state of human beings" with corresponding "rights of citizens of the world" (8:349, footnote). Despite these lofty sounding pronouncements, Kant's particular discussion of cosmopolitan right is restricted to the right of hospitality. Since all peoples share a limited amount of living space due to the spherical shape of the earth, the totality of which they must be understood to have originally shared in common, they must be understood to have a right to possible interaction with one another. This cosmopolitan right is limited to a right to offer to engage in commerce, not a right to demand actual commerce. A citizen of one state may try to establish links with other peoples; no state is allowed to deny foreign citizens a right to travel in its land. Settlement is another matter entirely. Kant is strongly critical of the European colonization of other lands already inhabited by other peoples. Settlement in these cases is allowed only by uncoerced informed contract. Even land that appears empty might be used by shepherds or hunters and cannot be appropriated without their consent (6:354).

Cosmopolitan right is an important component of perpetual peace. Interaction among the peoples of the world, Kant notes, has increased in recent times. Now "a violation of right on one place of the earth is felt in all" as peoples depend upon one another and know about one another more and more. Violations of cosmopolitan right would make more difficult the trust and cooperation necessary for perpetual peace among states.

10. Social Philosophy

"Social philosophy," can be taken to mean the relationship of persons to institutions, and to each other via these institutions, that are not part of the state. Family is a clear example of a social institution that transcends the individual but has at least some elements that are not controlled by the state. Other examples would be economic institutions such as businesses and markets, religious institutions, social clubs and private associations created to advance interests or for mere enjoyment, education and university institutions, social systems and classifications such as race and gender, and endemic social problems like poverty. It is worth noting a few particulars, if only as examples of the range of this topic. Kant advocated the duty of citizens to support those in society who could not support themselves, and even gave the state the power to arrange for this help (6:326). He offered a biological explanation of race in several essays and also, certainly into his "Critical" period, held that other races were inferior to Europeans. He supported a reform movement in education based on the principles presented by Rousseau in "Emile". I will not provide detailed treatement of Kant's views on these particular matters (some of which are scant, others of which are irrelevant to his main philosophy) but only focus on the nature of social philosophy for Kant.

Kant had no comprehensive social philosophy. One might be tempted to claim that, in line with natural law theorists, Kant discusses natural rights related to some social institutions. One might read the first half of the "Doctrine of Right" as a social philosophy, since this half on "Private Right" discusses the rights of individuals relative to one another, in contrast to the second half on "Public Right" that discusses the rights of individuals relative to the state. Kant even offers an explanation of this difference by claiming that the opposite of state of nature is not a social but the civil condition, that is, a state (6:306). The state of nature can include voluntary societies (Kant mentions domestic relations in general) where there is no a priori obligation for individuals to enter them. This claim of Kant's, however, is subject to some doubt, since he explicitly links all forms of property to the obligation to enter the civil condition (see section 5 above), and his discussion of marriage and family comes in the form of property relations akin to contract relations. It is thus not obvious how there can be any social institutions that can exist outside the civil condition, to the extent that social institutions presuppose property relations.

Another approach to the issue of social philosophy in Kant is to view it in terms of moral philosophy properly speaking, that is, the obligations human beings have to act under the proper maxims, as discussed in the "Doctrine of Virtue" (see section 1 above). In the "Doctrine of Virtue" Kant talks about the obligation to develop friendships and to participate in social intercourse (6:469-74). In the Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason Kant discusses the development of an "ethical commonwealth" in which human beings strengthen one another's moral resolve through their participation in the moral community of a church. He also holds that educational institutions, the subject of his book On Pedagogy, should be designed to provide for the development of morality in human beings, who lack a natural disposition for the moral good. In these cases Kant's social philosophy is treated as an arm of his theory of virtue, not as a freestanding topic in its own right.

A third approach to social philosophy comes through Kant's Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View. Kant had envisioned anthropology as an empirical application of ethics, akin to empirical psychology as a application of pure metaphysical principles of nature. Knowledge of the general characteristics of human being as well as particular characteristics of genders, races, nationalities, etc, can aid in determining one's precise duties toward particular individuals. Further, this knowledge can aid moral agents in their own task of motivating themselves to morality. These promises of anthropology in its practical application are disappointed, however, in the details of Kant's text. He does little critical assessment of social prejudices or practices to screen out stereotypes detrimental to moral development. His own personal views, considered sexist and racist universally today and even out of step with some of his more progressive colleagues, pervade his direct discussions of these social institutions.


Primary Sources

Kant's original German and Latin writings are collected in Kants gesammelte Schriften, Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1900-. Most translations provide the pagination to this edition in the margins, often using volume and page number. All citations in this article use this method.

English translations of Kant's primary works are numerous. Recently an exhaustive series, The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant in English, has been in the process of publishing critical translations of all of Kant's published works and large selections of his correspondence, lectures, and literary remains. The following volumes of that series contain relevant material, some of which is also issued separately:

·          Practical Philosophy, translated by Mary Gregor, 1996. Relevant contents: "An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?," Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, "On the Common Saying: That May Be Correct in Theory, But it is of No Use in Practice," "Toward Perpetual Peace", and the Metaphysics of Morals.

·          Religion and Rational Theology, translated Allen Wood and George di Giovanni, 1996. Relevant Content: Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, "Conflict of the Faculties"

·          Anthropology, History, and Education, translated by Robert Louden and Guenther Zoeller (forthcoming 2007). Relevant contents: "Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Aim," Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, and "Lectures on Pedagogy"

·          Lectures and Drafts on Political Philosophy, translated Frederick Rauscher and Kenneth Westphal (in preparation). Relevant contents: "Naturrecht Feyerabend" course lecture, fragments on political philosophy, and drafts of works in political philosophy.

Secondary Sources

·          Arendt, Hannah, 1982. Lectures on Kant's Political Philosophy. Chicago: Chicago UP.

·          Bialas, Volker und Hans-Juergen Haessler (eds.), 1996. 200 Jahre Kants Entwurf ‘Zum ewigen Frieden’. Wuerzburg, Koenigshausen & Neumann.

·          Beiner, Ronald and William James Booth (eds.), 1993. Kant and Political Philosophy: The Contemporary Legacy.