Much of the literature on international democratic diffusion appeals to mechanisms—competition, learning, emulation or socialization, and coercion—that typically are treated as competing and theoretically separate. All four, however, fit within a coevolutionary framework, that is, one integrating the concepts of variety, retention, and selection of traits (in this case, regime type). Competition, learning, and emulation are not mutually exclusive and all find support in the large literature on cultural and social evolution. Coercion may seem anti-evolutionary, inasmuch as it implies design and implementation by a powerful rational actor (state, international institution, etc.), but co-evolution can accommodate coercion as well. In co-evolution, agent and environment evolve together: an agent shapes its environment (engages in niche construction), and that reshaped environment alters the fitness of the agents’ traits. A powerful democracy can alter its social and material environment so as to increase the fitness of its own regime. Co-evolution can provide a framework to integrate mechanisms by which democracy and other regime types spread and contract across time and space, and hence can aid empirical research on the effects of global power shifts, including the rise of China, on the fate of democracy in various regions around the world.
Richard Ned Lebow
Evolution, as a biological process and a metaphor, has utility in our understanding of international relations. The former is largely inapplicable for obvious, conceptual, and empirical reasons; but the latter is more promising, though those who use it must be explicit about its limitations. There must be considerations on how evolution contrasts with conscious adaption and imitation, on the argument for the need to distinguish among them analytically and empirically, and on the further exploration of the different conditions in which these other two mechanisms might be relevant.
Friedrich Kratochwil and Hannes Peltonen
Constructivism in the social sciences has known several ups and downs over the last decades. It was successful rather early in sociology but hotly contested in International Politics/Relations (IR). Oddly enough, just at the moment it made important inroads into the research agenda and became accepted by the mainstream, enthusiasm for it waned. Many constructivists—as did mainstream scholars—moved from “grand theory” or even “meta-theory” toward “normal science,” or experimented with other (eclectic) approaches, of which the turns to practices, to emotions, to new materialism, to the visual, and to the queer are some of the latest manifestations. In a way, constructivism was “successful,” on the one hand, by introducing norms, norm-dynamics, and diffusion; the role of new actors in world politics; and the changing role of institutions into the debates, while losing, on the other hand, much of its critical potential. The latter survived only on the fringes—and in Europe more than in the United States. In IR, curiously, constructivism, which was rooted in various European traditions (philosophy, history, linguistics, social analysis), was originally introduced in Europe via the disciplinary discussions taking place in the United States. Yet, especially in its critical version, it has found a more conducive environment in Europe than in the United States. In the United States, soon after its emergence, constructivism became “mainstreamed” by having its analysis of norms reduced to “variable research.” In such research, positive examples of, for instance, the spread of norms were included, but strangely empirical evidence of counterexamples of norm “deaths” (preventive strikes, unlawful combatants, drone strikes, extrajudicial killings) were not. The elective affinity of constructivism and humanitarianism seemed to have transformed the former into the Enlightenment project of “progress.” Even Kant was finally pressed into the service of “liberalism” in the US discussion, and his notion of the “practical interest of reason” morphed into the political project of an “end of history.” This “slant” has prevented a serious conceptual engagement with the “history” of law and (inter-)national politics and the epistemological problems that are raised thereby. This bowdlerization of constructivism is further buttressed by the fact that in the “knowledge industry” none of the “leading” US departments has a constructivist on board, ensuring thereby the narrowness of conceptual and methodological choices to which the future “professionals” are exposed. The aim here, in exploring constructivism and its emergence within a changing world and within the evolution of the discipline, is not to provide a definition or a typology of constructivism, since such efforts go against the critical dimension of constructivism. An application of this critique on constructivism itself leads to a reflection on truth, knowledge, and the need for (re-)orientation.