The Moral Purpose of the State: Culture, Social Identity, and Institutional Rationality in International Relations

Princeton University Press
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This book seeks to explain why different systems of sovereign states have built different types of fundamental institutions to govern interstate relations. Why, for example, did the ancient Greeks operate a successful system of third-party arbitration, while international society today rests on a combination of international law and multilateral diplomacy? Why did the city-states of Renaissance Italy develop a system of oratorical diplomacy, while the states of absolutist Europe relied on naturalist international law and "old diplomacy"? Conventional explanations of basic institutional practices have difficulty accounting for such variation. Christian Reus-Smit addresses this problem by presenting an alternative, "constructivist" theory of international institutional development, one that emphasizes the relationship between the social identity of the state and the nature and origin of basic institutional practices.

Reus-Smit argues that international societies are shaped by deep constitutional structures that are based on prevailing beliefs about the moral purpose of the state, the organizing principle of sovereignty, and the norm of procedural justice. These structures inform the imaginations of institutional architects as they develop and adjust institutional arrangements between states. As he shows with detailed reference to ancient Greece, Renaissance Italy, absolutist Europe, and the modern world, different cultural and historical contexts lead to profoundly different constitutional structures and institutional practices. The first major study of its kind, this book is a significant addition to our theoretical and empirical understanding of international relations, past and present.

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About the author

Christian Reus-Smit is Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. He is the editor, with Albert Paolini and Anthony Jarvis, of Between Sovereignty and Global Governance: The United Nations, the State, and Civil Society.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Nov 2, 2009
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Pages
216
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ISBN
9781400823253
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Language
English
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Genres
Philosophy / Political
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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How did the world come to be organized into sovereign states? Daniel Philpott argues that two historical revolutions in ideas are responsible. First, the Protestant Reformation ended medieval Christendom and brought a system of sovereign states in Europe, culminating at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Second, ideas of equality and colonial nationalism brought a sweeping end to colonial empires around 1960, spreading the sovereign states system to the rest of the globe. In both cases, revolutions in ideas about legitimate political authority profoundly altered the "constitution" that establishes basic authority in the international system.

Ideas exercised influence first by shaping popular identities, then by exercising social power upon the elites who could bring about new international constitutions. Swaths of early modern Europeans, for instance, arrived at Protestant beliefs, then fought against the temporal powers of the Church on behalf of the sovereignty of secular princes, who could overthrow the formidable remains of a unified medieval Christendom. In the second revolution, colonial nationalists, domestic opponents of empire, and rival superpowers pressured European cabinets to relinquish their colonies in the name of equality and nationalism, resulting in a global system of sovereign states. Bringing new theoretical and historical depth to the study of international relations, Philpott demonstrates that while shifts in military, economic, and other forms of material power cannot be overlooked, only ideas can explain how the world came to be organized into a system of sovereign states.

The acceptance of human rights and minority rights, the increasing role of international financial institutions, and globalization have led many observers to question the continued viability of the sovereign state. Here a leading expert challenges this conclusion. Stephen Krasner contends that states have never been as sovereign as some have supposed. Throughout history, rulers have been motivated by a desire to stay in power, not by some abstract adherence to international principles. Organized hypocrisy--the presence of longstanding norms that are frequently violated--has been an enduring attribute of international relations.

Political leaders have usually but not always honored international legal sovereignty, the principle that international recognition should be accorded only to juridically independent sovereign states, while treating Westphalian sovereignty, the principle that states have the right to exclude external authority from their own territory, in a much more provisional way. In some instances violations of the principles of sovereignty have been coercive, as in the imposition of minority rights on newly created states after the First World War or the successor states of Yugoslavia after 1990; at other times cooperative, as in the European Human Rights regime or conditionality agreements with the International Monetary Fund.


The author looks at various issues areas to make his argument: minority rights, human rights, sovereign lending, and state creation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Differences in national power and interests, he concludes, not international norms, continue to be the most powerful explanation for the behavior of states.

The Globalization of International Society re-examines the development of today's society of sovereign states, drawing on a wealth of new scholarship to challenge the landmark account presented in Bull and Watson's classic work, The Expansion of International Society (OUP, 1984). For Bull and Watson, international society originated in Europe, and expanded as successive waves of new states were integrated into a rule-governed order. International society, on their view, was thus a European cultural artefact - a claim that is at odds with recent scholarship in history, politics, and related fields of research. Bringing together leading scholars from Asia, Australia, Europe, and the United States, this book provides an alternative account: it draws out the diversity of polities that existed at around c1500; it shows how interacting identities, political orders, and economic forces were intensifying within and across regions; it details the tangled dynamics that helped to globalize the European conception of a pluralist international society, through patterns of warfare and between East and West. The Globalization of International Society examines the institutional contours of contemporary international society, with its unique blend of universal sovereignty and global law, and its forms of hierarchy that coexist with commitments to international human rights. The book explores the multiple forms of contestation that challenge international society today: contests over the limits of sovereignty in relation to cosmopolitan conceptions of responsibility, disputes over global governance, concerns about persistent economic, racial, and gender-based patterns of disadvantage, and lastly the threat to the established order opened up by the disruptive power of digital communications.
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