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International Relations, Historical Sociology and the Eurocentrism Debate

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Critical Theory: International Relations' Engagement With the Frankfurt School and Marxism

International Relations. For a substantive theoretical argument must remain permanently open to the threat of empirical refutation - otherwise it must give up its claim to be engaging witll historical realities. Similarly, we cannot relax the ban on internal contradiction without giving up the fundamental goal of any social theory: systematic knowledge of the social world. None the less, it is sometimes striking how little the ability to satisfy these two criteria tells us about the adequacy of a social theory. It would not be implausible to discuss the work of Max Weber in such terms.

S1 Language and the communication of meanings have on occasion provided yet another starting point. In the terminology of the foregoing discussion, these positions could almost be understood as contradictory assertions about the 'ontological embeddedness' of the particular structure of social relations which each prioritizes. So how do we choose between these premisses and the explanatory frameworks they imply?

Realism & Liberalism

How, in other words, do we assess the relative merits of two or more substantive social theories making competing claims about social reality? The bill of exchange which could be issued and redeemed in different currencies was the expression of this facility through which 'to a large extent [they dominated European trade'Y There was, fourth, an additional call on the liquidity available through these means: Italian merchants especially Florentine handled the financial transfers involved in the continent-wide activity of the Church, and they lent at interest on a large scale to monarchs - usually in connection with the latter's military purposes.

Download PDF sample. Anthony Appiah has argued that an attempt to apply the principle universally reveals flawed assumptions. Despite the laudable intention, if universalized, the principle would do grave injustice to the individual by stripping them of authentic moral choice, and therefore, of the possibility of moral action. This is true self-abdegnation. Coerced sympathy is, at best, an equivocation, likely worse insofar as it disregards the still-valuable liberal division of public and private.

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Taking these two points together, the morality of states might be understood as the international analogue of twentieth-century liberalism. It joins a belief in the liberty of individual agents with an indifference to the distributive outcomes of their economic interaction. Procedural democracy theoretically militates against domestic inequality by giving the poorer majority a voice.

This can be deemed progressive only insofar as the gap between the most and least powerful becomes progressively smaller. In juggling the demands of freedom and equality, liberal capitalism tends to tilt toward the callous libertarian insularity that characterizes a hypertrophy of freedom at the expense of equality.

At its worst, this manifests itself in Social Darwinism, evident domestically in Gilded Age excesses and internationally in the 19 th century foreign policy criticized so cogently by men such as historian E. Carr and economist Karl Polanyi. He is careful to add that efforts to improve the quality of the life that one is saving, through opportunities afforded by infrastructural development, are equally vital. This is far from an endorsement of the Washington consensus; though Appiah ventures that most cosmopolitans, including himself, agree that the nation-state is still the primary mechanism for ensuring these entitlements, his focus is on improving governance, democratic institutions and policy, not just opening markets or lowering trade barriers.

However, the syntax of social change through individual change presents its own difficulty: How to achieve this threshold amount of compassion, given the collective action problems familiar to any political scientist? Of course, the obstacle is not simply a political system predicated on interest but its seeming inextricability from an economic system that is definitionally self-interested.

Thus, the question must be examined in conjunction with the theoretical justifications and historical development of capitalism. Contra Wight, the problem might not be the asymmetry between political and international theory but the continuity of conservatism from the former to the latter—from capitalism to global capitalism. The empirical differences between the domestic and international environments Beitz uncovers in contrasting the two states of nature translate the political virtues of communitarian care or liberal tolerance to the international sphere less easily than the translation of self to national interest in micro to macro economics.

Given this asymmetry, is it possible to reconcile the moral point of view with the entrenchment of particular cultural-historical identities and economic institutions, at least mitigating the influence they wield in shaping perspectives on world politics?


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The expansion of liberal values onto the canvas of transnational institutionalism has been less than convincing because of the naturalistic fallacy—that its origin in and continued abuse by the West negates its value as a truly universal axiom. Anticipating Rawls, Beitz, in the second part of Political Theory and International Relations derives the right of state autonomy from more basic principles of justice.

Wight was right to say that in its practice as international law, international theory has addressed itself to states as if their autonomy is basic and that their liberty is an analog for individual liberty. However, as has been demonstrated, the moral force of state autonomy exists as an extension of individual autonomy and only insofar as it guarantees it equally for all citizens and does nothing to abridge it elsewhere. This should make international law an extension of social justice; in practice, beneficiaries of and believers in two discrete worlds have jointly been successful defending the status quo despite its disadvantageousness to the latter.

This calls into question whether the bait-and-hook of freedom for equality or spurious socioeconomic mobility is rational or self-interested at all. Scrutinizing the relationship between justice and state autonomy is especially relevant in the context of the persistent quandaries of intervention and self-determination and their relationship to international law, in which they can be pitted against each other.

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The passage occurs in the context of disambiguating the relationship between consent, legitimacy and autonomy. The analogy of personal and state autonomy is imperfect since the latter is based on tacit consent—the existence of a hypothetical contract. If this were true, state autonomy would be unassailable, as Hobbes envisioned; an unjust sovereign would be insulated from both revolution and intervention. Thus, legitimacy does not just reflect the existence of an original or de facto consensus, but the protection of freedom of association to ensure consensus is not coerced in the spirit of egalitarian individualism.

It follows that state autonomy might have to be compromised in order to do justice to the absolute of individual autonomy, including those who live in illiberal states. The problem of collective security remains negotiating which actors identify and act on these cases. Cosmopolitans and liberal internationalists suggest a majority of the international community, rather than a self-appointed, and too often self-interested, delegate. While there are many recent corroborations of growing global inequality, both the problem and solution were 18 th century insights, belonging to Hamilton and Kant respectively.

Two important asymmetries exist between domestic and international society that prevent a seamless application of principles of justice from the former to the latter.

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The first is the lack of a legislative or executive organ of international society. Both of these impediments have been mistaken in the past for permanent features of the political landscape by commentators like Wight; Beitz value is in distinguishing between social facts that are mutable and those that are not.


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  7. On the other hand, the superability of parochial allegiances through fealty to principles of justice per se , rather than or in addition to the particular laws of any one community, including positive international law, continues to define a cosmopolitan alternative. Since conflict situations result in collisions of these two tiers of law, growth in the legitimacy and authority of transnational judiciary institutions set up to arbitrate such cases, principally the ICC, are crucial to the viability of any normative international theory.

    There is some crossover between these and the political argument in the need for recognition. I also ask the indulgence of philosophical communitarians who might resent being boxed alongside liberals e.