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Article

To understand the global and regional dimensions of the contemporary international society, one must become familiar with the English School literature related to the historical expansion of the European society of states and its gradual transformation to the global international society of today. There is a distinction between an international system and an international society. English School scholars have accepted that this distinction is valid, but the boundary line between the two concepts is problematic. According to the English School literature, before and during the establishment of the European society of states, the world was divided into many regional international systems/societies—each with its own distinctive rules and institutions reflecting the dominant regional culture. The global international society of the early twentieth century was the result of the expansion of the European international society, which gradually brought other regional international systems/societies into contact with one another. However, World War I led to the destruction of the European society of states. Moreover, the emergence of a bipolar world in conjunction with the imperial Soviet policies during the Cold War led to the division of the global international system into two separate international societies. Nevertheless, with the end of the Cold War, a united global international society emerged. Within the confines of the global gesellschaft international society, one can find several gemeinschaft types of regional international societies—some of which are more developed than others.

Article

The central feature of the English School is now usually considered to be its commitment to the proposition that international relations (IR) take place within an international society of shared norms and some shared values. However, an exclusive focus on norms has the effect of denuding the school of the more pluralistic dimensions that were advocated by some of the founding members of the British Committee on the Theory of International Politics. Hedley Bull, in particular, stressed that to account for international order it is necessary to view IR from three divergent perspectives: the international system, the international society, and world society. The early British Committee discussions, directed toward delineating the “fundamentals” of international theory, used the terms international society, international system, and states system interchangeably. But the idea of a states system was distinctive to the emerging English School. A distinguishing marker of the English School is the claim that not only is there a need to accommodate societal norms in theoretical accounts of world politics, but that there is also a systemic logic, and that these analytics together have explanatory power in considering how the world hangs together. The essential elements of the school’s thinking were most fully and effectively realized in The Expansion of the International Society, the central work where the international system–international society distinction is employed. This grand narrative represents a crucial contribution to the field of IR but one that has been very generally underappreciated across the discipline. To generate a deeper understanding of the two concepts, it is clear that much more research needs to be carried out on international societies and systems around the world.

Article

The English School, or society of states approach, is a threefold method for understanding how the world operates. According to English School logic, there are three distinct spheres at play in international politics, and two of these are international society and world society—the third being international system. On the one hand, international society (Hugo Grotius) is about the institutionalization of shared interest and identity amongst states, and rationalism puts the creation and maintenance of shared norms, rules, and institutions at the centre of international relations (IR) theory. This position has some parallels to regime theory, but is much deeper, having constitutive rather than merely instrumental implications. On the other hand, world society (Immanuel Kant) takes individuals, non-state organizations, and the global population as a whole as the focus of global societal identities and arrangements, and revolutionism puts transcendence of the state system at the centre of IR theory. Revolutionism is mostly about forms of universalist cosmopolitanism. This position has some parallels to transnationalism but carries a much more foundational link to normative political theory. International society has been the main focus of English School thinking, and the concept is quite well developed and relatively clear, whereas world society is the least well developed of the English School concepts and has not yet been clearly or systematically articulated.

Article

The British Committee on the Theory of International Politics is generally considered the original core of the “English School.” Equally often, scholars have identified as one of its characteristic elements the importance it attributed to “international society” as a force aimed at enlivening and regulating, as far as possible, power relations between states. The attention it paid to international society is also seen as consistent with the importance the authors of the British Committee attributed to “history” and in particular to the “history of international society” as a means to understand and reconstruct international life in the past and the present. However, the internal history of the British Committee is all too often neglected. Studies concerned with the orientations of the English School have mainly sought to analyze the thinking of this or that author without considering the work of the British Committee as a whole. In other words, scholars have tended to pay little attention to the moment when the British Committee began to examine “international society” and the manner in which it did so. In particular, the achievement of the British Committee discussions during 1961–1962 was important, and it was the beginning of a development of great interest. The various texts, the debates, do not limit themselves to a sort of rich and varied list of the component parts of an “international society.” Instead, they paint an overall picture, and they guarantee an interconnection between the reflections of the individuals and the overall orientation of the Committee. Moreover, they are the critical point of departure for the future development of theory.

Article

Katarzyna Kaczmarska

The essay discusses the origins and development of the idea of international society in the discipline of International Relations (IR). It locates the concept in the English School tradition, providing a summary of the classic statements as found in the writings of Wight, Bull and Manning. It engages with more recent writing, including Buzan’s reconceptualization of international society and explaining the pluralist-solidarist distinction. The essay traces key debates surrounding the concept, such as the expansion of international society, humanitarian intervention and the standard of civilisation. The final part presents the main criticisms of the concept and explores the ontological status of international society.

Article

The English School conceived “international theory” as a way to approach the political philosophy and political speculation by examining historical traditions of international relations. The starting point for this line of inquiry was to organize the wide range of material contained in the history of ideas about international politics into a much simpler, and thus more intelligible, scheme, in the event comprising three traditions. Martin Wight called them realism, rationalism, and revolutionism, but they are also known as Hobbesianism (or Machiavellianism), Grotianism, and Kantianism. The fundamental difference between the three traditions is that each represents an idea of what international society is, from which they derive various propositions about more specific topics such as how to deal with peoples from different cultures, how to conduct diplomacy and wage war, or what obligations under international law are. For realists, international society is the state of nature, and since they see the state of nature as a state of war, the answer to the question “What is international society?” is “nothing.” Rationalists agree that international society is the state of nature, but for them it is a state of “goodwill, mutual assistance and preservation,” and so “international society is a true society, but institutionally deficient; lacking a common superior or judiciary.” Revolutionists, by contrast, reject the analogy with the state of nature. Instead, they have an immanent conception of international society, in the sense that they look beyond the apparent or present reality of a society of sovereign states and see behind it a true international society in the form of a community of mankind. Ultimately, these three traditions has exercised a profound influence on the ways in which international relations scholars think about the history of ideas.

Article

Barry Buzan and Richard Little

For most English School writers, the international society is an element that is always present in international relations, but whose depth, character, and influence all fluctuate with historical contingency. The historical wing of the English School focuses on how the contemporary global international society came about as a result of the expansion to planetary scale of what was originally a novel type of international society that emerged in early modern Europe. This is partly a story of power and imposition, and partly one of the successful spread and internalization beyond the West of Western ideas such as sovereignty and nationalism. It is also a story about what happens when international society expands beyond the cultural heartland which gave birth to it. The classical story has been critiqued for being too Eurocentric and underplaying the fact that European international society did not emerge fully formed in Europe and then spread from there to the rest of the world. Rather, it developed as it did substantially because it was already spreading as it emerged, and was thus in its own way as much shaped by the encounter as was the non-European world. A related line of critique points out the conspicuous and Eurocentric failure of the classical story to feature the fact that colonialism was a core institution of European international society.

Article

Andrew Hurrell

Order and justice are deeply intertwined in English School writing. The central concern of the English School is with the problem of order and with the question: To what extent does the inherited political framework provided by the international society of states continue to provide an adequate basis for world order? This kind of question links closely with the debates on international institutions and global governance that have been so prominent since the end of the Cold War. But the English School focus is less on theoretical understanding of particular institutions and more on assessing the overall character of institutionalization in world politics, the normative commitments inherent in different ways of governing the globe, and the adequacy of historical and existing interstate institutions for meeting practical and normative challenges. There are four specific themes that are central to the pluralist wing of English School writing on order and justice. The first theme concerns power and the conditions of order, while the second concerns diversity and value conflict. Meanwhile, a third theme emerges from the idea that moral values should, so far as possible, be kept out of international life and of particular international institutions. Finally, the fourth theme concerns the argument that international society has the potential not just to help manage international conduct in a restrained way but also to create the conditions for a more legitimate and morally more ambitious political community to emerge. As power diffuses away from the Western, liberal developed core, and as the intractability of the international system to liberal prescriptions becomes more evident, so one can detect new changes in the way in which global justice is understood.

Article

The argument can be made, and has in fact been made, that the English School is primarily concerned with the study of institutions. The institutions of international society are social in a fundamental sense. That is, they are something above and beyond what one usually associates with an international institution. There are three dominant perspectives on what the primary institutions of international society are: functional, historical/descriptive, and typological. Hedley Bull was the major proponent of the functional perspective, and he identified five primary institutions of international society: the balance of power, international law, diplomacy, war, and the great powers. However, the historical/descriptive perspective appears to be the prevailing one. Nevertheless, various authors have started to think about the institutions of international society typologically. This has certain implications for how one views the cognitive objectives of the English School. The adherence to functional, historical/descriptive, or typological perspectives involves a positioning in relation to where international relations (IR), as a discipline, and the English School, as an approach to it, should locate itself in wider academia.

Article

The English School of international relations theory has its own particular account of the history of international relations, a key aspect of which is the expansion of a set of norms, practices and institutions—diplomacy, embassies, international law, sovereignty, the modern state—out of their formative cultural heartland of Europe and to the rest of the world over the past few centuries. This is the story of “European international society” spreading out to become a “global international society,” accelerating especially during the 19th century via cultural imperialism and colonial conquest. The writings of the English School on this Expansion Narrative have evolved since the 1960s, going through phases of development that have concretized the details of the Narrative’s history, elaborated on the processes behind the spread, and attempted to inject more scientific rigor into analysis. Over time a more profound challenge has also emerged, in a revisionist shift from a monocentric story of Europe training the rest of the world in the proper ways of domestic and international life, toward a polycentric, globalization model, in which different civilizations have learned from each other to create a synthetic, multicultural international society by the 21st century. These analytic tensions are a source of creativity and innovation for the English School and set it apart from other approaches to international relations.

Article

Indigenous rights have been gaining traction in international law since World War II, as the indigenous peoples, previously classified under the scope of domestic law, have propelled their cause into the global arena. Indigenous societies are vastly heterogeneous, but they possess some common features, such as lack of statehood, economic and political marginalization, and cultural and racial discrimination. Scholars generally agree that one of the most important goals of the international indigenous movement is to advance indigenous rights under international law. Hence, there have since been several international institutions that seek to address indigenous rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948 is the first international document that recognizes the need to protect indigenous groups, though there are also actors and organizations specializing in the field, such as the Working Group on Indigenous Populations (WGIP). However, the majority of the indigenous rights scholarship only examines the policy on indigenous rights, rather than the broader contexts of indigenous rights or the rise of indigenous rights as a phenomenon. Therefore, if the ultimate political goal of the indigenous rights scholarship is to better the conditions of indigenous peoples, the study of the efficacy of international legal prescription of indigenous rights is imperative. Otherwise, the considerable efforts put forth by both the academic community and the international indigenous movement could only remain symbolic.

Article

In his 1966 essay, “The Grotian Conception of International Society,” Hedley Bull distinguishes between two conceptions of international society: pluralism and solidarism. The central assumption of solidarism is “the solidarity, or potential solidarity, of the states comprising international society, with respect to the enforcement of the law.” In contrast, pluralism claims that “states do not exhibit solidarity of this kind, but are capable of agreeing only for certain minimum purposes which fall short of that of the enforcement of the law.” Bull’s formulation of pluralism and solidarism, and the way he set the two concepts against one another, exerted a profound influence on subsequent English School scholarship and sparked the pluralist–solidarist debate. This debate revolves around theorizing different kinds of order, in particular international and world order. The English School used the language of “pluralism” and “solidarism” to address the legitimacy of humanitarian intervention. After the issue of humanitarian intervention was pushed down the list of scholarly priorities, pluralism and solidarism sparked renewed interest from scholars such as Barry Buzan, Andrew Linklater and Hidemi Suganami, William Bain, and Andrew Hurrell. Despite the debates triggered by the pluralist–solidarist debate, the vocabulary of pluralism and solidarism is a promising means of tackling questions and issues that are undertheorized or largely neglected in English School theory, including those relating to the place of sub- and supranational entities in international society, the meaning and scope of world order, and the significance of international political economy in theorizing different kinds of order.

Article

Roberto Domínguez and Rafael Velázquez Flores

The goal of this article is to provide an overview of the literature on global governance, key elements for understanding its conceptualization, and a gateway to capture its multidimensionality. From this perspective, global governance is conceived as a framework of analysis or intellectual device to study the complexity of global processes involving multiple actors that interact at different levels of interest aggregation. The article is divided into four parts. The first section describes the origins, definitions, and characteristics of global governance. The second categorizes global governance based on different thematic areas where there is a confluence of governance practices, on the one hand, and the inclusion of a global level of interaction, on the other. The third discusses the different conceptual inquiries and innovations that have been developed around the term. Finally, the last part maps the different academic institutions that have focused their research on global governance and offer programs on this subject.

Article

Coming from an empirical historical tradition, English School theory has a strong inductive core, represented in its historical narratives, and a positive approach to international law. But its core text is strongly deductive: Hedley Bull derived the basic precept of international society from a set of logical premises to which he attached a truth value. Its methodologies have varied accordingly, between agent-centered and structure-centered approaches, and it has deployed a variety of methods in respect to each, including anthropological interpretivism with regard to agents and historical and sociological institutionalism with regard to structures. Its focus on the state and institutions means that it shares method with regime theorists, and its focus on Great Powers and great power responsibility means that it shares some methods with regard to classical realism.

Article

The concept of anarchy is seen as the cardinal organizing category of the discipline of International Relations (IR), which differentiates it from cognate disciplines such as Political Science and Political Philosophy. It is important to distinguish between concepts of anarchy and theories where anarchy operates as a central premise. The concept of anarchy can mean (a) a lack of a common superior in an interaction domain; (b) chaos or disorder; or (c) a horizontal relation between nominally equal entities sovereign states. The first and the third senses of “anarchy” are central to IR as a field, and figure as premises within three broad families of IR theory: (a) realism and neorealism, (b) English School theory (international society approach), and (c) Kant’s republican peace. Despite normative and conceptual differences otherwise, all three bodies of theory are ultimately based on Hobbes’s argument for a “state of nature,” and on an understanding that the key actors in international relations are sovereign states. The major challengers to the discourse of international anarchy are theories of international politics that rely on the methodology of economics as well as cognate approaches that prioritize the “global” over the “international” such as theories of globalization, global hierarchy, and global governance.

Article

The “English School” of International Relations is a historically formed community with somewhat uncertain—even disputed—beginnings. The awareness that there was such a network of scholars grew in the late 1970s against a background of an impressive succession of publications in the UK in the 60s and 70s. As with any historically formed community, the English School gradually transformed itself from a grouping of scholars with intellectual similarities and close personal ties toward a succession of scholars who see themselves as taking part in the historical evolution, or continuing story, of the English School. The key event that contributed significantly to its transformation was the call to “reconvene the English School,” resulting in a “new English School” loosely organized by overlapping networks and activities based in British International Studies Association (BISA) and the International Studies Association (ISA), among others. The writings of the English School, or scholars commonly associated with that label, embody one or more of the following three concerns in their respective investigations into world politics: “structural,” “functional,” and “historical.” Hence, the key interests of the English school are the formal structure and functional studies of the society of sovereign states, as well as the historical transformations of past and present international societies.

Article

The “fundamental” or “primary” institutions of international society, among them sovereignty, diplomacy, international law, great power management, the balance of power, trade, and environmental stewardship, have been eagerly discussed and researched in the discipline of international relations (IR), at the theoretical, meta-theoretical, and empirical levels. Generations of scholars associated with not only the English School, but also liberalism and constructivism, have engaged with the “institutions of international society,” as they were originally called by Martin Wight and Hedley Bull in their attempt to develop a historically and sociologically informed theory of international relations. The fact that intense historical, theoretical, and empirical investigations have uncovered new institutional layers, dynamics, and complexities, and thus opened new challenging questions rather than settling the matter is part of its attraction. In the 1960s and 1970s, the early exponents of the English School theorized fundamental institutions as historical pillars of contemporary international society and its element of order. At the turn of the 21st century, this work was picked up by Kal Holsti and Barry Buzan, who initiated a renaissance of English School institutionalism, which specified the institutional levels of international society and discussed possibilities for institutional change. Meanwhile, liberal and constructivist scholars made important contributions on fundamental institutions in key engagements with English School theory on the subject in the late 1980s. These contributions and engagements have informed the most recent wave of (interdisciplinary) scholarship on the subject, which has theorized the room for fundamental institutional change and the role of international organizations in relation to the fundamental institutions of international society.

Article

International relations (IR) scholars have increasingly integrated Hannah Arendt into their works. Her fierce critique of the conventional ideas of politics driven by rulership, enforcement, and violence has a particular resonance for theorists seeking to critically revisit the basic assumptions of IR scholarship. Arendt’s thinking, however, contains complexity and nuance that need careful treatment when extended beyond domestic politics. In particular, Arendt’s vision of free politics—characterized by the dualistic emphasis on agonistic action and institutional stability—raises two crucial issues that need further elaboration for IR research that appropriates her thinking. One involves the orientation of her international thoughts. Although Arendt showed “idealistic” aspirations for authentic politics practiced by diverse equals in an institutionally articulated space of freedom, she never lost interest in the extant situation of “non-idealistic” politics. Engaging with Arendt’s theory orientation requires a careful analysis of difficult topics, such as her distinctive conception of the political and her critiques of the nation-state and international law. The other topic that needs clarification when Arendt’s thoughts are applied to IR involves specific ways of associating different sites of power. A close examination of Arendt’s council-based federalism reveals her distinctive idea of international politics, based on her acute awareness of the fundamental complexity that lies in power association and state agency. Bringing IR topics like state agency into conversation with her works generates illuminating questions for Arendt scholarship. Likewise, the ongoing debate on agonistic and institutional features of Arendt’s thoughts can provide crucial insights into critical studies of international politics.

Article

Considerations of the English School and of its central concept—international society—have all too often neglected the most logical starting point: the internal history of the British Committee. The British Committee on the Theory of International Politics was a group of scholars created in 1959 under the chairmanship of the Cambridge historian Herbert Butterfield that met periodically in Cambridge, Oxford, London, and Brighton to discuss the principal problems and a range of aspects of the theory and history of international relations. The British Committee stands out as a remarkable and unusual intellectual project. A product of its place and time and of a particular academic culture, it did not pretend to represent the full range of British thinking. Its membership intentionally omitted such major figures as E.H. Carr and C.A.W. Manning. Whatever direct influence it had on contemporary British scholarship in international relations can be attributed partly to bonds of friendship, across generations, and to the performances of individual members in the lecture hall. Though the Committee incubated a good deal of its members’ work, sometimes published posthumously, its collaborative output was never prolific. Only two collective works can be attributed to it: Diplomatic Investigations (1966) and The Expansion of International Society (1984). However, the Committee developed a thorough study of international society and the nature of world politics, which has had an important impact that continues in the present day.

Article

Wesley B. O'Dell

The notion that Great Powers fulfill a leadership role in international politics is old, influential, and contested. As the actors in the international system with the greatest capacity for taking action, Great Powers are assumed to think both further ahead and in broader, more systemic terms than other states; they then use their preeminent positions to organize others to promote public goods, reaping benefits along the way thanks to their direction of events. At the core of this understanding is the assumption that Great Power actions are, or ought to be, inspired by something more than simple self-interest and the pursuit of short-term gains. As an organic creation of international practice, Great Power leadership was traditionally the domain of historians and international legists; early students of the topic utilized inductive reasoning to derive general precepts of Great Power sociology from the landmark settlements of the 18th and 19th centuries. The framing of Great Powers as a leadership caste originated in the struggle against Louis XIV, was given tentative institutional form through settlements such as the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), and deepened considerably in both institutionalization and sophistication in the 19th century Concert of Europe. The return of France to full Great Power status, the Congress (1878) and Conference (1884) of Berlin, and the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion (1899–1901) all demonstrated the willingness and ability of the Powers to cooperate in the management of international change. In the early 20th century, the leadership of the Great Powers was both challenged as an unjust agent of catastrophe as well as increasingly formalized through recognition in new international institutions such as the League of Nations and the United Nations. Theorists of international relations began to formulate theories based on Great Power management at the time of the discipline’s beginnings in the early 20th century. Realists and liberals frequently utilize Great Power concepts to explain processes of equilibrium, hegemonic competition, and institution building, while approaches influenced by constructivism focus on the role of ideas, statuses, and roles in the formulation of Great Power identities and policies. The doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is a 21st-century manifestation of the application of Great Power leadership to international problems; though hailed by some as the future of Great Power management, it provokes controversy among both theorists and practitioners. Similarly, extensive scholarly attention has been devoted to the management and accommodation of “rising powers.” These are states that appear likely to obtain the status of Great Power, and there is extensive debate over their orientation toward and potential management of international order. Finally, the position of Russia and China within this literature has provoked deep reflection on the nature of Great Power, the responsibilities of rising and established powers, and the place of Great Power management amidst the globalized challenges of the 21st century.