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Beyond the Anarchical Society

Edward Keene argues that the popular idea of an ˜anarchical society™ of
equal and independent sovereign states is an inadequate description of
order in modern world politics. International political and legal order
has always been dedicated to two distinct goals: it tries to promote the
toleration of different ways of life, but at the same time it promotes one
speci¬c way of life that it labels ˜civilization™. The nineteenth-century
solution to this contradiction was to restrict the promotion of civilization
to the world beyond Europe. That discriminatory way of thinking has
now broken down, with the result that a single, global order is supposed
to apply to everyone, but that has left us with an insoluble dilemma as
to what the ultimate purpose of this global order should be, and how its
political and legal structure should be organized.

¤·¤ «® is Tutor in Politics at Balliol College, Oxford, and has
previously taught at the School of Oriental and African Studies in
London and at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. With
Eivind Hovden he co-edited the journal Millennium, and The Global-
ization of Liberalism (2002). He is the author of International Society
as an Essentially Contested Concept in Michi Ebata and Beverly Neufeld
(eds.), Confronting the Political: International Relations at the Millennium
(2000) and The Reception of Hugo Grotius in International Relations Theory

Published for The Centre for International Studies,
London School of Economics and Political Science

Editorial Board
Margot Light (Chair) Ian Nish
Christopher Greenwood David Stephenson
Michael Leifer† Andrew Walter
Dominic Lieven Donald Watt
James Mayall

The Centre for International Studies at the London School of
Economics and Political Science was established in 1967. Its aim is
to promote research on a multi-disciplinary basis in the general ¬eld of
international studies.
To this end the Centre offers visiting fellowships, sponsors research
projects and seminars and endeavours to secure the publication of manu-
scripts arising out of them.
Whilst the Editorial Board accepts responsibility for recommending the in-
clusion of a volume in the series, the author is alone responsible for views and
opinions expressed.
For my parents
Beyond the Anarchical Society
Grotius, Colonialism and Order in World Politics

Edward Keene
University of Oxford
°µ¬©¤   ° ®¤© ¦  µ®©© ¦ ©¤§
The Pitt Building, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, United Kingdom

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The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 2RU, UK
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477 Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne, VIC 3207, Australia
Ruiz de Alarcón 13, 28014 Madrid, Spain
Dock House, The Waterfront, Cape Town 8001, South Africa


© Edward Keene 2004

First published in printed format 2002

ISBN 0-511-02971-3 eBook (Adobe Reader)
ISBN 0-521-81031-0 hardback
ISBN 0-521-00801-8 paperback

Preface page ix
Acknowledgements xiii

Introduction 1
1 The orthodox theory of order in world politics 12
2 The Grotian theory of the law of nations 40
3 Colonialism, imperialism and extra-European
international politics 60
4 Two patterns of order in modern world politics:
toleration and civilization 97
5 Order in contemporary world politics, global but divided 120
Conclusion 145

Bibliography 151
Index 162


As anyone who has studied international relations will probably be aware,
the title of this book is a reference to Hedley Bull™s famous work, The
Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics. My use of a similar
language is intended in part as a tribute to the power and insight of Bull™s
argument, and in part as a criticism of its limitations. Before I present my
own perspective on order in world politics, then, I want to explain brie¬‚y
why I attach so much importance to Bull™s approach, and where I think
he went wrong.
To my mind, the most attractive feature of Bull™s work is his lucid
defence of the view that in certain respects international relations are
social relations, and that order in world politics should therefore be con-
ceived as a form of social order. Bull developed this position primarily to
challenge the popular belief that international relations should be under-
stood in ˜Machiavellian™ or ˜Hobbesian™ terms. In other words, he was
taking issue with the argument that, because the international system is
anarchic, all states have to obey the brutal logic of Realpolitik and must
devote themselves to the pursuit of their own national interests. Bull ac-
knowledged that this perspective captures some aspects of international
relations, as does an alternative ˜Kantian™ perspective that highlights the
importance of transnational or ideological solidarity and con¬‚ict, but he
insisted that neither tells us the whole story. In particular, they under-
estimate the importance and frequency of cooperation and regulated in-
tercourse among states, based on the norms, rules and institutions of the
modern ˜anarchical society™ of equal and independent sovereign states.
While it is important to explain how the logic of anarchy in¬‚uences the
behaviour of states, it is just as important to understand the normative
structure of the order that has been created in this international society.
As well as having to explain how states respond to the anarchical nature
of the international system, theorists must also make sense of the rela-
tionship between the goals that are promoted by the existing order in the
society of states and alternative goals that might conceivably be regarded
as attributes of justice in world politics. Here, one of the key themes in

x Preface

Bull™s work was the claim that, although it often falls short with regard to
certain principles of ˜human™ or ˜world justice™, the society of states nev-
ertheless represents a valuable achievement in terms of its realization of
˜interstate™ justice; it sustains an order where ethnic, cultural and political
differences are tolerated through the norm that states should respect each
other™s sovereignty. This goal, Bull argued, should not lightly be dismissed
in the attempt to build a more liberal or cosmopolitan world order.
The bulk of the academic commentary on Bull™s theory, whether critical
or supportive of his views, has concentrated on these rather general claims
about the normative character of international order and its relationship
to different conceptions of justice. For many years, the main debates were
centred on the questions that Bull himself raised about whether or not an
international society exists, whether or not the order sustained by the so-
ciety of states can provide for a satisfactory conception of justice in world
politics, and what is happening to the traditional pattern of international
order as it is forced to deal with contemporary developments in world
politics. More recently, international relations theorists have also begun
to address certain questions that are more internal to his approach, apply-
ing insights from social theory to re¬ne Bull™s often rather vague, and now
rather dated, functionalist ideas about precisely how normative principles
are established in international society and how they come to play a con-
straining role on the behaviour of states. The range of these enquiries has
been as diverse as social theory itself: various post-structuralists, critical
theorists, historical sociologists and social constructivists have all pro-
duced signi¬cant treatises on where the norms, rules and institutions of
the modern society of states came from, why they look the way they do
and how they condition the conduct of international actors.
I recognize that these controversies about Bull™s account of order in
world politics raise serious issues that demand attention, and that his
conception of social order needs to be supplemented with more sophis-
ticated analyses of social theory. However, I do not think that these are
the most serious problems with Bull™s work, and in this book I am go-
ing to explore another weakness in his argument that I regard as much
more pernicious. This may surprise some readers, because my approach
will not really engage with the main debates that have occupied inter-
national relations theorists since The Anarchical Society appeared in the
late 1970s. I will not, for example, join realists and cosmopolitans in
asking whether the kind of norm-governed order that Bull described is
a signi¬cant or desirable feature of world politics. Nor will I ask which
kind of social theory offers the best chance for making sense of how the
modern pattern of order in the society of states was established, how it
works and what its future prospects are. My argument is directed at a
Preface xi

completely different question: is Bull™s account of the anarchical soci-
ety, founded on the principle of states™ mutual respect for each other™s
territorial sovereignty, an adequate description of the norms, rules and
institutions that have characterized order in world politics since around
the middle of the seventeenth century?
As the title of this book suggests, my answer is no. I believe that Bull™s
chief mistake was to underestimate the dualistic nature of order in world
politics. My position is that there have always been two patterns of mod-
ern international order, each of which was dedicated to its own goal, and
therefore possessed its own unique normative and institutional structure.
Bull™s work provides a description of only one of these: the pattern of
order that developed in the European states-system, through relations
between European rulers and nations. He almost completely ignored the
other pattern of order, which developed roughly simultaneously in the
colonial and imperial systems that were established beyond Europe. As is
exempli¬ed by Bull™s conception of interstate justice, the main purpose of
the European order was to promote the toleration of ethnic, cultural and
political differences; the extra-European order, however, was dedicated
to the goal of promoting a particular idea of civilization, transforming
˜uncivilized™ cultures and social, economic and political systems along the
way. This divergence is manifested in the very different international polit-
ical and legal arrangements that were established in the two contexts. The
European order of toleration was predicated on the principle that states
should respect each other™s territorial sovereignty, and hence their equal-
ity and independence. By contrast, the extra-European order was based
on the principle that sovereignty should be divided across national and
territorial boundaries, creating hierarchical institutions through which
colonial and imperial powers transmitted the supposed bene¬ts of their
civilization to the rest of the world.
This is a crucial omission from Bull™s work, since the world we live in to-
day contains the legacy of both of these patterns of modern international
order. As Bull was well aware, the principles of toleration and mutual
respect for sovereignty outgrew their European roots in the twentieth
century, gradually being extended to cover all the peoples of the world.
But because he lacked a proper understanding of the extra-European
order of civilization that had also existed in modern world politics, he
failed to realize that its basic norm of dividing sovereignty to promote
good government and economic progress had also persisted into the new
global political and legal order that was constructed after 1945. And be-
cause subsequent scholars have not properly investigated this weakness in
Bull™s theory of the anarchical society, they have also failed to appreciate
the long-standing tension between toleration and civilization that has
xii Preface

always lain at the heart of order in modern world politics. Instead, they
have consistently misrepresented the contemporary practice of dividing
sovereignty as an unprecedented, ˜post-modern™ or ˜post-Westphalian™
Before I develop this argument, I want to make one ¬nal remark about
its scope. I have chosen Bull as my critical foil because his work has been
exceptionally in¬‚uential in contemporary international relations theory.
So many scholars today use Bull™s description of the modern society of
states as a starting point for their own work that I regard it as abso-
lutely crucial to demonstrate the shortcomings of his thesis. However,
the position that I am attacking is not just Bull™s alone. On the contrary,
what I will call the orthodox theory of order in world politics has been
a central part of mainstream thinking about international relations and
international law for roughly two hundred years; in a sense, Bull™s work
is just the latest re-statement of a much older position, up-dated to suit
the speci¬c problems and dilemmas of international relations in the late
twentieth century, but substantially unchanged in its fundamentals. In
criticizing Bull, then, I am really attacking one of the most popular and
long-standing points of view on international political and legal order
that there is. Obviously, this is an ambitious project, and I suspect that it
takes more than a single book to challenge an academic orthodoxy that
has become so deeply entrenched over the last two centuries that even
many ˜critical™ and ˜dissident™ scholars working today still accept its core
claim about the centrality of the society of sovereign states to the mod-
ern world. Nevertheless, the orthodox theory is so badly ¬‚awed that it
acts as a major hindrance to our ability to comprehend the nature of the
dilemmas that we face today, and it is of the ¬rst importance that we
begin to call its basic assumptions into question. At the very least, I hope
that my argument will illustrate the seriousness of its shortcomings, and
thus encourage others to adopt a fresher perspective on order in modern
world politics, whether or not they agree with the interpretation that I
will present here.

I have been mulling over the argument of this book for about ten years,
and if I was to acknowledge all the people who had contributed to the ideas

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