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b o u l d e r
l o n d o n

Published in the United States of America in 2001 by

Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc.
1800 30th Street, Boulder, Colorado 80301
and in the United Kingdom by
Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc.
3 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, London WC2E 8LU
2001 by Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Critical theory and world politics / edited by Richard Wyn Jones.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 1-55587-802-4
1. International relationsPhilosophy. 2. Critical theory. I. Wyn Jones, Richard.
JZ1305.C75 2001
British Cataloguing in Publication Data
A Cataloguing in Publication record for this book
is available from the British Library.
Printed and bound in the United States of America

The paper used in this publication meets the requirements

of the American National Standard for Permanence of
Paper for Printed Library Materials Z39.48-1984.




Introduction: Locating Critical International Relations Theory

Richard Wyn Jones

Part One: The Contours of

Critical International Relations Theory

The Changing Contours of Critical International

Relations Theory
Andrew Linklater


The Way Ahead: Toward a New Ontology of World Order

Robert W. Cox


Critical Theory and the Democratic Impulse:

Understanding a Century-Old Tradition
Craig N. Murphy


Part Two: Critique in Critical International Relations Theory


The Nature of Critique in Critical International

Relations Theory
Kimberly Hutchings




Negative Dialectic? The Two Modes of Critical Theory

in World Politics
N. J. Rengger


Global Realism: Unmasking Power in the

International Political Economy
Jeffrey Harrod


Whats Critical About Critical International Relations Theory?

Mark Neufeld


Part Three: The Practice and Praxis

of Critical International Relations Theory



The Practice, and Praxis, of Feminist Research

in International Relations
Sandra Whitworth


Deliberative Politics, the Public Sphere, and

Global Democracy
Kenneth Baynes


Creating Cosmopolitan Power: International Mediation as

Communicative Action
Deiniol Lloyd Jones


Part Four: Commentaries



Our Side? Critical Theory and International Relations

Chris Brown


What Is International Relations For?

Notes Toward a Postcritical View
Alexander Wendt


The Contributors
About the Book



Critical Theory and World Politics is a book about the dialectical engagement of critical theory and the study of world politics. It also represents a
momentone hopes a significant onein that engagement.
A critical theoryinspired strand of thinking has been apparent within
international relations since the early 1980s. It has formed a key part of a
wider tendencynow known under the rubric of postpositivismthat has
sought to challenge the metatheoretical assumptions of traditional international relations thinking and attempted to articulate and operationalize
other principles and precepts in their place. But despite its many links, both
intellectual and disciplinary, to other postpositivist strands of international
relations thought such as poststructuralism and constructivism, critical
international relations theory is seen by both proponents and opponents as
representing a distinct and distinctive set of views and concerns.
Simultaneously, and strikingly mirroring developments within international relations, critical theorists working within their more traditional
domains of social theory and sociology have become increasingly aware of
and engaged with the sphere of the international. This direction, in turn, has
led to a significant break with the state-bound, and almost invariably
Eurocentric, patterns of thought associated with traditional critical theory
a break whose radical implications are still being worked through.
This book represents the first attempt to bring together key figures in
these parallel moves to discuss the implications of their work both for the
study of world politics and for critical theory. That this is the first such
attempt despite almost twenty years of intellectual activity is a somewhat
curious anomaly. Nevertheless, it remains the case that proponents of critical theory seem to be better at engaging with those who hold to very different intellectual viewpoints than with those with whom they share, ostensibly at least, common ground. This noninteraction, in turn, may well reflect
the intractability of both inter- and intradisciplinary boundaries, even



among those who are intellectually committed to their supersession.

Whatever the explanation, the relative lack of dialogue among critical theorists has most certainly hampered the development of critical international
relations theory.
Critical Theory and World Politics is an attempt to kick-start just such
a dialogue concerning the evolution and future direction of critical international relations (IR) theory. It was organized to encourage the greatest possible degree of engagement among the contributors. Initially, all were invited to present draft versions of their chapters at a conference held at the
Department of International Politics, University of Wales, Aberystwyth.
The chapters were subsequently reworked in light of the specific reaction
they engendered from the other participants in the project and the themes
brought out by more general discussion. The elements of interactionand
reflexivitywere further strengthened by an invitation to two figures
prominent in the discipline of international relations, but not identified with
critical theory, to comment on the arguments in the other chapters and on
critical IR theory more generally.
Because of the pioneering nature of this venture, it was felt important
not to impose a preordained set of questions or issues on the participants.
As far as possible, therefore, the themes as well as the structure of the book
have emerged organically from the concerns of the contributors and from
the interactions among them. That said, the decision of whom to invite to
participate in the project clearly affected the shape of the final outcome and
in turn reflected certain editorial concerns and preconceptions about what
critical IR theory is and yet might become. It is important to make these
premises explicit at the outset.
The relationship between critical theory and other schools of thought
in international relations has already been extensively discussed, and that
discussion, of course, continues in this volume. However, the distinctiveness of the various strands within critical theoryand the possible implications of these differences for the coherence of critical IR theoryhas not
yet been sufficiently recognized or explored (at least within international
relations). These issues are brought into focus in this book by ensuring that
the main strands are all given a voice. The aim has been to represent critical
IR theory in its diversity. It is, of course, a matter for the contributorsas
well as the readerto judge how significant these differences in intellectual inspiration and orientation prove to be.
Another central concern in the design of the project is the extent to
which critical theoryinspired themes can illuminate both the analysis and
practice of world politics. Whereas metatheoretical questions are undoubtedly important, this volume is predicated on the view that they are only part
of the story and only part of the possible contribution of critical interna-



tional relations theory. Thus several of the chapters focus on more praxisoriented issues.
Following an introductory chapter wherein I seek to locate critical IR
theory within broader trends in social theory and international relations, the
book has been organized into four parts. In Part One, three of the figures
most prominently associated with the critical theory intervention in international relations, Andrew Linklater, Robert W. Cox, and Craig N. Murphy,
trace the contours of critical IR theory. All three chapters not only reflect in
different ways on the development of contemporary critical IR theory but
also set out agendas for its future development.
In Part Two, Kimberly Hutchings, N. J. Rengger, Jeffrey Harrod, and
Mark Neufeld discuss the various forms of critique in critical IR theory.
The discussion ranges from immanent critique to negative dialectic, from
Kant to Marx, and serves to underline the diversity of approaches and opinions prevalent among contemporary critical theorists.
In Part Three, The Practice and Praxis of Critical International
Relations Theory, Sandra Whitworth, Kenneth Baynes, and Deiniol Lloyd
Jones illustrate the potential payoffsand problemsassociated with
thinking about world politics from perspectives informed by critical theory.
In the fourth and final part, Commentaries, Chris Brown and Alexander
Wendt provide penetrating discussions of the preceding chapters and offer
their own views on some of the central concerns of critical IR theory.
The focus in each of the four parts is not mutually exclusive of the others. Rather, by the very nature of their subject matter, the discussions in the
chapters inevitably tend to overlap to some extent. Taken together, they testify to the intellectual vibrancy of critical international relations theory. The
primary purpose of this collection is not, however, simply to demonstrate
that interesting work is being generated under the rubric of critical IR theory. Rather it is to encourage critical dialogue and interaction with and within this work. It is this aim that has underpinned the organization of Critical
Theory and World Politics from the outset. The ultimate success of the
project will thus be measured by its ability to inspire or incite further
Richard Wyn Jones


This project was made possible by the Cadogan Research Initiative of the
Higher Education Council for Wales. Its financial support allowed those
involved to be brought together for an initial conference at the University
of Wales, Aberystwyth. The initiative subsequently supported the production of the manuscript. I would like to offer my sincere thanks to the
trustees of the fund for their vision and generosity.
Steve Smith was the main catalyst for the project and has remained
centrally involved throughout. He has been unstinting in his support and
sagacious in his advice. I am very grateful to him.
Two other people have played key roles in the project. Eurwen Booth
provided invaluable editorial assistance. Eli Stamnes gave selflessly of her
time and expertise in order to help the manuscript take its final shape. I am
grateful to them both.
This volume was originally to have been edited jointly by Roger Tooze
and myself. Sadly, however, Roger was forced to withdraw from involvement as a result of illness. I would like to thank him for his contribution to
the overall success of the project.
I would also like to thank Paul Williams, who produced the index, and
all at Lynne Rienner Publishers for their usual good-humored efficiency.
R. W. J.


Richard Wyn Jones

When as an undergraduate student I attended my first international relations lecture, the professor commenced by announcing baldly that there
were two kinds of theory, positive theory and normative theory. The former
was concerned with facts and certainties and was the proper business of
scholars of international relations (IR). The latter dealt with values, opinions, and aspirations and should be left to philosophers, theologians, and
other moralizers. Since then, however, the subject of international relations, and indeed the object of its study, world politics, have been transformed. It is certainly hard to credit that the current head of any intellectually respectable department of international relations could introduce
students to the discipline in quite the same way as I encountered it in the
Nevertheless, the professors introduction did capture one of the central elements in the disciplines self-image from at least the mid-1960s
onward, if not before. During this period international relations was almost
completely in thrall to the attempt to develop and formulate a theory of
world politics along positivist, scientific-objectivist lines (see Smith 1992).
True, as highlighted in Craig Murphys rendering of an alternative history
of the discipline in this volume, there were always other voices; true, as
Murphy also reminds us, the commitment to the rigors of positive science
was often more notional than actual, and indeed, the tools of positivism
could be turned against the mainstream to some effect. But those who dissembled from the dominant approach were always a marginalized minority.
There was no doubt where the center of gravity lay.
In retrospect, however, it appears that the publication of the book that
marked the high point of the endeavor to develop international relations as


a positive science, Kenneth Waltzs Theory of International Politics (1979),

also marked the point at which the dominant approach began its decline.
G.W.F. Hegel, for one, would not have been surprised by this turn of
events. For since then the hegemonic understanding of international relations has come under sustained assault from a variety of alternative
approaches. The cumulative effect has been to cast doubt on many of the
verities so confidentlyand complacentlypropounded over so many
years in so many lecture theaters and conference halls by members of the
IR community. This is not to say that the scientific-objectivist, or positivist,
epistemology that underpinned my erstwhile professors remarks has been
cast aside completely. Far from it. Many, indeed almost certainly the majority of those actively engaged in the study of world politics through the discipline, continue to adhere to the supposed tenets of positive social science.
But undeniably, doubt has been introduced. Those who remain faithful to
those metatheoretical ideals are increasingly forced to argue for them rather
than simply assert their obvious superiority. Thus although the dominant
approach may still be dominant in simple numerical terms, its dominance
has been denaturalized. The center of gravity has perceptively shifted. One
of the approaches that has helped bring about this shift is critical theory, the
subject of this book.

On Contribution and Confusion

Since its arrival was heralded in 1981 by the publication of Robert W.
Coxs seminal essay Social Forces, States and World Orders: Beyond
International Relations Theory, critical theory has not only contributed to
the critique of the mainstream but has also made substantive contributions
of its own to the study of world politics (see Linklater 1996b). These span
the subfields of international political economy (Murphy and Tooze 1991
provides a good introduction), so-called normative theory (Linklater 1998
represents a landmark in this regard), and security studies (see Wyn Jones
1999). Moreover, as Andrew Linklater argues in this volume, the critical
theory move within international relations runs parallel to and is wholly
complementary with the development largely beyond the discipline of a
wider literature on the prospects for new modes of human governance and
new forms of political community (an overview of which is provided by
Baynes in Chapter 10 of this volume).
But despite this contribution, it is undeniably the case that critical theory remains the source of deep confusion in international relations circles.
How and where does it fit in? Can critical theory be defined as, say,
embodying a particular set of epistemological claims or a particular onto-


logical standpoint? Can we even speak of a critical theory approach in the

singular, or are there two or even more distinct approaches laboring under
the label critical theory active in international relations? And if so, what
if anything binds them together? Furthermore, how does critical theory
relate to the alternative approaches such as poststructuralism and postmodernism or the new, and already seemingly ubiquitous, kid-on-the-block constructivism? Where are the points of overlap and areas of distinctiveness?
The degree of confusion that critical theory engenders, and the degree
of misunderstanding to which it is subjected, are apparent in some of the
more recent and influential state-of-the-discipline surveys. To cite one
well-known example, over a decade ago Robert Keohane distinguished
between two approaches to international relations, the rationalist and the
reflectivist (Keohane 1988). The former utilizes the principles and precepts
of positive social science; into the latter category he lumped all their theoretical opponents, including critical theorists. It is clear that the reader is
meant to infer from the labeling of the two approaches that members of the
reflectivist camp are somehow hostile to rationalityor at a minimum, less
committed to reason and rationality in scholarship and in human life in
general. But as far as critical theory is concerned, nothing could be further
from the truth. Keohane seems unaware of the fact that in recent years,
Jrgen Habermas has been the most vocal and persistent defender of the
Enlightenment commitment to reason in the polemics that have surrounded
postmodernism (see, for example, Habermas 1987). The critical theory
objection to the kind of positivist social science that Keohane advocates is
not its commitment to rationality per se but rather that its conception of
rationality is too narrow, indeed atrophied (see Wyn Jones 1999: chs. 13).
Similarly, confusion reigns in Ted Hopfs survey of what alternative
approaches bring to an understanding of world politics (Hopf 1998:
172). Hopf distinguishes between mainstream critical theory and its constructivist critics, but he also further distinguishes between the two types
of constructivism, conventional and critical. There is no need to elaborate
further on these categories here. What is relevant for our purposes is that
in illustrating them, Hopf seemingly manages to locate the Habermasian
critical theorist Mark Hoffman within the conventional constructivist
camp, whereas Linklater, equally heavily influenced by Habermas, is
placed among the critical constructivists (Hopf 1998: 183, 185). A close
reading of their work may well uncover some subtle differences between
the critical theory of Hoffman and Linklater, but we can be less than sanguine that Hopfs categorization of their work is based on such attentiveness to detail. This lack is underlined when he also seems to argue that one
of the characteristics of critical constructivisma category that includes
postmodernist scholarsis an unequivocal commitment to human emanci-


pation (Hopf 1998: 185) when this emancipation is precisely one of the
central points at issue between critical theorists and postmodernists (see
But should critical theorists be concerned by these and other examples
of confusion and misinterpretation? It is tempting, perhaps, to conclude
not. After all, critical theory can hardly claim to have been singled out for
special treatment in this regard: All the alternative approaches have suffered the same fate (for what Checkel [1998: 339f.] has described as a particularly egregious piece of caricaturing see Mearsheimer 19941995;
the treatment of postmodernism in Katzenstein, Keohane, and Krasner
1998 represents another low point). Indeed, in a discipline where the creation of typologies is so often a substitute for rather than a prelude to real
analysis and engagement, it may be that the apparent ability of critical theory to escape easy categorization should be considered a positive advantage.
N. J. Rengger (in this volume) suggests that the lack of any real response
from the mainstream to Linklaters criticisms of neorealism reflects the difficulties that the keepers of the positivist flame have had in pigeonholing
his standpoint. And after all, it was Theodor Adorno, one of the founding
fathers of Frankfurt School critical theory, who attempted to write in such a
way as to avoid easy categorization (Jameson 1990).
But it would be foolish to draw too much comfort from these observations. Adorno notwithstanding, confusion, let alone caricature, is clearly a
barrier to understanding and intellectual development. Furthermore, I
would argue that it would also be a mistake to conclude that all misunderstanding and misrepresentation is somehow part of a deliberate strategy to
blunt the challenge of alternate approaches (a view implicit in Weber
1994a; cf. Neufeld in Ch. 8, this volume). In the case of critical theory at
least, my contention is that there is already enough scope for confusion
inherent both in the wider (extradisciplinary) tradition itself and in the specific ways it has developed within international relations. Reflecting on
these somewhat tangled roots is necessary not only to understand how we
have come to the present stage of development but also to allow the critical
theory approach to grow and mature further into the future.
In the first part of this introductory chapter, I seek to locate critical theoryinspired writing on international relationscritical IR theoryin relation to the critical theory tradition more broadly drawn. The reading offered
suggests that rather than understand critical theory as a particular approach,
it is more appropriate to view it as a constellation of rather distinctive
approaches, all seeking to illuminate a central theme, that of emancipation.
Working from this basis, I then explore the relationship between critical
theory and two alternative approaches, namely poststructuralism and constructivism. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the distinctive con-


tributions that critical IR theory makesand can maketo the study of

world politics.

Locating Critical International

Relations Theory in Social Theory
Broadly speaking, there are two main sets of influences acting upon critical
international relations theory. The first is Frankfurt School critical theory,
whose leading lights include Habermas, Adorno, and Max Horkheimer.
They are surrounded by an extraordinarily talented supporting cast composed of such luminaries as Herbert Marcuse, Walter Benjamin, Eric
Fromm, and, more recently, Albrecht Wellmer, Karl-Otto Apel, and Axel
Honneth (for good overviews see Wiggershaus 1994, Bronner 1994, and
Hohendahl 1991). The second is the work, perhaps more correctly the life
and work, of Antonio Gramsci.
But if Gramsci and the Frankfurt School are both influences on critical
IR theory in general, an important point is that they do not, on the whole,
influence the same scholars. That is, some critical theorists working in
international relations draw on Gramsci, others on the Frankfurt School,
but very few draw on both. To take some of the authors in this book as
examples, Cox and Harrod are clearly influenced by Gramsci and
Gramscian concepts and modes of analysis, but not apparently by the ideas
of the Frankfurt School (Coxs brief intellectual autobiography [1996a:
1838] certainly makes no mention of any Frankfurt School influence).
Linklater, Jones, and Baynes draw explicitly on the intellectual resources of
the Frankfurt School but have little or no debt to acknowledge to Gramsci.
Moreover, the division between these scholars is not only one of influences
but also tends to be one of intellectual orientation: The Gramscian-influenced scholars are primarily concerned with political economy; those influenced by the Frankfurt School are interested primarily in political and normative theory.
Of course, this distinction can be overdrawn. Linklater, to give but one
example, engages with political economy in his 1990 book Beyond
Marxism and Realism: Critical Theory and International Relations. And
even if the distinction exists, the question remains, How significant is it?
After all, it is clear that the Gramscian and the Frankfurt School approaches
share a common ancestry both in the Hegelian-Marxist tradition and, as
Kimberly Hutchings stresses in Chapter 5 of this volume, in the broader
Kantian tradition of critical philosophy. One could even argue, utilizing the
now venerable but still powerful base-superstructure model of society, that
the difference in focus should be regarded as a strength. For if the


Gramscians concentrate on understanding the economic base and the

Frankfurtians concern themselves with the superstructure, is not the end
result a more rounded analysis of the whole? In this sense Gramsci and the
Frankfurt School might be construed as two sides of the same coin. But
whereas such an argument might have a superficially pleasing plausibility
as well as a certain symmetry, to accept it would be to undersell and oversimplify both elements.
Gramsci was much more than a theorist of the economic base. He was
among the first in the mainstream Marxist tradition to recognize the relative
autonomy of the superstructure and to (re)emphasize the dialectical nature
of the base-superstructure relationship. He was also interested in issues of
culture and identity. Moreover, through his development of concepts such
as hegemony and historic bloc, his legacy is a series of powerful analytical
tools through which social orders and social transformations may be understood (Augelli and Murphy 1988 and Rupert 1995 are powerful exemplars
of how concepts derived from Gramscis work can illuminate concrete
issues and problems). Gramscis was an incredibly broad-ranging intellectual project and should not be confined or consigned to one side of any theoretical coin.
When we turn to the Frankfurt School, the problem we encounter is
that the very name implies far more coherence and consistency than is actually the case. Apart from a common intellectual heritage, personal relationships (which were often difficult), and a tenuous relationship to Frankfurt
itself, little unites the members of this particular school (Wiggershaus
1994). Indeed, the differences in intellectual standpoints are fundamental
and exist both among different members and even within the work of individual members across time (Wyn Jones 1999, chs. 13).
To trace the various twists and turns in the intellectual biography of the
Frankfurt School is an enormously complex task and clearly beyond the
scope of this chapter. Nevertheless, it is necessary to gain some sense of the
various strands that make up the Frankfurt School tradition of critical theory if we are to understand the relationships among the various elements that
make up critical IR theory. This understanding is also a prerequisite for any
attempt to gain a clearer picture of the relationship between the critical theory approach to international relations and alternative approaches to the
subject. To these ends, it is useful to differentiate between three distinct
strands. The first is the original conception of critical theory as a critical
social theoryas a broad framework within which the insights of the traditional social science disciplines can be integrated with and through
Marxian theory to produce an analysis of society that aims, eventually, to
facilitate and support a process of emancipatory social transformation.
Horkheimers essay Traditional and Critical Theory, first published in
1937, is the key statement of this view (Horkheimer 1972).


The second strand of critical theory is concerned to trace why the possibilities for emancipatory transformation had (apparently) been extinguished. Its main elements were first elaborated in the now classic study
Dialectic of Enlightenment, published in 1944 (Adorno and Horkheimer
1944/1979). This work reformulated critical theory as a critique of instrumental rationality and argued that the civilizational process itself had created a hermetic society suffused with a domination and terror from which
escapein any social sensewas impossible. The third, and almost certainly the most influential version of critical theory, has attempted to develop a critical theory of society within the context of a theory of communicative action (Habermas 1984, 1989a). Much more obviously post-Marxist
than the other two strands, this approach claims to transcend the Marxian
focus on productive relations and their immanent problems and to highlight
instead the emancipatory potential inherent in communication. As a shorthand the three strands will be identified with three thinkers, namely
Horkheimer, Adorno, and Habermas, respectively. This shorthand is not
entirely accurate inasmuch as Horkheimer collaborated in the development
of Adornian critical theory through his coauthorship of Dialectic of
Enlightenment, but it is nevertheless a reasonably fair reflection of where
the intellectual center of gravity has lain for each of the three strands.
Given the major differences among these three strands in critical theory, the question arises, What, then, is the unifying thread that allows us to
talk of a school at all? This issue is explored in Stephen Eric Bronners
marvelous study of the Frankfurt School tradition, Of Critical Theory and
Its Theorists (1994). His argument is that in the final analysis, the only
thing common to all critical theorists, and fundamental to all critical theories, is a concern to explore the barriers to and possibilities for human
emancipationhence Bronners definition of critical theory as a cluster of
themes inspired by an emancipatory intent (Bronner 1994: 3).
Where does this leave our discussion of critical IR theory? The first
point is that the same threefold distinction can also be usefully applied to
the work of those seeking to utilize the insights of Frankfurt School critical
theory in the field of international relations. Whereas the majority of those
theorists are best understood as Habermasians, some are much closer to
both the letter and spirit of Horkheimers model of critical social theory.
(As will be discussed in the next section, Adornos critique of instrumental
rationality also resonates in contemporary international theory, but in the
work of poststructuralists.) Again, using some of the authors in this book as
examples, Linklater, Baynes, and Jones are Habermasian critical theorists.
To their number we can also add another influential proponent of critical IR
theory, Mark Hoffman (1987, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995). Neufelds work is
arguably much more Horkheimerian in spirit. This is also the case for some
of those writers working in the field of critical security studies. Ken


Booths discussion of utopian realism, for example, contains many striking overlaps with Horkheimerian critical theory, even though Booth did not
at that stage draw on the work of the Frankfurt School (Booth 1991b).
More recently, I (1999) write explicitly within the problematique established by Horkheimers Traditional and Critical Theory (1972).
But again, it would be wrong to overdraw these distinctions. Linklater
has certainly used the work of Horkheimer and the early Frankfurt School,
although less so in his more recent work (cf. Linklater 1990b and 1998),
and indeed is now noticeably more radical than the increasingly liberal
Habermas. Similarly, Neufeld has drawn on Habermas (for example, in this
volume), whereas none of the contemporary Horkheimerians share the
expectations of the revolutionary proletariat that underpinned Traditional
and Critical Theory. Nevertheless, the categorizations do capture important differences in orientation and outlook. Habermas, after all, views his
own work as representing a fundamental break with that of Horkheimer and
Adorno (see Habermas 1984: 366399; 1987: 106130). It is not surprising, therefore, that this break is also manifested in critical IR theory. So, for
example, in his chapter in this volume, Rengger utilizes some of the core
ideas developed in Adornos critique of instrumental rationality to outline
far-reaching objections to Linklaters Habermas-inspired project.
Once we view Frankfurt School critical IR theory not as a unified
whole but as a series of different and indeed contradictory strands, it is then
possible to clarify its relationship(s) with Gramscian critical theory. The
fundamental point here is that Gramscian critical theory is much closer to
one Frankfurt School strand than the others. Specifically, the differences
between Gramscis work, especially in the way it has been interpreted in
international relations, and Horkheimers critical social theory are small.
True, the latter abjures the formers concern with political economy to concentrate almost exclusively on superstructural phenomena. Nevertheless,
both approaches are rooted in the same Marxian productivist paradigm, and
both seek to develop a social theory orientated toward social transformation. They are recognizably variations on a theme rather than different in
any fundamental way. (More work remains to be done on the commonalities and differences between the work of Gramsci and that of the Frankfurt
School; in the interim see Holub 1992.)
It might be added, parenthetically, that it is this convergence between
the Horkheimer of Traditional and Critical Theory and Gramscian critical
IR theoryas if to emphasize the point, Cox (1981) makes an almost analogous distinction between problem solving and critical theorythat initially made critical IR theory (as a whole) appear to many observers to be
more unified and coherent than has actually proven to be the case.
The distance between Gramscian critical theory and work conducted in
the Adornian or Habermasian veins is much greater. Gramsci and Adorno


are separated by a vast gulf. Through the critique of instrumental rationality, Adorno rephilosophized critical theory (Dubiel 1985). He effectively
abandoned all hope in the possibility of developing a critical social theory
and instead posited that the purpose of critical theory is to interpret the
capacity of avant garde art to mimetically transmit those echoes of humanitys emancipatory impulses that have now completely fled the social realm
(Wellmer 1983; Zuidervaart 1991; Bronner 1994). Even if Gramsci was a
drama critic of some distinction, this is not a formulation with which he
could ever have sympathized!
In the case of Habermasian critical theory, the situation is more complex, but in the final analysis, Gramsci and Gramscians are working in a
paradigm fundamentally different from that of Habermas and the
Habermasians. Even if Gramsci was concerned with linguistics, communication, and the construction of intersubjective understanding (hegemony)
all familiar Habermasian themeshis concern was situated within the context of a social theory that regarded productive relations as (ultimately)
determinant and that viewed humanitys emancipatory capacity as being
immanent within the productive sphere rather than in language. The communicative turn in critical theory pioneered by Habermas represents as fundamental a break from the ideas of Gramsci as it does from those of
Given differences and distinctions among the different strands of critical IR theory that have been identified here, we are left with the same fundamental question raised earlier in the context of the Frankfurt School.
What, if anything, unites or links these strands? The answer is substantially
the same as in the former case. Those developing critical IR theory clearly
share in, and partake of, the same broad intellectual heritage of Hegelian or
Western Marxism (Anderson 1979). Beyond that, however, as has already
been made clear, little positively unites them. Whereas critical IR theorists
may largely agree with each other in terms of their critique of the mainstream, there is little agreement among them as to what should take its
place. Critical IR theory is not characterized by a commitment to a particular epistemology (contra S. Smith 1996) or to a specific ontology. Neither
do its proponents subscribe to a common political program. Ultimately
rather, as in the case of Frankfurt School critical theory, the ties that bind
are a shared commitment to exploring and elucidating the theme of human
emancipation as it is highlighted in the study of world politics.
Critical IR theory is thus best understood as a constellation of different
approaches, all seeking to illuminate the question of emancipation in world
politics. The constellation metaphor first developed by Adorno and
Benjamin, and later utilized to great effect by Martin Jay (1984a) as an
organizational device for his short introduction to the ideas of Adorno, is
particularly apposite (see also Bernstein 1991). Its usagethen as now



seeks to facilitate the thinking through of relationships between various

elements that resist reduction to a common denominator, essential core,
or generative first principle but that are, nonetheless, linked in significant
ways (Jay 1984a: 15). Critical IR theory certainly resists reduction to a particular set of principles and precepts, but the shared concern with and commitment to emancipation does allow its proponents to identifyand to be
identifiedwith the same broad intellectual project.

Locating Critical IR Theory

Among the Alternative Approaches
Having argued that critical IR theory should be viewed as a constellation of
approaches rather than as an approach, I seek in this section to utilize this
understanding to briefly explore the relationship between it and some of the
alternative approaches to international relations. I will focus on two different approaches in particular, poststructuralism and constructivism.
Habermas, as has already been mentioned, has been at the center of recent
debates concerning the poststructuralist move in social theory. These
debates, which have often been decidedly polemical in tone, have pitted
critical theory as the defender of the modernist tradition against its postmodern detractors. To many, including perhaps a number of those involved
in the exchanges, critical theory and poststructuralism have appeared as
implacable foes. These conflicts and disagreements in social theory have
been replicated to some extent in international relations. The debate
between Hoffman and Rengger, which is discussed by Rengger in Chapter
6, highlighted many of the differences, and these have been further and
forcibly underlined by Chris Brown (1994a; also Ch. 12 in this volume).
Neufeld (in Ch. 8) has also attempted to clarify the distinctions between
poststructuralism and critical IR theory, as well as their implications.
Another view of the critical theorypoststructuralist relationship is in
evidence. Linklater (1990a: postscript; also Ch. 2 in this volume) has
focused on the commonalitieson the points of intersectionbetween
critical theory and poststructuralism (his attitude has not, however, always
been reciprocated by the poststructuralist camp; see Walker 1999). In
Chapter 5 in this volume, Hutchings calls for a halt in the ultimately futile
wars of reason between critical theorists and poststucturalists and seeks
to move the debate from the level of metatheory to that of political analysis, where both may well find that more unites than divides them. Implicit



in Murphys (Ch. 4 in this volume) alternative history of international relations is the view that critical theory and poststructuralist international relations theory are both manifestations of the same radical sensibilitywhat
he describes as the democratic impulse in international relations.
How are we to understand these two apparently contradictory views of
the relationship? Are those who stress differences to be dismissed as sectarian dogmatics, or are those who focus on commonalities simply engaged in
a more or less sinister exercise in co-option? I would argue that to pose the
question in this way is to succumb to a form of binary thinking that in this
case, as in most others, is distinctly unhelpful. Rather, when critical IR theory is understood in terms of a constellation, it is clear that both views of
the relationship are, in a sense, correct.
Some elements in the constellation of critical IR theory do have a great
deal in common with some of those in the constellation of poststructuralism
(poststructuralist thought is no more unified than critical theory and is also
best understood in these terms). So, for example, when the poststructuralist
R.B.J. Walker writes that it is important to recognize that ideas, consciousness, culture, and ideology are bound up with more immediately visible
kinds of political, military and economic power, in this case at least, his
thinking is in complete harmony with Gramscian critical theory (Walker
1984: 3). The congruence between key elements of Adornos critique of
instrumental rationality and Foucaults genealogies of domination are even
more striking and were remarked upon by Foucault himself (see Foucault
1991: 115129). Indeed, it is plausible to argue that writings on international relations in a Foucauldian vein are the closest we have at present to an
Adornian critical IR theory. There is also substantial convergence between
some poststructuralists and Habermasians. As Linklater persuasively
argues, for example, little of substance separates the Habermasians normative stress on unconstrained communication and Lyotards support for
equal rights of participation in a universal speech community (see Ch. 2
in this volume).
Of course, there are also differences in influences, in focus, and in orientation. Most fundamentally perhaps, poststructuralist writing in international relations remains deeply suspicious of the critical IR theory stress on
emancipation (see Wyn Jones forthcoming).
But when we understand critical IR theory and poststructuralism in
terms of constellations, it remains a moot point whether the differences
between them are any greater than the differences within them. Moreover,
it must be remembered that it is only a very attenuated version of modernism that has been defended by any of the strands within the critical theory tradition, and that version has become more attenuated over time. When
one also considers Jacques Derridas refusal to renounce the great classi-



cal discourse of emancipation (Derrida 1996: 82) and recognizes further

the existence of a general ethical turn within poststructuralist social theory
(Honneth 1995a), it may well be that over time, the differences among
other elements within these constellations will become increasingly imperceptible.
Since constructivisms emergence onto the international relations stage in
the late 1980s (Kratochwil 1989 and Onuf 1989 remain important basic
statements), there is no denying its very substantial impact. One of the
points at issue in the overviews of the constructivist literature that have
begun to appear (e.g., Checkel 1998; Hopf 1998; Price and Reus-Smit
1998; Katzenstein, Keohane, and Krasner 1998; Zehfuss 1997) has been the
relationship between the constructivist turn and the other alternative
approaches, including critical theory. As yet at least, no consensus has
appeared. Hopf, for example, argues that constructivism has its origins in
critical theory (1998: 181), a category into which he conflates both critical
theory and postmodernism with his focus firmly on the latter (his confusion
concerning the former has already been noted). Jeffrey Checkel, in contrast,
argues that one of the benefits of the constructivist intervention in international relations is that constructivists have rescued the exploration of identity from postmodernists (1998: 325)and, one suspects by extension,
from critical theorists.
A more nuanced and more interesting analysis is proffered by Richard
Price and Christian Reus-Smit. Their core argument is that constructivism
is best understood as the empirical or applied wing of postpositivist international relations theory. That is, it represents an attempt to move beyond
the metatheoretical concerns of critical IR theory (which, in their usage, is
a spectrum encompassing the work of both modernists and postmodernists)
to apply the ontological propositions, conceptual frameworks, and methods of postpositivism to a substantive analysis of world politics proper
rather than simply to the discourse of international relations itself (1998:
264). They go on to differentiate between modernist and postmodernist
forms of constructivism (267270). The former category, which presumably (though the links are not spelled out) is the closest to the critical theory strand within postpositivist theorizing, is further subdivided between
systematic constructivism, a category that apparently contains only one
person, namely Alexander Wendt, and holistic constructivism, two of
whose leading proponents are Friedrich Kratochwil and John Gerard
Ruggie (268269). But these distinctions notwithstanding, the authors seem
to claim that all constructivism is consistent with critical theory in the
sense used in this book:



Constructivism problematizes both agents and structures, it explores the

dynamics of change as well as the rhythms of stasis, and it calls into question established understandings of world politics, it is analytically open
not closed. For these reasons, it is necessarily critical in the sense meant
by Habermas and Cox. (288)

They, however, also concede that constructivists have had comparatively

little to say about the normative orientation of their work and that constructivism contains no philosophy of the good life or the ideal political
order per se (287, 288). As a result, they strongly imply that the role of
critical theory in the new phase that they claim constructivism represents
is to supply the normative orientation toward which constructivists,
because of their underlying ontological and epistemological assumptions,
are predisposed but are apparently unable to generate themselves (288).
Given their approving comments about the normative framework developed in Linklaters work, it is perhaps not too fanciful to suggest that, in
this regard at least, it is with one of the strands of critical IR theory already
discussed in this chapternamely the Habermasianthat Price and ReusSmit wish to bring constructivism into dialogue (284288).
When these comments are taken in conjunction with Wendts explicit
commitment to emancipation (Ch. 13 in this volume), and bearing in mind
also that Price and Reus-Smit strongly imply that Wendt is among the least
radical of the constructivists, a very interesting picture emerges. Granted,
the constructivism label encompasses a variety of disparate scholars and
many different and indeed contradictory viewpoints on matters epistemological, ontological, and methodological. But the fact remains that a group
of scholars who are usually identified as constructivists in international
relations are apparently seeking to identify themselves with key aspects
the key aspect?of critical IR theory. What are we to make of this? Are
they somehow wrong? Are they not really critical theorists, despite what
they seem to think? Or rather, do we need to redraw our disciplinary maps
and reassess our ideas as to who or what constitutes critical IR theory?
In an important sense, it may well be too early to attempt to come to
any definitive conclusions. The discipline of international relations, as has
already been noted, is in a considerable state of flux, and constructivism is
a relatively recent intervention. It is also undoubtedly the case that the
mainstream exerts a strong gravitational pull on many constructivists, and
this pull may yet serve to blunt the force of many of the more heretical
notions to which they currently adhere. Nevertheless, utilizing the model of
critical IR theory developed here, we can begin making some tentative suggestions as to the points of commonality and difference between constructivism and critical theory, as well as their implications.
Elements in the constellation of critical IR theory clearly overlap with
elements in the constructivist constellation. Price and Reus-Smit claim a



fundamental convergence between their project and both that of Cox and of
Habermas, but it is with the latter rather than the former that common
ground can most easily be identified. Cox, as has been noted, remains fundamentally rooted in a productivist paradigm, and most constructivists
would almost certainly demur from the historical materialist premises of
his work even if they might agree with aspects of his critique of the mainstream. The same is arguably the case for Horkheimerian critical theory.
When we turn to Habermasian critical theory, commonalities become
much more apparent. Thinkers such as Kratochwil and Nicholas Onuf are
recognizably ploughing the same furrow as Habermas (Kratochwil 1989,
Onuf 1989; see also Zehfuss 1997). They too are concerned with speech
acts, communicative action, and, in the case of Kratochwil, communicative
rationality (1989: 1516). Of course, that they use the same literature as
Habermas, and Kratochwil, at least, quotes Habermass work approvingly,
does not necessarily mean that these authorsor other constructivists who
share their intellectual concernsare Habermasians (see Kratochwil 1987:
304). Nevertheless, it does make it difficult to draw any hard and fast lines
between them and other critical theorists who have followed Habermass
communicative turn.
Moreover, if the argument is accepted that the only common theme
among the disparate strands of critical IR theory is a concern with emancipationand I readily acknowledge that this is a big if and that others,
including contributors to this volume, will almost certainly wish to set
more exclusive or demanding criteria for entry into the critical campthen
it is hard to see how Wendt, for example, might be excluded if (another big
if!) he chose to identify himself as a critical theorist. True, his description
of his project as involving a commitment to emancipation and science
will certainly grate with almost all self-identified contemporary critical theorists to the extent that science is still conceived of in traditional mainstream terms. But Wendt is surely correct to argue that his formulation is
roughly analogous to that employed by the Frankfurt School (Bon 1993
provides a most insightful discussion; see also Dubiel 1985). And at any
rate, Wendt, like the many of his constructivist colleagues (see Price and
Reus-Smit 1998), is apparently well aware of the arguments of contemporary critical theoristsand other postpositiviststhat theory as well as
practice (of the early Frankfurt School, among many others) suggests that
when normative concerns are simply bolted on to analysis conducted
according to the principles and precepts of positive social science, the presumptions as to what constitutes knowledge underpinning the latter will
eventually undermine the former. The question that both critical IR theory
and constructivism have to face is how to move beyond this insight. Again,
as Renggers discussion of Adorno suggests (Ch. 6 in this volume), there is
no consensus among critical theorists as to how to answer that question.



But to the extent that contemporary critical theorists eschew the Adornian
great refusal, the kind of discussion that ensues is exemplified by Sandra
Whitworths thought-provoking meditation (in Ch. 9) on fieldwork. This is
also an issue where proponents of critical IR theory can benefit from the
work of the constructivists, even if the claims by Price and Reus-Smit
(1998) that critical theorists have failed to produce the goods in terms of
empirical work are overstated (cf. Linklater 1996b).
Thus there are clearly overlapsand striking ones at thatbetween
the key elements in the constellation of critical IR theory and the equally
central elements of constructivism. Moreover, to the extent that some constructivists seek to illuminate the question of emancipation in and through
the study of world politics, it is valid to consider their work as part of the
broad constellation of critical IR theory. As Wendts insightful discussion
of emancipation (in Ch. 13) indicates, they have much to contribute to the

What Is Critical International Relations Theory For?

This chapter has stressed the heterogeneous nature of critical IR theory by
identifying distinctive and, indeed, contradictory strands within it and has
posited an apparently minimalist definition of what unites these strands,
namely, a concern with the question of emancipation. It has gone on to
underline the commonalities between elements in the constellation of critical IR theory and elements in the constellations of poststructuralism and
constructivism. Given this, it is legitimate to ask what purpose critical IR
theory serves in the study of world politics. Would anything be lost if critical IR theory simply dissolved with elements being absorbed into other
constellations? Habermasians, for example, might like to consider a future
that provides some normative backbone for constructivist IR relations theory. All this is rendered especially piquant not so much for the essentially
trivial reason that international relations has more than its fair share of
competing paradigms and approaches but because the study of international
political economy is increasingly being constituted as a discipline separate
from international relations. If this trend continuesand given that
increased specialization (and atomization) is one if the most baneful manifestations of the domination of positivism in the social sciences, this seems
likelyGramscian critical theory may well become progressively more
detached from the other strands of critical theory. To reiterate, would anything of value be lost should this occur and the constellation of critical IR
theory disintegrate? My answer is most definitely yes, and this for at least
two reasons: The first relates to what critical IR theory already contributes,
namely a focus on emancipation; the second to what it can potentially con-



tribute in the future, that is, a forum in which attempts can be made to
bridge the gap between the productivist and communicative paradigms.
To elaborate, this discussion has highlighted that although concern
with emancipation may well be compatible with forms of constructivism
and is almost certainly implicit in poststructuralism, it is foregrounded by
neither. Even such stalwart defenders as Price and Reus-Smit are forced to
concede that constructivism has provided little in the way of normative
direction, and poststructuralist IR theory has, generally speaking, failed to
move beyond denaturalization and deconstruction to the kind of reconstructive politics that a concern with emancipation eventually requires. By
relentlessly focusing on the question of emancipation and by questioning
what this might mean in terms of the theory and practice of world politics,
critical IR relations theorists are playing a currently irreplaceable role.
It is also important to recognize that by focusing on emancipation, critical theorists (of all strands) are setting themselves extraordinarily demanding targets. Implicit in the orientation toward emancipationin the recognition, after Marx, that the point is not only to understand the world but to
change itis that it is in the crucible of practice that critical theories meet
the ultimate test of vitality (Fraser 1989a: 2). For critical theorists, therefore, the ultimate criteria by which the adequacy of a theory is measured is
extradisciplinary. Thus it is all too easy for the concern with emancipation
to fall by the wayside, especially given that the disciplinary mainstream is
quick to measure alternative approaches by its own standards of adequacy
(as evidenced in Checkel 1998, among many others), and some alternative
thinkers are apparently more than willing to adapt to the criteria set out for
them (witness, for example, the extraordinarily conciliatory way in which
Price and Reus-Smit [1998: 282283] respond to the demands that Checkel
seeks to place on constructivism).
To orientate theorizing toward emancipation is, necessarily, to raise a
series of difficult and intractable questions concerning audiences and
agency. The question is not just, after Wendt, What is international relations
for? but also, Who is it for? and, How can a process of dialogue with that
audience be initiated? Craig Murphy (Ch. 4 in this volume) is almost certainly correct in arguing that critical IR theory has supplied less convincing
answers to these questions than previous manifestations of the democratic
impulse in the study of world politics. In all honesty, proponents of critical
IR theory have barely begun to ask them (for an attempt to think through
some of the issues involved, see Wyn Jones 1999: ch. 6). Nevertheless, it is
only the orientation toward emancipation that renders these questions
worth asking in the first place, and it is precisely that orientation that critical theory can and does bring to a consideration of world politics.
The argument for the continuing importance of critical IR theory as a
broad project also spans metatheory and matters of more immediate practi-



cal and political import and concerns the potential of critical IR theory to
act as a site in which the insights of the paradigms of communication and
production can be better integrated.
Nancy Fraser (1995) has argued lucidly that contemporary political
struggles are conducted along two main axes, redistribution and recognition. Redistributionary struggles are concerned primarily with issues of
economic welfare. They form the arena of class struggle (a phrase whose
very quaintness is eloquent testimony to the success of the theory and practice of neoliberalism since the early 1980s). Struggles for recognition
involve attempts by members of various groupsidentified by sex, sexuality, race, national identity, language, and so onto gain justice as members
of those groups. These latter types of struggle are often considered to be a
more recent phenomenon than old-fashioned redistribution politicsthere
are regular references in the literature to the rise of identity politics. Those
of us who, for example, inhabit the Celtic periphery of the British Isles
might beg to differ from this analysis.
Be that as it may, the point I want to emphasize here is that there is a
tendency in critical theory (and, I think, social theory more generally) to
analyze and understand these two different types of political struggle
through two different metatheoretical paradigms. Work conducted through
the paradigm of productionthat is, the paradigm that underpins the
Gramscian and Horkheimerian strands of critical IR theorytends to focus
on redistributory struggles. Work based on the paradigm of communicationHabermasian critical IR theory, for exampleis concerned with
questions of identity and community.
The fundamental problem is that neither paradigm is adequate for the
task of understanding the problematique of the other. The arguments as to
why identity cannot simply be reduced to questions of productive relations
have been well rehearsed by feminists and many others. Very few would
now argue that patriarchy, racism, and the domination of one nation or linguistic group by another are simply the epiphenomena of particular sets of
productive relations that would somehow disappear should those relations
be swept away or fundamentally reconfigured. Neither, by extension, can
these phenomena be understood solely through focus on relations of production and political economy more generally. (This is not, however, to
suggest that such an analysis could not shed important light on these
issuesmerely an argument that they reveal nothing like the whole story.)
Arguments as to why work conducted through the communicative paradigm (as it is presently understood) is inadequate to the task of understanding redistributionary strugglesand the emancipatory impulses that
are undoubtedly a key element within themhave been heard less frequently (but see Honneth 1982, 1994, 1995b; Postone and Brick 1993;
Calhoun [1995] even questions the usefulness of Habermasian theory for



understanding particular manifestations of the politics of identity). They

are, however, no less compelling. Briefly, Habermas in his reconstruction
of historical materialism has distinguished between work and interaction
and argued that the locus of humanitys emancipatory potential lies in the
latter and not (as Marxists have understood) in the former (a sphere that
Habermas regards as being dominated by instrumental rationality). Thus
Habermas and his followers have tended to bracket questions relating to
work (political economy) and have concentrated instead on exploring interaction through the development of the theory of communicative action.
However, to view relationships of work solely in terms of instrumentality
seems unwarranted reductionism (Wyn Jones 1999: 6263). Moreover,
even on Habermass own terms, it is apparent that economic structures have
major distorting effects on the process of communication. Yet the social
theory that Habermas has attempted to develop on the basis of his theory of
communicative action has no way of analyzing the causes of these distortions or any concrete suggestions as to how they might be overcome
beyond a commitment to the continuation of the welfare state in the West
(global inequalities are something of a closed book). It is striking in this
regard that democratic theory developed in the Habermasian vein has abandoned all hope of fulfilling the old left project of extending democracy into
the economic realm.
Cognizance of the need to bridge the gap between both paradigms
abounds. Linklater, for example, stresses the need to yoke the defense of
dialogue to a critique of asymmetries of wealth and power, and Cox recognizes the need to move beyond a focus on class-based identities (in Chs. 2
and 3, respectively). The question remains, however, How, theoretically
speaking, is this to be accomplished? Some critical theorists working in the
field of social theory have begun to work on this problem. Axel Honneth,
working from the basis of the communicative paradigm, is attempting to
refocus critical theory onto the intuitive expectations that human beings
have in any social encounter that they receive recognition as moral beings
and for their social achievements (1994: 262). His work, and in particular
his Struggle for Recognition (1995b), involves a self-conscious attempt to
bridge the work-interaction divide. Moishe Postone (1993), working from a
productivist standpoint, has attempted to recast the Marxist concept of
labor (in a way he regards as more faithful to the meaning deployed in
Marxs own work) so that it moves beyond a focus on instrumentality to
include also those features that Habermas has separated out under the heading of interaction.
These developments are welcome, and they should surely continue. My
own hope is that they can be echoed within the constellation of critical IR
theory. Indeed, for both theoretical and pragmatic reasons, it seems to me
that critical IR theory forms an ideal site for an attempt to begin a dialogue



between those working in both paradigms. Both sides recognize the need
for such a dialogue and, crucially, recognize themselves to be part of the
same intellectual project. Moreover, one of the most pleasing aspects of the
critical move in international relations has been its open, undogmatic quality, and as such the dialogue will almost certainly prove to be fruitful. But
even more fundamentally, the most striking feature in contemporary world
politics is the rapid increase in global inequality. For the poor and defenseless the results are nothing less that cataclysmic. And yet despite this, those
forces that resonate to the progressive democratic impulse are apparently
catatonic. With very few exceptions, the left has little to offer. It has no
credible alternative to an inhuman and environmentally catastrophic global
economic order, no way beyond the most transient of linking different particularized struggles concerning issues of identity, and no conception of
how to link or synthesize elements on the axes of recognition and redistribution to facilitate the development of a broader progressive politics.
Although bridging the gap between the paradigms of production and communication can play only a very small part in answering some of the very
difficult questions that those committed to emancipatory politics currently
face, it is an important and necessary task, and proponents of critical IR
theory have the opportunity to make a significant contribution. Critical IR
theory may well have already helped to disrupt some of the complacency of
professors of international relations, but that achievement, such as it is,
pales into absolute insignificance beside the challenges that itthat we
face in the real world of world politics.

I would like to thank Ken Booth, Tim Dunne, Eli Stamnes, and Michael Williams
for their perceptive comments on earlier drafts of this chapter. My thanks also to
Maja Zefuss for her advice. All the usual disclaimers apply.


Andrew Linklater

When Frankfurt School critical theory first made its mark on the study of
international relations (IR) in the early 1980s, the terms of the debate were
narrower than they are today. At that time, the advocates of critical theory
were mainly concerned to refute the principal arguments of neorealism.
Drawing on Marxian themes, critical perspectives offered an account of the
nature of social inquiry with explicitly normative goals; they proposed
modes of sociological inquiry oriented toward enlightenment about, and
emancipation from, unnecessary constraints. Unsurprisingly, given the
intellectual debt to Marxism, much of the analysis criticized global inequalities of economic and political power. Critical theory started from the paradigm of production and, in so doing, reflected the influence of the broad
problematic, but not the detailed argument, of the neo-Marxian analyses of
global dominance and dependence, which enjoyed their greatest influence
in the late 1960s and early 1970s. A robust alternative to the neorealist
analysis of immutable geopolitical imperatives was built on these theoretical foundations (Ashley 1981; Cox 1981).
Critical theory has not stood still in the intervening years, but the
nature of its foundations has been keenly debated since the mid- to late
1980s. As a result, Frankfurt School critical theory no longer represents the
main challenge to orthodoxy within the field. It is important to recall that
members of the first generation of the Frankfurt School criticized the paradigm of production over a half-century earlier and that Adorno, in particular, foreshadowed some of the more recent moves to the paradigm of identity and difference (see Coles 1995). However, the parameters of the debate
have shifted even more dramatically in the past decade. Postmodern critical
theory, which has taken the initiative in developing the paradigm of identity


The Contours of Critical IR Theory

and difference, does not try to reconstruct historical materialism or to complete the emancipatory project as defined by Western Marxism, although it
is worth noting Derridas observation that strategies of deconstruction proceed in the spirit of Marxism (Derrida 1994). But far from championing
that project, postmodernism is generally thought to challenge or problematize the conceptions of enlightenment and emancipation favored by those
who belong, however loosely, to the Marxist tradition (Devetak 1996a,
George 1994).
Above all else, disputes surrounding the project of modernity or the
project of the Enlightenment have transformed the disciplinary debate
(Devetak 1995). A great deal has been written in the wake of Foucaults
writings about the extent to which modernity contributes to the progress of
human autonomy or simply reconfigures social confinements and constraints; and much has been written about how far the language of critical
social theoryuniversality, rationality, autonomy, progress, enlightenment,
and emancipationactively empowers the marginalized or sows the seeds
of new structures of social power and political domination. Postmodern
responses to these questions strike at the heart of many of the aspirations of
critical theory within the broadly Marxian tradition, although they also aim
to uncover and criticize the dark side of modernity.
Most of the key issues in these debates have been thrashed out in a
series of encounters between Habermas and his critics. These debates continue, but as Foucault argued early on, it would be erroneous to assume that
one must be either for or against the project of the Enlightenment (Rabinow
1986). The more Marxian of contemporary writers do not dispute this
point. Habermas is reported to defend an enlightened suspicion of the
Enlightenment in which partial redemption from the dark side of modernity remains possible, but all notions of historical finality and completion are
abandoned (Roderick 1986: 134). There are some parallels here with
Foucaults project, which defended local rather than globalizing critical
projects and was ever mindful that everything may not be bad, but everything is potentially dangerous (Rabinow 1986: 343). Those shifts within
radical thinking indicate that the classic pretensions of Marxian critical theory, including the belief in irreversible and unilinear progress toward the
fully autonomous society, have been cast aside. An awareness of the ambiguities of modernity, which has its origins in Hegels reflections on the
modern state and revolutionary terror and in Marxs writings on industrial
capitalism, is pronounced across the critical spectrum. From that premise,
the goal of critical theory is to release the progressive side of modernity
from stifling constraints. But the critical project forgoes the assumption
that practices of liberation are innocent or unambiguous and guaranteed to
remove rather than reconstitute the forms of power; it dispenses with the

The Changing Contours


perfectionist supposition that the project of modernity or the Enlightenment

could ever be finalized or brought to completion.
Different forms of critique occupy some common ground; arguably,
they have more in common with each other than with the perspectives they
oppose. Even so, one of the major achievements of postmodernism is to
invite all perspectives to reconsider their standpoint from the ground up.
Accepting that invitation, the following argument considers the legacy of
critical theory that reflects Frankfurt School concerns and borrows from the
ethical and cultural forms of Western Marxism rather than from Marxist
political economy. Following previous discussions about the nature of the
approach, the aim is to consider the normative, sociological, and praxeological dimensions of the critical-theoretical enterprise (Linklater 1992a,
1998). A comment about each of these domains is in order before proceeding further. The normative realm refers to the nonarbitrary principles that
can be used to criticize existing social practices and to imagine improved
forms of life; the sociological realm refers to the analysis of the historical
development of these principles in past intersocietal systems and in the
contemporary society of states; the praxeological realm considers the moral
capital that has accumulated in the modern era and that can be exploited to
create new forms of political community. The argument seeks to explain
how critical theory continues to evolve beyond the paradigm of production
to a commitment to dialogic communities that are deeply sensitive about all
forms of inclusion and exclusiondomestic, transnational, and international. A post-Marxist critical theory of this kind can build upon the normative,
sociological, and praxeological dimensions of classical Marxism without
perpetuating its theoretical fallacies or generating its political consequences
and dangers.

The Normative Domain

The observation that there are no disembodied cognitive subjects who can
acquire objective knowledge of external reality is a crucial theme running
through all critical standpoints, and the related contention that knowledge
invariably has a political purpose has acquired considerable prominence in
recent years. The critique of neorealism, whether critical-theoretical, postmodern, or feminist, attacks its assumption that theory can provide objective knowledge of an immutable reality to which rational subjects should
resign themselves. The immutability thesis, it has been argued, imputes
properties to anarchy that truly belong to its constitutive parts, the more
powerful of which have sufficient power to modify the dominant patterns
of political interaction and principles of association, should they so wish


The Contours of Critical IR Theory

(Wendt 1992; Linklater 1995a). One consequence of this weakness is that

international relations theory contributes to the reproduction of asymmetries of power, wealth, and opportunity. Put differently, notions of
immutability conspire against those who have already lodged serious complaints about the injustices and deficiencies of the prevailing world order.
All branches of critical theory have been keen to stress this important
theme. A high level of self-consciousness about the nature of the relationship between the subject and the object, accompanied by the ambition to
overcome the limitations inherent in problem-solving approaches to
allegedly unmovable structures, is one thread uniting the different critical
Where to go from here is the intriguing question, and critical theory
has been internally divided about the appropriate response. The early stages
in the development of critical international relations theory reflected the
influence of Marxs vision of the whole of humanity associated in a universal society of free and equal producers. Whether that vision assumed that
the main tendencies of modernity were universalizing and homogenizing
need not detain us here. Suffice it to add that although Marx was notoriously vague about the place of the nation in the future socialist world order, he
clearly believed that socialism represented the beginning rather than the
end of history. This was the point at which greater individual creativity
would distinguish the emancipated society from all previous forms of life.
Objections to this conception of history and progress are far from new.
Various nineteenth-century writers, including Mikhail Bakunin, argued that
deeply exclusionary properties resided at the heart of Marxs project of universal emancipation. Their main objection was that romantic images of the
industrial proletariat already contained the possibility of new forms of state
domination of marginal groups, a criticism that Marx and Lenins disparaging view of the peasantry did nothing to dispel. More recent radical perspectives, including postmodernism and feminism, renew this assault on
projects of universal emancipation, noting how various conceptions of
abstract universalism have contributed to the subjugation of non-Western
peoples and the long exclusion of women from the public realm. Whether
any notion of ethical universality and project of universal emancipation
survives these criticisms is a point to return to in a moment. What has been
clearly established in the critical literature is that some, but not necessarily
all, forms of ethical and political universalism may be just as exclusionary
as the arrangements they criticize.
Recent critiques of universality are intimately linked with the greater
awareness of unjust exclusion that shapes the politics of all contemporary
societies. Many current political struggles contest the ways in which the
development and reproduction of social bonds rest on and require systems
of unjust exclusion. Much contemporary critical theory endeavors to

The Changing Contours


answer the question of how systems of exclusion should be legitimated. Far

from attempting to reconstruct ethical universalism from some
Archimedean point (a project that has been almost universally abandoned),
critical theory reflects on the tests to which all modes of exclusion
domestic, transnational, and internationalshould be subject. At the forefront of these discussions is the normative commitment to create more
openly dialogic social arrangements.
An important shift beyond Marxist critical theory is evident in this
development. It is well known that Marx and Marxism were preoccupied
with the critique of class-based exclusion anchored in the unequal distribution of ownership of the means of production. Post-Marxist critical theory
has enlarged the scope of the inquiry to include all known forms of unjust
exclusion. It has been concerned not only with the plight of subordinate
classes but with the overlapping forms of exclusion experienced by women,
minority nations, and the racially and culturally different, including indigenous peoples. Invariably, critique proceeds by challenging hierarchies of
class, culture, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, or race that have been
granted a natural status. It emphasizes that it is society or at least its most
powerful groups that impute this power to nature and alienates social power
and agency to natural processes. A central feature of critical theory is this
assault on efforts to naturalize all modes of social exclusion that disempower members of subjugated groups. The critical project aims to demonstrate
that some of the differences among human beings do not have the moral
relevance that they have been assumed to possess, and often by the disempowered as well as by hegemonic groups. A primary moral goal is lifting
scope restrictions, in which morally irrelevant distinctions based on
class, gender, race, or ethnicity are used to deny groups access to the rights
the privileged already enjoy (Bernstein 1995: 193). Whether reliant on
genealogical techniques or the method of immanent critique, different
forms of critical theory aim to deprive these systems of legitimation of their
traditional authority and sacrosanct status (Hoy and McCarthy 1994).
Efforts to make morally irrelevant differences between human beings
central to social life might have failed had those whose interests were
harmed in consequence been in a position to contest these suppositions in
unconstrained dialogue, and systems of unjust exclusion will be that much
harder to introduce in the future if the legitimacy of social practices is
decided in open tribunal. Many different schools of critical theory imply at
the very least that decisions about morally relevant differences among persons cannot be decided by those who stand to benefit most from them. The
upshot is that all modes of exclusion have to be tested in dialogue that is
open to the included and excluded alike. Habermass account of undistorted
communication is the most frequently discussed example of this perspective. His approach endorses the view that all conceptions of ethics that


The Contours of Critical IR Theory

assume the existence or possibility of an Archimedean point from which it

is possible to derive some substantive and universalizable conception of the
good life have dissolved into thin air. What survives the critique of substantive visions of the good life, according to Habermas (1990a, 1993), is a
rational normative commitment to the universal procedures of the ideal
speech community.
Many who take this standpoint subscribe to a conception of dialogue
that is in principle open to all human beings, that accepts the prima facie
equal legitimacy of all claims, and that proceeds on the assumption that in
true dialogue, no one can be sure of who will learn from whomthese
being central elements of Habermass discourse theory of morality. But
what many reject is the supposition that these normative commitments can
be grounded in some universal conception of communicative action or
linked with the belief that the unity of the whole species was already anticipated by the first speech act. Habermas has often been criticized for positing the ideal of a fully transparent and homogeneous society, but many of
his formulations defend modes of communication that affirm the right to
radical otherness and argue that the first test of universalism is the seriousness of its commitment to deep diversity as a normative ideal (Habermas
1992a: 240). There is much to be said, in consequence, for Richard Rortys
observation that merely philosophical differences separate the foundationalists from the postfoundationalists (Rorty 1989: 67). It is arguable,
without trivializing the importance of these differences, that the different
strands of contemporary critical theory share similar conceptions of the
virtues of dialogic communities and the preconditions of their successful
The belief that the legitimacy of systems of exclusion ought to be
decided in open dialogue is the common ground. Allegiance to this ethical
goal is apparent in certain forms of feminism that reveal a Habermasian
influence, as Seyla Benhabibs defense of post-conventional contextualism or interactive universalism reveals (Benhabib and Cornell 1987: ch.
4; Benhabib 1993: 151, 163164). It is just as evident in the feminist commitment to a dialogic communitarianism that affirms the solidarities and
sentiments that bind social groups together while denying that tradition and
convention can be immune to the scrutiny of open dialogue (Frazer and
Lacey 1993). Though far removed from Habermass defense of ethical universalism, Jean-Franois Lyotards support for equal rights of participation
in a universal speech community strikes a remarkably similar chord to the
Habermasian conception of undistorted communication (Lyotard 1993).
Similar trends are evident in, or compatible with, Foucaults claim that he
was not for consensus but anti anti-consensus (Rabinow 1986), as well as
in postmodern writing influenced by the work of Mikhail Bakhtin (Der
Derian 1994). There are also similarities with Hans-Georg Gadamers

The Changing Contours


philosophical hermeneutics, which celebrate conversation as the means by

which the radically different can enter into one anothers worldviews and
fuse cognitive horizons without merging identities or assimilating otherness
within dominant perspectives (Shapcott 1994). Minor philosophical differences aside, these approaches share a broadly similar conception of the dialogic ideal.
In authentic dialogue, as Lyotard has argued, one speaks only inasmuch as one listens, and in a related passage, he suggests that dialectical
discourse in the Platonic sense may not escape the operation of power
(Haber 1994: 42; Lyotard and Thebaud 1985: 4). The crucial question,
Rorty has suggested, is what it would mean to take part in unconstrained
communication (Rorty 1991: 634). Habermas raises similar concerns by
admitting that his earlier notion of ideal speech is misleading because it
suggests that unconstrained dialogue could exist in practice (Habermas
1994a: 102, 112113). The relevant conclusion is that authentic dialogue
can never be anything other than an ideal to be aimed for, a goal that can be
approximated, because there may always be forms of exclusion that human
beings have still to discover. They could never be sure they had reached the
end of history and that all systems of unjust exclusion or constraints on
human autonomy had been identified and removed.
One of the more important implications of these comments about
authentic dialogue is that it is insufficient simply to remove scope restrictions on participation in dialogic arrangements. Removing indefensible
restrictions grants additional parties an equal right to participate in the
speech community, but it may not secure equal respect for all the positions
brought before the tribunal of open dialogue. As the sociologist Benjamin
Nelson, put it, authentic dialogue requires the radical expansion of permissible expressions and disagreements (Nelson 1973). Increasing access to
participation involves the eradication of systems of exclusion based on
morally irrelevant differences among human beings; but this is not the
same as concluding that the differences between them do not matter at all.
The essential point, which various writers on gender, ethnicity, and indigenous peoples have advanced with considerable sophistication, is that often
those who belong to systematically excluded groups have no desire to be
included in the political community on exactly the same terms as everyone
else (Kymlicka 1989, 1995; Phillips 1993). Demands for group-specific citizenship rights and local autonomy often express this point particularly
well, since they show that the drive to universalize certain rights may represent significant progress for some groups but fail to address the concerns of
those for whom securing the public recognition of their cultural differences
is the primary concern. From the latter perspective, progress toward universality by conferring the same legal and political rights on all members of
society constitutes limited progress beyond unjust exclusion. Still more


The Contours of Critical IR Theory

radical measures require advances in the public recognition of cultural

diversity that may take the form of the devolution of political power or the
creation of group-specific rights.
The commitment to dialogue therefore requires communities that are
more universalistic and more respectful of human differences than they
have been in the past: It requires the development of societies that regard
the differences between human beings as less important than their shared
experience of pain and suffering (Rorty 1989: ch. 9). No less important is
the need to ensure that these communities do not efface human differences
in the search for agreement and understanding (Habermas 1994a: 120).
Support for this dual process of development spans the different branches
of contemporary critical theory that affirm the dialogic ideal.
Interestingly, and conceivably in response to the postmodern defense
of diversity, Habermas has suggested a preference for understanding as
opposed to emancipation, which is best reserved for describing personal
biographical developments (Habermas 1994a: 104). Limiting the concept
of emancipation to the personal domain may not be the best move to make,
and in a more compelling formulation, Karl-Otto Apel has described the
project of emancipation as the progressive implementation of the standard
of ideal communication and nonrepressive deliberation (Apel 1979:
9899). As previously noted, progress in this direction involves the lifting
of scope restrictions and greater sensitivity to radically different worldviews. But it also requires collective efforts to create a more equal distribution of power and influence; otherwise, greater access to the speech community simply grants individuals and their associations formal rather than
substantive rights. For this reason, the thin morality that substitutes the
defense of open dialogue for classical efforts to define a universalizable
conception of the good life is, in Michael Walzers words, already pretty
thick and laced with substantive content (Walzer 1994: 12). An account of
the ethical procedures specific to the dialogic community does not extend
very far unless it links up with the neo-Marxist critique of asymmetries of
wealth and power (Apel 1980: 283; Cohen 1990). The defense of dialogue
that is so pronounced across the critical spectrum is incomplete without this
emancipatory component in which the basic ethical aspirations of the
Marxist tradition are reaffirmed (see also Derrida 1994).
Critical theory in the Marxian mode has been opposed because its project of universal emancipation is host to totalizing potentials. Efforts to
reconstruct that position have culminated in the case for a procedural ethic
that abandons the quest for some global conception of the good life, but
universalistic commitments in the form of lifting restrictions on access to
the speech community remain central to the critical project. In response to
postmodern and feminist critiques, the normative focus of contemporary
critical theory reveals a greater sensitivity to radical differences, realizing,

The Changing Contours


perhaps belatedly, that this is one key to an improved universality.

Retaining the Marxian critique of the asymmetries of power and wealth is
the remaining side of the triangle. The normative aim of critical IR theory
can therefore be summed up in this way: It is to increase the spheres of
social interaction that are governed by dialogue and consent rather than
power and force; to expand the number of human beings who have access
to a speech community that has the potential to become universal; and to
create the socioeconomic preconditions of effective, as opposed to nominal,
involvement for all members of that community.

The Sociological Domain

The discussion thus far is a reminder of the extent to which the recent history of the discipline has been shaped by complex philosophical discussions, but not every member of the profession welcomes these developments with enthusiasm. Some responses to the critical turn lament the level
of abstraction, even obfuscation, and invite critical scholars to produce useful social analysis (Wallace 1996; see also Halliday 1996: 325; Mann 1996:
221). From the time Robert Keohane introduced the distinction between
reflectivist and rationalist approaches to the subject, postmodern writers
have borne the brunt of this criticism (Keohane 1988).
Complex questions about what counts as a strong empirical research
agenda arise at this point, but they must be passed over here (Walker 1989).
Nor is this the appropriate moment to compile an inventory of the postpositivist contribution to recent sociological analysis. Perhaps it is sufficient to
add that a complete inventory would doubtless include the studies of the
doors to otherness, in Taylors felicitous phrase, which have been closed
because of the assumed moral relevance of racial, ethnic, gender, or civilizational differences (see Taylor 1985). Related to this, a substantial literature has appeared about how the West forged its civilized identity
through a series of negative contrasts with non-Western peoples and about
how national identity has been created and national purposes sustained
through similar exclusionary practices (Dalby 1990; Campbell 1992, 1993).
Writers within the Marxian tradition, particularly the neo-Gramscian
school, have brought a sophisticated political economy to bear on the
analysis of world order and global hegemony (Cox 1996a). The many different tendencies that constitute the postpositivist turn are also evident in
the project of reworking security studies from the ground up (Krause and
Williams 1997). Others have enumerated many of these empirical developments in some detail, and there is no reason to retrace their steps here (see
George 1994; Devetak 1996a, 1996b). The main point is that even a brief
analysis of the evolution of the empirical research agenda over the past fif-


The Contours of Critical IR Theory

teen years reveals that contemporary critical theorists have no reason to

apologize to the allegedly more empirically minded for any failure to deliver concrete analysis.
As noted earlier, postpositivist empirical research agendas do not purport to offer objective accounts of an external reality, but they have an
explicitly normative and critical purpose. The question then arises of what
kind of sociology should flow from the normative aspirations set out in the
preceding section. It was noted there that the normative content of critical
theory supports removal of the barriers to the equal enjoyment of rights,
greater respect for radical differences of worldview, and efforts to reduce
material inequalities. The point of these measures is to create new forms of
community that increase access to dialogic arrangements and encourage
what Fraser calls parity of participation for all members (see Cochran
Whether modernity has the resources with which to make substantial
progress in this direction is a question that can be deferred until the next
section. What can be stated with some confidence at this stage is that
visions of a universal speech community have not existed in all societies;
they are the outcome of complex patterns of social development that have
frequently been spurred on by political resistance and violent social conflict. What is equally clear is that the project of developing a sociology that
traces these developments has barely begun and that it raises questions that
go beyond conventional sociological analysis. As Anthony Giddens has
argued in a different context, mainstream sociology was committed to an
unfolding conception of social change in which little or no attention was
paid to exogenous forces or to their complex interplay with endogenous
factors (Giddens 1985). Frankfurt School social theory has not been
immune to these traits, as Habermass schematic overview of the course of
social evolution reveals. The empirical philosophy of history with an
emancipatory intent that Habermas defends scarcely mentions international relations and their part in promoting or delaying progress toward a universal communication community (Linklater 1990a: postscript). A sociology that corresponds with the normative commitments set out earlier must
therefore move from the idea of society to intersocietal systems (without
committing the neorealist error of abstracting the latter from their constituent parts). These systems include, inter alia, relations among groups
that have been forced together within imperial modes of domination, intercivilizational relations, and international societies of states.
Recent sociology contains important resources with which to take this
neglected project further. Michael Manns account of the early empires of
domination explains how they dismantled scope restrictions by permitting
the elite members of subjugated societies to enter the dominant political
class. But far from affirming radical otherness, the early empires simply

The Changing Contours


tolerated cultural difference, not least because they generally lacked the
social reach or intensive power to assimilate entire subordinate cultures
within the prevailing order (Mann 1986). Any vision of equal dialogue with
the alien other would have been anathema to the members of the ruling
strata, as would the ethical commitment to reducing material inequalities in
order to create social arrangements in closer harmony with the ideal of a
universal speech community. Similar themes appear in Nelsons sociology
of civilizational structures and intercivilizational relations (Nelson 1973).
Breaking down some of the invidious differences between insiders and outsiders within their boundaries was one of the great achievements of the
major world civilizations, in Nelsons view. But non-Western civilizations,
he argued, hardly developed dialogic potentials internally or in their relations with the rest of the human race. With their deep-seated assumptions
about the moral significance of the differences between insiders and outsiders, those civilizations were committed to hegemonial conceptions of
international society (see also Bull and Watson 1984).
Societies of states provide an interesting point of contrast not least
because a dialogic element is intrinsic to their nature. Hellenic international
society, for example, possessed the institution of diplomacy, though not the
idea of dialogue between equals, until quite late in its history (Wight 1977:
23). Modern visions of a speech community with the potential to become
universal would have seemed an absurd proposition to the vast majority of
the inhabitants of ancient Greece. Whereas conceptions of moral and political universalism emerged, they invariably assumed the superiority of
Hellenic culture and the ideal incorporation of the alien other within its
supposedly more rational worldview (Kristeva 1991: 59). Relations with
Persia revealed the tension between the egocentrism of Hellenic culture and
the pragmatic requirement to enlarge the diplomatic dialogue so that Persia
was recognized as a different but equal member of international society
(Wight 1977: ch. 3). What is more, the Greek city-states system, along with
the intersocietal systems that predated it, did not develop an ethic of transferring power and wealth to subordinate groups to ensure parity of participation in a widening dialogic community (Resnick 1992).
It is tempting to draw the conclusion that support for lifting restrictions
on the equal enjoyment of political rights, for respecting the radically different and redistributing wealth and power to the members of systematically excluded groups, is greater in the modern era than in any past intersocietal system. This is a proposition that can be advanced only with serious
qualification. Support for these principles has not always been matched by
radical changes in practice, and, needless to say, it varies enormously within and between societies. Greater support has not occurred because modern
societies are more clever than their predecessors but because in many
respects they are as, if not more, oppressive and have engendered powerful


The Contours of Critical IR Theory

opposition to their negative properties and tendencies as a result. The seemingly unique qualities of modernity are evident in the achievements of
modern citizenship, around which struggles to universalize rights, respect
differences, and reduce inequalities continue to revolve. Modernitys qualities are also evident in the recent development of the international society
of states. Scope restrictions that prevented non-Europeans from gaining
admission to European society have been lifted, at least for those groups
with the power to constitute themselves as separate states. Advances in
respect for cultural differences and progress in reducing material inequalities within many nation states have failed to stir collective action to reduce
international inequalities, but it would be foolish to conclude that there had
been no progress at all on these fronts. Arguably, the commitment to pacify
the society of states without converting it into empire is a more pronounced
theme in the modern society of states than it was in ancient Greece or
China. Still more radical changes in the structure of international society
are made possible by these normative commitments.
These are conjectural statements that further research will either confirm or disconfirm. Whatever their long-term fate, some observations about
the condition of modernity can be safely made. As previously noted, the
progressive side of modernity is not the outcome of the unassisted development of reason but the product of political struggle against terrible forces.
The main influences on Frankfurt School critical theory knew as much.
Immanuel Kants observation that war had taught human beings by experience what the use of reason could have foretold, namely that their primary
political goal ought to be association within a cosmopolitical association
dedicated to promoting permanent peace, conveyed the essential point
(Kant 1970). Hegels account of the dialectical interplay between the development of reason and the struggle for freedom in the face of arbitrary state
power and the destructive effects of industrial capitalism reworked the crucial theme (Avineri 1972). Marxs claim that the fate of human freedom
depended entirely on the outcome of the struggle against capitalist exploitation was the version that defined critical theory for much of the nineteenth
and twentieth centuries. Many of the most insightful trends within social
and political theory continue this tradition by providing critical theory with
a more profound understanding of the strange ambiguities of modernity
(see Smart 1985). Again, this is one point where the different paths of
Frankfurt School critical theory, postmodernism, and feminism intersect.
Current efforts to reconstruct the sociology of the ambiguities of
modernity include the literature on the unprecedented territorial concentrations of power that have emerged over the past 200 years. The relationship
between this phenomenon and the struggle to acquire legal rights against
the state and rights of representation and participation has been one of its
central concerns, as has the analysis of the impact of warfare on the evolu-

The Changing Contours


tion of state power and on subsequent demands for citizenship rights

(Giddens 1985). Accounts of the dialectics of capitalism in which new
structures of social control and patterns of inequality compete with
demands for welfare rights have enriched the sociology of modernity and
its ambiguities (Giddens 1985, 1993). Inquiries into the relationship
between state building, war and capitalism and the formation of, and resistance to, modern patriarchal relations and the dominant conceptions of sexual identity have transformed the analysis. The same may be said of explorations of the homogenizing effects of state building and capitalism and the
parallel ethnic revolt and struggle for recognition by indigenous peoples.
No inventory of the ambiguous qualities of modernity would be complete
unless it included the relationship between industrialization and the various
social movements committed to reconstituting dominant approaches to the
natural environment and to nonhuman species.
Those formulations emphasize the deeply ambiguous character of
Western modernity: They reveal that unprecedented territorial concentrations of power, unparalleled violence against subordinate groups and alien
outsiders, and more insidious forms of social control compete with unusual
levels of social mobilization to resist multiple forms of political domination
and social exclusion. Critical social theory stands at the intersection of
these contrasting forces, which form the conditions of modernitys existence. Its opposition to the dark side of modernity draws on the moral and
political resources that constitute the progressive side of modernity and
reveal that improved forms of political community may yet evolve. The
thesis that postmodernity does not represent a break with modernity but
rather a vital intensification of its radical, democratic potentials reinforces
the point (Keane 1990: 9192).
Different strands of critical social theory have highlighted the multiple
strands of exclusion that run through the structure of modern societies and
their international relations; they have analyzed the variety of counterhegemonic forces that resist forms of domination and exclusion within the modern world system; in so doing, they have turned the dialogic elements and
further potentials of modernity against its dark and oppressive forces. Some
critics of the new scholasticism lament the paucity of concrete social
analysis in contemporary critical theory (Wallace 1996), but the charge
misfires. In a relatively short period, there has been considerable progress
in rewriting the sociology of modernity to show how the seeds of alternative social and political arrangements are evident within existing forms of
life. Right at the heart of this enterprise is the analysis of the dialectic of
dialogue, difference, and exclusion.
Those analyses of the properties of modernity need to be placed in a
wider historical context that allows informed assessments about the extent
to which different intersocietal systems developed conceptions of universal


The Contours of Critical IR Theory

dialogue that are sensitive to cultural differences and economic inequalities. The historical evidence suggests that different forms of world political
organization exhibit different properties in this regard (Linklater 1998: ch.
4). To summarize, the first empires promoted selective advances in universality but remained deeply exclusionary and inegalitarian. Lifting restrictions on access to elite positions enabled egocentric cultures to administer
sprawling empires, but hierarchical worldviews prevented any major breakthrough in the shape of egalitarian commitments to universal dialogue.
Similar worldviews are evident in the relations among the major empires or
civilizations. Imagining their association within a universal communication
community that overcame the deepest forms of social exclusion rarely
emerged as an ethical ideal. Movement to new structures of consciousness
is evident in societies of states with their commitment to dialogue among
their constitutive parts. Hellenic international society broke through the
limitations of early empires, but hegemonic conceptions of international
relations hampered the evolution of modern conceptions of the equality of
states and clashed with the Kantian notion of a universal kingdom of ends.
Ethnocentrism prevented the radical extension of dialogic commitments in
relations with non-Hellenic societies, although some movement toward
more universalistic structures of consciousness was evident in the gradual
expansion of international society to include Persia. A preliminary survey
of the historical evidence suggests that the vision of forms of political community that are more universalistic than their predecessors and more sensitive to cultural differences and material inequalities is a uniquely modern
idea and an expression of the progressive side of modernity.1 It is not
entirely fortuitous that this vision has emerged in a civilization that may be
unique in attaching deep moral significance to differences of race; that has
been as, if not more, assimilationist than past intersocietal systems; and that
has been the site for the development of seemingly unprecedented inequalities of wealth and power. But modernity is not reducible simply to this dark
side; whether it can create political arrangements that represent its progressive side is the crucial question.

The Praxeological Domain

The complaint that the critical turn has forsaken concrete social analysis for
indecipherable reflections about the foundations of human inquiry was
noted earlier; the related lament is that postpositivism is annoyingly
detached from vital questions of public policy and governance (Wallace
1996). Invitations to deepen the connections between postpositivist inquiry
and current policy and practice are welcomeall the more so if they take
up complex questions surrounding the relationship between theory and

The Changing Contours


practice, which have always been central to those working within the
Marxist tradition. One recent critique of postpositivism fails to mention,
even in passing, Coxs important and influential distinction between problem solving and critical approaches to international relations (Wallace
1996). This distinction is an important reminder that sophisticated policyrelevant research must confront the question of which interests are privileged and which are conveniently ignored by the urge to address issues of
current practice (Cox 1981; Booth 1997). Critical theories of all descriptions are especially alert to these considerations, which are at the forefront
of a range of inquiries into policy matters, political structures, and alternative forms of human governance.
Critical theory in the revolutionary Marxist tradition was concerned
with large questions about current political structures and alternative modes
of social organization rather than with incrementalist policy recommendations associated with revisionist solutions to the problems of modern capitalist society. But in more recent times, few would deny the importance of
shuttling between long-range questions about the prospects for alternative
forms of political community and shorter-term policy debates that determine whether societies evolve in the normatively preferred direction. The
commitment to the discourse theory of morality, for example, necessarily
combines grand visions of more dialogic cultures and human subjects with
support for concrete measures (such as freedom of information) that will
contribute to the realization of that goal. Approaches to current policy have
to be linked, then, with longer-term normative objectives that link critical
theory with classical political philosophy and its reflections on the good
society and the good life. This is the specific domain of critical praxeology.
Raymond Aron introduced the term praxeology in the course of his
reflections on the antinomies of statecraft (Aron 1966: 577579). He maintained that the tension between Machiavellian calculations of opportunity
and the Kantian problem of acting ethically and securing progress toward
universal peace is at the heart of foreign policy. Arons writings highlighted
the allegedly unending struggle between the realist conviction that the purpose of foreign policy is to enhance national power and prestige and the
idealist commitment that the function of foreign policy is to promote cosmopolitan goals. In so doing, he stressed the recurrent tension between the
ethics of conviction and responsibility that Weber analyzed in the final sections of Politics as a Vocation (Weber 1948). These realist approaches to
praxeology are at odds with the Kantian alternative in Perpetual Peace,
which informs the argument of the present section. In Perpetual Peace,
Kant recognized that the struggle for power and security could not be eradicated overnight but might be eliminated gradually in a process of international political change lasting several centuries (Kant 1970). Kant believed
that the bitter experience of war had taught human beings the need to bring


The Contours of Critical IR Theory

civility to international relations. Greater economic interdependence also

encouraged the widening of humanitys moral horizons so that the concern
for human dignity and human rights had begun to unite the whole world. In
Kants writings, praxeology was concerned with the prospects for releasing
the progressive side of modernity from superfluous constraints. The static
representation of the tension between power and ethics that typifies classical realism gave way to a more complex analysis of the dynamic qualities
of world politics. Kants critical approach to praxeology focused on the
pressures that had compelled human beings to humanize their international
relations and on the specific measures they could take in the future to make
world politics comply with their highest ethical ideals.
Central to the approach is how the tension between the different sides
of modernity can be resolved by the gradual accumulation of just international norms. The moral capital that accumulates in the struggle against
unnecessary constraints checks the recovery of the politics of power and
force, but it also creates the possibility of further advances in the politics of
dialogue and consent. Compliance with these norms is essential for the
reproduction of society, and serious violations of these norms create considerable public alarm and provoke significant political opposition. The
integrity of these norms also requires the restructuring of social arrangements when they are found to clash with important ethical commitments.
Important aspects of this process have already been discussed. Lifting
scope restrictions so that the members of subordinate classes could enjoy
the legal and political rights monopolized by dominant groups was part of a
larger process in which systematically excluded groups contested the moral
relevance of their differences from full-fledged citizens. Efforts to universalize legal and political rights triggered political discontent when dominant groups failed to deal with profound economic inequalities. Such measures have been regarded as deficient by groups that do not wish to have
exactly the same rights as all other citizens but desire special rights and
entitlements that recognize their cultural distinctiveness. The accumulation
of norms therefore serves the dual purpose of preventing the recovery of
pernicious systems of exclusion and enabling further development and
In modern societies, the concept of citizenship performs this dual role.
The moral capital invested in citizenship is the product of resistance to territorial concentrations of power, to national-assimilationist policies
designed to curb national minorities and secessionist tendencies, and to the
social inequalities resulting from the transition to the industrial era. The
struggle for citizenship has focused on lifting barriers to the enjoyment of
equal legal and political rights, but it has also sought advances in welfare
rights and the establishment of group-specific rights in response to the politics of cultural recognition. Citizenship rights provide a barrier against the

The Changing Contours


reemergence of past forms of unjust exclusion, and they are a vital element
in the collective memory of earlier struggles to remove them. These rights
are a key moral resource that progressive social forces continue to exploit
in contemporary efforts to reconfigure political community. They ensure
that a culture of sensitivity to unjust exclusion remains important to a significant proportion of the citizenry of modern societies. Whereas a realist
account of praxeology stresses the tension between these normative commitments and the logic of power, a critical approach focuses on the higher
possibilities that they build into the structure of modern societies. From the
latter point of view, the moral capital invested in citizenship is not in a state
of permanent tension with the logic of anarchy but confirms the Kantian
theme that these societies possess the moral resources for narrowing the
sphere of social interaction that has been ceded to the dominion of force
and power.
Universalizing suffrage by dismantling scope restrictions has been an
intriguing feature of modern societies, all the more so because of the coexistence of deeply embedded particularistic norms that deny aliens representation and voice. Most societies have assumed that the distinction between
insiders and outsiders has obvious moral relevance, at least as far as the
right of democratic participation is concerned. Increased opportunities for
and incidences of cross-boundary harm pose the question of whether the
differences between insiders and outsiders are any more morally relevant
than the distinctions of gender, class, ethnicity, and race. A profound moral
contradiction arises for democracies that cause harm to outsiders by polluting their environment and endangering their health. The logic of their moral
beliefs requires them to widen the boundaries of democratic government so
that insiders and outsiders come together as associates in joint rule.
Proponents of cosmopolitan democracy have offered a cogent defense of
this argument, and the growth of regional organizations and the emergence
of a global civil society encourage the belief that the history of democratic
governance is entering a new phase of development (Archibugi and Held
1995; Held 1995; Archibugi, Held, and Kohler 1998). It is abundantly clear
that national commitments to citizenship have already generated powerful
arguments for creating a transnational democracy in Europe. Interestingly,
these visions of expanded democracy often stress the need to devolve
power to domestic regions and local communities. Most of them do not
predict the end of the nation state, but they anticipate new forms of political
community in which significant national powers are shared with substate
and transnational institutions, and national loyalties exist alongside
stronger subnational and transnational allegiances (Camilleri and Falk
1992; Meehan 1993; Beiner 1995; Turner 1993).
Thus the moral capital that has been accumulated in the struggle
against unjust exclusion is more than a way of preserving past achieve-


The Contours of Critical IR Theory

ments; it can also be used as a resource for creating new forms of political
community and citizenship that institutionalize the dialogic ideal in a more
complex ensemble of democratic public spheres. Praxeology in the Kantian
tradition considers the implications of normative analyses of the highest
ethical ideals and sociological explorations of the ambiguities of modernity
for matters of current policy and practice. Significantly, praxeological
inquiry considers large-scale questions about the possibility of new forms
of human governance and reflects on the more important developments that
can help realize this ideal. Visions of the modes of governance that ought to
appeal to societies with deep moral commitments to citizenship are combined with critical reflections on the concrete measures that deserve support. The latter include the right of individual appeal against the state not
only in national but in European courts; the international protection of
minority rights; the devolution of power to domestic regions; and the development of richer conceptions of European citizenship that embrace legal,
political, and welfare rights (Linklater 1996a).
The recent critical or postpositivist turn has not attempted to shift the
study of international relations away from issues of current policy and practice toward the higher reaches of detached philosophical analysis. One of
its central ambitions has been to recapture something of the ethical spirit
that existed when the field first came into existence, and to do so without
repeating the mistakes of early idealism. Very complex issues attend this
process, and it is unsurprising that much of the recent literature has
addressed them in their own terms and for their own sake in relative isolation from questions of current practice. Those who have taken these philosophical issues seriously have often abandoned the familiar territory of
conventional international relations for the less familiar world of social and
political theory, a necessary step if the field was to advance quickly. No
serious understanding of the complexity of the issues involved could conclude that the theoretical retreat had gone far enough and was in danger of
imbalancing the subject. A more profound assessment of the meaning of the
critical turn would note how far it runs parallel with the wider literature on
the prospects for new modes of human governance and new forms of political community.
It is not possible to undertake a detailed examination of these parallel
lines of investigation here, but for present purposes, it may suffice to comment briefly on some recent writings that envisage forms of political community that break the nexus between sovereignty, territoriality, nationality,
and citizenship. In The Other Heading, Derrida defends a European polity
that avoids the monopolization of power and its dispersal to the representatives of exclusive particularisms (Derrida 1992: 41). In The Past as Future,
Habermas supports moves to transnationalize democracy and to invest
authority in substate and transnational authorities in a more democratic

The Changing Contours


Europe (Habermas 1994a). In the study of international relations, a related

strand of thought defends the rights of national groups to preserve their differences but not necessarily to constitute themselves as exclusive, sovereign entities (Elshtain 1994). A parallel development notes the connections
between Hedley Bulls heavily qualified support for a neomedieval Europe
and the critical-theoretical defense of forms of political community that are
more universalistic and more sensitive to cultural differences than most
states have been in the past (Linklater 1996a). Numerous parallels exist
with a range of recent commentaries on the future of the nation-state in
Europe (MacCormack 1996, Wallace 1994). Here the philosophical defense
of societies that embody higher levels of universality without effacing
human differences is reflected in praxeological reflections on new forms of
community and citizenship that reveal the potentials of modernity.
These reflections about governance, which deal with the possibility of
postnational or postsovereign societies in Europe, inevitably raise complex
questions about how Europe should conduct its relations with the rest of the
world. Fears that a postsovereign Europe might turn in on itself and purchase its own welfare and autonomy by imposing hardship on others have
been emphasized in these discussions (see Derrida 1992: 9). The important
point is that efforts to release the progressive side of modernity within
Europe may generate, and even require, injustice for the members of nonEuropean societies. For this reason, the ambiguities of modernity may be
only partially overcome. But as already noted, the culture of sensitivity to
unjust exclusion is a major dimension of modernity, and all efforts to consolidate the achievements of national citizenship by creating a transnational
citizenship in Europe provoke the concern that they may clash with cosmopolitan ideas. Recurrent attempts to give meaning to world or cosmopolitan
citizenship reveal that the dark side of modernity has never succeeded in
eradicating a powerful moral sense that national communities are answerable to the rest of humankind (Linklater 1998: ch. 6).
The Kantian ideal that commitments to dialogue, publicity, and consent
can gradually contract the dominion of power and force in international
relations is as important now as it was 200 years ago. Apels defense of
the progressive implementation of the standard of ideal communication
and nonrepressive deliberation (Apel 1979: 9899) restates the Kantian
ideal, as does the notion of the universal speech community defended by
Habermas and Lyotard. The more important formulations of this normative
project maintain that political subjects should endeavor to make their
actions compatible with what might be agreed upon within an imagined
universal communication community, and they should support all measures
that will help bring such a community into existence (Bohler 1990: 133).
Pressures on the current frameworks of communication in international
relations offer more concrete guidance to those who support this ideal. The


The Contours of Critical IR Theory

diplomatic dialogue in modern international history was long confined to

states and concerned with preserving political order among the most powerful. These dimensions of world politics are undiminished in importance,
although there are important moves to open that dialogue to nonstate
actors, including the range of nongovernmental organizations, and to
extend it to embrace issues of global governance including the rights of
individuals and minorities, international social justice, and greater concern
for the natural environment and for nonhuman species. Reflections on the
current state of the diplomatic dialogue are one way of monitoring the
extent to which international society is making progress toward or falling
short of the ideal of a universal speech community from which no voice is
excluded and from which no dissenting perspective goes unheard because
of political weakness or the absence of respect. Such reflections on the current state of the dialogue can hardly lead to confusion about the most desirable trajectories of development and patterns of change, although it would
be foolish to expect that they will either settle the most profound disputes
about the best means of promoting change or solve complex disputes about
who has most responsibility for initiating political action. Critical praxeology should aim to highlight the moral deficits of international society and to
stress immanent possibilities and desirable directions. From there, it can
begin to explore the relatively uncharted waters of critical foreign policy

Few efforts to develop connections among social theory, moral and political philosophy, and the study of international relations existed even by the
early 1980s. Resistance to exploring these connections was commonplace,
not least because of realist arguments that the violent conflicts of the century had crushed the project of the Enlightenment. Dissenting voices were
heard from various liberal or socialist standpoints that retained their faith in
the idea of international progress. They prepared the way for the more systematic assault on realist and neorealist thought that has taken place since
the mid-1980s. In the early stages, critical approaches reflected the influence of Marxist conceptions of society and politics. These approaches
questioned many of the classical Marxian assumptions about the demise of
nationalism, the epiphenomenal character of the state, and the nature and
possibility of world socialism. But they were not exposed at that time to the
radical challenges of postmodernism and feminism. They were equally critical of the conventional theory and practice of international relations, but
they were deeply troubled by perceived similarities between realism and its

The Changing Contours


critical opponents. The totalitarian potentials residing within universal histories and global projects of emancipation were among the chief concerns.
The intriguing question is where this leaves the tradition of critical theory with its Marxian commitment to creating an overarching perpective
that unites normative, sociological, and praxeological modes of inquiry.
Many have doubted the wisdom or possibility of recovering a project of
modernity that holds on to these convictions. Perhaps they are right to do
so, although this is not the conclusion drawn here. What has been proposed
instead is an approach to critical IR theory that remains universalistic while
recognizing that some forms of universalism have wished to submerge or
extinguish the difference of the other. Here it is essential to stress that various accounts of the universal speech community are explicitly concerned
not only with tolerating difference but with enlarging human diversity.
They have a normative commitment to dialogic relations in which human
beings can explore the possibility of forms of life simultaneously more universalistic and more diverse than preceding arrangements at the domestic
and international levels. They invite further sociological studies that consider the condition of modernity with all its tensions and ambiguities in the
broadest historical perspective, and they call for additional praxeological
inquiries that reflect on how the progressive side of modernity can be
embodied in new forms of political community that continue the struggle
against all forms of unjust exclusion. Historical awareness is a central feature of critical theory, which recognizes that all categories and perspectives
have to be amended, even abandoned entirely, as societies change. Contemporary critical IR theory in the Marxian tradition has not lost sight of this
basic truth. Its changing contours are evident in its attempt to rebuild the
project of modernity around the themes of dialogue, difference, and exclusion.

1. It is important to note some similarities here with the English School, which
stressed the tensions between the dialogic element in systems of states and their
exclusionary practices (see especially Bull 1977, 1983; Bull and Watson 1984;
Wight 1977). For the purpose of exploring these issues in more detail, the English
School is a convenient point of departure.
2. Critical foreign policy analysis can reflect on existing policy decisions and
alternative possibilities in the light of the normative commitments and sociological
observations discussed in this chapter. The latter would need considerable refinement in any detailed commentary on specific policy options.

Robert W. Cox

One recurrent criticism of critical theory in international studies is that it

has yet to deliver a substantive research agenda. Working from the general
to the particular, the criticism goes in its broadest sense to the question of
ontology. How do we describe the sphere of reality within which our study
seeks to focus on the important issues? My initial proposition is that international relations (IR) is an inadequate and misleading way of describing
the object of our search for knowledge. The institutionalization of a discipline in university departments, academic posts, and funding is one thing.
There is no harm in this endeavor so long as we keep an open mind about
what the term international relations may cover. My point is that the term
gives a distorted impression of what should be included. Whats in a name?
A rose by any other name . . . But let us focus on the rose without, at least
for the time being, trying to rename itand thereby raising all the issues of
material subsistence and institutional rigidity that will come in their time.
There are two meanings of ontology. The primary meaning is an affirmation of the ultimate reality of the universewhat we can call
Universality I. This meaning probably has its roots in monotheistic religion
and was taken over in secular form by the European Enlightenment. Human
beings invent the idea of God as the all-powerful creator; from that they
reverse the process of invention to assume the human mind to be Godlike,
that is, to have the potential for understanding the truth of the universe.1
Universality I can take the form of affirmation of the kind of truth embodied in religious revelation or in the certainties of Enlightenment philosophy.
It can also, in a spurious form, apply to affirmations of universality that are
manifestly products of a particular historical situation but not recognized to
be such for lack of critical self-appraisal. Neorealism is a good example.


The Contours of Critical IR Theory

The other meaning of ontologywhich we can call Universality IIis

the attempt to identify the basic constitutive factors that help toward understanding and acting upon a particular historical conjuncture. We could say
the task is one of perceiving the historical structures that characterize an
epoch. These structures, which are mental constructions, summarize the
cumulative result of collective human action over time. The purpose of
defining them is to construct a base point for considering the problems of
maintenance or transformation of a particular historical order. Universality
II is universal in a transitory way, the snapshot of a world in perpetual
motion, the synchronic picture of something that is diachronically changing. A synchronic picture cannot be a mere list of factors. To qualify as
ontology, it has to show the interactive properties of a systemalbeit an
open system in which the homeostatic mechanisms that maintain closure
can be disrupted by forces that open the way for change.
Neorealism has an explicit ontologya perverse form of Universality
Iin which states, balance of power, Hobbesian power-seeking man, and
the contractual basis of polity are presumed to be eternal interrelated components of world order. Critical theory has relativized neorealism so as to
perceive it as an ideology of the Cold War. In a more positive sense, critical
theory has envisaged a shift in ontology toward a more adequate depiction
of the real world of the twenty-first century; so far this alternative ontology is only a work in progress.
My aim here is to try to grasp the directions of ontological reconstruction that will give a proper weight to factors ignored by neorealism but that
are relevant to understanding power relations affecting conflict, cooperation, and prospects of human survival. Because ontological shift both
reflects and anticipates structural change, it is also important that the effort
focus on the forces of agency that are capable of reshaping structures consolidated from the past.
This inquiry into structure and agency is undertaken in a spirit of realism. Realism is concerned with power; but the questions, Where does
power lie? and How is it exercised? should be asked without any prior
assumptions about the answers. Neorealism starts with the assumptions
previously mentioned. Its ontology forecloses a broader search. The realism
of E. H. Carr, who initiated the modern study of international relations at
the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, had a much broader and more open
understanding of power in world affairs. He was sensitive to economic and
social structures and to culture and ideology. He saw states not as a series
of like entities (the state) but as historically differentiated forms. Returning
to Carrs realism is a first step toward escaping from the ahistorical confines of neorealism. Unfortunately, however, Carrs reputation as a realist
among students of international relations has come to rest mainly on his
Twenty Years Crisis, 19191939 (1946). His essay Nationalism and After

The Way Ahead


(1945) better illustrates his broad understanding of economic, social, and

ideological transformation shaping the nature of states and of world order.
Much of the rest of his work, The Romantic Exiles (1949), for instance, and
his studies of Marx, Bakunin, and Dostoyevsky as well as his essay What Is
History? (1964) and his multivolumed history of the Soviet Union, demonstrate the breadth of his approach.
There has already been a good deal of work toward expanding neorealism by adding markets to states in the conventional ontology. But even this
is not a sufficient answer to the problem of where power lies in the early
twenty-first century. A Marxist might justifiably argue that states and markets are just two forms of alienation. The first displaces human responsibility to an artificial construction, the state. The second displaces human relations to relations among things in the market. Underlying each of these
constructs are social relations, the human substance that is active in these
two spheres. Really existing social power relations are the fundamental
object of inquiry. We may therefore begin by examining the way social
relations are being reshaped on a global scale by tendencies in the global
political economy, especially since the world economic crisis of the mid1970s.
I see four interrelated configurations that define the real world of the
early twenty-first century: (1) the social structure of the world as it is being
reshaped by economic globalization; (2) the pattern of change in states and
the state system; (3) humanity in the biosphere; and (4) the subjective (or
better, intersubjective) aspect of world order, or the different understandings that different categories of people have about the nature of world

The Changing Social Structure of the World

The term globalization is so widely and diversely used that some clarification of my use of it here is called for. In my usage, globalization has an
economic connotation. Bernadette Madeuf and Charles-Albert Michalet
(1978) drew a distinction between the international economy (understood
in classical economic theory as flows of goods, payments, and investments
across borders) and an emerging form of economy in which production was
being organized on an integrated basis among entities located in a number
of countries. The English translation of their article, which was written in
French, referred to the latter as a world economy, just as the common
French term for the process generating this emerging economy was mondialisation. The more common English-language term for this process has
been globalization. Hence, I am using global economy to denote this emergent phenomenon. Of course, much of the worlds economic activity still


The Contours of Critical IR Theory

goes on outside this global economy, albeit increasingly constrained by and

subordinated to it. I reserve the term world economy for the totality of economic activities of which the global economy is the dominant part. The
policy impetus behind the formation of the global economy is neoliberal
globalization; I have called its ideology hyperliberalism. The global economy was initially perceived in the sphere of production associated with
transnational corporations (TNCs), but the deregulation of financial operations quickly followed and led to the globalization of finance, which, as in
the Asian financial crisis of 1998, has manifested a destructive potential in
relation to production and employment. The impact of the globalization
process on power relations in societies, among states and social forces, and
in the formation of institutions designed to entrench the global economy or
to stimulate resistance to it is the realm of global political economy.
The globalization of production is producing a three-part social hierarchy that is worldwide, cutting across state boundaries. The proportions of
the three levels in society vary from one territorial unit to another, but the
tendency is uniform throughout.
The top level comprises those people who are integrated into the global
economy. This stratum runs from the global economy managers in public
and private sectors to relatively privileged workers who serve global production and finance in reasonably stable employment.
The second level includes those who serve the global economy in a
subordinate and more precarious way. They are the potentially disposable
labor force, the realm of flexibility, restructuring, downsizing, and
outsourcing. This level is a consequence of the phenomenon known as
post-Fordism, the organization of production on the basis of a relatively
permanent core of people concerned with planning, technology, marketing,
and finance, and a peripheral group whose employment depends on the
level of demand and production decisions made by the core group.
Employment of this kind is expanding in the industrialized countries as the
proportion of stable employment in industry declines, and it characterizes
most industrial jobs in poor countries.
The bottom level comprises those who are excluded from the global
economy. Here are the permanently unemployed, superfluous labor, the
underemployed, and many of the people living in what one former commissioner of the European Union, Claude Cheysson, called the useless countries (cited by Cheru 1997: 213, 221), that is, those countries that have little
prospect of making a go of the global economy.
The top level is doing quite well in material terms, although it is only a
small proportion of humanity. The second level is the one that is expanding
most rapidly with the geographical extension of globalization and with the
growing penetration of the social structure of globalization into the economically leading countries. Its members are placed in an ambiguous posi-

The Way Ahead


tion toward the social order: They are supportive in their concern to find
and keep a job but potentially hostile when insecurity strikes.
The excluded pose a potential threat to the globalization order. But certain conditions may diffuse that threat: the fact that excluded peoples energies are directed to personal and family survival rather than protest and the
proclivity of rejected people often to direct their violence against their
excluded neighbors rather than against the established society.
Nevertheless, the potential for challenge to the globalization order
exists among both the excluded and the precarious segments. There are also
contradictions among the integrated, many of these generated by ecological
concerns that affect jobs in forestry, fisheries, and energy industries. The
challenge to globalization, if it is to become activated, would require the
formation of a common will, a vision of an alternative future, and the transcendence of the manifold divisions of ethnicity, religion, gender, and
geography that cut across the three-level social hierarchy being created by
This restructuring of world society brought about by globalization
challenges the primacy of state-oriented identities as people become aware
that transnational economic organizations determine their livelihood and
populations become increasingly heterogeneous from migration. It also
challenges the Marxist schema of the primacy of class-oriented identities.
The nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century concepts of class have been
muddied by the emerging social structure. The working class as it is conventionally thought of is now divided among the three levels of the social
hierarchy, and these three components can be shown to have very divergent
interests. Where the sense of class remains strong today, it may be more a
cultural matter than defined by a property relationship. Yet the concept of
class retains vigor and calls for reformulation in early-twenty-first-century
conditions as a means to the formation of a common front of resistance
toward an alternative to the future that is being prepared by globalization.
Class would have to embrace comprehensively the various identitiesethnic, religious, gender, and so onmanifested by those groups that have initiated pockets of resistance.

States and the State System

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, interstate relations have tended to become
more concerned with adapting state structures, policies, and practices to the
requirements of a global economy conceived on neoliberal lines rather than
toward the alliance building of the Cold War period. The dominant theme
proclaimed by the United States and widely acquiesced to by the other
major countries has been democracy and market reform. The slogan has


The Contours of Critical IR Theory

been applied specifically to countries of the former Soviet sphere and also
to countries in what was formerly called the third world. The primary
emphasis of dominant power has been on the market reform aspect, which
in practice has been held to mean deregulation and privatization accompanied by measures to combat inflation and to achieve and maintain currency
stability. The practical consequences have been the gutting of public services, increased unemployment, and rampant corruption. The democracy
aspect has meant an emphasis on elections in the hope that they will legitimate market reform and on human rights in the sense of individual rather
than collective rights.
The cumulative consequence of these pressures has been to propagate
the idea that the primary function of states is to adjust domestic economic
practices to the functional requirements of the neoliberal global economy. I
have called this process the internationalizing of the state (Cox 1987: 253
265). It contrasts with the postWorld War II concept of the state as mediator between the international economy (understood as flows across national
boundaries) and domestic concerns about economic growth and employment. According to the newly dominant doctrine, domestic interests are
best served by allowing free rein to the global economy, and new efforts at
regulation, such as those embodied in the World Trade Organization (WTO)
and the proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), are
designed to limit the capacity of states to interfere with the working of the
neoliberal global economic order.
In terms of social relations, the global economy is led by and benefits
mainly the top segment of the world social hierarchy just discussed. This
segment, the integrated, is both inside and outside the state. It is outside the
state insofar as it is embodied in agencies like the Group of Seven (G7, or
now G8 with the inclusion of Russia) and the International Monetary Fund
(IMF) and the WTO, or even in such unofficial conclaves as the Trilateral
Commission and the World Economic Forum, which meets annually in
Davos, Switzerland. It is inside the state insofar as the interests that are represented in these bodies are present within different countries and can put
pressure on states at the national level.
At the interstate level, two main functions are performed: First is the
propagation and legitimization of neoliberal global economic practice by
international institutions, mainly the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO
but now increasingly the UN itself. The UN used to be differentiated from
these international economic agencies, which have operated clearly within
a neoliberal logic, being seen as more open to the expression of heterodox
views about world economy, particularly in the interest of less-developed
countries. However, the success of the United States in securing the election of Kofi Annan as Secretary-General after excluding Boutros BoutrosGhali from reelection indicates a shift in the UN toward alignment with the

The Way Ahead


IMF and WTO policy orientation. The new Secretary-General seems to be

moving toward centralizing budgetary control, which the United States has
always sought, and giving fuller access to multinational corporate interests
in the formation of UN policy. The second function at the interstate level is
the neutralization of potential disruptions of the global economy that could
arise from explosions among the bottom (excluded) segment of the world
social hierarchy. Global poverty relief and riot control now tops UN priorities, displacing development assistance, which had the top spot during the
1950s and 1960s. Poverty relief takes the form of humanitarian assistance
in the wake of famine and internal warfare, much of which can be seen as
consequences of globalization. Riot control takes the form of military interventions where local governmental authority has broken down.

The Biosphere
Alongside social restructuring, environmental degradation is an accompaniment to economic globalization. The conventional study of international
relations has heretofore recognized only human actors, but in recent years
some nonhuman forces have appeared, threatening to constrict the realm of
human action: global warming, the hole in the ozone layer, deforestation
and soil erosion, the loss of biodiversity, and the collapse of fish stocks,
among others. These forces express the response of nature to the cumulative consequences of human activities. They are new phenomena that signal
dangers to the physical environment in which human activities take place.
They can lead to conflict, for example, over scarce vital resources such as
water, and they challenge accepted modes of understanding humanitys
place in the world.
Monotheistic religions with their notion of a transcendent deity encouraged a separation of human beings, the image of the divine, from nature,
created by God for the use and enjoyment of humans. Scientific modernism
inherited this idea in conceiving nature as something to be dominated,
tamed, and shaped by human beings. The irruption of forces of nature into
human affairs, not as the occasional flood or earthquake but as a deterioration of the planets life-support system, now suggests the need to revise this
notion by seeing humanity as one component of the natural world, interacting with other forms of life and life-sustaining substances. The biosphere is
this larger interactive realm, an envelope circling the earth and stretching
from the seabeds to the higher atmosphere.
In the modernist tradition, economics reduced nature to land and considered land a commodity (what Karl Polanyi [1944] called a false commodity, since land is not produced for sale on the market). Nature has been
subordinated to economic logic, to the market mentality, which is based on


The Contours of Critical IR Theory

the proposition that everything is for sale. The basic problem for market
logic is getting the prices right. Nature, however, has a logic of its own that
is not comprehended by economics and that functions independently of
economics. The basic problem for natures logic is equilibrium among the
different forms of life and life-supporting substances.
So long as there is enough slack in nature, market logic is tolerated by
nature; but when the effect of economic logic is to strain nature to the limit,
nature responds with its veto (Harries-Jones, Rotstein, and Timmerman
1992, 1998). The problem here is to rethink economics within a science of
nature so that economic prescriptions are attentive to signals from nonhuman nature. This rethinking implies a departure from the modernist epistemology that separates human capacity for knowledge from the world of
nature and conceives nature as a manipulable object. The dilemma for
humans now is to think through the consequences of understanding ourselves as part of nature rather than as dominant over nature.
One implication of this understanding is a fundamental contradiction in
economic globalization and perhaps also in movements of democratization.
The dynamic of globalization is consumer demand. The consumption
model of North America and Western Europeconsumerismis what the
other peoples of the world have aspired to. To extend this model universally would likely have catastrophic consequences for the biosphere, but to
suggest that relatively poor societies should drop this aspiration incurs the
charge of imperialism. It seems obvious that those societies that have pioneered the quest of consumerism would have to show the way toward an
alternative model that would be consistent with biosphere maintenance.
This is where the challenge to democracy arises. Former U.S. president
George Bush anticipated it when, in preparing for the Earth Summit at Rio
in 1992, he was reported as saying: Our lifestyle is not open to negotiation. He was implicitly acknowledging that change of lifestyle is necessary to biospheric survival and at the same time recognizing that political
survival in modern democracies makes change highly risky for politicians
to advocate. If such a basic change in peoples aspirations and behavior
cannot be changed by political leadership, let alone by exhortations at international conferences, the change must come from within civil society. The
issue then becomes whether the reconstruction of peoples understanding of
their place in nature and of what is necessary to maintain the biosphere can
outpace and reverse the progress of ecological degradation.

Civilizations and Forms of Political Economy
The problem of the biosphere brings out the relationship between objective
material conditions (ecological degradation) and subjective, or, more accu-

The Way Ahead


rately, intersubjective, understandings and values of people (consumerism

versus ecologically responsible behavior). By intersubjectivity, I mean the
prevailing sense of the nature of the world, or the common sense of reality
shared among a population. Intersubjectivity can be understood as the
knowledge produced in the cumulative collective response by people to
their conditions of existence, to what Marx called the conditions not chosen
by themselves within which people make history. Thus intersubjectivity is a
creation of history, not something innate to the human soul, although in its
unquestioned state it may appear among contemporaries to be an innate
awareness of the natural order of the world.
It is in the realm of intersubjectivity that civilizations become significant for world politics. The materialist connotation of the term civilization
signifies an urban-centered aggregation of a large number of people such as
came into existence circa 2500 B.C. in the Nile valley, the Fertile Crescent,
and the environs of Mohenjo Daro (cf. Childe 1942). This material, technological, economically organized, and class-structured entity called civilization was unified in the realm of consciousness or subjectivity by religion. It
is common nowadays to call civilizations by the names of religions
Judeo-Christian, Confucian, Islamic, and so forth. Religion enabled people
within a civilization to develop a shared consciousness and symbols
through which they could communicate meaningfully with one another.
Myth, religion, and language were coterminous until language became secularized and rationalized. The material world provided a common ground
of experience; religion provided a common realm of intersubjectivity. So a
working definition of civilization could be a fit between material conditions
of existence and intersubjective meanings (Cox 1996b).
This definition does not imply a base-superstructure relationship in the
sense that common material conditions generate similar ideological superstructures in a vulgar Marxist manner. One can attribute more autonomy
to the realm of intersubjectivity while positing a necessary correspondence,
or what Max Weber called elective affinity, between thought and material
conditions of existence. The challenge of material conditions may be confronted in different ways in different forms of consciousness expressive of
different values. The material limits of the possible are constraining, but
there is always some scope for ethical choice. Feminist scholarship has
been particularly fruitful in developing this notion of the social construction of reality. Feminists use it as a means of revealing the historical genesis of patriachy and specific categorizations or stereotypes of gender, but
the insight has other applications as well.
In the world of the early twenty-first century, civilizational differences
are expressed through different forms of economic and social organization.
This fact has been obscured both by dogmatic forms of Marxism and by
dogmatic neoliberalism, both of which cling to an economic determinist
philosophy, an oversimplified reductionist view of capitalism as a mono-


The Contours of Critical IR Theory

lithic global force. In one sense capitalism is, of course, a global force: Big
corporate organizations based in different parts of the world compete for
shares in a world market, and finance flows freely across territorial boundaries. But people in different places are organized in somewhat different
ways, not only mainly to participate in this global capitalism but also sometimes to exist outside of it. These differences are important for the people
who live within different coexisting forms of capitalism. Thus we can
speak in one sense of global capitalism as the dynamic force of globalization; but at the same time, it must be recognized that capitalism, the competitive drive for profits and expansion, takes different social forms shaped
by different civilizational imperatives, some of which place limits on
unconstrained profit seeking. Concepts of society and organization can
express different notions as to what is natural and proper in human relations. These differences cannot be reduced just to a matter of ideology.
Ideologies are conscious constructions with specific programs.
Intersubjectivities are less conscious and more deeply rooted, the common
sense of a people as to what is right and proper in collective life.
Karl Polanyis concept of substantive economies is a way of seizing
these differences within the more abstract notion of global capitalism.
Polanyi was concerned with the ways in which economies were embedded
within societies (Polanyi 1944; Polanyi et al. 1957). He rejected the notion
that the economy can be abstracted from society in such a way as to make
society subservient to the economy. Where this is attemptedhe spoke of
the nineteenth-century attempt to impose the rule of a self-regulating market as a utopian projectit provokes a reaction from society that is usually
expressed through political action. In Europe, the reaction began with labor
legislation and ultimately led to the welfare state. Utopian projects are still
current; the most obvious is the hyperliberal attempt to construct a deregulated global market. But other distinctive forms of economic-social organization also exist, and rival forms contest the terrain on which hyperliberalism has claimed predominance (see, for example, Albert 1991).
Three salient existing forms of political economy are (1) the AngloAmerican individualistic-competitive form, (2) the European social market
form, and (3) the East Asian mercantilist form (Fallows 1994; Tsuru 1993).
Each of these has generated ideologized representations. Hyperliberalism is
the ideology of the Anglo-American form, envisaging an untrammeled
global movement of goods and money. The social market is the characteristic European form, ideologically derived from Christian democracy and
social democracy. Asian capitalism has been constructed, often with attribution to Confucianism, as an ideology supportive of authoritarian politics
or bureaucratized paternalism. Yet the forms are more deeply rooted than
these ideologies; they can be seen as constructions that find a more or less

The Way Ahead


congenial base in different human attitudes and valuesdifferent intersubjectivities.

There is scope for other potential forms of political economy to
emerge. What will happen in Russia? The consequence of shock therapy
has been erosion of public services, mass unemployment, frequent nonpayment of workers, and an economy controlled by the mafia. Russias tragedy
has been its peoples subjection to a sequence of alien-inspired radical
reforms, first by Peter the Great, then by the Bolsheviks, and now by
Harvard economists. Is there a possibility that even so patient a people as
the Russians may ultimately reject foreign models and attempt to build
their economy based on their own practices of social relations? In China, a
new form of political economy is emerging, rather confusedly described as
both communist and capitalist yet gradually revealing its own characteristics (Ling 1996). Is it conceivable that Islam will evolve practices that reconcile its principles of human relations with economic activity in an evolving vision of the world? Another force lies in the Green movement, which
has given rise to many small, locally based economies with cooperative
forms of production and their own currencies (Helleiner 1996). These
social experiments may perhaps be seen as an indicator of the search for
economic practices that are consistent with biosphere maintenance.
These different forms of political economy that express civilizational
differences coexist within the world economy and in some cases become
rivals. They challenge the notion of a single hegemonic, homogenizing
global economy. Lionel Jospin, when the French Socialist Party emerged as
victor from the French legislative elections in June 1997, characterized this
electoral verdict as un choix de civilisation (Le Monde, June 7, 1997). He
was stressing a break with the tendency toward dominance of the AngloAmerican form in Europe and the resurgence of the social market form of
political economy. The use of the term civilization was appropriate in that
context. The victory of Tony Blairs New Labour Party in British elections
several weeks earlier was celebrated not as a rupture with previous tendencies but rather as a change within continuity, heralding what might be
called Thatcherism with a human face. The issue between rival concepts of
civilization in Europe remains clouded.

Agency in Structural Transformation

The distinction between agency and structure is an analytical distinction
rather than a distinction of kind. Structures are ways of representing the
world as it is. Agency focuses attention on the forces that change structures.
Agency, in the sense in which I use the term here, represents cumulative


The Contours of Critical IR Theory

actionsnot just a single eventthat have as consequences either the

maintenance or the transformation of structures.
We can divide the forces at work into those that operate from the top
down, which tend to maintain the trajectory of existing power relations, and
those that operate from the bottom up, which may challenge existing power
relations. There are also contending forces within the top, and rival and
divergent forces at the bottom. Hegemony consists in the formation of a
coalition of top-down forces activated by a common consciousness in
which those at the bottom are able to participate. Counterhegemony arises
when bottom-up forces achieve a common consciousness that is clearly distinct from that of hegemonic power. So a strategy of structural transformation may be seen as a project for the formation of counterhegemony.
There is no need to attempt a full inventory of the top-down forces that
maintain existing power positions and power relations. I shall mention
three sets of forces that I think call for fuller study. The first is the mode of
concertation of the dominant world-economy forces. This process takes
place through some formal official organizations and conferences (e.g., the
G7 meetings, the IMF, the Basel meetings of central bankers) and some less
formal conclaves (e.g., the Trilateral Commission, the Davos World
Economic Forum), although the important thing is not to identify an organization or an organizational complex but to understand the process through
which collective policy guidelines are reached. Because this process is only
vaguely delineated, I have called it a nbuleuse (Cox 1996c: 301302;
1996d: 27).2
A second area that merits much fuller study is the private power that is
effective in world financial markets. The bond-rating agencies are a good
example of actors that effectively determine the conditions on which governments and corporations can borrow and thus what activities they can
undertake and what they must forgo (Sinclair 1994, 1997).
A third set of forces have the cumulative consequence of sustaining
existing power and can be loosely described as involved in political corruption and clandestine activities. I would group these under the heading the
covert world and examine particularly the interrelationships of the various
kinds of agents in the group. It includes intelligence agencies, organized
crime and the drug trade, money-laundering banks, the arms trade, and terrorist organizations. It may seem strange to include terrorist organizations
committed to destroying the existing order among a set of forces that have
the consequence of maintaining the status quo, but they work in the same
field as these other agents and at times interact in cooperation as well as in
conflict with them. Although there have been studies of some of these components of the covert world individually, for example, of organized crime
and of particular intelligence agencies (the CIA or the KGB), the pattern of
interactions among such agencies and their consequences for political sys-

The Way Ahead


tems have not received much attention. Yet this realm of political activity
has great implications for popular control. A weak civil society leaves a
wide political space for occult influences. Probably the best way to enhance
democratic accountability is to narrow the space open to the covert world
through the development of an active civil society.
Struggles shaping different forms of capitalism illustrate the divergent
and conflicting tendencies among top-down forces: differences between the
United States and Japan over economic practices; the conflict over social
policy in Europe, epitomized once as Margaret Thatcher versus Jacques
Delors; conflicts over who has the right to harvest depleted fish stocks.
These conflicts are indicators of the problematic nature of global capitalist
hegemony and of the potential for the emergence of a world of not one capitalism but several. I am not here referring to economic blocs or the socalled triad of rivals: Europe, America, and Japan. I am referring rather to
different basic concepts of social economy and the ethics of how production and distribution should be organized. Such different concepts have historical-geographical bases but are not necessarily unified or coherent entities engaged in a trade war.
The bottom-up forces are many and various but have rarely achieved a
degree of coherence that could plausibly be considered a basis for counterhegemony. The prospect for counterhegemony is, however, the focal issue
for the study of structural transformation. The French strikes of December
1996 were notable not only in rallying workers despite the weakening over
recent decades of the labor movement but also in gaining the sympathy and
support of a public that was willing to put up with a shutdown of public
transport in a big city in the cause of combating an economic policy perceived as sacrificing ordinary people in favor of dominant global-economy
interests. A comparable effort at mobilizing opposition to the North
American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was initiated by labor movements in the United States, Canada, and Mexico with the support of
womens and environmentalist organizations. This effort failed but did
demonstrate a degree of political efficacy.
Increasingly, new social movements have become the vehicles of
protest and means of prospecting for alternative forms of social economy.
They have only partially been directed toward the state and have rarely
operated through formal electoral channels. They express more a will to
reconstitute civil society, and in some cases to construct what Yoshikazu
Sakamoto has characterized as a civic state on the basis of a strengthened
civil societya state that would be more fully responsive to the bottom-up
forces of civil society. This would be the direction in which one could
envisage a society that could reestablish harmony within the biosphere. It
must be recognized that this aspiration remains utopian. One intriguing
model is presented by the Zapatista rebellion in the Mexican state of


The Contours of Critical IR Theory

Chiapas, which is seeking to transform itself from a military-political rebel

movement into a broader-based movement in civil society that is directed
toward the democratization of the Mexican state while building transnational links of support (Najman 1997).
Other movements of resistance, very widespread in Africa, have sought
survival of excluded groups through organization outside the political system and the formal economy. This form of resistance has been called the
silent revolution in Africa (Cheru 1989). The collapse of the kleptocratic
state in the former Zaire was effected by organized military rebellion, but
the way was made easier by the widespread development of local self-help
and the informal economy, which deprived the corrupt Mobutu regime of
any popular support (Braeckman 1997).
The study of social movements has thus become basic to an understanding of the potential for structural transformation. Three levels or
stages apply: (1) the level of conditions propitious for awareness of being
in a common situation, a sense of opposition toward dominant powers; (2)
the level of a social movement, that is, a condition of aroused and motivated collective consciousness; and (3) the level of organization that poses the
questions of alliance and cohesion among groups, of doctrine and ideology,
and of leadership.
It should not be assumed that all social movements are supportive of
democratic methods and open comprehensiveness. The contemporary
world is rife with racism and right-wing populism; the possibility of a fascist revival is probably stronger now than at any time since the 1930s. Such
undemocratic organizations are as much popular movements as those usually classified as new social movements. Civil society is a terrain of struggle between exclusionary and nonexclusionary forces.
The context in which this struggle is taking place seems to leave the
outcome indeterminate. If modernism in political terms can be defined la
Max Weber as consisting of states that define the national identities and
loyalties of people, hierarchical rational bureaucratic administrations, and
classes and status groups that give people their social identities, this modernist social structure has become weaker in all parts of the world (although
more weak in some parts than others). State authority has been fragmented
by ethnic, linguistic, and local identities and by macroregional institutions
like the European Union and NAFTA. Bureaucracies have been experienced as alienating by those who have to deal with them. Class identities
have been eroded by the growing salience of ethnic, cultural, and gender
identities and by the fragmenting of classes in the new social structuring
produced by globalization.
People have become depoliticized by awareness that politicians are
incapable of dealing or unwilling to deal with the consequences of economic globalization as it affects their lives through decaying public services

The Way Ahead


and unemployment, and by evidence of political corruption that flows from

the high cost of election campaigns and the importance of political decisions for corporate interests. The postmodern political condition is one of
weakened and fragmented authority at the top and fragmentation of protest
and resistance at the bottom. Occasionally, the latter may be overcome by a
(usually unsustained) explosion of people power. Eric Hobsbawm
summed this up when he wrote in his Age of Extremes: A History of the
World, 19141991: The world at the end of the Short Twentieth Century is
in a state of social breakdown rather than revolutionary crisis (Hobsbawm
1994: 459).
What is to be done? The only way effectively to confront the salient
issues of the early twenty-first centurybiospheric collapse, extreme
social polarization, exclusionary politicsis to reconstitute political
authorities at local, national, and global levels that are firmly based in public support. Only strong public authorities will be capable of dealing with
these problems. Such a movement would have to come from the bottom,
from a reconstitution of civil society as a support for political authorities
attentive to peoples needs (whereas much of the movement in civil society
recently has been toward withdrawal from alienating government and corporate powers). The movement presupposes the rediscovery of social solidarity and of confidence in a potential for sustained collective creativity,
inspired by a commitment to social equity, to reciprocal recognition of cultural and civilizational differences, to biospheric survival, and to nonviolent methods of dealing with conflict. The supreme challenge is to build a
counterhegemonic formation that would embody these principles; and this
task implies as a first step the working out of an ontology that focuses
attention on the key elements in this struggle.

1. Giambattista Vico, a philologist working in Naples in the early eighteenth
century, may be regarded as the first countermodernist (neither a premodernist nor a
postmodernist). It was very clear to him that the human mind was not adapted to
understanding the truth of the universe. It was, however, he thought, well adapted to
understanding the processes of historical change (Vico 1970).
2. I have sought to avoid imputing clandestine power to this partially visible,
or transparent, complex: The visible form is a photo opportunity accompanied by
an anodyne press communiqu. Far from being a sinister occult power, the
nbuleuse may turn out to be a Wizard of Oz. Perhaps no one, or no coherent structure, is really in control (Cox 1996d: 27).

Craig N. Murphy

Contemporary critical theory in English-language international relations

(IR) may best be understood as todays manifestation of a long-standing
democratic impulse in the academic study of international affairs. The
impact of this impulse can account for scientifically progressive breakpoints within the discipline, the moments of transformation that are part of
almost every conventional account of the fields historyfor example, the
transition from idealism to realism in the period between World Wars I and
Understanding critical theory in this way lets us compare todays
scholarship to that of earlier democratically inspired schools within the discipline; it allows us to ask whether todays theorists have been as successful as their predecessors. Along most relevant dimensions of comparison,
todays critical theory is just as progressive as its three predecessorsthe
work of John A. Hobson and his colleagues in the late eighteenth and early
nineteenth centuries, the interwar studies of realists on the left such as E. H.
Carr and Reinhold Niebuhr, and the critical scientific peace research of the
early 1960s. Nonetheless, along one significant dimension, contemporary
critical theory may be less progressive than its predecessors. Unlike early
scholars with similar political motivations and similar epistemological concerns, contemporary critical theorists have offered little programmatic
input into the political practice of egalitarian social movements.
In the final section of the chapter I speculate as to why. Before doing
so I make the case that the history of the field can be understood through
the lens of this hypothesized democratic impulse and then link earlier manifestations of this impulse to some defining intellectual practices of contemporary critical theory.


The Contours of Critical IR Theory

Egalitarian Concerns in International Relations

When social science disciplines recount their own histories, it is almost
invariably with the aim of explaining why some current disciplinary trend
continues a line of scientific progress that has marked the field since its
beginning. Within a field these accounts most often differ simply because
there are different ways of defining the central concerns of science and
therefore different criteria for assessing its progress. One of the most consistent stories that IR scholars can tell about their own field is that it has at
its core a view of social science as a meliorative endeavor subject to a consensus theory of truth. In this story, scientific progress occurs along five
relatively orthogonal dimensions. Thus, a progressive social science regularly produces explanations that
1. Account for more phenomena,
2. Are more consistent within themselves and with other scientific
accounts of other phenomena,
3. Would be consented to more widely by all free men and women
(men and women whose views are unconstrained by relations of
domination or exploitation),
4. Empower the weak or otherwise ameliorate their condition, and
5. Are more concise, parsimonious, or elegant than other explanations.
Although progress can take place along any one of these dimensions, they
are listed in an order of relative importance that would be consistent with a
meliorative, consensus-oriented epistemology (Tooze and Murphy 1996).
Of course, there would be many who would argue with both the ordering of these dimensions of scientific progress and the inclusion of some, in
particular the third and the fourth. Here I ask readers to accept only that
these are five dimensions along which a consistent, academically credible
account of social scientific progress might be made. In fact, they are the
dimensions along which critical theorists following Jrgen Habermas are
likely to judge scientific progress. They emphasize that the practical,
meliorative dimension is as essential in social science as it is in medicine
and that unconstrained consensus is an indicator of truth that is particularly
significant to the social world (Habermas 1971: 7590; McCarthy 1978:
Periodically there have been prominent schools of IR scholars who
have judged the progress of their own scientific work along this set of
dimensions. I contend that these successive schools reflect a democratic
impulse operating within the field simply because the epistemological
views of these schools can be distinguished most readily from those of their
contemporaries by considering the two democratic dimensions, 3 and 4.

Critical Theory and the Democratic Impulse


Many other schools of scholars, lets call them uncritical scholars or problem-solving scholars (to follow Robert W. Cox), separate any meliorative
concerns they may have as citizens, religious devotees, and so on from
judgments about the success of their work in what they conceive of as a
value-neutral realm of social science. Many of the same scholars also see
little reason to judge their work on the democratic basis of the breadth of
the unconstrained consensus that it might enjoy. Quite the contrary, many
understand the history of more mature sciences as evidence that true scientific progress may lead to a progressive narrowing of the intellectual caste
that is capable of understanding the new truths as they are revealed.
Despite the fact that an uncritical view of science often has been the
one accepted by mainstream IR scholars, it is significant that the major progressive disciplinary changes that are recognized by almost all accounts of
international relations were not wrought by these uncritical, problem-solving schools, no matter how much more conventional their view of scientific
progress may be. The key changes were wrought by men and women who
both wanted the discipline to speak to an ever wider audience and were certain that the field had a socially progressive, meliorative function. Between
those moments of critical innovation, the academic discipline usually deteriorated along dimensions 3 and 4 even though more parsimonious, more
consistent, and (to a lesser extent) more encompassing work was produced
from year to year by the increasingly uncritical mainstream.

Origins of the Academic Field

A century ago international relations first entered the English-speaking
academy on both sides of the Atlantic as the child of an anti-imperialist
social movement. The academy was one of a number of places in which citizens of increasingly democratic nations found the space to talk with other
citizens about the politics of princes. The fields key founders in both Great
Britain and the United States were activist scholars such as John A.
Hobson, an early leader of the Union of Democratic Control of Foreign
Policy, and Emily Greene Balch, the Wellesley College economist who
chaired the unions sister organization in the United States. In Britain,
Hobsons books and lectures fueled public outrage over the human and
financial costs of the Boer War. He treated British actions as ruthless
aggression in defense of the narrow interests of the mining companies
newly operating throughout southern Africa in the last decades of the nineteenth century. The political object of this Christian socialist economists
critique included the various organizations and publications through which
Cecil Rhodes had created a movement supporting his mining interests (on
Hobson, see Long 1996; for Balch, see Randall 1964, Palmieri 1995).


The Contours of Critical IR Theory

Hobsons attempts to explain the international politics of his day were

preferable on all five dimensions to the alternative explanations offered at
the time, both the realist arguments of the generals and diplomats who disapproved of the new level of public discussion of matters of state and the
liberal imperialist arguments promulgated by the more democratic voices
that were sponsored by Rhodes and other captains of industry. Hobson and
his colleagues could explain underemployment as well as imperialism; free
citizens as well as statecrafters were treated as competent enough to support their viewsand those views certainly won in the court of public opinion; the scholars of the new field promulgated meliorative policies of full
employment, nonintervention, and support for democratization when it
occurred overseas. Moreover, their views did not suffer from the contradiction of the scientific racism that was central to the liberal imperialist
In his classic study Imperialism, Hobson maintained that the simultaneous extensions of the British, French, German, Belgian, and U.S. empires
in the last decades of the nineteenth century reflected the capture of diplomatic and military policy by self-interested political minorities (Hobson
1965). There was, Hobson agreed, a real economic problem to which the
overseas investment associated with imperialism was a response: Industrial
capitalist economies produce more than can easily be consumed or invested
at home without diminishing the relative power of the capitalists. But imperialism was neither the only nor the best solution. A better alternative, one
that would serve the interests of the vast majority, would be to allow the
wages of the vast majority of poorly paid workers at home to rise. The fact
that governments of industrialized societies did not choose this alternative
reflected the capture of foreign policy by a tiny minority (Hobson 1965;
Long 1996: 7296). A political solution, to make foreign policy subject to
democratic control, followed directly.
The popularity of that conclusion increased between the end of the
Boer War, in 1902, and the end of World War I, in 1919. Others added to
Hobsons arguments. Norman Angell, another leader of the Union of
Democratic Control, affirmed that it was not capitalist interests per se that
led to belligerence and violence. To the contrary, the larger profit that could
come to capitalists through peacetime trade ensured that if all modern states
could be made subject to the general interest of profit-making firms (as distinct from the particularistic interests of a specific sector) they would be
peaceful (J.B.D. Miller 1995). Angell would later be derided by realists
who deliberately misunderstood him as having proclaimed the logical
impossibility of war among capitalist powers just months before the outbreak of World War I, but in his own day he was treated as a prophet. He
was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in the early years when it was still
occasionally given for the same purpose as all the others endowed by the

Critical Theory and the Democratic Impulse


Swedish industrialist, to spur invention and science in the designated field,

in this case, the new field of public discourse about international affairs.
Nonetheless, the choice of Angell rather than other British IR innovators was hardly apolitical. Whereas Hobsons sort of argument tended to
appeal to a working-class and, as yet, not particularly powerful audience,
Angells kind of argument spoke to more powerful commercial and industrial leaders, one of whom endowed the first professorial chair of international politics at what is now the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. The
benefactor named the chair for Woodrow Wilson, the hero of the moment,
whose well-intentioned but somewhat incoherent diplomacy throughout the
war had been legitimated with the democratic foreign policy slogan, open
agreements, openly arrived at (Porter 1995).
Back in the United States the more intellectually consistent arguments
in favor of democratic foreign policy came not from Wilsons political supporters and apologists but from many of the men and women, like Emily
Greene Balch, who founded the discipline of international relations.
Although Balch supported many of Wilsons ideas about a postwar League
of Nations, she was an ardent critic of his 1915 intervention in Haiti and of
U.S. imperialism in general. Balch, like Hobson, also worked to help define
and articulate the demands of industrial labor, focusing especially on the
interests of women and immigrants, who made up the majority of the U.S.
working class at the turn of the twentieth century (Palmieri 1995: 130,
170171; Balch 1910, 1918, 1927).
Balchs political leanings led to her 1918 dismissal from the conservative New England college where she taught. Although she later became reconciled with the academic world when the college joined in nominating her
for her 1946 Nobel Peace Prize, other, often more conservativemore
Wilsonianscholars ended up filling the space she had helped create in the
U.S. academy for the field of international relations.
Many in the interwar generation of IR scholars on both sides of the
Atlantic maintained faith in the pacific influence of public opinion over
foreign policy as well as in Angells conclusions about the ultimately
benign interests of capitalist enterprise. Many of the interwar scholars
worked tirelessly to support and maintain the international institutional
framework in which the pacific interests of business in free trade and intergovernmental cooperation might come to the fore. Scholars became some
of the most visible and ardent critics of U.S. isolationism and some of the
most impassioned advocates of the League of Nations. By the early 1930s,
when most League agencies began to experience chronic financial crises,
some scholars were willing to move to Geneva and work with little or no
pay to staff the beleaguered institutions (anticipating a practice that has
been typical within the UN since the mid-1980s, when the United States
stopped paying its full assessments). Others stayed in the academy, work-


The Contours of Critical IR Theory

ing to design new, more effective systems of international government and

to convince the next generation of elites to accept their legitimacy (Murphy
1994: 183184).

Interwar Realism as Democratic Critique

Few living IR scholars have a very clear conception of the preoccupations
and motivations of the first generation of scholars within our field, but
most of us remember E. H. Carrs devastating portrayal of the naive idealism affecting both policymakers and scholars in the interwar decades when
war was abolished by international agreement and true believers turned a
blind eye to the Leagues obvious failures in Ethiopia and Manchuria. We
may be less likely to remember what some think of as unpleasant truths
about Carr: that his realism initially led him to support appeasement, that
he opposed the kind of liberal internationalism that is now so often portrayed as the only road to prosperity and peace, and that he and other early
realists such as Reinhold Niebuhr stood far to the political left of most of
the idealists they critiqued (Carr 1946: chs. 12; Brown 1992; Merkeley
1975; Kegley and Bretall 19561).
Carr, Niebuhr, and the recently more accurately remembered Karl
Polanyiwhose Great Transformation was a contemporary work that is
similar to the major studies of the canonical realists 2 all provided
accounts of international affairs that were superior to those of their academic contemporaries, whom Carr caricatured as utopians. The utopiansthe
more Wilsonian successors of the more democratic founders of the field
such as Hobson and Balchhad consistent ways to account for the failure
of the League. The realists could not only explain that failure; their theories
also explained the economic failure of the liberal fundamentalist economic
policies (endorsed by the victors in World War I as the best policy for the
vanquished and then adopted by Republicans in the 1920s), the rise of fascism (as a political response to long-term contradictions of liberal economics and shorter-term issues that ensured the failure of the Weimar
Republics alternative), and the reasons for the failure of well-meaning liberals (Wilsonians) in their attempt to establish a social order that supported
the common woman and man (Murphy 1994: 163177).
The early realists also wrote for a democratic audience that extended
beyond the academy both to citizensfor example, the industrial labor
movements to which the prewar Niebuhr remained closely linkedand to
government officials. The meliorative aspects of the early realists work
included not only relatively clear-eyed proposals about the fascist threat but
also proposals for more democratic societies to copy aspects of the thensuccessful systems of state involvement in the economy by the fascists and

Critical Theory and the Democratic Impulse


the Soviets, proposals that were echoed in the interwar studies of some critical liberal internationalists, such as David Mitrany and Mary Parker
Follett, who, significantly, were never labeled as idealists or utopians by
the early canonical realists (Murphy 1998).
Finally, the early realist views suffered from neither of the sets of contradictions that typified many of their academic or policy-making contemporaries. As Jawaharlal Nehru argued in his brilliant contemporary analysis
of World War II, a key part of the political background both of the actual
appeasement policy of Britains conservative government and of the failure
to use the League to counter earlier fascist moves was the continuing sympathy that many reactionary policymakers had for the racist ideology
underlying fascism (Nehru 1985: 418, 481482). But no dewy-eyed, antiscientific Anglo-Saxonism clouded the early realists analysis. Nor, of
course, did the realists suffer from what we now might call the psychological denial that affected the interwar liberals whose own Wilsonian vision
had proven so flawed.
Of course, today, realism is rarely remembered as the international theory of the left. In the Cold War United States the theory became attached to
the name George Kennan, the formative intellectual of the postwar U.S.
world empire, and to such aging progressives as Niebuhr and Walter
Lippmann, who turned their backs on the socialist ideals that had guided
them throughout their most politically active years. By the late 1950s one
version of realism had become, in part, a justification for shielding foreign
policy makers from public scrutiny; it was the so-called realism of the
national-security expertsalong with their special, publicly inaccessible
knowledgethat made it best to let them make all those vital decisions
about the nuclear arms race, the NATO buildup, and land wars in poorly
understood parts of Asia.

Behaviorist Peace
Research as Democratic Challenge
Almost as soon as this uncritical form of realism gained ascendancy within
the journalistic and policy communities in the English-speaking world, it
was challenged from inside the academy. The challenge came in part from
scholars who are, often somewhat strangely, not considered part of the
canonical tradition of international relations. Most notable in this group are
the revisionist historians of U.S. foreign policy (see, for example, Williams
1959, LeFeber 1963, McCormick 1967). The challenge also came from
some, such as linguist Noam Chomsky and socialist activist Michael
Harrington, whose exclusion from the canon is more easily understood.
Chomsky and Harrington never based their critiques of uncritical realism


The Contours of Critical IR Theory

on their academic expertise but asked simply that they be treated as the
observations of informed citizens within a democracy (Chomsky 1969;
Harrington 1977).
Nonetheless, there was one group within the academy that is still treated as part of the IR canon and that did link its critique to its academic
expertise: the early generation of behaviorist peace researchers. Elise
Boulding recalls the intellectual hothouse of the early years of scientific
peace research, especially at the University of Michigan, where she and
Kenneth Boulding crossed paths with J. David Singer, Anatol Rapoport,
Johan Galtung, and many others who shared a commitment to scientific
method and distrust of Cold War policymakers and their incoherent, superstition-laden, war-promoting observations about the world (Boulding
1997). She reports that in the still unquestionably sexist academic world of
the day, it fell to herthe woman with free timeto comb through the
scrap baskets and put together the newsletter that began to link the Ann
Arbor group to like-minded groupsRobert Norths astonishingly productive group of students at Stanford; Karl Deutsch, Bruce Russett, and
Hayward Alker at Yale; and others. This was the beginning of the
International Peace Research Association, the Peace Science Society, and
the research sections on foreign policy, peace studies, and the scientific
study of international processes within the International Studies
That these groups began with an essentially meliorative aim is hardly
questioned within the standard histories of the field. That their epistemological concerns were essentially democratic may surprise some in the current generation of critical theorists, but consider Ole Holstis paradigmatic
study of John Foster Dulless beliefs (Holsti 1962). Holsti hoped with his
research to help explain why Cold War foreign policy experts failed to live
up to their promise. The study shows that Dulles, far from being realistic,
was a rigid ideologue, someone incapable of having his core beliefs about
the Soviet Union moved by any change in Soviet behavior. Holsti demonstrates his conclusion by referring to information and forms of analysis
accessible to any citizen; to public documents, not secret insider knowledge; and to easily replicable systems of counting and readily calculated
correlations. With Holsti and the other behaviorist peace researchers, as
with Habermas, truth is largely that which is judged to be true by the
largest possible consensus of free women and men. Science, rather than the
much less accountable policy expertise, is the road to truth about international affairs, in large part simply because science is democratic.
The story of another wonderful article, from the waning years of the
Vietnam War, makes the point even more pointedly. J. David Singer and
Melvin Small used the generalizations about international affairs contained
in the presidential state-of-the-world messages to evaluate the theories

Critical Theory and the Democratic Impulse


espoused by the quintessential (uncritical) realists of the day, Richard

Nixon and Henry Kissinger. Using the publicly available, readily replicable
Correlates of War data, simple two-by-two tables, and clearly explained
statistical measures, they demonstrated that Nixon frequently affirmed
sweeping generalizations that were not supported by the historical record,
as well as many, of course, that were.
The articles lessons are made even more dramatic by the authors
account of the initial reception of their research. They initially wrote their
report for Foreign Affairs, the elite journal in which foreign policy experts
speak to each other and to corporate leaders and top journalists. Foreign
Affairs rejected the article. The democratic epistemology that its authors
affirmed did not mesh with the belief in the value of irreproducible expertise, which was widely shared by the journals elite readers (Singer and
Small 1975).
Thus much of early behaviorist IR shared the same democratic impulse
that animated both the first wave of anti-imperialist scholars and the interwar realists on the left. In addition, the work begun in Ann Arbor, Stanford,
and Oslo was superior to the contemporary uncritical realism along all
dimensions. Singer and Small, or any of those who provided competing
behaviorist accounts of war that were not simply codifications of realism,
could indeed explain more cases than Kissinger or any other realist luminary (Vasquez and Henehan 1992). The behaviorists had a consistent view
of knowledge, its sources, and its role in policymaking that was in sharp
contrast to the inconsistent views of the traditional scholars and policymakers of their day. The behaviorists epistemology urged them to place their
ideas before as wide an audience as possible, and their concerns about the
way they built their science meshed with a meliorative agenda that linked
them to forms of democratic social action, to movements for peace and justice that helped ensure that their societies survived the Cold War.
Of course, many scholars trained on both sides of the Atlantic in years
after the Vietnam War never experienced behaviorist peace research as a
democratic, critical tradition. Many IR scholars today are apt to see
demands for science as only one part of the gate-keeping activities performed by relatively conservative, most often U.S., and most often white
and male scholars against the critical voices of scholars whose specific
egalitarian concerns have only recently gained a tenuous foothold within
the field. There is a great deal of truth to that observation, although it is one
that may make us forget an important part of the history of the field. It is,
perhaps, useful to remember that before Kenneth Waltz or Robert O.
Keohane were self-consciously writing about the values of social science,
when they were still writing in the mode of traditional scholars, Elise
Boulding and Cynthia Enloe were self-conscious positivists, creating a
social science whose truths were open to all as part of the critical challenge


The Contours of Critical IR Theory

to an undemocratic cult of international relations expertise (consider, for

example, Boulding 1976; Enloe 1980).

The Rise of Contemporary Critical Theory

The current wave of democratically inspired theory in IR grew up, in part,
as a challenge to the uncritical positivism of the fields mainstream, especially as it was consolidated in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s.
Yet it is important to recognize that the response to positivism was not the
whole story. Looked at through the lens of the longer history of citizens
talking to citizens about the politics of princes, the self-consciously critical
theory of the 1990s came as part of a wave of democratically inspired global theory that began in the waning years of the Vietnam War.
The primary aim of that movement has been to make a wide range of
previously excluded voices heard within the central academic and public
dialogues about international affairs. Whereas Hobson and Balchs generation spoke about the imperialized world, primarily with the aim of promoting the interests of working people within the colonizing powers, worldsystems theory, subaltern studies, and much of Gramscian IR sought to
amplify the voices of the imperialized world, to rewrite international relations from the point of view of the interests and aspirations of the impoverished South. Whereas every earlier generation of critical theorists of international relations included women who often saw parallels between the
emancipation struggles of women and movements for peace and decolonization, the feminist IR of the previous decade has placed gender inequality at the center of what needs to be understood in order to understand international affairs. Whereas earlier generations of critical scholars recognized
the importance of protracted social conflicts rooted in histories of injustice
to the vast majority of the worlds less powerful, members of the new generation of critical scholars whose research led them to form conflict-resolution workshops linking perpetrators and victims actually empowered the
victims by taking the task of explaining those conflicts away from external
experts and demanding, instead, that the discipline accept the mutually
agreed upon explanations of the conflicts that arose from those workshops
as the most plausible explanation (Rouhana and Kelman 1994).
The article in which Robert Cox makes his often-cited distinction
between critical and problem-solving theory includes a strong acknowledgment of the key link between democratic inclusiveness and the critical
enterprise (Cox 1981). Theory is always for someone. Critical theory is the
kind that allows us to understand how social structures come into being and
how they may be changed. It is, in that sense, the kind of theory that is for
those who are concerned with the transformation of society as it is, largely

Critical Theory and the Democratic Impulse


including those whose interests and aspirations are not served by global
structures as they arethe excluded, the powerless, the hitherto unheard.
When contemporary IR critical theory is understood in this larger
wayas a movement concerned with vastly increasing the number of voices, the number of standpoints, reflected within the fieldthe movement,
too, can be seen as producing scientific progress within the discipline.
Almost invariably, todays critical theory accounts for more than uncritical
positivist studies of the same phenomena, if only because the critical theorist includes a wider range of people as objects to explain and as sources of
explanation. Liberal feminist Mona Harrington, for example, often can
explain much more than canonical liberal institutionalists, including her
mentor, Stanley Hoffmann, simply because she demands that her theories
account for the actions of women as well as they account for the actions of
men (cf. Harrington 1981 with Hoffmann 1968). Similarly, the internal
logic of much of todays critical theory is quite a bit more coherent than
that of much uncritical IR positivism simply because uncritical work often
must rely on loosely connected ad hoc arguments to explain away its failure
to include the entire universe of cases under its universal generalizations.3 And, of course, the inclusion of a wider range of people within critical theorys understanding of global politics mirrors its epistemological
commitment to wide, unconstrained consensus as a primary gauge of truth.

The Impossibility of a Detached Social Science

So far, then, I have made the case that IR critical theory really does do little
more than update Hobson, if that is taken to mean that it carries out the byno-means-simple task of reflecting the democratic impulse that has resulted
in the major breakpoints of scientific progress within the field. Here I want
to take the argument further and claim that some of what is often seen as
the distinctive contributions of todays critical theory was also anticipated
within the schools that reflected the same democratic impulse at an earlier
time. Much of what is distinctive about todays critical theory comes from
its critique of international relations positivism, so my claim here is simply
that parts of that critique have been present in each of the earlier critical
Steve Smith writes of todays critical theorists that one of their great
strengths is treating the silences of mainstream research as meaningful,
asking why those silences exist, positing plausible explanations for them,
and using those explanations to uncover aspects of the way in which international action is constituted (Smith 1995: 12). For example, within the
subfield of international organization and international law, Peter Vale has
followed the silences of realist and liberal discussions about the new world


The Contours of Critical IR Theory

order to identify quite clearly whom the order is not for, who is bound to be
peripheralized no matter which side wins the hegemonic debate over the
near-term global future (Vale 1995). And within international political
economy, Roger Tooze has written about the unwritten prefaces to neorealist and neoliberal classics, their authors silences about the quite restricted, often inherently undemocratic cultures in which they believe reliable
knowledge must be constituted (Tooze 1988).
Vales contribution is like many of those made by earlier IR critical
theorists when they followed the silences in the uncritical mainstream of
their day. The earliest academic IR scholars followed silences about imperialism that made it possible for policymakers to ignore the issue of undercompensated labor at home. The interwar realists saw Wilsonian denial
about the failure of the League and the rosy-eyed view of Adolf Hitler as a
sort of closet liberal internationalist as a useful mask for the unpleasant
reality that there were real alternatives to free-market liberalism on both the
left and the right. Cold War peace researchers uncovered the Western interests in maintaining the system of antagonistic blocs that lay behind the
mainstreams unwillingness to examine evidence of changing Soviet motivations. Anatol Rapoport, for example, wrote that it was foolish to look to
empirical peace research to provide expertise to end the bipolar conflict
simply because the problem was not that scholars knew too little about the
conflict but that the bipolar powers did not want to end the conflict. The
role of peace research was, instead, to undermine the legitimacy of the war
system via critical enlightenment in areas where obsolete thinking and
habits and vested interests perpetuate superstitions that stand in the way of
removing a very real threat to civilization (Rapoport 1988).
Each group of critical scholars also included those who, like Tooze,
examined the knowledge-constituting culture that generated the silences of
their day. The early anti-imperialists and the Cold Warera peace
researchers emphasized the way in which traditions of expertise led to the
denial of public scrutiny and, from there, to blindness to questions about
the systemic sources of competitive imperialism and superpower rivalry.
The interwar realists also explored the impact of a knowledge-constituting
culture that afforded scholars and policymakers an intellectual basis on
which to deny the evidence of the failure of the League and of the liberal
fundamentalist economic policies that had been imposed on weaker
nations. This culture is not dissimilar, as the distinguished Mexican economist Victor Urquidi argues, from the knowledge-constituting culture of
todays neoliberal economics and neoliberal international political economy (Urquidi 1992).
Early generations of critical IR theorists also reflected on the epistemological problem of disinterested objectivity in the social sciences. Hobson
and Carr both wrote that the key distinction between the natural and social

Critical Theory and the Democratic Impulse


sciences arose from the fact that doing social science was itself social
action that was bound to influence the things the (positivist) scientist merely wished to observe. The insight did not lead them to discard traditional
scholarly methods of question generation, evidence gathering, and verification, but it did lead them to caution themselves and their colleagues about
the potential, often unpredictable, impact of their own words, which could
become self-fulfilling prophecies or (perhaps more usefully) one of those
strange kinds of social myth that become a reality if they are believedfor
example, the myth of the collective power of the working class to transform
capitalism by the withdrawal of its labor power (Augelli and Murphy
Peace researchers Rapoport and Adam Curle took a similar set of
issues even further by noting that there are significant sets of real-world
conflicts that are unresolvable in the form of strategic games: asymmetric
conflicts (conflicts involving distributional inequalities) and ideological
conflicts, including conflicts of identity. Both are resolvable only in the
nonstrategic mode that Rapoport called debate, but social scientists cannot
explain (or predict) the successful outcome of debates. If we could, if we
could point to a specific sequence of actions that would invariably result in
one party convincing another party of the firsts way of seeing an issue of
identity or justice, actors would be able to use that pattern in a deceitful
way, as a strategy to win compliance, thus turning the debate back into a
strategic game in which the conflict is unresolvable. As a result, Rapoport
argued, we social scientists really cannot produce any positive theory relevant to the general problem of making peace in most of the conflicts that
plague the world, but we can say something about the ethics of debate,
about the type of discourse situation that must be maintained if we want to
have any hope that a conflict involving questions of injustice or identity
can be resolved (Rapoport 1962: 128; Curle 1971: 183189).
Mark Hoffman, one of the leading figures in the new generation of IR
critical theory, has taken that conclusion to heart in his actions and research
as a third-party facilitator within protracted social conflicts. Conflict workshops create the possibility of Rapoport-style debate that may allow conflicts of injustice or identity to be resolved by the parties involved
(Hoffman 1992). This type of debate is, in fact, one significant way in
which contemporary critical theory has had programmatic impact on the
practice of some egalitarian social movements, specifically those that have
become explicit parties in protracted conflicts in which violence has been
one of a number of strategies used to promote the interests and aspirations
of the least advantaged. I believe it is also significant that this important
input into egalitarian practice simply continues and replicates one of the
inputs of the previous generation of scholars whose work reflected the
democratic impulse within the field.


The Contours of Critical IR Theory

Contemporary Critical Theory

and Egalitarian Practice
Earlier generations of critical scholars made contributions to egalitarian
practice in two other ways: (1) by suggesting designs for social institutions
that would regularly reproduce more egalitarian outcomes, and (2) by suggesting strategies that movements of the disadvantaged might follow in
order to defeat their opponents.
Perhaps our generation of critical scholars has been less likely to offer
this second type of input simply because, consciously or unconsciously, we
have learned the lesson understood by Rapoport and also promulgated quite
explicitly (in different ways) by Gandhi and by some recent poststructuralist commentaries on egalitarian political practice: Ultimately conflicts
between oppressors and oppressed must be resolved through the transformation of the perceptions and attitudes of the oppressors (and, likely, those
of the oppressed) via open debate, a process in which strategic concerns are
irrelevant (Rapoport 1972: 84; see also, in a different context, Brent 1996).
My own hunch is that this idea is not true. Even if we had learned this
lesson, we would probably have learned along with it Adam Curles related
lesson that the dominant parties in asymmetric conflicts enter such debates
only after they have become convinced of the material and moral power of
the weaker party, and getting to that stage is, most certainly, a matter of
strategy and gamesmanship, as Gandhis life work so clearly demonstrates
(Curle 1971: 183189).
Similarly, even if we had learned Rapoports lesson, we would still
have reason to work on the first issue: designing more egalitarian institutions that might be agreed upon at the end of the transformative debates
that can resolve asymmetric conflicts. It may be easier to understand why
these sort of forward-looking plans are as rare for our generation as they
were for the interwar critical realists. Unlike Hobsons generation or the
generation of the early positivist peace researchers, we live at a time that is
not very hopeful for those with egalitarian aspirations and with interests in
substantive democracy. As the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and
other intergovernmental agencies keep repeating year after year, global
inequalitymaterial inequality among regions of the world and among
social classes everywherehas grown more in the past twenty-five or thirty years than in the entire period of the rapid growth of inequality that
began with the British Industrial Revolution (UNDP 1999). At the same
time, in the past fifteen to twenty years, almost all of the grand egalitarian
visionary projects of the twentieth century have been discredited: communism, decolonization, the welfare state.
Perhaps our positive theory has failed to let us see any alternatives to
these older grand visions. Perhaps we do not understand enough about the

Critical Theory and the Democratic Impulse


global political economy to create a relevant grand egalitarian vision for

the early twenty-first century or even politically relevant visions of lessencompassing policy changes. If that is the case, it may very well be that
todays critical theorists would do well to follow Susan Stranges unwelcome advice and get on with it by doing empirical research either to find
the relevant levers of power for the disadvantaged or to persuasively conclude that no such levers exist (the phrase did not survive into the published
version, but see Strange 1995).
Perhaps we find Stranges admonition troubling in part because within
academic international relations it is actually quite comfortable for critical
scholars to be politically detached from the social movements that are
working to thwart the global forces they see as creating ever greater
inequality. One of the leading historians of U.S. IR has argued that in terms
at least of democratic input into foreign policy, the recent (postWorld War
II) legitimation and professionalization of the field has been a very mixed
blessing. It has meant that now, during their college days, U.S. elites are
likely to learn a bit about the world at large, some of it even from relatively
critical scholars. That is probably a good thing for the lives of the many
people around the world who are subject to U.S. supremacy. It has also
meant, however, that as critical scholars have found more opportunities
within the academy, the need to serve as intellectuals of popular social
movements has faded (McCaughey 1984). On a grander stage Gramsci
writes of the hegemonic strategy of decapitating the popular masses by
enticing their intellectuals into the priesthood, the universities, and the
state-run schools (Augelli and Murphy 1988: 125126). Similarly, Emily
Greene Balchs recent biographer writes that her dismissal from Wellesley
was, in the long run, a personal liberation that allowed her to focus her
intellect entirely on the issues that the colleges governors found so disreputable (Palmieri 1995: 117118, 242244). No critical theorist would hope
for a similar closing of the space for critical IR within todays academy.
Nonetheless, we may need to guard against the political tameness and complacency that would help to keep that space open.

1. In terms of the history of postwar IR, it is interesting that the Kegley and
Bretall volume was edited by the father of positivist foreign policy, analyst Charles
W. Kegley Jr., whose recent work has come out of a critical peace research tradition
and emphasizes liberal-internationalist democratic peace arguments that are more
typical of Hobson or Balch. See Kegley and Raymond 1994.
2. This link is recognized by a number of those who admire Robert W. Coxs
work and is, perhaps, reflected in his choice of a designation for the eclectic combination of insights from Gramsci, Polanyi, and others (Cox 1997).


The Contours of Critical IR Theory

3. Some of the most telling critiques of the tendency of IR positivism to ignore

large numbers of relevant cases have come from scholars employing more traditional methods. Robert H. Jackson, for example, has demonstrated that scores of the
fundamental units of rationalist neoliberal and neorealist models simply do not
have the independence that those models assume. Hence, the resulting theories can,
at best, apply to only a limited part of the world (see Jackson 1993).


Kimberly Hutchings

In this chapter the aim is to focus attention on the nature of critique in the
kind of international relations theory that refers to itself as critical. I begin
by drawing attention to the fact that there are different forms of critical
international relations theory. What is sometimes identified as critical theory proper tends to rely heavily on Marxist or Frankfurt School sources. In
contrast, postmodernist and feminist IR theory, which also sees itself as
critical, draws on a range of post-Marxist inspirations. In spite of this diversity of theoretical grounding, however, I argue that it is possible to identify
a common element that helps to identify all these theoretical approaches as
critical. It is my contention that this common element reflects a logic that
can be traced back to the origins of the idea of critique in the work of Kant.
I then go on to suggest that, as with Kantian critique, there are both dangers
and possibilities inherent in the kind of critical theoretical turn in international relations (IR) that is the subject of this book. The dangers can be
summed up as those of lapsing back into the wars of reason between realist
and idealist perspectives, which critical theory in international relations is
actually supposed to have transcended. These dangers, I argue, are largely
responsible for the tendency of critical IR theory to remain trapped within
unsolvable theoretical debates rather than turning attention toward redirecting empirical research and specific explanation. The possibilities of critical
IR theory relate to the ways in which it opens up our understanding of the
scope and potential of developments in international politics. There are two
dimensions to critical theorys contribution here: On the one hand, by challenging the traditional limitations on explanation, critical theory extends
the capacity of social scientists to account for particular phenomena; on the
other hand, by never taking the limitations and conditions of possibility of


Critique in Critical IR Theory

contemporary world politics as given, critical theorists elucidate the possibilities and probabilities of change.
There are at least four general positions that can claim to be examples
of critical theory in the international relations context. First, there is neoGramscian work on global political economy and international politics,
most notably exemplified by the work of Robert W. Cox (see, for example,
1996a). Second, there is explanatory and normative theory, such as that of
Andrew Linklater (Linklater 1990a, 1990b, 1998), which draws on the
work of the Frankfurt School and of Jrgen Habermas in particular. Third,
there is postmodernist worksuch as that of Richard Ashley (1988), R.B.J.
Walker (1993, Ashley and Walker 1990), James Der Derian (1987, Der
Derian and Shapiro 1989), and Jens Bartelson (1995)that draws on a
range of poststructuralist and postmodernist philosophers, of which Michel
Foucault and Jacques Derrida are the most significant (on Foucault, see
Hutchings 1997). Fourth, there is feminist work, such as that of Jean
Elshtain (1987), Cynthia Enloe (1989), Christine Sylvester (1994), V. Spike
Peterson (1992a), Rebecca Grant and Kathleen Newland (1991), and Ann
Tickner (1992), which draws on a very wide range of traditions (including
Marxism, the Frankfurt School, and postmodernism) but always insofar as
those traditions have been mediated by the insights of the diversity of theoretical traditions peculiar to feminism (see also Hutchings 1994). In none of
these four categories is there an exact consensus about what that particular
version of critical theory should look like. This means that it is no easy
matter to pin down what being critical means or to work out whether there
is anything in common among the perspectives that all see themselves as
critical. I suggest, however, that there is a certain common logic at work in
these different critical positions. This is not an argument that all these different perspectives are saying the same thing but simply that insofar as they
involve a critical aspect, they share certain formal characteristics that have
particular theoretical and practical consequences.
The best way of summing up what all the previously mentioned critical
theories have in common, I would suggest, is to say that they are all
engaged in tracing and challenging given limits, most obviously the limits
given in the dominant neorealist perspectives on the explanation and judgment of international politics but also, particularly in the case of some postmodernist and feminist work, those inherent in more liberal, idealist
approaches. There are two interrelated ways in which critical theories
accomplish this. One is by focusing on the ways in which the object of
investigation in international relations fails to fit within the limits prescribed for it by more orthodox approaches. This approach involves a challenge to the ontological assumptions that have governed prevalent thinking
about what constitutes and accounts for international relations (in realisms
case a particular conception of the state and the interstate system operating

The Nature of Critique


in terms of realpolitik) as opposed to domestic or transnational politics and

global economics. The second is by challenging the necessity of the conditions of possibility of judgment (explanatory and normative) that are relied
on by more orthodox approaches. This involves an epistemological challenge to orthodox modes of analysis and investigation in international relations (which rest on specific conceptions of the notions of state, interest,
and power as well as on positivist methodological assumptions) but also a
challenge to the apparent exclusion of normative values from explanation
in mainstream thinking. In addition, it brings into question the distinction
between morality and politics; it is through this distinction that the nature
of international politics has been defined by both realism and idealism.
Critical theorists tend not to accept the characterization of politics in terms
of realpolitik and the banishment of morality from the realms of politics.
Similarly, they reject the characterization of morality as a matter of ahistorical, transcendental principles by which political reality will always be condemned. In the context of this chapter it is impossible to do full justice to
the different versions of critical theory; what follows is a very brief consideration of how each of the critical approaches carries out the dual challenge
I have identified.
Coxs work is well known for its eclectic use of a variety of theoretical
traditions, although his most prominent theoretical debts are to the Marxist
historicist tradition in social science (Cox 1996a: 124173). Coxs historicism is the key to the way he traces and challenges the limits of realism in
both senses mentioned previously. In terms of the ontological aspect of his
critical work, Cox criticizes realisms characterization of its object of
analysis for its ahistorical perspective, in which the limits of a particular
present are treated not as historical constructions, which come about
through a complex interaction between states and substate and transstate
forces, but as unquestionable eternal verities. In making this critique of
classical IR thinking, Cox is drawing attention to a range of conditions of
possibility for international politics, including economic, cultural, and ideological factors. His claim is that if the theorist does not see the object of
study as including these conditions of possibility but deals with interstate
relations in isolation, then the work only reproduces and reinforces the
common sense of the age. In terms of the epistemological aspect of his critical work, Cox also identifies modes of social scientific investigation as
part of the historical development that delivers a particular articulation of
the pattern of state power, productive forces, and world order. In other
words, positivism is not a neutral and guaranteed route to the truth but a
methodological approach that itself reflects a series of assumptions about
politics, power, human nature, and knowledge; it is itself historically conditioned. Coxs arguments about history and knowledge establish a strong
link between the explanatory and the normative in social science. Certain


Critique in Critical IR Theory

kinds of explanation are seen to derive from the norms embedded in either
hegemonic or counterhegemonic discourses. This observation directly challenges the line drawn by traditional international relations theory between
facts and values. In addition, the identification of norms as within history
rather than located in the conscience of the historian undermines the
assumption common to both realism and idealism that the spheres of politics and morality are inherently distinct. For Cox, moral ends are a potential
of his object of investigation and are open to being recognized and encouraged by the critical theorist but are not invented by him or her.
Linklaters work has much in common with Coxs. In Beyond Realism
and Marxism, Linklater also argues that analysis in international relations
that is restricted to interstate relations fails to recognize the role of sub- and
transstate political and economic forces in conditioning the possibilities of
international politics (Linklater 1990b: 17). As with Coxs work,
Linklaters argument is not designed to dismiss the insights of realism but
to identify their partiality and examine the role of what has been excluded
in order to enhance explanation and understanding in the field. Like Cox
again, Linklater seeks to bring history into the ahistorical assumptions of
traditional international relations theory and to challenge the claim to neutrality in its theoretical and methodological framework. In Linklaters case,
however, there is a specific variant of the challenge to the fact/value and
politics/morality distinctions that are constitutive of classical realism and
idealism. Whereas Cox works with the notion of hegemonic and counterhegemonic discourses, Linklater draws on Habermass discourse ethics and
theory of historical development to identify the potential of modern states
to transcend the logic of the state system reflected by realism (Linklater
1990b: 163164; see also 1992b: 3536). Among the conditions of possibility that realism takes as eternally given (i.e., the state) is a notion of right
that points beyond particular interest. Over time, a pattern of collective
learning oriented by the logic of communication itself may enable the transcendence of the anarchy problematique. Thus the presumptions of realist
analysis have to be rethought not only in terms of the ways they have been
historically produced or constructed but also in terms of their capacity for
self-transcendence, conceptually and in practice.
Postmodernist approaches to international relations depart from the
work of Cox and Linklater insofar as postmodernists are suspicious of any
reference to or reliance on notions of progress in history, whether of a
Marxist or Habermasian kind. In addition, postmodernist work focuses less
on the specification of what international politics is than on the ways it has
been discursively constructed by the discipline of international relations
itselflargely because postmodernists insist on the impossibility of disentangling questions of what is from discourses about what Is. This conviction is evident in the work of Der Derian on diplomacy and Bartelson on

The Nature of Critique


sovereignty; both theorists draw attention to the discursive construction of

what has come to be identified in more mainstream analysis as independently existing objects of investigation (Der Derian 1987; Bartelson 1995).
Ashley and Walker (1990) likewise have drawn attention to the intimate
connection between academic IRs vision of world politics and the politics
of academic international relations itself. Nevertheless, the ways in which
postmodernists trace and challenge the limits of more orthodox approaches
to understanding world politics clearly echo aspects of Coxs and
Linklaters arguments. Like Cox and Linklater, postmodernists question the
boundary between the domestic and the international and argue that the
conditions of possibility of interstate relations include sub- and transstate
forces. Similarly, postmodernists challenge the epistemological presumptions of positivism, the distinction between fact and value, and the conceptual armory of realism, in particular realisms reliance on a particular
understanding of the concepts of state, sovereignty, and power. When it
comes to challenging the morality/politics distinction, however, postmodernists see themselves as being more radically critical than Cox and
Linklater. As was already discussed, Cox and Linklater challenge the distinction realism draws between morality and politics both by pointing to the
normative agendas implicit in the study of international relations nurtured
by hegemonic interests and by arguing for an alternative mode of theorizing oriented by alternative normative values. Both Cox and Linklater identify critical theory with a project of emancipation and with the capacity to
discriminate between the workings of power and the workings of freedom.
In contrast, postmodernists are reluctant to suggest that there are any stable
criteria by which one version of the international can be judged better than
another. They argue that using the notion of emancipation as a ground for
criticizing the theoretical and practical status quo is itself authoritative and
exclusionary, an argument that problematizes the idea of a clear distinction
between power and freedom. For this reason postmodernists accuse critical
theorists such as Cox and Linklater of relying on uncritical assumptions
about criteria of judgment that collapse critical theory back into Marxist or
liberal idealism. Nevertheless, in spite of this rejection of the idea of a substantive vision of emancipation, postmodernists still claim that their theorizing is in a register of freedom (Ashley and Walker 1990). This register
of freedom is identified with the Foucauldian notion of an imperative to
constantly transgress the boundaries of given limitation (in theory and practice) rather than with any substantive ideal of a world without oppression
(Hutchings 1997).
Feminist international relations theory is an even more recent development within the discipline than the perspectives already mentioned and is in
some ways more difficult to characterize because there are feminist positions that would classify themselves as critical in the Cox and Linklater


Critique in Critical IR Theory

sense or as postmodernist and that therefore reflect many of the characteristics of the positions previously noted (Hutchings 1995: 169185).
Feminists, like other critical theorists, question the existing ontological and
epistemological assumptions of international relations theory. In particular
they draw attention to the consequences for those assumptions of considering gender as one of the crucial conditions of possibility both for contemporary interstate relations and for the realist worldview. The work of critics
such as Elshtain and Enloe has drawn attention to the fact that gendered
divisions of labor and constructions of femininity and masculinity underlie
many practices in contextsfrom diplomacy to the militarythat are central to the realist perception of international politics. The work of Tickner
and Peterson has challenged the positivist claim to neutrality by pointing
out the gendered assumptions that help to construct the building blocks of
positivist analysis and methodology (Tickner 1991; Peterson 1992b). Once
more it is argued that the assertion of a fact/value split and of a
morality/politics distinction collapses in the face of investigation of how
that distinction is produced and sustained within theory. With regard to the
morality/politics split, one of the most significant strands in feminist thinking about war has been a set of claims about the normative standard inherent in the caring work most commonly carried out by women and its potential both to maintain and to subvert the possibility of war as an acceptable
last resort in international politics (Ruddick 1990).
The previous brief overview has served to illustrate my initial claim
that at least one significant feature is shared by the different theoretical
approaches to international politics that see themselves as critical: They all
trace and challenge the ontological and epistemological limits given in traditional realist analysis. However, a certain tension has become evident
between the critical perspectives that might be seen as in the mainstream of
critical theory and the postmodernist approach. This tension has its ground
in the different answers the alternative critical theories would give to the
question of how their own critique is possiblethe question, in other
words, of the conditions of possibility of the critical theorists challenge to
the conditions of possibility of realism. It is fairly clear from the previous
account that Cox and Linklater suggest a dual answer in accounting for
their own critique: First, they both operate with a concept of emancipation
that functions as a principle for judgment of the contemporary world order;
second, they both argue that this normative principle of critique is immanent, even if by no means necessarily realizable, within history. This dual
ground, which each would account for differently by reference to the theoretical sources on which they draw, enables a more definite account of better-worse judgments and outcomes than is offered by postmodernist theorists. The way postmodernist theorists answer the question of how their
critique is possible involves no such reference to values immanent within

The Nature of Critique


history. Instead, postmodernists locate the possibility of critique within the

necessary unsustainability of any secure ground for judgment. Thus, for
postmodernists, better-worse claims are always inherently problematic.
Once the question of how critical theory is grounded or validated
becomes a focus of attention, it is all too easy for the tension described to
take on the form of a fixed opposition in which different schools of critical
theory condemn (and caricature) each other. For critical theorists of the
Cox-Linklater orientation, the postmodernist position is condemned as ultimately unintelligible as a critical theory because in the end, it has no reference point in relation to which its own account of international politics is
better in the sense of being more progressive or emancipatory than realism
or idealism. For postmodernists, neo-Gramscian and Habermasian critical
theory is condemned as ultimately unintelligible as a critical theory
because, they claim, it relies on assertions about normative values and
progress in history. A similar standoff is reproduced in feminist critique. In
this context, the analogous position to that of Cox and Linklater is provided
by feminist theorists who ground their critique in a particular account of
what the oppression or emancipation of woman means and use this as a
measure for better-worse. Postmodernist feminists respond by pointing to
the ways in which specific characterizations of woman, oppression, and
emancipation are themselves open to challenge and argue that critique is
better understood as the refusal of all given conditions for judgment. Their
opponents reply that this view renders critique as nothing other than a commitment to the pluralization of voices and thereby deprives it of moral
authority and political effectiveness (Hutchings 1994, 1995: 169185).
To sum up, it appears as if one kind of critique is seen as disabling
itself through uncritical reliance on given, ungrounded, and ungroundable
assumptions; the other kind of critique is seen as disabling itself through its
collapse into a skepticism about the possibility of any meaningful judgment
at all. Ironically, this debate has clear echoes of the argument between realism and idealism or its contemporary liberal heirs, an argument that all
kinds of critical theory saw themselves as superseding. Here also it was
always the case that one side condemned the other for cynicism and skepticism on the one hand or for dogmatic reliance on ideal and unsubstantiable
standards on the other. This focus on what differentiates alternative critical
perspectives from one another diverts attention from what they share. This
diversion in turn means that as an influence on the theory and practice of
the discipline of international relations, both kinds of critical theory risk
marginalizing themselves by becoming preoccupied with this inward-looking battle between what is characterized as skepticism on the one hand and
dogmatism on the other.
It is at this point, I would argue, that a consideration of the ways critical IR theory in its various guises is developing may be illuminated by an


Critique in Critical IR Theory

examination of Kantian critical philosophy. Not only does the logic of

Kantian critique provide an excellent clarification of the patterns of thinking in critical IR theory, but it also highlights the danger of self-marginalization and suggests how that danger might be addressed and the positive
potential of critical theory be realized. At the beginning of my discussion, I
characterized critical IR theory in terms of its preoccupation with the tracing and challenging of the conditioning ontological and epistemological
limits of more orthodox approaches. In this sense, critical IR theory is a
classically Kantian enterprise. Kantian critique sets out to trace the conditions of possibility of claims to knowledge, taking its starting point from
the untenability of skepticism, exemplified by Humean empiricism, and
dogmatism, exemplified by Wolffian rationalism. Kant is concerned with
what conditions the appearance of the object of knowledge (the analogous
question might be, How does international politics come to appear as it
appears?) and with what conditions the ways in which the object of knowledge is known (analogously, the conceptual framework and methodological
techniques of realism). The paradox of Kantian critique, however, is that
even as it refuses the classical empiricist and rationalist alternatives, it constantly comes back to them when it attempts to account for its own ground
or authority. Whereas the purpose of critique is to trace the limitations of
reason in order to engage in critique, reason (in the form of the work of the
critic) takes on powers that appear to transcend that limitation, which the
critic needs to account for. In the struggle to make this accounting, the
Kantian critic is always in danger of either asserting a dogmatic authority
over judgment or problematizing the authority of critical judgment to such
an extent that its very possibility becomes open to question. I have discussed the nature of what I term the politics of Kantian critique at some
length elsewhere (Hutchings 1995: 1157); what is important here is the
apparent difficulty Kants critique has in sustaining itself as critical. If the
critic succeeds in grounding the authority of critique, critique lapses into
the dogmatic assertion of set standards of judgment. If the critic fails to
provide a ground for critique, critique lapses into skepticism. It appears,
then, as if critique depends on refusing to either succeed or fail in the task
of establishing the ground of its authority.
In Critique of Pure Reason, Kant describes the clash between skepticism and dogmatism in terms of the wars of reason (Kant 1929: 601608;
Hutchings 1995: 150166). In contrast, he presents critique as initiating a
peacemaking process that mediates between and transcends the two precritical alternatives. As I have suggested, this mediation and transcendence is
not a stable resolution of antinomic moments but a problematic interplay of
dogmatic and skeptical elements that are always held in tension. When
called to account for the authority of critique, the critics response is and
must be equivocal and unsatisfactory (Hutchings 1995: 186191). I have

The Nature of Critique


suggested that critical theory of international relations, like Kantian critique, is an attempt to transcend the wars of reason in which realist analysis
is countered by idealism and vice versa. In accounting for its own authority,
however, critique in international relations also follows Kant in threatening
to fight the battles of reason all over again. Characterizing the critical other
as a modernist dogmatist or a postmodernist skeptic merely returns theory
to a tedious and unwinnable war. At the same time it encourages critics to
identify their own critical practice as having overcome the difficulties of
critique rather than as preserving and acknowledging its tensions, thus rendering critique uncritical once again.
The problems critique encounters when it attempts to ground its own
authority represent the dangerous road that is all too easy for critical IR
theory to take, whether it goes in a skeptical or dogmatic direction. For the
critical theorist, it is impossible either to ground critique securely or to
abandon the notion of critical authority. The mark of critique is precisely a
fundamental insecurity about its conditions of possibility. This insecurity is
best summed up as a capacity for constant theoretical self-reflection in
which the vulnerability of the conditions of possibility of critique is
acknowledged even as its claim to authoritative judgment is made. The preoccupation with the ground of critique is dangerous because it forces critical work into a philosophical argument that, as Kant shows, is both violent
and unresolvable. Thus the energies of critique get caught up in a backward-looking theoretical debate rather than being pushed outward into the
exploration of how critical insights may be used to strengthen understanding and explanation in the realm of international politics. This regressive
debate occurs in critical IR theory when the tension between different ways
of grounding critique becomes the focus of attention. If no ultimate
accounting for the authority of the judgments of critical theory is possible,
the only way critical theory can prove itself is through more modest and
pragmatic means. These means amount, I suggest, to a critique of orthodox
theoretical frameworks and methodologies on the one hand and on the
other to a clear indication of the explanatory benefits and costs of moving
beyond those frameworks and methodologies in specific contexts.
In the previous brief discussions of the different forms of critical IR
theory, I focused principally on the critique of orthodoxy, which is characteristic of critical theory. Essentially, this critique demonstrates that realisms account of its own assumptions is open to question and that those
assumptions may be better accounted for by a rethinking of the conditions
of possibility of realist work. How can this rethinking be carried out? One
way would be to seek to demonstrate that the validity of the judgment of
the critical theorist can be proved by its being traced back to ground superior to that on which the realist rests his or her case, a move that involves the
critical theorist demonstrating his or her epistemological and ethical


Critique in Critical IR Theory

authority. As I have already suggested, I think this is a dangerous road to

take and presents the critic with an impossible task. The other road is a phenomenological or immanent critique in which specific examples of realist
analysis are shown to rely implicitly on what they exclude explicitly and
are unable to account for. This kind of work does not need to rely on largescale claims to truth or goodness but simply on a commitment to examining
the conceptual and practical conditions of possibility of that which is taken
for granted in the dominant form of explanation. This work has in fact been
crucial to all forms of critical theory and is perhaps most evident in the
ways critical theorists draw attention to the historical, social, economic,
and normative conditions of modern state sovereignty. The argument works
in two directions: First, in relying on the notion of state sovereignty, it is
argued, realism is bracketing off its reliance on a nexus of structures and
forces by which states and sovereignty are constituted and sustained; second, the exclusion of these structures and forces from explanation, it is
argued, limits realisms ability to grasp the interplay between interstate
behavior and historical, social, economic, and normative conditions and
therefore limits its explanatory and predictive power.
I suggested that there are two directions in which critical theory can
develop. First, it can move in a more negative direction in which attention
is focused on the partial and distorting nature of realist analysis. So far
most critical theoretical work not caught up in the backward-looking wars
of reason has been of this nature. The second direction, which is only in its
infancy within critical IR theory, is one in which the positive implications
of the rethinking implied by the immanent critique of realism are thought
through. Here, it seems to me, critical theory has great potential as long as
it maintains a scrupulous attention to its own limitations and the theoretical
and methodological assumptions it is making. This kind of work is likely to
be of three kinds. The first would be work that involves developing new
conceptual frameworks and methodological techniques through which
international politics can be explained and understood. The shift from the
term international relations to the term international politics to describe
the object of investigation provides one very simple example. The term
international relations, according to the realist tradition, encapsulates the
fundamentally apolitical and ahistorical logic of the state system. The use
of international politics immediately prevents from being taken for granted
the idea that different kinds of possibilities pertain to the international as
opposed to the domestic political sphere.
The second kind of work would offer alternative explanations for phenomenafrom war to interstate cooperationthat realism is concerned to
account for. Here critical theory is obliged to demonstrate empirically how
the historical, social, economic, and normative conditions of the modern
state system account for specific international developments.

The Nature of Critique


The third kind of work would focus on phenomena that realism tended
to exclude or see as marginal to mainstream explanation of interstate
behavior, such as transnational organizations, new social movements,
nationalism, and democracy. Here critical theory is likely to find much in
common with contemporary work in development studies, global political
economy, sociology, and political science, which all testify to the difficulty
of operating on the presumption of the state as the crucial constitutive limit
on the analysis of economic and social order or normative political agendas.
For many critical theorists of international relations it would seem as if
the previous discussion misses one very important dimension of critical
theory: I have focused on what critical explanatory work in international
relations might look like but have not mentioned the normative element
that is common to this sort of critique. Critical theorys quarrel with realism
has never been a purely social scientific one; it has also always been about
values and their importance not just as phenomena that are part of international politics but as something that acts as a focus or orientation for social
scientific work and the kinds of policy priorities that may follow from it.
Above all, critical theorists of all persuasions, including postmodernists,
have stressed that critique is necessarily bound up with freedom (Hutchings
1995: 158165). In what sense does the kind of work I have mentioned
incorporate this dimension? Here, once again, it is tempting to see historicist and Habermasian critics as lined up against postmodernists, with the
former claiming a grasp of at least some of the determinate conditions of
freedom (emancipation) and the latter arguing that freedom can be understood only negatively, in terms of resistance to determination (transgression). According to these responses, the link between critique and freedom
would be realized in terms of condemnation or prescription depending on
whether a particular analysis did or did not fulfill either emancipatory or
transgressive criteria. This answer to the question of the normative dimension of critical theory returns us to the wars of reason, since it reopens the
unresolvable debate about the grounds of critique, this time in terms of
rival accounts of freedom.
However, there is a more minimal normative sense in which historicist,
Habermasian, postmodernist, and feminist critical theorists can all claim
that their theoretical work is grounded in and oriented toward freedom.
This sense derives from the commitment of all critical theorists to always
consider the question of the conditions of possibility of both the theory and
practice of international politics. This question has infinite implications, it
can never be definitively answered, and it rests on the assumption that no
conditions are simply given but all are produced and constructed. By stressing this claim as a universal presumption of critique, critical theorists are
also committed to the revisability in principle of any given theoretical posi-


Critique in Critical IR Theory

tion or state of affairs. When critical theorists move beyond this claim to
the specific prescription of one path rather than another or the condemnation of what is in terms of what might or ought to be, they are building on a
deeper insight that is fundamental to all critique. What cannot be revised is
the assumption of the revisability of conditions itself. I would argue, therefore, that it is possible for IR theory to be critical without being specifically
prescriptive as long as it involves the exposure of conditions of possibility
in the sense already discussed. Specifically, prescriptive critical theory is
certainly not ruled out, but as long as it remains critical it must continue to
make explicit the fundamental assumption on which it rests. Thus prescriptive critical theorists need to be cautious and to articulate as clearly as possible their own (revisable) basis for the claims they are making. Moreover,
prescriptive critical theorists must always acknowledge that no normative
position is nonexclusive or unchallengeable. Perhaps most important, all
critical theorists should be clear that the possibility of revision of things as
they are is purely theoretical unless and until revision either is or becomes
the burden of actual economic, social, or political movements and forces.
The actual effects of critical theorizing are not guaranteed and cannot be
known in advance.
The irony of the previous discussion, of course, is that it is theoretical
and may therefore be seen as falling foul of the common complaint about
critical theory, that is, that it has failed significantly to further the explanation and understanding of an increasingly complex and obscure world of
international politics. What I have tried to argue in this chapter is that this
charge can be made reasonably against critical theory only insofar as it
allows itself to be distracted by philosophical debates about the ground of
critique, debates that actually rest on a fundamental misconception of what
critique means. Critique is premised on the impossibility of a definitive
answer to the conditions of its own possibility and can only content itself
with the acknowledgment of the revisability of any grounds on which its
specific claims are based. The positive potential of critical theory lies in its
widening the range of phenomena relevant to the explanation of international politics and a range of questions that a realist agenda rules out in
advance. The significance of critical theory will be demonstrated in two
ways in the future: first, in the empirical work that is being and will be carried out in the wake of its theoretical challenge; second, in the extent to
which critical theorys constant reminder that the world need not be as it is
chimes in with world historical, social, economic, and political forces
forces that are way beyond the control of the critical theorist.

N. J. Rengger

Almost coterminous with the birth of the modern states system has been the
development of the many attempts to transcend it. At its conceptual inception in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries there were many who
bitterly opposed it, seeing it as little better than a law of the jungle and a
denial of everything they felt Christian Europe stood for. Perhaps the most
eloquent, and still among the most interesting, of these figures is Gottfried
Wilhelm Leibniz (Riley 1992, 1996; see also Nardin, Brown, and Rengger
1998). However, Leibnizs affection for the medieval conception of the
Respublica Christiana was not the route that disaffection with the states
system was increasingly to take in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries,
even though, significantly, it is perhaps increasingly relevant today.
For those who felt that the order created by the states system most
strongly resembled the order of the grave, the procession of attempts,
begun by the Abbe de St. Pierre, to find a way of converting the system into
one of perpetual peace is perhaps the best-known attempt to transcend the
states system. Commented on at the end of his long life by Leibniz and
throughout the eighteenth century by writers such as Rousseau, perhaps the
most famous version of this attempt today is Kants justly celebrated essay
Perpetual Peace, first published in 1795 (in Reiss 1970). Kant sketched a
program for the gradual transcendence of the states system in all but name
and its replacement by a system of cosmopolitan law.
Kant, of course, is usuallyand often rightlyseen as a liberal.
However, there is in Kants thinking a radicality that many liberals shy
away from. It is perhaps most clearly displayed in his writings on international relations; it was, after all, Kant who famously referred to his predecessors in the fieldGrotians and realists alikeas sorry comforters


Critique in Critical IR Theory

(those specifically mentioned included Hugo Grotius, Samuel Pufendorf,

and Emmerich von Vattel). In his Perpetual Peace essay, Kant spoke
firmly in the accents of the European Enlightenment, of which he was perhaps the greatest philosophical representative. It is worth remembering, in
this context, his famous description of Enlightenment in one of his other
essays: An Answer to the Question What Is Enlightenment? Enlightenment, he writes, is the emergence of man from his self incurred immaturity (1991: 59). In other words, for Kant and for the Enlightenment as a
whole, the key to our emancipation is to recognize that it is we who hold
ourselves back.
In international relations (IR) theory, Kant was famously referred to by
Martin Wight as a revolutionist, and it is his hostility to the states system
that makes him genuinely revolutionary in that sense if not in others. He
has, however, been joined in that hostility by a good many thinkers and traditions, especially in the twentieth century, even where they have shared
almost nothing else with him. In the nineteenth century, it was the liberal
Enlightenment that dominated, and such hopes were largely forgotten save
for a few little-knownat the timeradicals like Karl Marx. In the twentieth century, however, such hopes of systemic transcendence, what Richard
Falk refers to as system transforming hopes, became much greater, especially over the last few years, when all sorts of possible agents were fingered as the agent who would put the final nail in the coffin of the states
system: technology, globalization, the world economythe list goes on and
This revolutionism that would seek to transcend the states system had
two great advocates in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Kant and
Marx. Andrew Linklater has described them as the two great exponents
of moral and political universalism within the tradition of philosophical
history (Linklater 1990a: 205). They were also the two greatest exponents of emancipationthough they did not entirely agree either on what
was to do the emancipating or on what humans were being emancipated
In the context of international relations, however, the tradition in which
they stand is unambiguous. The order of the current international system is
no true order at all, for it has no place for justice and little for humans as
humans rather than humans as members of discrete communities. The problem of order can therefore be solved only when it is effectively transcended. This tradition is rightly seen as a cosmopolitan traditionthough it is
not, of course, the only available cosmopolitanism; it is also seen, again
often rightly, as a universalist one (on the relationship between cosmopolitanism and universalism, see Rengger 1999: epilogue). Most important, it is
seen as an emancipatory project.

Negative Dialectic?


Emancipation and Critical

Theory in International Relations
There are a number of approaches that seek to develop this line of reasoning, and not all of them are directly related to (academic) international
relations theory. For example, it would be central to a good deal of liberation theology (and some continental political theology, such as that of
Jrgen Moltmann and Johann Baptist Metz); to more general dependencia
analysis (Andr Gunder Frank, Samir Amin) and world-systems analysis
(Immanuel Wallerstein, Christopher Chase-Dunn); and to some still more
heterodox work such as the critical pedagogy of Paulo Friere, the critical
legal theory of, among others, Roberto Managebeira Unger, and the literary and political writings of Edward Said and a number of other postcolonial literary theorists. (Leonard 1994 provides an interesting overview. See
also Moltmann 1967; Metz 1969; Frank 1967; Wallerstein 1974, 1979,
1980, 1989; Chase-Dunn 1989; Arrighi 1994; Friere 1983; Said 1994;
Unger 1987.)
However, the body of work that makes this the centerpiece of their
argument in contemporary IR theory is usually called critical theory.
Critical theory is, however, often used in international relations in an
unhelpfully general wayto name but five examples, international relations theory influenced by poststructuralism; feminist IR theory; Gramscian
concerns, especially in international political economy; some interpretive
constructivisms such as that of Kratochwil (1989); and Marxisant analysts
such as Fred Halliday and Justin Rosenberg (Halliday 1994; Rosenberg
1994a; see also Rengger 1996) are all often referred to as critical theory, as
is the work of those thinkers, most obviously Andrew Linklater, who draw
sustenance from the tradition of critical theory properly so called, that is to
say, the critical theory of the Frankfurt School.1
I want to emphasize that in this chapter I am concerned to discuss only
those critical theories of international relations that make emancipation
central to their analysis and operation. This focus effectively rules out poststructural international theory and a good deal of constructivist theory.
Although it is possible to argue, as for example, Andrew Linklater has, that
all forms of critical theory have something to bring to the emancipatory
project, many poststructuralists and constructivists would, I suspect, be
very skeptical about this. In any event, the central set of arguments I am
concerned with here are derived from or related to Frankfurt School critical
theory. In my view, it is the Frankfurt Schoolinfluenced critical IR theorists who have provided the most general orientation for critical theory in
international studies as far as emancipation is concerned, and it is this orientation that essentially drives the critical project in international relations.


Critique in Critical IR Theory

Thus in this chapter I want to offer a general argument connecting certain key Frankfurt School themes with the use to which they have been put
in critical international relations theory. I will return in my concluding
remarks to what this general argument might imply for other critical literatures in contemporary international theory.

The Frankfurt School and Critical Theory

The general story of the Frankfurt School is well enough known and has
been sufficiently well told by others (see Jay 1973; Wiggershaus 1994;
Held 1980). However, I do want to make a couple of prefatory points, since
I will come back to them later on.
As is well known, the powerful mix of different intellectual currents
that became known in the 1930s as critical theory was originally developed
by thinkers as different as Karl Korsch, Georg Lukcs, Max Horkheimer,
Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Eric Fromm, Leo Lowenthal, and
Herbert Marcuse and covered fields as diverse as history, political science,
social theory, aesthetics, political economy, psychology, and economic history. This critical theory was powerfully influenced by Marx and by
Sigmund Freud (see, for example, Jay 1973) and, rather less obviously but
perhaps more powerfully still, by Hegel. However, it is also significant that
it developed in the context of the stresses and tensions of the Weimar
Republic. Virtually all the original members of the Frankfurt School were
both Jewish and Marxistat least in general orientationand all were, in
the Weimar context, Vernunftrepublikaner (Gay 1974), that is to say grudging, rationally led supporters of Weimar, which they saw as a liberal bourgeois republic.
It was Horkheimer, of course, who first referred to the theory he and
his colleagues were developing as critical theory, and as is well known, he
did so to distinguish it from what he termed traditional theory (Horkheimer
1972). This was theory seen as separate from that which is theorized about,
as in traditional pictures of the natural sciences and, though Horkheimer
hardly had this in mind when he was writing, as the dominant postWorld
War II traditions of social science have predominantly seen themselves.
Critical theory, by contrast, saw itself as irretrievably situated and thus
related to social and political life. Thus critical theory, but not traditional
theory, can investigate the function of theory itselfwho and what it serves
and why and how. This capacity is put in service of the task of theory as
conceived by the Frankfurt Schoolas Horkheimer and his colleagues
became known on their return to Frankfurt after the warwhich is to
investigate the historical and social evolution of society, tracing contradictions that might open up in it and offer the possibility of transcending it.

Negative Dialectic?


However, the thinking of the Frankfurt School on this point oscillated

wildly. The early, largely prewar, writing was broadly optimistic, seeing the
possibility for successful political action to help bring about change. Much
critical theory indeed remained optimistic even after the war. The work of
Marcuse, for example, remained wedded to the idea of effective political
action into the 1960shence his adoption by the students in the United
States during that period as a leading exemplar of radical politics (Marcuse
1972b; Bronner 1994: chs. 1011; Bokina and Lukes 1995). Similar points
could be made of a number of other former Frankfurt School adherents, for
example, Erich Fromm (Bronner 1994: ch. 10).
However, the central duo of the Frankfurt School, Adorno and
Horkheimer, displayed a very different trajectory. Their writing during
World War II, and Adornos at least thereafter, was much more pessimistic.
Indeed, it is difficult to resist the sense that, at least from their joint authorship of Dialectic of Enlightenment during the 1940s, the intellectual relationship between the two altered to the extent that whereas prior to the war
Horkheimer was the senior partner, as it were, after the war Adorno was
elevated to that position. The key text was, indeed, Dialectic of
Enlightenment, and in it they presented a deeply pessimistic view of the
Enlightenment as a whole and of the possibilities for transformation in the
contemporary context (Adorno and Horkheimer 1944/1979).
Unquestionably, the experience of the rise of Nazism in Germany and
the revelations about the Holocaust played their part in this pessimism, but
other reasons lay deeper still. Adorno, in particular, came to believe that the
exploitative and oppressive aspects of modern society were now so embedded, and so protean, that they were continuing to gobble up even those
aspects of life that had previously remained potentially independent, such
as Adornos beloved culturehence, of course, his mordant and bitter
delineation of the emerging culture industry, or the commodification of
creativity. His writings were, he came to believe, a message in a bottle for
some future generation that might, if it was lucky, live in a totally transfigured time. He remained the great Hegelian, still alive to the possibilities of
dialectical contradictions to the end, but his overview was always pessimistic. I shall come back to this point in a moment.
In this chapter I examine the parameters of critical thinking in international relations, which seeks to solve the problem of order by, so to speak,
abolishing it; it seeks to transform the states systemand perforce much
else as well. The point is that critical theory hardly speaks with one mind
on this: It has, so to speak, two modes or faces, optimistic and pessimistic,
each of which is locked in dialogue with the other.
The optimistic view is now most persuasively put by the most significant contemporary representative of the Frankfurt Schoolsignificantly
also, its most Kantianto wit, Jrgen Habermas (see, for example,


Critique in Critical IR Theory

Outhwaite 1994; Held 1980). Habermass influence on contemporary critical theory in all of its variants is almost impossible to overstate. Both in his
native Germany and elsewhere, especially in the United States, Habermas
has become a major influence.2 Most especially in the current context, he
has been far and away the most influential critical theorist as far as critical
theory in international relations is concerned. With rather more qualifications and hesitations, such optimism is shared by the minence grise of critical IR theoryand by the most influential Gramscian, Robert Cox, as well
as by some of his friends and followers, such as Stephen Gill. It is also the
view of some of the most robust feminist scholars of international relations,
for example, Ann Tickner (Tickner 1992); and it is shared with various
emendations of content or temper by many working in what is now called
critical security studies, for example, and especially, Ken Booth (Booth
1991a, 1991b, 1995). And though this is less relevant here, it is a common
assumption of virtually all the related critical theories I have referred to.
Mark Hoffman, in his essay on the trajectory of critical theory in international studiesCritical Theory and the Inter-Paradigm Debatehas
called this optimistic impulse utopian and, notwithstanding the extremely
bad press this term has had in twentieth-century international relations, I
suggest that he is right to do so (Hoffman 1987).3 It is utopian in the sense
that all the best emancipatory theory is utopian, and as the early Frankfurt
School was, following the sense of utopia made famous in the work of
Adornos friend Ernst Blochs magnificent The Principle of Hope (Bloch
1986; also useful is Geoghan 1995).
I want to suggest, in fact, that the emancipatory project of critical theory in IRas opposed to, for example, its value as a salutary discourse
depends on this optimism. Indeed, I want to suggest that notwithstanding
all their differences, all those committed to an emancipatory project in contemporary world politics share this optimistic impulse. Thus, however
much they might differ from Frankfurt School critical theory in emphasis
and orientation, they will perforce share the belief that the progressive
transformation of society is possible. They must.4
However, I suggest that there are problems inherent in this view, that
the project of emancipation in critical theory at one and the same time
develops what we might call a dark side. It is this dark side that was the
source of Adornos pessimism and it is this side, I suggest, that critical theory in international relations must confront if it is to make good on its
emancipatory project.

The Achievements of Critical Theory

First, I need to offer an overview interpretation of how the optimistic strand
of critical theory manifests itself in Frankfurt Schoolinfluenced critical IR

Negative Dialectic?


theory. I shall do so first through the work of the foremost critical theorist
of international relations, Andrew Linklater. Linklater is, without doubt, the
most penetrating critical IR theorist writing in the tradition of the Frankfurt
School. Inasmuch as the future of critical theory lies with critical international relations theory, a view subscribed to by a number of noninternational critical theorists as well asas you might expectby a number of
international critical theorists, it seems certain that Linklaters influence
will grow.5
Linklater has recently provided a useful and powerful interpretation of
what he considers to have been the achievements of critical theory, and he
has amplified this interpretation in his most recent book (Linklater 1996b,
1998). He thinks, in brief, that critical theory has four main achievements.
First, it has taken issue with positivism by arguing that knowledge always
reflects preexisting social purposes and interests. In the context of IR theory this argument has led to powerful criticisms of rationalist theory and
what Linklater calls a gradual recovery of a project of enlightenment and
emancipation reworked to escape the familiar pitfalls of idealism. Second,
critical theory stands opposed to claims that the existing structures of the
social world are immutable and examines the prospects for greater freedom immanent within existing social relations. Third, critical theory
learns from and overcomes the weaknesses inherent in Marxism, emphasizing forms of social learning, drawing very heavily on Habermass reconstruction of historical materialism, and opening up new possibilities for
constructing a historical sociology with an emancipatory purpose.
critical theory judges social arrangements by their capacity to embrace
open dialogue with all others and envisages new forms of political community which break with unjustified exclusion. . . . Critical theory . . .
envisages the use of unconstrained discourse to determine the moral significance of national boundaries and to examine the possibility of postsovereign forms of political life. (Linklater 1996b: 279280)

Linklater also suggests that various forms of postpositivist theory in

international relations can all agree that reaching an understanding [which
may not culminate in a moral consensus] captures the most important
respect in which critical theory, post-modernism, feminism and also philosophical hermeneutics are involved in a common project (Linklater 1996b:
293). He implies that it is through this process, very much tied in his view
to a Habermasian discourse ethics, that the states system can be transcended and human beings emancipated, since it is through this possibility that
we can begin to articulate what it might mean to live in post-sovereign
communities, and thus transcend the sovereign communities of the states
There are two points I want to draw attention to here. The first is the


Critique in Critical IR Theory

extent to which, as Linklater presents it, critical theory has a projectthe

emancipatory projectthat comprises a fourfold set of developments, each
of which build on each other and reinforce each other, thus opening the
way to still further achievements in which critical theory will maintain
its faith in the Enlightenment project and defend universalism in its ideal of
open dialogue not only between fellow citizens but, more radically,
between all members of the human species (Linklater 1996b: 296). The
second is the extent to which this view of critical theory subsumes a good
deal of the substantive agenda of international society theory and constructivism and liberalism without necessarily accepting the methodologies of
As the article makes clear, and as recent work in critical IR theory
demonstrates, the plausibility of this position turns on whether discourse
ethics provides for genuinely emancipatory theory. For critical IR theory, as
Richard Devetak has recently noted, emancipation can be understood as
the establishment of a community which allows and protects the development of universal autonomy. . . . The question [thus] arises as to how . . . to
reconstruct world politics so as to extend to the entire species a rational,
just and democratic organization of politics (Devetak 1996b: 169). The
answer that the leading critical IR theorists give is drawn, very largely,
from Habermass attempt to develop a discourse ethics that recognizes the
necessity of universalist principles while not doing violence to the fact of
Discourse ethics, of course, depends on Habermass general theory of
communicative action (Habermas 1984, 1989a; see also Outhwaite 1994:
68120; Bernstein 1995: 3557, 88135), which emphasizes the centrality
of consent to intelligible communication. As Devetak puts it,
Communicating subjects [need] to rationalize or account for their beliefs
and actions in terms which are intelligible to others and which they can
then accept or contest. Similarly, social norms and institutions must also
be submitted to scrutiny and argumentation if they are to maintain legitimacy. At such moments when a principle, social norm or institution loses
legitimacy or when consensus breaks down, discourse ethics enters the
fray as a means of consensually deciding upon new principles or institutional arrangements. . . . Newly arrived at political principles, norms or
institutional arrangements can only be said to be valid if they can meet
with the approval of all those who would be affected by them. (Devetak
1996b: 171)

He goes on to point out three things about discourse ethics: It is universalistic, it is democratic, and it is a form of moral, practical reasoning that is
not simply guided by utilitarian calculations or expediency, nor is it guided by an imposed concept of the good life. Rather, it is guided by justice

Negative Dialectic?


The implications of this view for world politics have been developed in
differing ways by different critical theorists. However, in general terms, as
Devetak says, three broad implications stand out. The first is concerned
with the evolution of more generally democratic forms of global governance and is predicated on an explicit critique of the state as simply inadequate, both practically and ethically, for contemporary decisionmaking. As
David Held, the critical theorist who has perhaps done most to develop this
line of argument, notes, Whose consent is necessary and whose participation is justified in decisions concerning, for instance, AIDS, or acid rain, or
the use of non-renewable resources? What is the relevant constituency,
national, regional or international? (cited by Devetak 1996b: 171; see also
Held 1992, 1995). Second, and perhaps potentially most immediately fruitful, discourse ethics offers a way of thinking about and regulating conflict.
The critical theorist who has developed this line of argument most thoroughly and interestingly is Mark Hoffman (Hoffman 1992). Again, discourse ethics offers a way of being inclusive without denying difference.
Third, Devetak suggests that discourse ethics offers a means of criticising
and justifying the principles by which the species organizes itself politically, that is it reflects on the principles of inclusion and exclusion (Devetak
1996b: 172). Since in principle no one should be excluded from any
process that affects them, actually or potentially, this becomes a very clear
cosmopolitan universalism that suggests that the problem of order can
openly be overcome through the progressive evolution of what Linklater
calls the social bond of all with all (Linklater 1993: 119).
Critical IR theory is thus committed, I think, to a version of institutional as well as moral cosmopolitanism, to use Charles Beitzs well-known
terms (Beitz 1993). 6 Indeed, Linklater, toward the end of both Beyond
Realism and Marxism and The Transformation of Political Community, has
made explicit that in his view the future of critical theory depends on its
ability to develop analyses and institutions that actually help to restructure
world politics along the lines suggested by this analysis.

Negative Dialectic?
The question arises, however, How can critical theory, even on its own
terms, be emancipatory in the required sense? I suggest that in fact critical
theory has a profound ambiguity about the question of emancipation, that
critical theory is engaged, in a sense, in a negative dialectic with itself on
this question. This ambiguity can be most clearly seen in the work of
Adorno, and so I shall turn to him before assessing the implications of this
reading for critical IR theory.
It would obviously be impossible to offer even a sketch of a thinker as


Critique in Critical IR Theory

complex and nuanced (and as committed to the claim, as he often insisted,

that true philosophy resists paraphrase [Jay 1984a: 11]) as Adorno in the
space I have available. All I want to do is illustrate why I think Adornos
thought is problematic for the emancipatory projecton which, I have suggested, the versions of critical theory (both general and international) that I
previously discussed depend (on Adorno, see Bernstein 1995; Rose 1978,
1992; Honneth 1985, 1992a).
To do this, I first want to develop Jay Bernsteins recent reformulation
of critical theory along Adornoesque, rather than Habermasian lines. He
argues first that
critical theory is not a theory of society or a wholly homogenous school
of thinkers or a method. Critical theory, rather, is a tradition of social
thought that, at least in part, takes its cue from its opposition to the
wrongs and ills of modern societies on the one hand, and the forms of theorizing that simply go along with or seek to legitimate those societies on
the other hand. (Bernstein 1995: 11)

The three basic criteria of this tradition are a noninstrumental conception of

reason and cognition, a nonfunctionalist conception of culture, and the harmonization of both (Bernstein 1995: 28).
However, the central root of critical theory for Bernstein is the recognitionoriginally laid out by Adornothat the dilemmas of modernity have
a common root, directly or indirectly, in the abstractive achievements (and
they are achievements) of instrumental reason, which produces two things.
First, it produces domination in the sense of what he calls the domination
of exchange value over use value, seen as the result of the universal
development of the exchange system, part of a continuous rationalization
process within modern societies that leads to the domination of institutions
over people. Second, it produces nihilism in that this rationalization
process possesses three logically discriminable features; proceduralism
(formalism or methodologism as applied to social sanctions), substitutablity and end-indifference, which lead to a continuous devaluation of the
highest values.
These questions become the problem of justice and the problem of reason for Adorno, and, taken together, Bernstein suggests they represent,
respectively, the Weberian and the Nietzschean departure points for contemporary theory. These issues have, however, tended to be analyzed apart
from each other. As Bernstein puts it,
Traditional Marxism [and one might add most contemporary analytic
moral and political theory] tends to focus on the question of injustice . . .
making its trajectory at one with the most advanced moments of liberal
political theory. Conversely, the tradition of existentialism and phenome-

Negative Dialectic?


nology [and one must add here most contemporary poststructural thinking
as well] . . . directs itself to the problem of nihilism. . . . Adornos original
insight . . . was the identification of the common root . . . and hence the
demand for a theory that would address each dilemma without losing sight
of the other. (Bernstein 1995: 28; emphasis added)

In terms of the basic criteria that Bernstein lays out for a critical theory, it is
clear that the first requirement, a noninstrumental conception of reason,
addresses the first problem and that the second, a nonfunctionalist conception of culture, addresses the second. However, as Bernstein puts it, The
harmonization requirement constrains the satisfaction of the first criterion
such that it becomes answerable to the demands of the second (Bernstein
1995: 28).
This discussion provides Bernstein with a way of reviewing the obvious differences between Habermas and Adorno. Fundamentally, he says,
they differ with respect to the weight and focus they offer to the justice
and meaning questions: Habermas believes that Adorno slights the question of justice in his engagement with the nihilism question, hence giving
undue significance to the role of art in his theory and, by implication,
espousing a position which could only be satisfied through a Utopian reenchantment of the social and natural worlds. From an Adornoesque perspective, Habermas focus on the justice problem entails surrender over
the question of nihilism, falsely assuming that total disenchantment would
not be existentially equivalent to total reification. (Bernstein 1995: 29)

Bernsteins argument is centered on the claim that in his complex and

profoundly important reworking of the central assumptions of critical theory, Habermas holds to the basic project (what he calls the very idea) of a
critical theory, but the theory that results is skewed because in evolving its
centerpiece, the theory of communicative action, he develops it primarily in
the context of the problem of justice and it is this that then leads to an
account of the problem of nihilism. In other words, the problem of nihilism
is constrained by the problem of justice rather than, as Bernstein and
Adorno would suggest, the problem of justice being constrained by the
problem of nihilism. The result is that the dialectic on which critical theory
depends becomes inverted, negative in a profoundly un-Adornoesque way.
If Bernsteins reading is a plausible one, there is an equally profound
implication for the emancipatory project that is held to be at the center of
critical international relations theory. As we saw, one of the features of
contemporary critical theoryand especially of critical IR theoryis the
sense that not only should critical theory be able to critique modern societies, it also should answer the Wheres the beef? question. It should also
be able to offer action-guiding principles and have institutional and political recommendations of an institutionally cosmopolitan kind.


Critique in Critical IR Theory

However, on the Adornoesque reading offered by Bernstein, such a

view is untenable. In locating a form of reasoning that is not instrumental
and which, remember, includes a cognition of ends, and a materialist conception of culture which is compatible with such a practical reason, we
exhaust the demand that theory be practical, he says (Bernstein 1995: 19).
Moreover, first, whether or not, at any given time, the contradictions, suppressions and forms of domination in a society entail macro-potentialities
for collective action is itself a historically contingent matter, and second,
the demand that theory must have a praxial dimension itself runs the risk
of collapsing critical theory back into traditional theory by making it
dependent on instrumental conceptions of rationality (Bernstein 1995: 19).
In other words, for Bernstein and Adorno, the problem of nihilism constrains the problem of justice precisely by making an impossibility the sort
of institutional-political recommendations that Linklater has made central
to critical IR theory. Any such considerations cannot be thought through in
advance but rather would have to depend on the contingencies of the given
context. The only way around this is to attenuate the common root of the
problems of modernity: to concentrate, like Habermas (and Linklater), on
the problem of justice and to ignore or downplay the problem of nihilism.
This, however, is at best a partial critical theory and cannot live up to
Adornos hopes for it.

Emancipation, Critique, and Ambiguity

It is this danger, then, that critical IR theory might be said to be currently
courting and, at least to some extent, must court if it is to perform the task
it has set itself. In the first place, it is critical theory as an emancipatory
project that requires, as Linklater suggests, light cast on present possibilities and thus runs the risk alluded to previously. It is therefore the notion
of emancipation in this context that creates the problemrather than the
project of critical theory per se. It is noteworthy, however, that emancipation was not one of Adornos major concerns. It is precisely this, of course,
that has irritated so many emancipatory critical theorists (Bronner 1994:
199200). However, if critical theory cannot be emancipatory in the
required sense, it can add nothing to reflection on world politics as critical
theory. Everything would remain, as it were, contingent on history and context. Whatever critical theory might be able to say about the problems of
justice and nihilism held together, it would be silent on the question of
This predicament applies especially to critical IR theory. Think, for
example of Linklaters four achievements of critical theory in international
relations. The first twothat is, the critique of positivism and the insistence on the mutability of social structuresare facets that I think both

Negative Dialectic?


Habermas and Adorno would accept as a legitimate part of critical theory

discussed by Bernstein. However, as Linklater emphasizes, the last two,
namely the attempt to develop an emancipation-oriented sociology and the
stress on the human capacity for unconstrained dialogue, are fashioned
around the reconstruction of historical materialism developed by
Habermas. As such, these would be vulnerable, I think, to the charges leveled at that project by Bernstein and others. The point here is to suggest
that the emancipatory project in this context runs the risk of tipping critical
theory back into traditional theory and, as a result, could not offer a treatment of emancipation free of the corruptions of instrumental rationality.
Only if Habermass reconstructionand that developed by some of his
more recent followerscan escape the Adornoesque critique will emancipation in this sense be a plausible trajectory for critical theory.

Strategic Emancipation or Tactical Ethics?

I want to emphasize that in many respects, critical IR theory represents one
of the most humane and generally hopeful accounts of contemporary world
politics available. Its insights are profound and its sensibilities far more
interesting than much of what passes for reflection (even theory) in international relations more generally. However, I think that Adornos problem, if
I may call it that, is real and has not yet been adequately dealt with. In this
penultimate section of the chapter, I offer one reading as to why that might
be so and suggest some implications of this reading for the emancipatory
project in international relations theory.
I want to start with an unlikely source (the following draws from and
develops on Rengger 1996). In the Republic, in perhaps the most famous of
his many images, Plato portrays society (any and all societies) as a cave.
Some insist that the cave is all there is, but others claim that there is light
outside the cave and that, perhaps, it is only because of this light that we
see in the cave at all. In our current context, let us suggest that most international relations scholarship, realist, liberal, constructivist, and societal,
either assumes that the caveinternational society, the international system, or what you willis all there is (that is relevant) or is agnostic (and
uninterested) concerning the possibility that there might be anything outside the cave, however outside is understood. Therein, in many respects,
lies the attraction of IR scholarship (a clear focus, an agreed set of problems) but also the site of its greatest weaknesses. In Platonic terminology, it
is left trying to see in the cave by virtue only of the pale light that exists
there, and what it sees, of course, is shadows. That does not mean that some
very interesting accounts of the shadows cannot be given; nor does it mean
that the shadows are unimportant, for we all remain in the cave and the
shadows are, of course, real for us.


Critique in Critical IR Theory

Emancipatory theory in international relations stands outside this

mainstream of contemporary IR scholarship, however. Emancipatory theorists seek their anchorage in that proud and much broader tradition that
encompasses Kant and Hegel, Marx and Max Weber, mile Durkheim and
Freud. They know there is light outside the cavethe light of real historical processesand they seek to let it in so that the cave can be seen whole,
in full light. Doing that, they believe, would transform the cave, for it
would be observable by all who care to see it for what it truly is: the completion of the Enlightenment project.
Indeed, their challenge is precisely that it is the corruption of the
Enlightenment project by the growing dominance of instrumental rationality that has made IR theoryand indeed other aspects of contemporary
social science, especially the queen of the social sciences, economics
the tool of the powerful rather than the weapon of critique that it should
and could be. However, Adornos problem casts a dark shadow on this
claim. For Adorno, the danger is that Marxism in its traditional mode and,
as Bernstein suggests, critical theory in its Habermasian mode run the risk
of becoming traditional theory, of becoming domesticated or co-opted by
instrumental rationality.
At this point, however, many sympathetic to critical IR theory will
surely insist that critical theory is not so at risk. For critical theorists are of
course deeply aware of the problems of instrumental rationality; indeed, in
large part they build their critique on their distrust of it. This claim is, I
think, true, but it misses the full force of Adornos suspicion. To bring that
out, I want to draw on a distinction taken from the French thinker Michel
de Certeau.
De Certeau distinguishes between strategy and tactics in a very particular way. For de Certeau, strategy is
the calculus of force relationships which becomes possible when a subject
of will and power (a proprietor, an enterprise, a city, a scientific investigation) can be isolated from an environment. A strategy assumes a place that
can be circumscribed as proper and thus serve as the basis for generating
relations with an exterior distinct from it (competitors, adversaries, . . .
targets or objects of research). Political, economic and scientific rationality has been constructed on this model. (de Certeau 1988: xix)

In other words, he understands the term strategy to be analogous to

Adornos instrumental rationality (although there are differences, to which
I shall come back in a moment).
Tactics, in contrast, is a calculus which cannot count on a proper (a
spatial or an institutional localization). . . . The place of the tactic belongs
to the other. . . . The proper is a victory of space over time. On the contrary, because it does not have a place, a tactic depends on time. . . . It must

Negative Dialectic?


constantly manipulate events in order to turn them into opportunities (de

Certeau 1988: xix).
It is obvious, of course, that rationalist IR theory is, in de Certeaus
sense, a strategy. What about critical theory? The danger, I think, is that virtually all versions of the emancipatory project are becoming at the very
least strategic if not fully a strategy in de Certeaus sense. To put the matter
slightly differently, critical theory contains a strategy that, I suggest, threatens to overwhelm its tactical sense. To explain, let me go back to Plato.
In Platos storycontrary to the emancipatory project as I have presented it hereSocrates taught that the cave cannot be fundamentally
transformed. This is not to say that there is no change possible; rather it is a
claim about the kind of understanding the light outside the cave can provide. Socrates is a guide; he does not seek to bring light to the cave but to
help those who wish to leave the cave (and are able to do so) to experience
the light themselves and, as a result, understand themselves and the cave
better. In so doing, they can balance understanding of the realities of the
cavethe shadowswith their knowledge of what the sun illuminates in
them. Socrates suggests that when the philosopher returns to the cave, it is
the philosopher who by definition is transformed, not the cavethe transformation of which is, at best, contingent.
I suggest that the sort of knowledge we have upon returning to the
cave, if we take Socrates route seriously, is tactical knowledge as outlined
by de Certeau. As Adorno suggests, the cave remains what it has always
been; it is weas analysts, as actors, as humanswho are changed, but of
course we cannot be properly changed in the absence of change in the cave.
The dilemma that I think Adorno could not escape (and that for all their
power modern Adorno advocates such as Gillian Rose and Bernstein cannot
escape either) is that in trying to change the cave one inevitably and
inescapably becomes embroiled in the clutches of instrumental reason. This
is why Adorno was reduced, finally, to suggesting that his work was messages in a bottle for an age that hadsomehowescaped the clutches of
instrumental reason. He effectively abandoned any search for a way of getting to such a world because he realized that with his own analysis, he
could get there only by using the methods that would forever block his passage.
In other words, the problem is simply that in acting in the world as it
is, as we must do to bring about change (even for the better), we have to
partake of the forms of instrumental rationality, in which case we tip back
into traditional theory, and any emancipation that results would have to be
seen in that way. To develop a research agenda for change, we must therefore have a strategic conception of what is required to develop or open up
the system rather than simply a tactical response to what the system imposes on us. Tactics, as de Certeau says, are always reactive; the emancipatory


Critique in Critical IR Theory

project in its dominant modes in contemporary international relations theory is notit is, and must be, proactive.

If all of the preceding argument is plausible, then the emancipatory project
in IR theory faces a fatefuland possibly a fataldilemma. To make good
on its emancipatory agenda, critical IR theory will have to show both that
the Adorno problem can be resolved and that it can add something to other
ways of dealing with the task of social change that distinguishes it from the
more radical forms of liberalism, without tipping it back into the clutches
of instrumental rationality.
I do not suppose for a moment that critical theory is without the
resources to perform this task. As Linklater himself suggests, one of its
great strengths is the alliances it can build with other forms of critique.
There is therefore much that critical theory might do to seek to overcome
this negative dialectic. The various strands of so-called postpositivist theory in international relations do indeed reinforce each other on certain key
issues, and it might be that this is one issue where the insights of some
poststructural thoughtso close often to Adornos ownmight usefully be
brought to bear. Critical theorists, even Habermas in practice if not always
in theory, could also point to their emphasis on totality. It is the emphasis
on the whole, on interaction and interrelations, that can, they might suggest, help them avoid various forms of reification. Surely in this context
they might avoid collapsing tactics into strategy (in de Certeaus sense) but
hold them together dialectically.
My response would be to admit that it is perhaps a fruitful avenue for
critical theory (and indeed for some aspects of post-Nietzschean, poststructural thought) to explore. However, it crucially depends on the initial
assumptions developed by critical theory being truedepends, in other
words, on the common root being a necessary rather than a contingent
problem of modernity.
This claim is rooted in the philosophical parentage of critical theory
and poststructuralism, of course; they are profoundly the children of
Nietzsche and Weber, however much they might have rebelled at parental
authority. Along with much twentieth-century thought, they are deeply suspicious of and ambivalent about the rise of the methods and institutions of a
science that seems unstoppable and unanswerable and yet that constantly
threatens, they think, to depersonalize and dehumanize. It is this threat that
gives rise chiefly, I think, to Adornos despair at the modern world. If
instrumental rationality is the villain and the two greatest and most protean
forces of the modern world, capitalism and science, are precisely the areas

Negative Dialectic?


where instrumental rationality is most at home, it would be difficult not to

Yet critical theory never really considers denying the initial assumption
that Nietzsche and Weber made (and that Heidegger, Adorno, and todays
theorists have all made), to wit, that the developments they traceand
about which they are, I think, often extremely acutemust mean what they
take them to mean. That these developments often have meant what they
have been taken to mean is certainly true, but that they must mean what
they are thought to mean seems to me simply an article of faith. In other
words, one is free to put together science, history, and society in different
ways without assuming that the way they are together now is the only way
they might be put together. There are many different naturalisms, and only
some seem to me to deserve the strictures critical theory visits upon them
all. If one can take this approach, it might be that the iron cageor, to
use Adornos version, the totally administered worldis rather less allencompassing than might be supposed, and there might be a route out of it
different from the one developed by critical theory. This different route
may be one not so hostile to instrumental rationality per se and therefore
one more able to put together strategy and tactics in both intellectually and
politically fertile ways.
Of course, it is not part of my task here to outline such a view. In any
case, nothing that I have said should be taken to suggest that critical theoryin international relations and more generallyshould be regarded as
anything other than one of the most important and, both actually and potentially, fruitful theoretical departures of the twentieth century. All I would
say is that given the negative dialectic that, I believe, lies at the heart of
critical theory, its future is much more uncertain than many of its advocates
might wish. And given this uncertainty, it might be advisable to take a long
hard look at its grounding assumptions. It might after all be the case that
there is a better way.

This is an extensive revision of a paper originally given at the Critical Theory and
World Politics Conference at Aberystwyth. All participants to the conference should
be thanked (and none blamed) for the use to which I have put their very helpful
comments. I must also thank Hayward Alker, Jay Bernstein, Chris Brown, Ian
Forbes, Mark Hoffman, Andrew Linklater, Craig Murphy, Onora ONeill, Maurizio
Passerein DEntreves, Ann Tickner, and Richard Wyn Jones for many helpful discussions over several years on all aspects of critical theory, both in general and in
the IR context. It almost (but not quite) makes me think there might be something in
Habermass notion of an ideal speech situation of unconstrained communication! If
there was, these worthies would certainly be ideal citizens for it.


Critique in Critical IR Theory

1. And sometimes an even wider use is intended. Many contemporary international relations theorists, for example, refer to other constructivists as critical theorists as well. This is clearly the view that lies behind the recent critiques of critical
theory by John Mearsheimer (19941995) and Stephen Walt (1996).
2. It is probably true, and not irrelevant in the present context, that we are now
witnessing the effective emergence of a third generation of critical theorists in both
Europe and North America whose concerns are still wider than those of Habermas
and certainly include, increasingly, questions that are traditionally central for international relations (such as development, globalization, democratization). This third
generation of theorists would include, by my reckoning, Axel Honneth, who has
inherited Habermass chair at Frankfurt, Seyla Benhabib, Nancy Fraser, Ken
Baynes, James Bohman, David Held, and possibly such scholars as Maurizio
Passerein DEntreves. Many of these have written on IRfor example, the essays
in Bohman and Lutz-Bachmann (1997)and Held has been a powerful advocate of
cosmopolitan democracy, one of the real growth areas in contemporary IR. Taken
together with the work of scholars such as Linklater, who is more or less of an age
with these figures, these developments presage a real growth in critical IR theory
over the next few years.
3. See the subsequent exchange in Rengger 1988 and Hoffman 1988. Since
there has been some comment on this exchange (see, for example, George 1994 and
Smith 1995) and since, despite the fact that Hoffman and I later published a joint
essay amending our respective positions (Rengger and Hoffman 1992), some of this
comment has been rather inaccurate, it seems appropriate to correct any misperceptions there might have been. Hoffman is usually seen (correctly) as an advocate of
critical theory, I often (and incorrectly) as an opponent of it from a broadly poststructural position. At the risk of sounding like a witness to the House Un-American
Activities Committee, I am not now, nor have I ever been a poststructuralist. Of
course, there is a good deal in poststructural IR theory with which I agreeas I do
indeed with critical theorybut there is also much that I dissent from. My intention
in my original response to Hoffman was merely to point out that critical theory in
IR studies was already a mixture of the emancipatory and the poststructural and
that, as a result, Hoffmans version of critical theory (i.e., Frankfurt School and
Gramscian-inspired emancipatory critical theory) was unlikely to be the next stage
of international relations theory. I would now put this view rather differently, and
indeed, that is what I am doing in this chapter.
4. It is worth pointing out that a number of the early critical theorists became
increasingly mystical, even theological, in their old age (this is true even of Adorno,
though he also remained a resolute atheist, a mixture very reminiscent of Bloch). I
suggest that the reason is simply that one of the strongest ways of being utopian in
the required sense is a theological way, even if there is the minor inconvenience of
(probably) having to believe in God. Contemporary critical theorists, for example,
Habermas and Linklater, do not do this, of courseat least not yet.
5. It is interesting in this context that Linklater is virtually ignored in mainstream attacks on critical theory. There might be any number of reasons for this. I
suggest that one powerful one is simply how difficult it is for mainstream scholars
to attack Linklater without engaging in genuine debate with his Habermasianderived project. It is much safer and far easiergiven their own assumptionsto
restrict their criticisms to constructivists they can co-opt (or try to) or poststructuralists they can patronize (or try to). As Linklaters own brilliant demolition job
on neorealism shows, critical theory is extremely difficult to do, partly because it
seeks to radicalize the very project mainstream scholars such as Keohane see themselves committed to.

Negative Dialectic?


6. Effectively, for Beitz, cosmopolitanism should be understood as being both

inclusive (it encompasses all local points of view) and nonperspectival (there is no
foreground or background). However, there are two ways of seeing this. Moral cosmopolitanism concerns itself with the way that any institutional arrangement in
world politics should be justified and evaluated. Its crux is the idea that each person is equally the subject of moral concern, or, alternatively, that in the justification
of choices one must take the prospects of everyone affected equally into account
(Beitz 1993: 124). Institutional cosmopolitanism, however, is concerned with the
political constitution of the world. . . . Although the details may vary, the distinctive
common feature is some ideal of world political organization in which states and
state-like units have significantly diminished authority in comparison with the status quo (124). Beitzs cosmopolitan liberalism is a moral cosmopolitanism but not
really an institutional cosmopolitanism.

Jeffrey Harrod

After the defeat of the aristocratic government, the middle classes developed a system of indirect domination. They replaced the traditional division into the governing and governed classes, and the military method of
open violence characteristic of aristocratic rule, with the invisible chains
of economic dependence. This economic system operated through a network of seemingly equalitarian legal rules which concealed the very existence of power relations.
Hans J. Morgenthau (1967)
Nevertheless, economic considerations derive such weight as they have
from the fact that economics are oneand an essentialaspect both of
political and military power. The activities of monopolist enterprises on
the national and international levels deserve attention by the student of
international relations for an additional reason. He can analyse here the
workings of power politics in a field in which all means of power, short of
military power, are applied.
Georg Schwarzenberger (1951)

In this chapter it is first argued that realism as an approach to the comprehension of society and politicsa real, or societal, realismmust be distinguished from a realism that emerged as central to the study of interstate
relations, or international relations (IR) realism. Realism as an approach
and a philosophy was essentially developed for and directed at relations
within societies, and its application to relations between societiesnation
statesnot only has introduced confusion in the discussion of international
politics but also has hindered its more useful application to global society.
The second claim is that the contemporary rise of the power of the corpora111


Critique in Critical IR Theory

tion at the expense of the state has produced in the current period powerdisguising rationalities that, more than ever, require the application of the
original realism project of unmasking social and political power. In conclusion, it is noted that a global realism, as part of critical theory, is needed as
an approach to comprehend contemporary developments and thereby lay
the foundations to change them.

Societal, or Real, Realism

Realism as an approach, or as a worldview, has a variety of meanings in
philosophy and art. Most of these surround the notion that there is something real to be observed, discovered, or proven and that other approaches
disguise or distort such a reality. When such an approach was used in a
political or social analysis, the reality identified focused on the sources,
uses, and objectives of power. Societal or political realism thus evolved as
the approach that placed emphasis on power and, in doing so, absorbed,
rejected, or subsumed more theological, naturalistic, or systemic explanations. However, the original intention and objective of such realism was the
study of relations among individuals and social groups and between the
governors and the governed. The extension of such an approach to relations
between formally delimited, geographically and culturally distant social
aggregationsnation stateswas unfortunate, simplistic, and dysfunctional, as is often the case in the application of approaches and theories
designed for one use and one environment to dissimilar ones. This original,
or what I will call here real, or societal, realism needs to therefore be distinguished from its extension to an approach or theory in international relations, or IR realism.
For the purpose of making the distinction between real and IR realism,
I have taken the work of two of the earlier so-called IR realistsGeorg
Schwarzenberger and Hans Morgenthau. This is done in full awareness that
in international relations these scholars may not necessarily be representative of the realists and neorealist writers conventionally considered to be IR
realists. Their selection is partly symbolic and partly substantive. They are
symbolic because I will argue that in their work is embodied the origins of
the intellectual trajectory in which societal realism was applied to the study
of international relations. The choice is substantive in that they represent a
tradition in approaches to social theory and analysis that is found at the
core of many of the intellectual products from continental Europe. In this
continental philosophy there has been an emphasis on humans as members of communities and societies rather than as individuals and on the contradiction among ideas based on reason and created within societies by different forces and for different purposes (West 1993).

Global Realism


These two authors influenced a whole generation of writing within academic international relations and, in the case of Morgenthau through the
impact of his books, the practice of U.S. foreign policy in the training of
diplomatic and political personnel. Georg Schwarzenbergers Power
Politics (1951, first published in 1949) saw three editions and many translations and was particularly important in Japan and Latin America. Hans
Morgenthaus Politics Among Nations (1967, first published in 1948) was,
it hardly bears to repeat, the basic university text in the United States
(whether used positively or negatively) for international relations courses
for more than two decades.
In understanding their approach, we must consider the similarity of
their backgrounds. Both were German, both left Germany in the 1930s
essentially as escapees, and both had studied law. Thus they both wrote in
English for a primarily Anglo-American readership. Naturally, both were
influenced by the writers of early-twentieth-century Germany and continental Europe. For Morgenthau, Max Weber was important, whereas
Schwarzenberger used Arthur Schopenhauer and Ferdinand Tennies to
elaborate the concepts of society and community, which for him yielded the
crucial distinction between a power-oriented society based on interest and
fear and an idealistic community based on self-sacrifice and love
(Schwarzenberger 1951: 12).
In basing their writings on the elements of realism found within the
works of these writers and such others as Joseph Schumpeter, Karl
Mannheim, and Bertrand Russell, they were societal realists, that is, as
with most of their own intellectual mentors, their original focus was on
the discrete societal level. This observation applies more to Morgenthau
than to Schwarzenberger, although in lectures the latter was most insistent on a power approach at all levels. Furthermore, Schwarzenbergers
definition of international relations hints at the origin of the tools of
analysis and the problems it would bequeath. For him the study of international relations was the branch of sociology which is concerned with
international society (Schwarzenberger 1951: 8), of which nation states
were members.
It is perhaps significant, then, that neither of them were greatly concerned with the intellectual input to classical IR realism. Niccol
Machiavelli, for example, is one such source (although, in fact, his writing
was more about the internal governance of principalities than the relationships among them [Hale 1996]), and there is sufficient material within The
Prince to make it a founding text for IR realism. Yet Morgenthau was
overtly critical of Machiavellis discounting of the importance of the
opposing force of morality and principle within power relations
(Morgenthau 1967: 220), and Schwarzenberger was inclined to see the
Machiavellian view as too simplistic (Schwarzenberger 1951: 219) and


Critique in Critical IR Theory

therefore respected him more for revelation of the disguises of power rather
than as a guide to action.
In seeking to reveal the nature and source of power and its mechanism
of operation, they were to some extent like other realists reacting to the
excessive romanticism, legalism, and ideology that sought to disguise
them. E. H. Carr, considered to be another realist, noted in his Twenty
Years Crisis, written in 1939, that it was written with the deliberate aim of
counteracting the glaring and dangerous defect of nearly all thinking, both
academic and popular, about international politics in English-speaking
countries from 19191939the almost total neglect of the factor of power
(Carr 1946: vii). But Schwarzenberger and Morgenthau were as much concerned about the disguise and operation of power as the fact that power was
being ignored. Morgenthau, for example, was particularly scathing about
those who believed in the essence of the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928,
under which all the fifty-four signatory states agreed to renounce war as
an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another
(Morgenthau 1967: 265); Schwarzenberger noted that the origin of this pact
was the French desire to prevent U.S. use of force against France, whereas
in response, the US State Department served warning that more than one
power could play the game of drafting seemingly innocuous pacts with
arrire-penses of its own (Schwarzenberger 1951: 505).
Schwarzenbergers central question in revealing power was to ask the
heuristic question, Qui bono?Who benefits? Asking the question, Who
benefits? was the first step to unraveling what he called power politics in
disguise. Morgenthau went further in moving toward developing an axiom
about social power itself:
Actually, however, the very threat of a world where power reigns not only
supreme, but without rival, engenders the revolt against power which is as
universal as the aspiration for power itself. To stave off this revolt, to
pacify the resentment of opposition that arises when the drive for power is
recognised for what it is, those that seek power employ, as we have seen,
ideologies for the concealment of their aims. What is actually an aspiration for power, then appears to be something different, something that is
in harmony with the demands of reason, morality and justice.
(Morgenthau 1967: 219)

Realism of this type is therefore also that of skepticism or cynicism

about conventional wisdom and explanations. A realist is indeed the child
in the story who is the only one in the crowd to declare that the parading
emperor, who has been persuaded by tailors that he is wearing clothes, in
fact has no clothes. In the story the child convinces the crowd and receives
appreciation for doing so, but equally he might have been torn to pieces for
destroying a myth.

Global Realism


The fable is apposite because the courage needed to fault conventional

wisdom was in the story sourced in childlike innocence. But if the realist is
an adult, such a protestation would be an act of great courage, of which
Schwarzenberger was certainly aware, especially in international relations.
In that area, he argued, the threat to the freedom of research arises from
unwillingness of the many to accept disagreeable truth in good humour
(Schwarzenberger 1951: 3). Thus the adoption of a realist approach may
bring with it personal risks not associated with other intellectual endeavors
except in ideologically inflexible, authoritarian, or totalitarian societies.
The implication is that realism in any circumstance other than when power
has a frank expressionwhere it needs no ideology or rationality to disguise it, as in tyranny or despotismis subversive because power, as a
power-maximizing device, invariably denies itself. As an illustration of the
distinction between societal and IR realism, this conclusion can be contrasted with that of Barry Buzan speaking of IR realism: Realism . . . is the
natural home of those disposed towards conservative ideology (Buzan
1996: 55).

Societal Realism and International Relations

International relations as a subject area in social science was created at the
end of the development of the social sciences. Whether the initial goal in
forming the social sciences was to create a neutral, or conflict-free, study
of society in the face of the engaged and class-conflict theories of Marx,
the application of societal realism to them would have been problematic. It
would have retarded the development of positivism (even though positivism was derived from the real realism ideas of an objective reality ready
to be investigated) because power cannot easily be measured or its trajectory mathematically plotted. Positivism can research only what its method
makes researchable. It can measure only the measurable. Societal realism
as an approach to understanding the governance of modern societies also
has holistic implications that ran counter to the demand in the social sciences for specialization and the consequent segmentation of human activity. Thus, in rejecting societal realism, the social sciences moved toward a
fragmented and power-empty social science.
Economics, for example, rejected power entirely when political was
struck from its title (Harrod 1980). The original economists had been
frankly politicalthat is, power identifying and considering. Even within
the power-empty analysis of positivist and mechanistic economics, there
were some particularly extreme developments. As IR realists applied power
analysis to the national state, so international economists denied its existence in precisely the areas where it could be most easily seen. Thus, for


Critique in Critical IR Theory

example, international economics uncritically accepted the distortions and

power-empty assumptions concerning the mid-nineteenth-century
Portuguese-British trade case, which David Ricardo used to demonstrate
his mathematical formulas of the advantages of free trade. By assuming
that the existing pattern of trade was the result of natural advantage for
wine in Portugal and textiles in Britain, he nullified the precipitating
domestic and international power relations of industrialization and trade.
These included, in this case, the trade and labor systems from which the
cotton for the British textile industry was produced; the complex power
relations in Europe that resulted in the Treaty of Methuen in 1705, under
which Portugal had to abandon protection and development of its textile
industry in favor of privileges for British merchants; and the fact that wine
in Portugal was an official monopoly of the crown and courtiers.
In sociology the impetus to avoid the location and objects of power
meant first a scuttle into fragmented specialization, then positivism, and
when the consideration of power seemed essential, as in organization theory, a resort was made to an amorphous systems approach in which power
was mediated and mitigated by a system with qualities of automaticity and
autonomy not so much different from those currently ascribed to a market.
Even political science, despite brave attempts in the 1930s and 1940s
(Lasswell 1934), found refuge in pluralism in which no power could be
ascendant and in which state power within legal confines had to be accepted as actual power.
The process of power elimination within the social sciences also
included structural and intellectual elements. Part of that process was incessant subdivision and specious specialization that impeded the development
of connectivity based on a society-wide exercise of power. In this way, for
example, the suggestion of Kant for a single basic disciplinewhich he
called anthropologyfor the holistic study of humanity would never be
realized. Likewise, the proposal of Wilhelm Dilthey, a historian at the turn
of the twentieth century, that comprehension of humanity and society could
be constructed only from historical reconstructions of the variety of life
expressions (Harrod 1997) was destroyed by fragmentation long before
Karl Popper felt the need to attack what he saw as the remnants of holistic
analysis in The Poverty of Historicism (1961, first published in 1957).
Although Popper was ambivalent about power, opposed to its absolute
political variety but prepared to postulate laws relating to its partial use, the
reviewer from the Times Literary Supplement quoted on the back of the
1964 edition of the book had no doubts of Poppers intent: [He is] one of
the very few who raise the still small voice of reason and practical sagacity
against the mysticism of the mass-mesmerists and power-boys.
When it came to international relations, however, it was more difficult
to ignore and deny power. The central issues of the subject area, at least
since the end of the 19141918 war, had been peace and war, and the latter

Global Realism


was the most overt expression of physical power. Thus international relations as a new area of social and political studies was relatively receptive to
the application of realism and, in particular, to the notion that such an
approach was necessary to reveal Schwarzenbergers power politics in
disguise and end Morgenthaus depreciation of political power.
In societal realism the objective of power analysis was to reveal the
sources and mechanisms of power. Analysis would be needed to determine
if the dominant power might be a single elite or group; a coalition of elites;
a cadre located within a party, an institution, or organization; or a wide constellation of different entities. Mechanisms of power at the society level
could be psychological, physical, or material or subtle and not-so-subtle
combinations of all three. The analysis of power by societal realism was
therefore a complex process. However, when applied to international relations, already defined as interstate relations, there was no need to search for
the true source of power, for almost by definition the nation state could be
the only source of power. Further, there were really few complexities of
power mechanisms to investigate because the traditional means of the exercise of state powerdiplomacy and warremained exclusively central to
international relations.
For a better fit of societal realism to interstate relations, the state had to
be made analogous to, or declared the same as, common constructs used to
comprehend societies. If, as Schwarzenberger argued, international relations was a branch of sociology and the nation could not be disaggregated
into individuals, classes, and groups, the nation state had to play the role of
all three. Thus the personification of the state emerged as very much the
language of the IR realiststhe state does, the state says, the state thinks,
and the state will do. Schwarzenberger went further in constructing a hierarchy out of the power endowments of the states. In this hierarchy the
great powers were essentially the aristocratic class, or elite, as opposed to
the middle and minor powers of the lower classes.
But an even more important logical problem of applying societal, or
real, realism to international relations concerned the objectives of such
internationally wielded power. Morgenthau as a societal realist had no
problem with the objectives of power within societiespower was class
based and, through using the concept of the economic system,
Morgenthau implied that power was used for economic gain. Thus he
After the defeat of the aristocratic government, the middle classes developed a system of indirect domination. They replaced the traditional division into the governing and governed classes, and the military method of
open violence characteristic of aristocratic rule, with the invisible chains
of economic dependence. This economic system operated through a network of seemingly equalitarian legal rules which concealed the very existence of power relations. (Morgenthau 1967: 33)


Critique in Critical IR Theory

Yet he balked at applying such an economic motivation to relations

between societiesas in interstate or imperial relations. Not only was
imperialism not determined by economics but economics did not even supply a motive: The captain of industry is no more driven towards his imperialist goal [of achieving a monopoly] by economic necessity or personal
greed than was Napoleon I (Morgenthau 1967: 48). To support this conclusion he relied heavily on Schumpeter and quoted the latter several times:
Thus the historic evidence points to the primacy of politics over economics, and the rule of the financier . . . over international politics is indeed,
in the words of Professor Schumpeter, a newspaper fairytale, almost ludicrously at variance with the facts (Morgenthau 1967: 48). The final resting point in the discussion of motives for Morgenthau is then, at least in
relation to imperialism, found in the objectiveless expansion thesis of
Essentially, the societal realist approach had adopted two positions in
relation to the objectives of power. Either power was for material gain, as
Morgenthau suggested in the previous quote, or it was for control, and thus
the objectives of power could be revealed only by the results of the control
so achieved. Applying these positions to interstate relations was difficult on
two counts. In the first place, to define national interest as material gain
necessitated disaggregating the nation state into those who most benefited
and those that did not or may have even lostin short, a class or elite
analysis in which nations elites, rather than nations, sought specific material-based objectives, as in the case of economic imperialism. Such a position, which might have been worth discussing, meant confronting powerful
myths. Schwarzenberger was cautious or ambivalent to the extreme on the
economic motivation issue. Thus, there is little material which would justify any conclusion in favour of the primacy of economics over politics in
international society. Yet, he continues,
Nevertheless, economic considerations derive such weight as they have
from the fact that economics are onean essentialaspect both of political and military power. The activities of monopolist enterprises on the
national and international levels deserve attention by the student of international relations for an additional reason. He can analyse here the workings of power politics in a field in which all means of power, short of military power, are applied. (Schwarzenberger 1951: 137138)

If the objectives of power were not direct or indirect material gain, the
aim of discovering the objectives of power by the results obtained could
not be easily applied to the modern nation state at the international level. At
the individual level the final acquisition of a promotion, a swimming pool,
or a privileged position may help reveal the power relations and dynamics
that preceded it. But such a procedure could not be applied to even a per-

Global Realism


sonified nation state. First, to seek results of power acquisition at the interstate level was too much of a short-term project, as the issues at that level
of peace, war, and imperialism were of historic dimensions. Second, if the
state was not disaggregated into groups or classes and status and prestige
were only elements of the search for power, the only statelike objective
could be territorial aggrandizement, and this was not sufficient to explain
all the so-called actions of states.
The way out of these dilemmas was, first, to argue that power was an
objective in itself. This meant that the real objective need not be discussed
or revealed. The second was that if there was to be an objective, it would be
the national interest for Morgenthau and self-interest for Schwarzenberger,
both of which were equally undefinable.
It may be possible that these vagaries and distortions could be excused
as necessary deviations justified by developing the more important project,
namely of awakening the world to the dangers of legally, ethically, and ideologically disguised power relations. Morgenthau and Schwarzenberger
were reacting to the excessive legalism of the interwar period in Europe
and the mass ideologies of the 1930s and in particular the acceptance by
intelligent people that solemn declarations and signatures had substantive
political impacts. Thus Schwarzenberger was concerned by the community language of the UN under conditions of society in which such language would be misleading. Morgenthau and Schwarzenbergers warning
was born of their own life experience, in which they had seen the cynical
manipulation of the symbols of liberal democracy and rule of law in the
pursuit of absolute power.
The imprecisions and illogicalities engendered by applying a societally
generated, power-oriented approach to the international level produced the
contemporary international relations realism, as (endlessly) discussed
within the IR profession. The derivatives of IR realism were the personification of the nation state, ill-defined national interest, and the elimination
of the prosaic motivations of elites in command of states rooted in discrete
socioeconomic circumstances. This was not the real realism that sought to
understand and reveal the sources of powerits instruments, lackeys, and
sycophantsand to investigate its distinct objectives, all as an antidote to
the rationalizations of philosophy, theology, ideology, and romanticism,
which could be used to divert the perception of reality.
This negative conclusion is not to fault either of the authors discussed.
Reading their works in terms of social analysis rather than international
relations is valuable and insightful. They were correct in the need for an
antidote to unreal solutions being proposed at the time. An incisive
power analysis at the international level was essential in that period. As
already noted, any power analysis, even ones so distorted as that in international relations, inevitably becomes unpopular, if not subversive. Its practi-


Critique in Critical IR Theory

tioners break myths that others are constructing or are making a living from
upholding; they reveal to those who feel they are free that they are governed, to those whose rationalizations of their own actions have been internalized that they are tyrants or victims, dominated or subservient, manipulators or manipulated. Morgenthau was accused by his colleagues in
Chicago of having a Germanic way of looking at things (Thompson
1979: 547) and came out against the Vietnam War on moral grounds.
Schwarzenberger was called a professor of immorality and denied security
clearance, possibly because of his refusal to accept the conventional reasons for the commencement of the Korean War. As societal realists, their
original project was laudable and their insights formidable, but the area to
which they applied their realism and their reluctance to identify the motives
of the states elites bequeathed the intellectual monster of IR realismthe
absolute, power-seeking, personified, nation state.

Rationalities and Real Realism

One of the key aspects of realism is that the source and mechanisms of
power must be discovered or exposed because there is rarely an overt and
transparent exercise of power. If this is the case, it follows that in any society there are power-disguising constructs. It is these that become the target
for a realist analysis. The earlier IR realists, pushed by the distinction
between the domestic and international levels, focused on the power-disguising, interstate-created legal constructs such as the League of Nations
and the UN. They did not specifically apply a generic term to the powerdisguising constructs, preferring, in IR, to refer to utopianism or idealism
as the antithesis of reality. In general, however, utopians were depicted as
autonomous intellectuals with an erroneous vision of social reality and not
as the knowing constructors of power-disguising myths in the service of
In applying realism to contemporary international political economy, I
use rationality as a generic term for constructed power-disguising myths.
Thus a recurring friction in history is between rationalities and reality. For
Cox, a rationality is a collective mentality, a typical way of perceiving
and interpreting the world that is followed by different social groups within different forms of power relations and that sustains the continued existence of the form (Cox 1987: 25). But rationalities are also mental constructs that attempt to induce acceptance of an exercise of power that
otherwise might be unacceptable. This is the emphasis that I placed on a
similar use of the concept (Harrod 1987: 33). Rationalities explain the
unexplainable, excuse the inexcusable, and offer a refuge for those who do
not wish to deal with or confront poweroften by denying its existence.

Global Realism


In using this concept I am aware that in a variety of forms, such a perception of the structure or process of social and political reality has been
used by almost all those who have set out to consider the nature of society
and governance. Thus what I have called rationality could be seen also in
Weberian unauthentic legitimization, in Foucauldian governmental rationality (Gordon 1991), or in the concept of a dominant discourse. Likewise,
it may be the internalization of the norms of ruling-class governance, as in
Gramscian hegemony or the Marxist superstructure. Morgenthau gave no
name to his power-disguising construct, preferring to refer to it as something: What is actually aspiration for power, then appears as something
different, something that is in harmony with the demands of reason, morality and justice (Morgenthau 1967: 119).
Rationalities are, then, constructed by groups and individuals in power.
As they are intended for internalization, they must be rational at least to an
extent greater than the (arbitrary) exercise of power. This rationality usually takes the form Morgenthau suggests, in which reason, morality, and justice are made central. The process of the creation of a rationality varies in
the time taken to form it and in its complexity. In those of the church and
state, mentioned further on, the rationality developed over centuries and
was all-pervasive. But others are more temporal and geographically limited
or may be limited in operation, such as those of political parties, enclave
organizations, or distinct sets of power relations surrounding different
forms of production. From such rationalities are derived legal constructs,
social institutions and norms, and as such, they are the source of the control
of human behavior.
The need for a rationality may lie deep in bioneurological processes
that, although not necessarily producing rational thought, nevertheless react
negatively to illogicalities. Ongoing research in neurology and its relation
to consciousness and studies of power and stress in bureaucracies points in
this direction (for example, Edelman 1994). Overtly applied, power
inevitably produces through its seeming or real arbitrariness stress that biochemical systems normally seek to reduce. Rationalities may temporarily
disguise or block versions of the truth that the human brain would find
stress producing. Rationalities are the Freudian dreams that disguise the
disturbing real in symbols in order that the sleeper not be awakened.
Realism challenges rationalities and awakens people from dreams. In the
1970s, feminist analysts adopting a realist perspective challenged the
rationality of womens work and biological determinism to reveal the ubiquitous power of patriarchy.
It is evident that there is a constant antagonism between societal realism and power-constructed rationalities. Rationalities are necessary and
may have effects that, by the standards of justice and equity, may be positive or less negative. The purpose of realism is not to destroy a rationality,


Critique in Critical IR Theory

but in analyzing and revealing it, realism may often do so. The durability of
rationalities, the success with which they absorb, reject, or marginalize the
realist challenge, may be the factor that determines historical epochs in
which rationalities are constructed and destroyed and different constellations of power are developed. Once a realist critique is extant, the rationality and the power it hides are never the same. Rationalities and their dissemination are a major part of functional (problem-solving) theory, and the
analysis of them is a major part of critical theory.

The Current Need for Realism

Changes in the structure of power and its exercise bring forward new
rationalities. When new rationalities are promoted, the need for realism is
greater. In the current period of global history, the need for real realism
may be greater for three reasons. First, there has been a shift in the groups
or elites that are the holders of power and produce the rationalities; second,
this shift of power has been away from political elites toward corporate
elites; and third, there has been a change in the dissemination of rationalities, which has affected the political effectiveness of realists.
Currently there appears to be considerable confusion relating to the
changing power structure at the global level. A realist would expect such
confusion because new power holders wish to disguise their role and the
mechanism of power used. The most important of these changes is the relative decline in the position of political elites and their potential power. For
fifty years, within the framework of corporatism, neocorporatism, and state
corporatism, elites associated with the state, whether those associations
were precipitated by elections or putsches, used their power in a centralized, directing, mediating, or arbitrating manner. This situation has substantially changed, and the shift in power from elites using the state to others
not directly in control of the state apparatus is at the base of the notion of
restructuring that is inherent in the concept of globalization.
The relative increase in power of the corporate elites represents a shift
in globally dominant politico-economic regimes, social formations, or patterns of power relations and their associated rationalities. The emergence of
a dominant elite represents not merely a change in elites but a fundamental
change in the patterns and structures of power. In terms of the concept of
social formations as presented by Cox (and this author), the current
changes can be seen as the transformation of social formations dominated
by tripartite patterns of power relations in which the state used its power to
mediate between corporate economic power and organized labor social
power to a social formation dominated by the enterprise corporatism pattern of power relations in which the corporation makes nonnegotiable

Global Realism


demands on the state, promotes the social power of ancillary professionals,

and fragments the social power of the labor force (Cox 1987; Harrod 1987).
Thus the dominant institution in the contemporary world is the corporation.
Dominant organizations or institutions that are the principal sources of
power produce rationalities from which governing norms are derived. If
there has been a succession of dominant institutions ranging through the
church, the state, and now the corporation, then the rationality of the church
was an all-powerful deity and that of the state the all-powerful will of the
people. In both cases the logic of the rationality was that the state and
church were instruments of a higher power that itself was based on reason
and justice.
In contrast, the corporation cannot easily construct a rationality at the
macrolevel. There is no elaborated theology or raison dtat for corporations. The extant corporate rationality of neoliberalism is incomplete, for
although it seeks to hide the source and exercise of power, it can produce
little in the way of convincing or socially persuasive constructs to rationalize arbitrary inequalities. Thus neoliberalism postulates the market as the
all-powerful source in analogy to the church and state with their deity and
popular will, respectively, but the essential element of rationalizing the
stress-producing illogicalities concerning distributional justice is lacking.
If the corporate-constructed rationality is so weak, it can be asked why
the realist critics have not been more successful in unmasking it.
Attempting an answer reveals the difficulty of the current task of real realism in the international political economy.
The first difficulty is that corporate power is social, spatially fragmented, and disparate, which means that power can be exerted at the macrolevel
only by an aggregation of power via collusion. Corporate macrolevel power
is indirect. Although it can directly close plants, create oligopolies, and
shift capital, it cannot directly change interest rates or unemployment benefits. Thus whereas a government, church hierarchy, or individual leader
may be blamed for the ills that befall the citizenry, it is more difficult to
blame chief executive officers of corporations operating in different industries even though collectively their decisions may indeed be at the root of
the perceived problem.
Second, the corporation has brought to power a diverse stratum of professionals previously subscribing to professional rationalities; this emerging power elite has been identified in the work of Harold James Perkin,
Robert Reich, and Eric Olin Wright, although for different purposes and
with different conclusions (Perkin 1996; Reich 1991; Wright 1997). In
exercising power, such professionals operate in distinct areas and in diverse
social frameworks. Their current role of mediating corporate power is different from that of enforcing norms or regulating governments. The contradictions on which many social events and cultural products are now con-


Critique in Critical IR Theory

centrated are the exercise of corporate power with no other rationalities

than efficiency and legitimate profit making and the rationalities of norms
of justice and equity in law, propriety in accounting, ethics in medicine,
method in science, and professionalism in consultancy. As the groups that
practice these rationalities move further along the line, which starts with
service and ends in extraction, the techniques to secure returns change. The
emerging technique is the restriction of available information and its concomitant of inflated complexities in professional discourse. Only the insiders know and understand.
The third difficulty stems from a change in the medium of dissemination. A rationality normally has to first satisfy an attentive public, that is,
those with the time, ability, interest, and training to analyze the message.
Subsequently the refined rationality is disseminated to a receptive public.
This filtering process provides legitimacy at the various stages. But the
rationality has to be sophisticated and appealing enough to be able to be
defended in discourse within the attentive public.
In the contemporary period the rationality promoted has been able to
bypass the attentive public and be presented directly to the target public.
This dissemination has occurred through the development of corporatecontrolled media and a form of communication that requires no personal
investment, not even literacy, to absorb it. The target public then forces the
attentive public to respond to the elements of a rationality that would, in the
past, have been rejected or refined. The attentive public, usually the basic
resource for real realism, is now forced to react to concepts and ideas of a
rationality that would have normally been properly ignored: the mass
mediaprecipitated rationality creating a media-driven discourse. The realist analytical tradition is being forced into a second-order position. The
focus becomes the power relations of the delivery of the rationality rather
than the source of the rationality.
Thus the emperor is now in a tinted, bullet-proof car and the tailors
hold a megaphone, declaring that the emperor has clothes. The child can no
longer announce that the emperor has no clothes but must declare to the
crowd that the megaphone is to be suspected as the source of the myth benefiting the tailors and satisfying the emperor. By the time the case is made,
the emperor has passed and the tailors are making another mythical suit.
The rationality of corporate power is the reification of the market. It is
a weak rationality inasmuch as it denies not only the source of power but
power itself, something that theology and raison dtat never did for church
and state. Further, lacking a macrolevel appeal, corporate rationality must
still use the nation state and the institutions of the nation state as a vehicle
and shield, thus creating the current confusion as to the function and power
of the state. On the one hand the state produces the macrolevel norms of
justice, equity, and equality; on the other hand it is used to disguise the

Global Realism


power that is incapable, even under the best possible governing scenario, of
producing any of these norms.
The complexity of the rationality, the emergence of layered instruments of power, makes the task of a societal, or real, realism in world politics both more needed and more complex than it was for the early real realists applying their approach to interstate relations and adjusting them to fit
the different level of the approach. The answer to the Qui bono? question,
or What is the source of power? was always another state or alliance of
states. Today the answer to that same question may be a consortium of corporations, state agencies, individuals in command of financial power,
organized crime and interest groups, and professional groups increasingly
operating globally. The global outcomes of the use of power are measurable
and concrete as, for example, the universal tendency of redistribution of
income toward the higher-income groups, the universal degradation of the
environment, and increased incidences of new maladies. The complexity of
power sources and mechanisms at the global level is such that an application of a real or societal realism would now have to be based on false
analogies, as in the case of IR realism. What is needed, then, is a global
realism that recognizes and analyzes the multiplicity of power sources and
mechanisms at the global level and that approaches constructed rationalities critically. Such a global realism may well confirm Morgenthaus aphorism of half a century ago that the revolt against power . . . is as universal
as the aspiration for power itself.

Mark Neufeld

Living in an era of globalization places new demands on both thought and

action. One such demand is the need to theorize and act out of a global perspective. This demand is no less acute for those social and political theorists whose prime allegiance is to critical traditions. In this regard it is striking that one of the more prominent among those traditionsthe critical
theory of the Frankfurt Schoolhas been largely silent on global-level
issues or processes. As a leading American Frankfurt School theorist has
noted, with the exception of occasional comments by Herbert Marcuse in
the 1960s, a macrological critique of imperialism or of systems of world
domination was inexplicably absent from most of Critical Theory
(Kellner 1999a). Accordingly, although critical theory has had an influence
on some branches of social science, for example, sociology and philosophy,
it has, at least until fairly recently, had virtually no impact on International
Relations (Halliday 1987: 165166). Indeed, this obvious lacuna has
prompted calls from contemporary proponents of critical theory for its
reformulation in more globally sensitive terms. Note, for example, the following comment by Thomas McCarthy: I have wanted to underscore the
need for critical theory to adopt a consistently global perspective, so as to
locate the received problematics of the nation state in a broader web of
interconnected histories (McCarthy 1994: 9293).
What holds for the critical theory of the Frankfurt School holds for
other critical theory traditions as well, both in terms of their neglect of the
global and in terms of their need for a corresponding reformulation. And
here it is important to point out that scholars interested in carrying out such
a reformulation could benefit greatly from a familiarity with the existing
literature in international relations (IR) that makes claims to provide a criti127


Critique in Critical IR Theory

cal means of theorizing world politics. At the same time, it can also be
argued that a greater sensitivity to the insights of critical social and political
theory can be of significant benefit to the effort to develop critical IR theory.
To that end I propose to undertake a review of some recent efforts in
critical IR theory (see also Neufeld 19951996). It is my hope that this
effort will contribute to greater awareness of the achievements in the realm
of critical IR over the past few years. At the same time, I would also hope
that a critical review of critical IR theory that draws on some of the insights
of critical social and political theory more generally will contribute to the
development of more adequate theorizing about world politics.
Specifically, I hope this exercise will contribute to deepened reflection on
what it means to approach the subject of world politics in a critical wayin
short, Whats critical about critical IR theory, and how might its critical
content be strengthened?

Assessing Critical IR Theory:

Of Tradition and Standards
If it is true that there is nothing so practical as a good theory, it is equally
true that in the pursuit of good theory there is nothing so constructive as
good criticism. Unfortunately, the latter often seems to be in as short supply
as the former. This is particularly true in the case of efforts over the past
couple of decades to develop a criticalin contrast to a mainstreambody
of international relations theory. Certainly the commentaries of mainstream
scholars have offered little in the way of criticism that one could characterize as constructivethat is, that serves not only to identify critical IR theorys shortcomings but also suggests ways to remedy its faults. Indeed, if we
are to be perfectly honest, mainstream commentators have rarely moved
beyond gross caricature (Spegele 1996 is a noteworthy exception; on which
see Neufeld 1997), charging critical IR theory with promoting an ethos of
anything goes due to a lack of standards (Brecher 1995, Jones 1994)
even while they denounce critical IR theory for being inimically dogmatic due to its overly harsh application of those very same (nonexistent)
standards (Schmidt 1997).
More lamentable still, however, is the fact that theorists from the margins have often seemed equally incapable of moving beyond a kind of
more-critical-than-thou competitiveness (Frank 1997 and Walker 1994 are
two disappointing examples). Engagements between modernist and postmodernist critical theorists, in particular, have often been characterized by
a mode of reception conforming more to an Adornian absolute negation
than to Walter Benjamins redemptive hermeneutic, in which one

Whats Critical?


attempts to redeem what is valuable and useful in the views of the other
(Kellner 1999b). Of course, the self-cultivation of powerful egos by the
advocates of marginal(ized) approaches is an understandable (masculinist)
defense mechanism in the face of literally years of relentless attacks from
the mainstream; for all of that, it is no less destructive in its effects on interlocutorsnot to mention potential allies.1
Happily, we are not limited to disciplinary exemplars to guide our
efforts. There exists outside of IR a number of critical theorists who have
learned to tread the fine line of rigorous criticism without stepping over it
into destructive dismissal of the efforts of others (see, in particular, Fraser
1989b; Bernstein 1983, 1991). It is the standards of solidarity and fairness
set by these efforts that I will try to emulate in the pages that follow.
This kind of exercise can provoke a number of objections. One possible objection is that the works chosen to review do not provide a true picture of critical theorizing about world politics. In response, I can only say I
have tried to be catholic in my notion of critical theory and have not
restricted my examples in terms of narrow, predetermined limits. One
might also object that the judgments arrived at are problematic because the
standards of what constitutes a critical theory have not been applied fairly.
Here again, I can only respond by saying I have attempted to be as evenhanded as possible in my application of standards, though every conclusion
remains, of course, open to contestation.
Finally and most important, one might raise questions about the nature
of the standards themselves and the very definition of critique from which
they are derived. This potential objection requires a substantive response.
Clearly, it is incumbent on authors of this kind of essay to be explicit about
their notion of critique, thereby to invite reasoned debate about its adequacy.
The notion of critique that informs this chapter is not neutral; it is the
product of a particular intellectual tradition and reflective of the assumptions and normative commitments constitutive of that tradition. Appending
a label to this tradition is not easy, though several alternatives suggest
themselves. On the one hand, Frankfurt School critical theory, although
certainly a major influence, is too narrow, as it excludes the theorizing of
other influential figures such as Antonio Gramsci. On the other hand, to
term this tradition modernist critical theory in order to distinguish it from
its postmodernist counterpart, although not incorrect, is too broad. For want
of a better term, the Western Marxist tradition will have to suffice.
This term raises the question of which characteristics a body of theorizing would have to have to qualify as critical (in Western Marxist terms).
Here it will be suggested that these can best be formulated by thinking of
critical theory as the determinate negation of the dominant form of technical reason in mainstream IR and, arguably, mainstream social science gen-


Critique in Critical IR Theory

erallythat is, as the negation of positivism (see Neufeld 1995). To begin,

critical theory stands in opposition to positivisms objectivist conception of
truth as correspondence to the real world. It does so for several reasons.
First, as part of its effort to theorize the process of theorizing, critical theory incorporates the Kuhnian-inspired view that knowledge can be understood in terms of paradigms that are, in turn, incommensurable (i.e., having
no common measure). In other words, because theory tells us not only how
the facts are to be interpreted but also what counts as a fact in the first
place, the objectivist notion of truth as correspondence to the facts is untenable. Accordingly, claims for empirical adequacyalthough not unimportantare always understood as relative in the sense that they are, fundamentally, intraparadigmatic (and not interparadigmatic) in nature.
The second reason critical theory opposes positivisms notion of truth
as correspondence is that such a view has the consequence of limiting the
role reason can play in human affairs. Specifically, in positivist terms reason is limited to episteme, a form of rationality that allows for assessment
of knowledge claims in terms of empirical adequacy alone. Critical theory,
in contrast, is committed to promoting a broader, practical form of rationality (phronesis) that will also allow for a reasoned assessment of the nonempirical dimensions to human life. In sum, a critical form of theorizing
involves theoretical reflexivity, which makes politico-normative content as
much a criterion of theory assessment as empirical adequacy.
The second element of a positivist approach to the study of human
society is a methodological unity of science involving the search for transhistorical regularities in human action. Once again, critical theory opposes
this orientation, not least because of its effect of reifying the existing social
order as natural. It does so by breaking with positivisms naturalist assumptions about the essential similarity of the social and natural worlds and recognizes the vital role of intersubjective meanings in constituting human
action as social practices that are, in principle, open to change.
Accordingly, critical theory promotes an interpretive approach to the study
of human society that seeks to understand the potential for change within
human practice and social orders.
Third, critical theory stands in opposition to the positivist understanding of reliable knowledge as value free in nature. Recognizing that knowledge can never be value freethat theory is always for someone and for
some purpose (Cox 1981: 128)critical theory embraces an overt normative commitment to progressive social change. It does so by incorporating a
pedagogical understanding of the theory-practice relationship and by
accepting thatunder current conditions, that is, those of advanced capitalism where the interests of the few regularly take precedence in policy circles over the needs of the manythe audience for critical theorys criti-

Whats Critical?


cisms of the existing order are the policytakers and not the policymakers. In
this way critical theory places itself in the service of emancipatory practice.
Finally, in combination these three elements of critical theorizing allow
for more than the determination of the degree to which a given body of theory approximates critical theory understood as an ideal type. They also
point to the overall criterion of adequacy by which critical theory must ultimately be judged. In Horkheimers words, The value of a theory is not
decided alone by formal criteria of truth. . . . The value of a theory is decided by its connection with the tasks, which in the particular historical
moment are taken up by progressive social forces (in Held 1980: 192). It
might be objected, of course, that this criterion begs the question of what
characterizes a progressive social force. The answer, of course, is that the
understanding of progressive is connected to the assumptions of critical
theory, which are tested, in turn, in the process of analysis and practice.
This admittedly circular form of reasoning is that of a hermeneutic circle,
which cannot be escaped either by critical or noncritical theorists, as much
as objectivists of various stripes might strive to find a way out.
I will move now to an assessment of the work of three figures in IR
theory whose work can be read as providing a critical orientation to world
politics: Alexander Wendt, Justin Rosenberg, and Cynthia Weber.
Alexander Wendt
Alexander Wendts work has proven to be immensely influential in contemporary IR theorizing, particularly in constructivist circles. Indeed, he stands
as the youngest of what has been hailed as a new generation of masters of
international thought (Neumann and Wver 1997). Equally important in
terms of this discussion is that from the beginning Wendt has made the
notion of critical theory central to his intellectual project. From the agentstructure debate (Wendt 1987: 370) through his engagement with the
social construction of international anarchy (Wendt 1992) and beyond
(Wendt 1996), critique and critical theory have figured prominently in
Wendts theoretical formulations. In his words, critical theory (in a broad
sense) is essential to the development of social science, and by extension
international relations (Wendt 1987: 370). Here too he has made his mark:
In a recent debate held in the pages of International Security it was Wendt
who was invited to provide a defense of critical theory in international relations (see Mearsheimer 19941995; Wendt 1995). This does raise the question, however, of what is critical about Wendts constructivist approach.
There are a number of attractive features about Wendts theorizing. His
work reflects very much the insight, lamentably still too rare in our discipline, that the claim that International Relations is a discrete area of action


Critique in Critical IR Theory

and discourse, separate from social and political theory can no longer be
sustained (Hoffman 1987: 231). Drawing in particular on the work of
Anthony Giddens and Roy Bhaskar, his exposition and application of structuration theory and the epistemology of scientific realism demonstrates an
impressive facility with contemporary social and political theory. Also
praiseworthy are Wendts considerable efforts to spell out his starting
assumptions and clearly define his terms. In short, Wendts work evidences
a concern with theoretical reflection on the process of theorizing itself,
which, in important respects, qualifies it as a reflexive approach.
The account balance is not straightforward, however. From the beginning Wendt has been clear that by critical he means looking beyond given
appearances to the underlying social relationships that generate (in a probabilistic sense) phenomenal forms (Wendt 1987: 363). Thus consistent with
his scientific-realist epistemology, Wendt defines truth in objectivist
termstruth is not correspondence to the facts, as in the case of positivism,
but it is correspondence nonetheless. Truth is correspondence to the underlying structures that generate observable facts. Thus hypotheses are understood to be interparadigmatically falsifiable. Nor is there any question
about Wendts commitment to a wholly conventional epistemology. As he
argued in his defense of critical IR theory, Constructivists . . . are modernists who fully endorse the scientific project of falsifying theories against
evidence (Wendt 1995: 75).
It is the commitment to interparadigmatic falsification that shows
Wendts notion of critique has less in common with critical theorys distinction between critical and traditional, problem-solving forms of theorizing
than with the Popperian critical rationalist tradition (see Horkheimer 1972;
Cox 1981). In Popperian terms, critical thinking stands in opposition to
dogmatic thinking, with the former adapting to refutation by experience
and the latter ignoring all counterevidence (Hollis 1994: 72). In short,
notwithstanding his replacement of positivism with scientific realism,
Wendt replicates mainstream IRs objectivism and, therewith, its unreflexive limiting of reason to episteme.
The same mixed balance sheet can be seen in terms of the other elements of critical theory. On the one hand Wendt stresses the role of intersubjective meanings in constituting social relations. As he notes, what
unites the various members of the critical IR family, that is, postmodernists,
neo-Marxists, feminists, and constructivists, is their common concern with
the socially constructed nature of world politicsa concern that results in a
shared interest in how identities and interests are shaped by structures and,
in turn, influence international behavior (Wendt 1995: 7172). Structures,
argues Wendt, are dependent on shared ideas: What makes these ideas
(and thus structure) social . . . is their intersubjective quality (Wendt
1995: 73). Thus Wendts constructivism seems to qualify as a nonnaturalist,

Whats Critical?


interpretive approach consistent with critical theory. In addition, he affirms

a clear interest in emancipatory practice: Constructivists have a normative
interest in promoting social change (Wendt 1995: 74). In his discussion of
international identity formation, for example, he affirms the relevance of
radical democratic theory for guiding our response to the
international[izing] state: The attempt to solve international collective
action problems by creating collective identities among states creates an
entirely new problem of making those identities democratically accountable, a problem ultimately of transforming the boundaries of political community (Wendt 1996: 62).
On the other hand, there are decidedly uncritical dimensions to his formulations. Specifically, Wendts objectivist epistemological commitments
place severe limitations on what his approach can offer in terms of emancipatory practice. Notwithstanding an interest in social change, in Wendts
formulation constructivists (must) restrict themselves to trying to explain
how seemingly natural social structures, like self-help or the Cold War, are
effects of practice (this is the critical side of critical theory) in ways that
allow for falsification (Wendt 1995: 74). These restrictions bring with them
at least two serious consequences.
First, in terms of the relationship between personal values and ones
research activities, it is not entirely clear how Wendts critical theorist differs from his or her mainstream counterpart. Not only are critical theorists
similar to mainstream theorists in terms of having value orientations
Critical theorists have normative commitments, just as neorealists do
ultimately they are understood to be in pursuit of the same goal: an unbiased, objective account of reality. Notes Wendt, We are also simply trying
to explain the world (Wendt 1995: 74).
Second, in accepting the problematic objectivist distinction between
facts and values, between the is and the ought, Wendt leaves no room to
consider the ways in which his constructivism may serve politico-normative agendas independent of his personal value commitments. Because he
limits reason to epistemethe direct consequence of his objectivist notion
of truththere is no way to ask critical theorys central question: What and
whom is Wendts constructivism for?
Although Wendt does not address this question directly, his discussion
of the theme of responsibility provides some important hints (Wendt 1995:
7981). Wendt rejects vigorously the suggestion that constructivists are
subversive utopians who do not believe in a real world (Wendt 1995: 81).
Rather, constructivists are people who are concerned with providing knowledge about the possibilities for change to those charged with national
security and with getting policymakers to accept responsibility for solving conflicts (Wendt 1995: 80, 81).
As a consequence, and notwithstanding an ostensible interest in simply


Critique in Critical IR Theory

trying to explain the world, Wendts constructivism can be understood in

explicitly political terms. Consistent with its objectivist epistemology and
its statist commitments (Wendt 1995: 72), its purpose is to generate knowledge not for policytakers but for policymakers, not for the purposes of radical emancipatory change but for more effective management of the global
system. In short, despite some important openings in the direction of critique, Wendts constructivism remains constrained by its efforts to satisfy
mainstream theorists on their terms. Accordingly, it is difficult to escape the
conclusion that despite significant gestures in the direction of critique, in
the end Wendts constructivism conforms in many important respects to the
classical notion of traditional problem-solving theory. As such, it does not
take us as far as it might toward a fully critical theory of world politics.
Justin Rosenberg
Like Alexander Wendt, Justin Rosenberg is credited with making a significant contribution to the study of world politics generally and to the development of critical IR in particular (see also Neufeld 1994). From his earliest efforts to theorize the peace movement (Rosenberg and Bromley 1988:
6694) through his more recent engagements to provide a counter to the
realist theory and history of world politics (Rosenberg 1994a; see also
Rosenberg 1996), Rosenberg has been credited with a major contribution to
the critical understanding of world politics. Specifically, his work has been
described as doing a great service to the discipline of IR by . . . systematically developing the idea that one merit of the Marxist theory and method
of historical materialism is that it can offer a better explanation of international politics than other theories (H. Smith 1996: 203).
Most recently, Rosenberg has issued an impassioned plea for the development of International Imagination through the adoption of the theoretical agenda of Classic Social Analysis, in which the concern to serve the
cause of human emancipation is front and center. Specifically, Rosenberg
calls for the reorienting of international relations theory in line with the
approach of C. Wright Mills (an approach Mills described as plain, as
opposed to dogmatic, Marxism) to incorporate a concern with (1) the
grounding of social thought in substantive problems; (2) the use of a historical and comparative depth of field; (3) the perception of the social world
as a totality; and, critically, (4) the commitment to the ideals of reason and
freedom (Rosenberg 1994b).
Of particular relevance for this discussion is the fact that Rosenbergs
historical materialismhis self-designation in terms of intellectual traditionis offered as a form of critical theorizing about world politics. First,
in his willingness to address the question of what kind of theorizing is
required by the current context, Rosenberg evidences the openness to theo-

Whats Critical?


rizing about the process of theorizing that is characteristic of theoretical

reflexivity. Second, in his rejection of the reification of the social structuresin his affirmation that what appears as anonymous social forces
and processes is, in fact, the product of collective human agency
(Rosenberg 1994a: 173)Rosenberg weighs in against the assumption of
naturalism, which underlies positivisms methodological unity of science.
And finally, in his assertion that theorizing must serve the ideals of reason
and freedom (Rosenberg 1994b: 87), Rosenberg would seem to take a
clear stand against positivisms quest for value-free knowledge.
At the same time, it must be recognized that Rosenbergs formulations,
like Wendts, suffer from some serious difficulties. To begin, some have
objected that much of what Rosenberg recommends has already been said
by others (Walker 1994). Calls for being more attentive to history in a comparative frame, for addressing substantive problems, for taking a holistic
view, and for serving the ideals of reason and freedom, they argue, are
hardly original even in the discipline of international relations. Even the
idea that the approach championed by C. Wright Mills should be extended
to the study of world politics has been proposed beforethough, arguably,
not with the same elegance and passion as one finds in Rosenberg (see Fox
1964). This criticism, however, misses the mark. Put bluntly, there is nothing inherently wrong with reiterating points made by others in a discipline
so adept at creative forgetting as ours.
More serious is the fact that Rosenberg follows Mills in accepting positivisms objectivist notion of truth as correspondence to the facts. In
making the case for historical materialisms superiority over realism, for
example, Rosenberg argues as follows:
Adoption of a broad historical materialist framework is not axiomatic. It
is contingent upon the claim . . . that this framework allows us to explain
in greater detail and more consistently the historical objects and processes, causes and outcomes which constitute our field of study. . . . In the
end, the ultimate judgement we can make of a substantive social theory is
whether it enables us to write better history. (Rosenberg 1994a: 53)

Clearly, for Rosenberg, writing better history means developing a theory that fits the facts better than its rivals (see also H. Smith 1996: 205). As
we have already seen in regard to Wendt, however, the notion of truth as
correspondencewhether to facts or to underlying nonvisible structures
brings with it some serious liabilities. Kuhnian objections aside, an objectivist understanding of truth has as its consequence that central assumptions
remain unexamined; important questions not only are not answered, they
are not even asked.
For example, the statement that international relations theory should
concern itself with substantive problems raises a number of difficult issues.


Critique in Critical IR Theory

First, how is one to meet the objections of the champions of basic research,
who respond by saying that many if not most of the significant discoveries
of science that have proven useful for addressing substantive problems
were made by people whose first order of business was anything but the
solving of those problems (see, for example, Rapoport 1964)?
Alternatively, even if one agrees that substantive problems should be our
focus, there remains the question of which problems are by nature substantive and which are not. We could, of course, simply adopt Millss view that
the one huge substantive problem that needs to be addressed is the interpretation of the rise, the components, the shape, of the urban industrial
societies of The Modern West (cited by Rosenberg 1994b: 88). But in that
case the question is merely transposed down to the level of the subproblems
whose solution is necessary for solving the one huge substantive problem. To take a concrete example, is the gendered nature of global society a
substantive subproblem or not? How are we to know?
In sum, in critical theorys terms the identification of substantive problems is not incorrect in and of itself. It must be understood, however, as
derivative of the assumptions of the theoretical orientation being pursued.
Any undertaking that moves directly to stipulating substantive problems
without reflecting on the necessarily relativized nature of the starting
assumptions is inherently problematic.
Similarly, questions must be raised about Rosenbergs conceptualization of the related elements of history and totality. Put simply, how is history to be treated? How is the holistic viewpoint to be conceived? The tradition of Western Marxism, for example, offers many different formulations
of totality (Jay 1984b). Rosenberg tells us history should not be used to try
to model and predict (Rosenberg 1994b: 105). But if totality is something
we establish through observationsomething we find out empirically by
looking at the world (Rosenberg 1994b: 105)why should we not be
looking for the invariant transhistorical regularities sought by positivist
social science? Why should we not define explanation as subsuming
observable regularities under a general covering law?
These questions become particularly apposite in terms of critical theorys second defining characteristic of an interpretive approach, which
rejects the assumption of naturalism to underscore the intersubjective constitution of the social world by self-interpreting human beings. Such an
approach is not adopted, first and foremost, because of any putatively better
fit with the facts but because it helps us to determine when theoretical
statements grasp invariant [i.e., transhistorical] regularities of social action
as such and when they express ideologically frozen relations of dependence
that can in principle be transformed (Habermas 1971: 310).
Rosenberg is not wrong when he argues that writing better history is
not identical with consideration of the immanent logics of emancipation

Whats Critical?


or that the study of the objectivist world of social structures and

empirical facts is not satisfied by the exploration of the forms of human
subjectivity (Rosenberg 1991: 636). The point is, however, that to preoccupy oneself with the former to the neglect of the latter, as Rosenberg does,
is surely as limiting as the inverse. Indeed, it has been a common complaint
of reviewers of his work that his focus on structures and processes (e.g.,
modes of production) has led to a profoundly reified account of social
relations between people (Walker 1994). Indeed, ironically for a Marxist,
Rosenberg has written a Marxist analysis with very little discussion of
class or class struggle (Pettman 1995). Indeed, this complaint is doubly
ironic in that it parallels the critique Rosenberg has himself directed at others, for example, at Hobsbawm (Rosenberg 1995).
And finally, whereas one may fully support the proposition that international relations should commit itself to serving the ideals of reason and
freedom, once again, one can surely raise questions about what this means
in practical terms. Does it mean, as Rosenberg argues, that the principal
contribution of scholarly work in this regard is the illumination of the
objective, structural responsibility of individuals and groups for particular
outcomes (Rosenberg 1994b: 105)? And if so, how should this be understood? Mervyn Frost argues that the effort to separate facts and values in
Rosenbergs work results in a rather impoverished conception of the place
and role of normative theory (Frost 1994). And should we follow Mills in
affirming that the proper role of the social scientist is to remain aloof from
practical struggles, that taking part in grassroots organizing and political
actions is to abdicate ones role and to display . . . a disbelief in the promise of social science and in the role of reason in human affairs (Mills 1959:
192; cf. Aronowitz and Giroux 1985)?
In short, in every case rather serious questions present themselves. One
cannot fault a theorist like Mills, of course, for not having anticipated contemporary objections to his understanding of social science. It does not
seem unreasonable, however, to expect present-day proponents of Millss
version of social science to acknowledgeindeed, to engagethese objections. Regrettably, Rosenberg fails to do either.
This raises the question of why. And here, I think, we get to the underlying problem. Rosenberg is unwilling or unable to engage these issues, for
to do so would require him to move beyond his narrowly conceived notion
of historical materialism to become a participant in the metatheoretical
debates being carried out by other variants of critical theorizing in the discipline. Specifically, it would mean taking seriously the arguments
advanced by IR theorists inspired by the Frankfurt School and Gramsci,
feminist theory, and postmodernism, who have engaged one another on
themes ranging from the construction of identity to the conduct of social
inquiry in the absence of secure foundations, the role of public intellectu-


Critique in Critical IR Theory

als, and the promise of Enlightenment values such as reason and freedom in
an age when those promises have too often proved to be justifications for
established power and privilege.
Lamentably, it would appear that Rosenberg does not consider these
metatheoretical efforts to be of much value. Critical theory, he tells us,
seems in constant danger of ditching into a sea of philosophical generalities. As for postmodernism, it hardly bear[s] thinking about (Rosenberg
1994b: 86f.)though it does, at least, get thought about enough to be mentioned. Feminist theory is, unfortunately, not so lucky. It should be noted in
this regard that Mills, while employing the sexist terminology of his time,
did acknowledge that gender was important for understanding social phenomena (Mills 1951: 75, 172178).
The consequences of not engaging these metatheoretical offerings,
however, is that Rosenberg misses out on a number of insights that are crucial for his plan to put the discipline of international relations on a more
adequate footing. Perhaps most crucially, there is the issue of an adequate
diagnosis of what ails the discipline. Rosenberg is fairly straightforward
about what he sees as the problem: It is the continuing dominance of realism. And there is a certain plausibility to this; realism is guilty of the many
sins that Rosenberg (and others) have attributed to it.
But for those who have engaged seriously with the arguments of critically oriented philosophical traditions such as the Frankfurt School, postmodernism, and feminist theoryand there is more agreement among them
than is often recognizedthere is also something unsatisfying about this
diagnosis. After all, it is not only international relations that has been
marked with (1) a lack of attention to history, (2) a failure to provide substantive explanation, and (3) a tendency to atomize the social relationships
it studies. Nor is international relations alone in lending support to social
structures of domination and injustice. These criticisms have been made of
a wide range of social sciencesdisciplines in which the tradition of political realism does not exist.
Accordingly, international relations is not unique. More important, the
similarities between it and other social sciences would suggest that realism
is, at best, the disciplinary manifestation of that which (mis)orients mainstream social science as a wholenamely instrumental reason, most clearly manifest in the positivist logic of investigation, which continues to
inform so much of the research in contemporary social science.
Now it should be noted that the elements of the positivist logic of
investigation(1) the correspondence theory of truth, (2) the methodological unity of the sciences (natural and social), and (3) the quest for valuefreedomalthough identifiable in realism, are independent of the traditional realist emphases on anarchy, states as actors, and endemic conflict in the
resulting self-help system. This is significant. For what it means is that

Whats Critical?


even if one abandons traditional realist assumptionseven if one begins to

think in terms, say, of interdependence, a plurality of actors, and cooperation as well as competitionif one reconstitutes ones approach to the
study of world politics on the basis of instrumental reasons positivist logic
of investigation, the resulting analysis will be plagued by many, if not all,
of the limitations identifiable in realist scholarship.
So although it is true that repeated efforts to displace realism by means
of a reconstituted neoidealist traditionwhether it be liberal internationalism, complex interdependence, neoliberal institutionalism, or peace
researchhave failed, there is good reason, given the shared commitments
of both the realist and idealist traditions to the positivist logic of investigation, to question whether much would have been gained even had these
efforts been successful (for an interesting critique of Wallersteins world
systems theory along similar lines see Aronowitz 1981).
In short, insights developed at the level of metatheory have significant
implications for any attempt to reconstitute the discipline of international
relations on a more humanistic, emancipatory footing. What metatheoretical discussions have made clear is that a research agenda that is formulated
exclusively in terms of the requirement to think historically and substantively will never be in a position to clarify its (by definition) unexamined
assumptions and formulations. And a theoretical tradition that is unclear
about its metatheoretical fundamentals can easily fall prey to internalizing
the very assumptions and prejudices that constitute the unexamined backdrop of mainstream social scienceironically, the very intellectual agenda
that theoretical efforts such as Rosenbergs international imagination are
intended to counter.
Cynthia Weber
No less than Wendts and Rosenbergs, Cynthia Webers contributions to
the discipline have solicited considerable attention (including Neufeld
1996, upon which the following section draws). Her work on sovereignty,
in particular, is noteworthy in that it represents a serious engagement with
what remains a major stumbling block to moving the discipline forward in
an emancipatory direction: mainstream IRs conception of the state.
Whereas one may speculate about the source of its appeal, there is no
denying that the notion of the state as a rational, utility-maximizing, ahistorical given of world politics has proven to be remarkably robust within
mainstream circles. Outside those circles, however, the observation that the
state is undertheorized is a common one. Indeed, the failure to problematize
the state is seen as both a cause and an indicator of the generally impoverished nature of theorizing within the discipline as a whole.
Cynthia Webers Simulating Sovereignty theorizes the state in terms of


Critique in Critical IR Theory

IR theorys essential modifier for the state: sovereignty. She does this
through a rereading of foreign policy discourse on intervention. Her analysis takes as its starting point the essentially uncontested nature of the concept of sovereignty. Yet as variations across time and place indicate, state
sovereignty is anything but stable or uniform. Therefore, argues Weber, one
should view sovereignty less as a state of being than as something inferred
from practice. Accordingly, sovereignty
marks not the location of the foundational entity of international relations
theory but a site of political struggle. This struggle is the struggle to fix
the meaning of sovereignty in such a way as to constitute a particular
stateto write the statewith particular boundaries, competencies and
legitimacies available to it. (Weber 1995: 3)

Weber pursues her analysis of state sovereignty by focusing on a particular question: How is the meaning of sovereignty fixed or stabilized historically via practices of political intervention? It is Webers contention that
the practice of intervention is a crucial site for the stabilization of sovereignty given that discussion of intervention invariably raises questions
about whether sovereignty is invested in particular localities, leaders, or
sets of practices. When state practices do not fit the shared understandings
of what a sovereign state must be, interference is legitimate; when, however, state practices are in accordance with intersubjective understandings of
statehood, intervention is prohibited (Weber 1995: 4). Thus when we focus
on intervention practices, it is possible to identify what kinds of practices
constitute legitimate forms of being, for example, sovereign states.
Weber argues that the sovereign state must be understood in terms of
two distinct kinds of representation. The first is political representation, by
which the domestic community authorizes the government to speak on its
behalf. Less familiar but equally vital is symbolic representation, by which
questions are settled regarding who is and is not a member of the domestic
community and what the range of authority of a domestic community is. In
short, symbolic representation, when successful, produces a meaningful
referent invested with sovereign authority, the effect of which is the sovereign state.
To investigate the process of symbolically producing the state, Weber
reviews the interventions in Spain and Naples by the Concert of Europe,
U.S. interventions in the Bolshevik and Mexican revolutions during the
Wilson era, and the interventions in Grenada and Panama by the Reagan
and Bush administrations. For the first two sets of cases, Weber works in
terms of an interpretive approach derivative of the work of Michel
Foucault. Here the questions posed are the following: How is truth produced by a diplomatic and scholarly community of judgment, and how is
truth (a sovereign foundation or a community) represented? In the latter

Whats Critical?


cases, however, Weber moves from Foucaults view of truth as an effect of

power to consider what happens when it is no longer possible to represent
sovereign foundations? (Weber 1995: 31) because there are no ultimate
referents, no truth, or (and this is the same thing) so many signs of the truth
that truth has no meaning (Weber 1995: 38). In other words, the question
is no longer the Foucauldian one of How is sovereignty represented? but
rather one derivative of Jean Baudrillard: How is sovereignty simulated?
(Weber 1995: 10).
Webers work is consistently readable. Substantively, she makes a very
compelling case that the sovereignty-intervention boundary is a fruitful site
to investigate the social construction of the modern state. Equally significant in terms of the present discussion is the fact that her efforts also stand
as an example of critical theorizingin this case, from the postmodernist
shore of the modern-postmodern divide. First, there is a clear concern with
metatheoretical exploration of the process of theorizing as required by
reflexivity. Second, there is an explicit adoption of an interpretive approach
to the social world that sees the intersubjective meanings deriving from discourse as fundamental to understanding all dimensions of society. And
finally, there is a clear sense that Webers theorizing is oriented to promoting social change consistent with her commitment to do feminist politics
(Weber 1994a: 340).
As in the case of Wendt and Rosenberg, however, there are aspects of
Webers work that seem to work against its critical thrust. I will begin again
with the theme of reflexivity and then move through that of an interpretive
approach and social criticism in support of emancipatory practice.
Questions regarding reflexivity are prompted by a response Weber
offered to an earlier discussion written by Robert Keohane (1989). In his
article, Keohane reviewed Sandra Hardings well-known typology of feminist empiricism, feminist standpoint theory, and feminist postmodernism
with the objective of evaluating their potential to contribute to the advancement of our understanding of world politics. Finding weaknesses in both
the first and the third in terms of the standards of mainstream social science, Keohane concluded that feminist standpoint offered the greatest
promise and advocated that feminist standpoint theorists make common
cause with neoliberal institutionalism against the continuing dominance of
To begin, one can certainly forgive feminist theorists for being suspicious of Keohanes intervention. As Ann Tickner has noted,
Feminists find communication . . . with scholars trained in social scientific methodologies equally difficult because of the lack of agreement as to
what counts as legitimate scientific inquiry. Since all these feminist
approaches question the claim that women can simply be added to existing theoretical frameworks, it is predictable that misunderstandings will


Critique in Critical IR Theory

compound when those working within the scientific tradition suggest that
feminist approaches can be incorporated into conventional IR methodologies. Indeed, feminists have a legitimate fear of co-optation; so often
womens knowledge has been forgotten or subsumed under more dominant discourses. (Tickner 1997: 620)

Nonetheless, there is something unsettling about the tack Weber takes

in responding to Keohanes commentary. Specifically, Weber charges
Keohane with serious criminal behavior, including a textual mutilation
and attempted murder of the feminist body (Weber 1994a: 348). What
warrants these serious charges, argues Weber, is Keohanes refusal to
accept the plurality inherent in the multifaceted feminist body and to see
international relations theory from at least three perspectives at once, no
one of which is privileged over others (Weber 1994a: 339). In short, the
problem with Keohanes treatment of feminist IR is that he does not look
through feminist lenses; rather he looks at them (Weber 1994a: 339).
There is no question that Keohane looks at feminist lenses. He does
this, moreover, with the clear purpose of drawing distinctions between the
different perspectives and of making judgments about their relative merits.
One can, of course, question the standards he applies and the conclusions
he draws regarding the optimal alliance of feminist standpoint and neoliberal institutionalism. Still, it can also be argued that the willingness to make
distinctions among approachesto ask the question, For whom and for
what is this theory, and how does it compare to others?and to make reasoned judgments about contending perspectives on the basis of their politico-normative content is a fundamental part of theoretical reflexivity. This
argument would hold, furthermore, in the case of differing perspectives
within feminist IR as much as in any other practice in the field. Indeed, it
can be argued that it has been precisely the willingness of feminists to
engage in this kind of reasoned assessment of (incommensurable)
approaches that has made feminist IR a leading example of reflexive thinking in the discipline (Neufeld 1995: 6468). From this perspective, the
problem in Keohanes intervention is not that he attempts to draw distinctions but that his newfound reflexivity is too little, too late.
The alternative Weber seems to be promoting, howeverthe refusal to
privilege one perspective over anothercontains within it the real danger
of a flabby pluralism (see Bernstein 1991: 335339). If this is a misinterpretation of Webers positionif, in fact her difficulty lies with the specific
criteria by which Keohane makes his judgments and not with the principle
of making judgments about the relative merits of contending theoretical
approachesthen it would be useful to know what appropriate criteria
would be. In other words, what kinds of criteria could be applied in assessing the relative merits of feminist empiricism, feminist standpoint, or feminist postmodernism that would not entail a mutilation of the feminist body?

Whats Critical?


Similarly, in terms of her interpretation of the social world, one can

raise questions. There is no doubt that analysis of discourse has its place in
critically oriented work. Still, social life is not reducible to discourse alone,
and those who make discourse their focus must be cognizant of the danger
that their work will devolve into a linguistic idealism if it is not linked to
an analysis of extradiscursive material conditions (Best and Kellner 1991:
27). In Webers discussion of sovereignty, however, it is not clear how this
link is to be made. If one accepts, for example, the argument that the state
is not given but produced symbolically, one is still left with some basic
questions unanswered, perhaps the most important of which is, Whose
interests are served by the social arrangements sustained by the representational projects under examination? At the least, some indication of how the
kind of analysis carried out here could be combined with analyses focusing
on differential rewards that fall along class, race, andparticularly notable
by its absence from the work of a feminist theoristgender lines in the current global order would have been useful.2
A related set of questions can be raised with regard to the implications
of this work for political practice. It can be argued that what bridges the
modernist-postmodernist divide within current critical IR theory is the
shared concern to facilitate a politics of resistance among the globally disenfranchised (George 1994: 200). One can assume that this concern is also
part of Webers postmodernism and her commitment to doing feminist politics. An important part of this project is identifying points at which resistance might be organized in the interests of the transformation of the global
order. In this regard, Weber suggests that there are widening cracks in the
foundation of that order: Representational projects and the strategies by
which they are effective depend upon the creative deployment of symbolic
resources that are not inexhaustible (Weber 1995: 10). With respect to
sovereign statehood, she notes, we may be reaching an exacting point
when enactments of sovereign statehood in practice are depleting their own
resources to the point where there is little room for creative redeployment
of these resources (Weber 1995: 10). Beyond these very general intimations, however, there is little that addresses directly the question of how a
politics of resistance among the globally disenfranchised might be organized or how a feminist politics is to be carried out.

This analysis has proceeded from the assumption that metatheoretical attentiveness to the question of what constitutes a critical theory is an important
part of ensuring that current efforts to develop a critical approach to world
politics meet with success. It is true, of course, that metatheoretical discus-


Critique in Critical IR Theory

sions can never satisfy on their own. Metatheoretical debates about what
constitutes a critical theory do not automatically provide an adequate theoretical account of historical developments that can, in turn, shed light on
addressing substantive problems. Accordingly, theoretical-empirical explorations must be carried on parallel to metatheoretical ones (see, for example, Cox 1987; Enloe 1993). Neither suffices in the absence of the other.
But then this is precisely the point.
It is interesting to consider how the interests of mainstream social science stand in relation to metatheoretical discourse. If it is true that metatheoretical critique is necessary to challenge mainstream theorizing at the most
fundamental level, then is it any wonder that so many mainstream theorists
seem intent on inculcating new generations of social scientists with the
strongest possible antipathy to metatheory? And who can doubt that the
theoretical mainstream has been extremely successful in this regard? How
else to explain the widespread hostility to all things metatheoretical? How
else to account for the neglect ofand even the barely disguised impatience withmetatheoretical discussion even within the work of those with
an explicit commitment to critical inquiry?
Ultimately, Max Horkheimers observation is still a valid one: Though
there may be periods when one can get along without metatheory, in the
present context its lack denigrates people and renders them helpless
against force (Horkheimer 1968: 308). Significantly, Horkheimer also
supplies what may be the most appropriate response to the animosity
directed at metatheory: Insist that today the whole historical dynamic has
placed philosophy at the centre of social actuality, and social actuality at
the centre of philosophy (308) and appreciate that hostility to metatheory
is really directed against the transformative activity associated with critical thinking (Horkheimer 1972: 232). Fulfilling the promise of the critical
study of world politics requires recognizing that his statements hold true
for the discipline of international relations as much as any otherand perhaps more than most.
Nancy Fraser has observed that no one has yet improved on Marxs
1843 definition of critical theory as the self-clarification of the struggles
and wishes of the age (Fraser 1989b: 113). What is undeniable is that in
the current context, the struggles and wishes of the age are increasingly
intertwined with global-level structures and processes. As a consequence,
the self-clarification of emancipatory struggles and wishes at the beginning
of the twenty-first century perforce must be conducted in globally sensitive
terms. And here there is certainly cause for optimism. Notwithstanding
existing limitations and lacunae, it does not seem unreasonable to expect
that critical IR theory will soon be in a position to make a meaningful contribution to this broader quest for human dignity in our global polis. And
when it does, we shall finally have the definitive answer to the question,
Whats critical about critical IR theory?

Whats Critical?


The title of this chapter alludes to Nancy Frasers Whats Critical About Critical
Theory? The Case of Habermas and Gender (Fraser 1989b).
1. Bertolt Brechts poem, An die Nachgeborenen, which hangs on my office
wall, makes this point most poignantly:
To Those Who Come After
You, who will surface
Out of the flood
In which we went under
Bear in mind
When you speak of our failings
Also the dark times
That you escaped.
We walked after all
Changing countries more
Often than our shoes
Through class wars
When there was only injustice
And no outrage.
Of course we know:
Even hatred
Of baseness
Distorts ones disposition.
Even anger
About injustice
Makes ones voice hoarser.
Alas, we
Who wanted to prepare the ground
For kindness
Were ourselves incapable
Of being kind.
You however
Once the stage has been reached
Where human beings are
One anothers helpers
Consider us
With forbearance.
Bertolt Brecht (1939: 143; translation, M. Neufeld)
2. The parallel with Rosenberg is striking. In one case we have a Marxist theorist who does not interpret history in terms of class struggle; in the other, we have a
feminist theorist who does not interpret history in terms of gender. What is particularly puzzling is that Weber does provide elsewhere a gender-framed analysis of one
of the case studies featured in her book (see Weber 1994b).


Sandra Whitworth

What happens when critical and feminist international relations (IR) theorists go out into the world and actually talk to the people they study? This
chapter argues that the most important contribution of feminist and critical
theories of international relations has been to open up, as Steve Smith
writes, just what counts as the subject matter of international relations (S.
Smith 1996: 38), but there has been little corresponding analysis of the
political and practical implications of conducting critically informed
research in IR.
The chapter proceeds in three parts. The first is a brief outline of the
way in which critiques of the mainstream discipline of IR have resulted in a
self-consciousness about how we ask questions in IR, about what gets
included and what remains excluded. The second provides a summary of
some of the directions my own research is taking and some of the ways this
reflection on the posing of questions has permitted me to ask feminist and
critical questions about UN peacekeeping.
In the third section, I use some of my own research experiences to
argue that critical and feminist IR theories have been almost completely
silent on theorizing about or thinking through the political implications of
conducting research on so-called marginalized communities. Part of this
silence reflects the focus by critical theorists on the theoretical challenges
that have been developed thus far; considerably less work has been done
on actual research. It is important to emphasize that the point here is not to
lament, as Robert Keohane has done in the past and Alexander Wendt
more recently, the absence of an identifiable research program in critical
IR (Keohane 1988; Wendt 1995). Rather, the point is to take up an observation by Mark Neufeld that the translation of the meta-theoretical gains


The Practice and Praxis of Critical IR Theory

of the restructuring process into advances in the analyses of specific topics

remains to be effected (Neufeld 1995: 5). That translation, it is argued
here, needs to engage a series of problems, not least of which is the
acknowledgment of our embeddedness at all times in prevailing global
power relations and the extent to which even critically informed and progressive research projects reproduce and conform to those power
relations.1 In this chapter I seek to explore some of the questions that arise
in such circumstances and argue that critical theorists must become more
engaged in some of the political complexities of conducting critical and
feminist research in IR if it is to remain committed to praxis, that is, if it is
to remain committed to theorizing and acting on the world in order to
change it.

The Contributions
As has been noted, critical IR and feminist IR have focused on the ways
questions are asked and on the fact that some issues in international relations are problematized, whereas others are not. This focus has been
accomplished, as Steve Smith notes, through what began as an epistemological critique and the observation that the subject is implicated in and not
separable from the object of study (S. Smith 1996; see also Linklater
1996b). As Mark Neufeld writes, It is because of the possibility of
methodologically factoring out the identities of the individual researcher
that objective knowledge, politically neutral knowledge, was assumed to
be possible at all (Neufeld 1995: 33; see also Smith, Booth, and Zalewski
1996a, 1996b: 6). Likewise, the rejection of positivism has meant a rejection of the notion that there can be such a thing as a politically neutral
analysis of external reality (Linklater 1996b: 281). In other words, and following Robert W. Coxs classic 1981 observation, theory is always for
someone and for some purpose (Cox 1981: 128).
Whereas mainstream theorists have always theorized in order to provide policy-relevant advice to state elites, critical and feminist IR theorists
engage with the lived injustices or lived suffering of marginalized
groups. Feminist IR and critical IR theorists are concerned with those
processes of domination made invisible by the mainstreams concern with
states, power, and anarchy and committed to those who, as Cynthia Enloe
writes, are deeply affected by international politics but arent in a position
to call the tune (Enloe 1989: 2). Uncovering the impact of international
relations on those previously rendered invisible will give us, she notes, not
only a richer and more accurate empirical sense of the world but also some
insight into the more theoretical question of how politics are made. This

Feminist Research


insight joins very neatly with critical IRs commitment to an emancipatory

politics because in observing, as Enloe does, that what is made can be
remade, there is the explicit recognition of the possibility, at least, for an
emancipatory politics, a politics of change aimed at transforming relations
of inequality and domination.

The Project
In my own work on peacekeeping, I begin with the argument that the image
of peacekeeping as a benign, altruistic, and morally superior form of military force, which is so pervasive in multilateral and certain national contexts, tells us more about self-identificationabout how the UN or certain
contributor peacekeeping countries seek to present themselvesthan it
does about what actually happens when peacekeeping missions are
deployed to various countries around the world (Whitworth 1995, 1998). I
have tried to illustrate this argument in part by asking Cambodian women
about the impact of the peacekeeping mission (the UN Transitional
Authority in Cambodia, or UNTAC) on their lives.
I am concerned, for example, about the fact that a whole series of questions about peacekeeping never get asked. Peacekeeping itself is never
problematized in mainstream literatures; instead, peacekeeping is taken to
be an unproblematic and obviously good thing, an important instrument in
maintaining peace and order in the postCold War world. As Alan James
describes it, peacekeeping is an enormously useful device (James 1995:
265). For Steven Ratner, it is a way of and process for securing important,
shared values (Ratner 1995: 1). With considerable consistency, a similar
picture is depicted in most mainstream accounts: The collapse of the political stalemate of Cold War politics has created new opportunities for the UN
at the same time that new sources of conflict have emerged; through peacekeeping missions, the UN has been called in to address an ever-increasing
number of these conflicts; these missions are sometimes successful, but a
series of problems have emerged that must be addressed by academics and
These are problems of efficiencies, finances, and control. They are, in
short, technical problems, and technical problems are answered by technical experts. Thus not only are a whole series of questions not asked but
whole groups of people(s) are never consulted when questions about peacekeeping are raised. It is not at all unusual within mainstream accounts of
peacekeeping, for example, that evaluations of peacekeeping missions are
published without the authors ever bothering to go to the country in which
the peacekeeping mission was deployed to seek the opinion of the people


The Practice and Praxis of Critical IR Theory

who lived through the mission, to find out whether local experience conforms in any way to expert opinion (see, for example, Heininger 1994;
Utting 1994 is an important exception).
Thus I went to Cambodia hoping to develop an analysis of the gendered nature of the peacekeeping mission. I also went there with a sense,
from writers such as Chandra Mohanty, Caren Kaplan and Aihwa Ong, of
the tendency of Western feminists to homogenize and universalize the
experiences of third world women and in particular to portray them
strictly as victims of various processes, whether imperialism, capitalism, or,
in my case, peacekeeping (Mohanty 1991a, 1991b; Kaplan 1994; Ong
1988). As Mohanty writes, Few studies have focused on women workers
as subjectsas agents who make choices, have a critical perspective on
their own situations, and think and organize collectively against their
oppressors (Mohanty 1991a: 29; emphasis in original). Thus I hoped also
to learn, by going to Cambodia, of the ways in which women (and men)
were involved in the UNTAC mission, whether acting in or against it.
UNTAC is cited by the UN and regarded by many mainstream
observers as something of a success story for the UN.2 William Shawcross,
speaking at the general assembly of the International Nongovernmental
Organizations (NGO) Forum on Cambodia, called it an international triumph (cited by Jennar 1994: 145; see also Ledgerwood 1994; Heininger
1994: 18; Utting 1994: 3 and passim), and UN Secretary-General Boutros
Boutros-Ghali has written that the international community can take satisfaction from the peacekeeping operation it mounted and supported in
Cambodia (Boutros-Ghali 1995: 55; see also the Economist, June 19,
1993: 36).
The success, achieved in an eighteen-month mission in Cambodia,
included the reduction of violence, the repatriation of some 370,000 Khmer
refugees, and the conduct of a relatively free and fair election in which
some 4 million people, or 85 percent of Cambodias registered voters, participated (Munthit 1993: 3; Thayer and Tasker 1993: 10; see also Doyle
1995; Doyle and Suntharalingam 1994). The UN claimed as well, again in
the words of Boutros-Ghali, that the mission boosted Cambodias economy by raising funds internationally for economic rehabilitation and expansion throughout the country (Boutros-Ghali 1995: 54; see also Curtis
1994: 5658).
The UNTAC effort also achieved some important successes with
regard to women in Cambodia. Most notably, the freedom of association
that prevailed in many respects during UNTAC and the efforts of the UN
Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) to incorporate womens issues
into the general election resulted in public education and information campaigns in the print media and on radio and television. Additionally, the
four-day National Womens Summit brought together Cambodian women

Feminist Research


from all sectors of society to identify and prioritize womens issues in order
to lobby political parties contesting the election and then later the government itself (Report of the National Womens Summit 1993; Channo 1993a).
The Womens Summit has been credited with facilitating the emergence of
an indigenous womens movement in Cambodia as well as a number of
indigenous womens NGOs, which in turn have been credited with a very
effective lobby of the Cambodian government such that important equal
rights provisions eventually made it into the new Cambodian constitution
(interviews by the author, Phnom Penh, March-April 1996).3
Though UNTAC was considered a success in many respects, there are
also some discussions of problems associated with the mission. For example, the UN failed to achieve a situation of political neutrality, as pledged in
the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement, in part because the Khmer Rouge withdrew from the demobilization and cantonment process and threatened
throughout the mission to disrupt the election campaign (Amer 1993;
Curtis 1994: 59; Doyle 1995: ch. 4; Doyle and Suntharalingam 1994:
124127). Likewise, the presence of UNTAC may have diminished, but did
not stop, political violence, which was aimed at both political party members and ethnic Vietnamese and resulted in a mass exodus of ethnic
Vietnamese, many of whom were second- and third-generation
Cambodians (Curtis 1994: 60; Eng 1992: 4; Barrington 1993: 1; Jennar
1994: 148).
These are obviously very serious concerns, but another series of issues
emerged throughout the UNTAC mission that are seldom discussed in UN
documents or mainstream accounts of the mission. Though credited with
helping to create the emergence of a fledgling womens movement as well
as a number of womens NGOs, the UNTAC mission also resulted in a
number of important negative consequences for women in Cambodia.
These include the reported exponential increase in prostitution to serve
UNTAC personnel. The Cambodian Womens Development Association
estimates that the number of prostitutes in Cambodia grew from about
6,000 in 1992 to more than 25,000 at the height of the mission (Channo
1993b; Arnvig 1994: 166169; Kirshenbaum 1994; interviews, Phnom
Penh, March-April 1996). Some reports indicated that the majority of prostitutes were young Vietnamese women, though these estimates are more
likely a result of anti-Vietnamese sentiment than any reflection of reality
(Swain 1992; Asian Recorder, May 2127, 1993; interviews, Phnom Penh,
March-April 1996).
While the presence of prostitutes was not new, and by many accounts
frequenting prostitutes is a regular feature of many Cambodian mens
behavior, Cambodians were nonetheless alarmed by the dramatic increase
in prostitution and noted that prior to UNTAC it was quite hidden in
Cambodian society but became something that was very prevalent and open


The Practice and Praxis of Critical IR Theory

(interviews, Phnom Penh, March-April 1996). The rise of child prostitution

has also been linked in some NGO reports to the arrival of UNTAC
(UNICEF 1995: 12 and appendix 2). The widespread use of prostitutes
was raised by the Khmer Rouge as part of their efforts to undermine the
peace process when they accused peacekeepers of being too busy with
prostitutes to check on the presence of Vietnamese soldiers (Swain 1992).
As Judy Ledgerwood wrote: Some Cambodians were more inclined to
believe Khmer Rouge propaganda that UNTAC was collaborating with the
Vietnamese to colonize Cambodia when they saw UNTAC personnel taking
Vietnamese wives (Ledgerwood 1994).
The influx of nearly 23,000 UN personnel and the dramatic rise in
prostitution also appears to have resulted in a dramatic rise in cases of HIV
and AIDS. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 75 percent
of people giving blood in Phnom Penh were infected with HIV (this figure
is considered inflated by some observers); another report indicated that 20
percent of soldiers in one French batallion tested positive when they finished their six-month tour of duty (Swain 1992; Asian Recorder, February
511, 1993).4 UNTACs chief medical officer predicted that as many as six
times more UN personnel would eventually die of AIDS contracted in
Cambodia than had died as a result of hostile action (Peach 1993).
As criticism toward UN personnel within Cambodia grew, a number of
what Judy Ledgerwood describes as telling actions were announced.
Peacekeepers were warned to be more discreet, for example, by not parking
their distinctive white vehicles outside massage parlors and in red-light
areas and by not frequenting brothels in uniform (Asian Recorder, April
1622, 1993; Ledgerwood 1994: 8; Arnvig 1994: 165). A second response
was to ship an additional 800,000 condoms to Cambodia (Reuters Library
Report, November 18, 1992).
In addition to prostitution, sexual abuse and violence were alleged.
Raoul Jennar reported that in 1993, in the Preah Vihear hospital, there was
for a time a majority of injured people who were young kids, the victims of
sexual abuse by UN soldiers (Jennar 1994: 154). A number of interviewees reported frequent claims of rape and sexual assault brought to
womens NGOs during the UNTAC period; these claims often emerged
many days or weeks after the alleged rapes, and thus evidence could not be
collected and claims could not be substantiated to the satisfaction of UN
officials (interviews by the author, Phnom Penh, March-April 1996; see
also Kirshenbaum 1994: 13).
It is also a widely shared view among many Cambodian women and
men that the phenomenon of fake marriages was widespread during the
UNTAC period. Simply put, a UN soldier would marry a Cambodian
woman, but only for the duration of his posting to Cambodia, at which
point he would abandon her. Some women were reported to have been

Feminist Research


abandoned as far away as Bangkok and left to make their way home. In
addition to these emotional traumas, fake marriages were enormously
shameful for women in a society that, like most societies, has very strict
norms about what is appropriate behavior for good women (interviews by
the author, Phnom Penh, March-April 1996).
In part as a response to the sexual harassment that prevailed during the
UNTAC mission, an open letter was delivered to the UN SecretaryGenerals Special Representative in Cambodia, Yasushi Akashi. In the letter, 165 Cambodian and expatriate women and men accused some UNTAC
personnel of sexual harassment, of violence against women and against
prostitutes, and of being responsible for the dramatic rise of prostitution
and HIV/AIDS (Phnom Penh Post, October 11, 1992: 2; Business Wire,
January 11, 1993). Akashi responded by saying that it was natural for hotblooded young soldiers who had endured the rigors of the field to want to
have a few beers and to chase young beautiful beings of the opposite sex
(Colm 1992; Swain 1992). After an outraged response, Akashi pledged to
assign a community relations officer to hear the complaints of the
Cambodian community (Colm 1992; Phnom Penh Post, November
20December 3, 1992: 2).
Finally, and in contrast to the claims by Boutros-Ghali about UNTAC
contributions to economic development in Cambodia, the UNTAC mission
has been blamed for economic dislocation. Grant Curtis reports that with
skyrocketing inflation, the price of a kilogram of high-quality rice rose
from 450 riels to a high of 3,000 riels and settled eventually at 1,8002,000
riels; the price of fish and meat rose by 80 percent; housing rental prices
increased at least four times, and UNTAC personnel often paid Phnom
Penhbased rents at the provincial level, resulting in increases there also.
UNTAC did contribute somewhat by hiring locals but also drew most of the
few trained or experienced Khmer away from Cambodian administrative
structures and into UNTAC, and salary payments to local staff composed
less than 1 percent of total local expenditure. Finally, the riel was devalued
by 70 percent during the UNTAC mission (Curtis 1994: 5965; see also
Davies 1993; Klintworth 1993; Berdal 1993: 46). In situations of economic
dislocation and inflation, the most vulnerable members of society become
even more vulnerable, and within Cambodia women compose a large proportion of the vulnerable.

The Argument
The ways in which critical and feminist approaches to international relations have opened up what counts in IR permitted me to ask a series of


The Practice and Praxis of Critical IR Theory

questions about peacekeeping that are rarely posed within the mainstream
literature. It is worth noting, however, that whereas the mainstream literature might ignore these kinds of questions, the account here comes as little
surprise to local activists and NGOs. Talking to activists and to men and
women who lived in Cambodia during the UNTAC missionshifting ones
gazemade it possible to untangle and challenge depictions of peacekeeping as a straightforward success.
This kind of analysis has a series of implications. For one, it permits
activists and progressive academics in both contributor and host countries
to resist the almost homogeneous depictions of peacekeeping as a self-evidently positive military activity. It allows us to challenge what has become,
through peacekeeping, the reassertion of militaries and militarism in only
slightly altered guise. It can make visible the enormously complex circuits
of power that are entailed in any security mission, whether it is an invasion
or a peacekeeping deployment, and reminds us that the politics of peacekeeping concerns as much thinking through the politics of gender, race, and
class relations as it does UN finances, the implementation of peace treaties,
or chains of command.
There are, then, important insights to be gained by this kind of
research; actually conducting the research to make these claims led me to
reflect on the extent to which we have not begun to problematize doing
research in a way that is consistent with political, ethical, and theoretical
commitments to which we lay claim by being critical or feminist IR scholars. What do we do as researchers in countries such as Cambodia? The
worst-case scenario evolves as follows: We parachute in to a very poor
country, probably carrying around our waist or otherwise hidden in pockets
distributed throughout our clothing (because we are afraid) four or five
times as much money as the average local person makes in a year. We live
cheaply, but we can still afford the best of what is available and so live well.
Having lived cheaply, we receive the added benefit of praise from our universitys financial administrators for our economic efficiencies. We ask people for their time and their stories, which we take away (we steal them) and
write up in a language we (but not necessarily they) understand, in a manner
that serves our (but not necessarily their) research interests and political
agendas. After we write up their stories, we become famous or, at the very
least, get tenure, promotion, more money, a book contract, and so on.5
Whereas some anthropologists and sociologists (especially but not
exclusively feminist anthropologists and sociologists) have begun to debate
the political and ethical implications of conducting research in such situations, there is relatively little such debate or concern raised within IR.
There is, for one, far less of a tradition of fieldwork (itself a contentious
term) in IR, and to the extent that there is, this work has usually entailed

Feminist Research


interviews with elite decisionmakers. This lack of debate is true of mainstream IR but also of critical and feminist work. Although this lack does
not mean that the dilemmas of conducting research go entirely unremarkedfor example, Cynthia Enloe notes the importance of the women
we research speaking for themselves, and Simona Sharoni problematizes
the political and ethical dilemmas of being both an insider and an outsider
in her own work on women in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Sharoni
1995)there is little in the way of a sustained discussion of the various
ways to acknowledge and negotiate some of these dilemmas.
In some cases the debates in anthropology and sociology suggest that
because of the numerous concerns and issues surrounding fieldwork,
anthropologists and sociologists should study up, that is, reject the discipline-defining practice of conducting research on primitive or exotic
othersthose who have relatively less powerand study those who have
power (D. Wolf 1996: 2; Mohanty 1991a: 31). But this approach provides
no solution to the feminist or critical IR researcher because to the extent we
have studied people in IR at all, we have generally studied upwhether
we have focused on presidents, secretaries of defense, chief executive officers, or venture capitalists. Studying the powerful is thus not very helpful
in a discipline that is only just beginning to discover that there are marginalized groups and peoples in the world who are as much a part of world
politics as, for example, the president of the United States or the chief executive officer of a multinational corporation.
So what can be done? Debates in anthropology have looked to empowering research subjects, conducting participatory research, breaking down
positivisms distinction between subject and object, coauthoring between
the researcher and the researched, and so on. But such responses have also
been subject to critiques with many asking how effective such approaches
are (D. Wolf 1996: 1948). Some writers such as Judith Stacey have
observed that the breakdown of the distinction between researcher and
researched and the pursuit of more empathetic research techniques could, in
some ways, be even more exploitative, such as when a feminist researcher
becomes friends with the women she is researching. Under such circumstances, she notes, the friendresearch subject may reveal far more than she
would have otherwise, far more than she may want to reveal, as a result of
the greater intimacy that has been established (Stacey 1991; cf. D. Wolf
1996: 20).
Some researchers offer to give back to local womens organizations,
providing time, skills, and services in exchange for the time and effort
those researched have taken away from their own work. But there is some
consensus that such contributions are ultimately transitory, and no matter
what a researcher contributes to the researched, the researcher still has
enormous power, not the least of which is to leave, to go home. The same


The Practice and Praxis of Critical IR Theory

concern is raised around coauthorships, which although giving voice to the

researched, do not address the problems of inequality in terms of mobility;
nor do they usually address the problem of the researchers power to determine the purpose of the research in the first place and the reception of that
research once it has been published and distributed (D. Wolf 1996: 2634;
Kaplan 1994: 139). It is, after all, the researcher who gives voice, has the
power to give or take away, and remains the center of power and the project
(Kaplan 1994: 142).
Some researchers have devoted energies, in both their research and
their writing, to try to locate themselves, to acknowledge the researcher as
a positioned subject just as much as the researched in order to avoid the
problems of assuming that the researcher has a stable, fixed, and unproblematic identity, whereas the researched does not. But again, cautions are
noted; Daphne Patai has observed that paying respect to difference without
actually changing the research ends up sounding empty and apologist (Patai
1994; cf. D. Wolf 1996: 35).
This account of the various dilemmas posed by conducting research is
by no means exhaustive and is intended only to highlight a number of the
concerns and the ways in which they are being debated by feminist anthropologists and sociologists. Because of the depth and seeming intractability
of the dilemmas posed, some have suggested that the appropriate recourse
is not to engage in such research at all, to withdraw because it is so deeply
problematic. If conducting researcheven apparently progressive
researchalways reproduces an us/them, researcher/researched dichotomy,
is the only, or appropriate, response a nihilist one?
Margery Wolf notes that such a response is as politically irresponsible
as not thinking through these questions at all. It leaves all research to the
nonfeminist and noncritical researchers who have gone before and who will
continue to conduct their work uninformed by any sense of the importance
of an emancipatory politics and largely unconcerned by the relations of
power and domination in which they are involved through their research
activities (M. Wolf 1996: 216; see also D. Wolf 1996: 3738).
Suggesting that we withdraw from conducting research because it is
problematic also reveals a great deal about what we, as critical or feminist
IR scholars, expect from the research enterprise. The suggestion implies
that we expect to feel comfortable, are on a quest for rapport and unconditional acceptance (Kaplan 1994: 150), and presume that feminist or critically informed research exists somehow above or beyond the lived material
reality in which we find ourselves. It implies a response that in the end
refuses to take seriously the words of Daphne Patai: Self-reflexivity does
not change reality. It does not redistribute income, gain political rights for
the powerless, create housing for the homeless, or improve health (1994:
A52). Withdrawal from research would also deprive us of the most impor-

Feminist Research


tant insight that can be gained from conducting critical or feminist research
in IR: We are as implicated in prevailing relations of power and domination
as our mainstream predecessors, and because we view ourselves as oppositional and critical, we are in many ways less prepared than they to acknowledge this implication.
This insight makes more complicated our perception of the circuits of
power with which we are engaged, whether they be in relation to the subjects we research or the professionals we interact with. It reveals the need
to see these interactions as integrally related and to politicize and historicize, as Caren Kaplan writes, the relations of exchange that govern literacy, the production and marketing of texts, the politics of editing and distribution, and so on (Kaplan 1994: 139). More important still, it means,
again in Kaplans words, turning the terms of inquiry from desiring, inviting and granting space to others to becoming accountable for ones own
investments in cultural metaphors and values (139; my emphasis).
Accountability will never mean that we can rest comfortably with our role
as researchers and writers, but it can mean extending our critical concerns
beyond the questions we ask to include the politics of how we askand

The argument in this chapter has been that although critical and feminist IR
scholars have opened up what counts in the study of international relations,
they have not begun to think carefully about the politics of conducting
research on groups of people with relatively less power and privileges.
They have noted that the investigator is implicated in the object of study,
but only as they begin to give substance to this claim will they come faceto-face with the material lived reality of its implications. The debates and
discussions of feminist anthropologists and sociologists suggest some practical ways of thinking through these dilemmas, but it is important to underline the extent to which their responses will always remain, at best, partial.
Indeed, they must. The invisibilities and silences of which we accuse mainstream theorists will too quickly become our own if we do not soon engage
in a sustained discussion of the practical and political implications confronting us in the conduct of critical and feminist research in IR.

The author is grateful to the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of
Canada for financial assistance received in support of this project.


The Practice and Praxis of Critical IR Theory

1. I am grateful to Liz Philipose for this formulation.

2. The following pages are drawn from Whitworth 1998: 177181.
3. UNTAC was cited as having contributed in another positive way to
womens lives: The Project Against Domestic Violence in Phnom Penh reported that
in a context where few cases of domestic violence are ever reported to authorities
and fewer still are prosecuted, one provincial judge described the only criminal case
of domestic violence she had ever presided over as one in which UNTAC officers
had brought in a man caught beating his wife in a marketplace (Zimmerman,
Samen, and Savorn 1994: 137142).
4. Most observers note that although UNTAC was not responsible for bringing
HIV and AIDS to Cambodia, it did contribute to their spread.
5. Though this account reflects in part my own experiences, thinking through
these experiences and trying to organize them has been much inspired by D. Wolf
1996, which covers these issues in far more detail than I do here.

Kenneth Baynes

A great deal of recent work in normative political theory dealing with international relations (IR) seems to have taken a decidedly cosmopolitan tone.
I have in mind not only the important work of Charles Beitz and Thomas
Pogge but also many recent books, among them David Helds Democracy
and the Global Order (1995), James Rosenaus Along the DomesticForeign Frontier (1997), Richard Falks On Humane Governance (1995),
and Benjamin Barbers Jihad vs. MacWorld (1995). Whether they place a
renewed emphasis on human rights and the need for global constitutionalism, recognize the increasing globalization of the economy and the important role for both governmental and nongovernmental international organizations in new forms of cosmopolitan governance, or call anew for a
global civil society to counter the expansion of both global consumerism
and national tribalisms, the trend seems to be away from the exclusive or
unrestricted sovereignty of nation states toward some form of cosmopolitanism. My purpose in the following remarks is to relate some of the concerns in these discussions to the recent work by Jrgen Habermas in legal
and democratic theory. My guiding hypothesis is that each may have something to gain from the other: Habermas has not devoted a great deal of
attention to international relations in his work on democratic theory
(Mertens 1996), although in some of his more recent work, he has begun to
compensate for this deficit (see, e.g., Habermas 1996a, 1997). This recent
work has, in turn, given rise to a certain ambivalence in his position: On the
one hand, he has expressed some support for the idea of a world government with coercive authority (Habermas 1996a, 1996b: 514, 1997). On the
other hand, his general discussion of democracy in Between Facts and
Norms (1996b) seems more or less to consider the nation state to be the


The Practice and Praxis of Critical IR Theory

locus of democracy. This ambiguity is evident, I think, even in his idea of

Verfassungspatriotismus, which implies at least some form of ongoing
attachment or allegiance to the nation state even if it is primarily its own
historically nuanced interpretation of universalistic constitutional principles
(Habermas 1989b: 249267; 1996b: 466, 500).
At the same time, some of the recent work pointing to both the real
possibility and indeed the practical necessity of a new cosmopolitanism
and I am thinking here in particular of Barber, Falk, and Rosenaumay
nonetheless be able to find further conceptual resources in Habermass normative reflections and, in particular, in the less substantial or proceduralist conception of popular sovereignty and democracy he has proposed. In
the following, I first sketch Habermass recent conception, noting some of
its central features. Then I examine some concerns among recent cosmopolitans, especially those arguing for a more differentiated conception
of sovereignty. Finally, by way of conclusion, I offer some reflections on
the idea of a cosmopolitan public sphere.

In Between Facts and Norms Habermas introduces his model of procedural

democracy by way of a contrast between two highly stylized alternatives
(Habermas 1996b: 267f.; see also 1994b): liberal and republican (or communitarian). These have become familiar reference points in recent discussions. Cass Sunstein, for example, has recently summarized the liberal
model well: Self-interest, not virtue, is understood to be the usual motivating force of political behavior. Politics is typically, if not always, an effort
to aggregate private interests. It is surrounded by checks, in the form of
rights, protecting private liberty and private property from public intrusion
(Sunstein 1991: 4). By contrast, republicanism characteristically places
more emphasis on the value of citizens public virtues and active political
participation. Politics is regarded more as a deliberative process in which
citizens seek to reach agreement about the common good, and law is not
seen as a means for protecting individual rights but as the expression of the
common praxis of the political community.
With his procedural democracy Habermas attempts to incorporate the
best features of both models while avoiding the shortcomings of each. In
particular, along with the republican model, procedural democracy rejects
the liberal vision of the political process as primarily a process of competition and aggregation of private preferences. However, more in keeping with
the liberal model, Habermas regards the republican vision of a citizenry
united and actively motivated by a shared conception of the good life as
unrealistic in modern, pluralist societies.1 Moreover, since political discourses involve bargaining and negotiation as well as moral argumentation,

Deliberative Politics


the republican, or communitarian, notion of a shared ethical-political dialogue also seems inappropriate.
According to discourse theory, the success of deliberative politics depend
not on a collectively acting citizenry but on the institutionalization of the
corresponding procedures and conditions of communication, as well as on
the interplay of institutionalized deliberative processes with informally
constituted public opinions. (Habermas 1996b: 298)

What is central for this conception is not a shared ethos but institutionalized discourses for the formation of rational political opinion.
This idea of a suitably interpreted deliberative politics lies at the center
of Habermass model of a procedural democracy. In a deliberative politics,
attention shifts away from the final act of voting and the problems of social
choice that accompany it (see also Manin 1987; Miller 1992). The model
represents an attempt to take seriously the fact that often enough preferences are not exogenous to the political system but are instead adaptive to
a wide range of factorsincluding the context in which the preference is
expressed, the existing legal rules, past consumption choices, and culture in
general (Sunstein 1991: 5; see also Elster 1983). The aim of a deliberative
politics is, accordingly, to provide a context for a transformation of preferences in response to the considered views of others and the laundering, or
filtering, of irrational or morally repugnant preferences in ways that are not
excessively paternalistic (Goodin 1985). The conditions for a more rational
politics (that is, a political process in which the outcomes are more
informed, future oriented, and other-regarding) can be improved, for example, by designing institutions of political will formation so that they reflect
the more complex preference structure of individuals rather than simply
register the actual preferences individuals have at any given time. Specific
proposals for realizing the ideals of a deliberative politics could range from
something like James Fishkins idea of a deliberative opinion poll to
alternative procedures of voting and modes of representation (Fishkin
1990; McLean 1991; Young 1989). One could, in this sense, even speak of
an extension of democracy to preferences themselves, since the question is
whether the reasons offered in support of them are ones that could meet the
requirements of public justification.2 What is important for this notion of
deliberation, however, is less that everyone participateor even that voting
be made publicthan that there is a warranted presumption that public
opinion is formed on the basis of adequate information and relevant reasons
and that those whose interests are involved have an equal and effective
opportunity to make their own interests (and the reasons for them) known.
Two further features serve to distinguish Habermass model of procedural democracy and deliberative politics from other recent versions of a
deliberative democracy. First, this version of deliberative politics extends


The Practice and Praxis of Critical IR Theory

beyond the more formally organized political system to the vast and complex communication network that Habermas calls the public sphere.
[Deliberative politics] is bound to the demanding communicative presuppositions of political arenas that do not coincide with the institutionalized
will-formation in parliamentary bodies but extend equally to the political
public sphere and to its cultural context and social basis. A deliberative
practice of self-determination can develop only in the interplay between,
on the one hand, the parliamentary will-formation institutionalized in
legal procedures and programmed to reach decisions and, on the other,
political opinion-building in informal circles of political communication.
(Habermas 1996b: 274275)

The model suggests a two-track process in which there is a division of

labor between weak publics (the informally organized public sphere ranging from private associations to the mass media located in civil society) and
strong publics (parliamentary bodies and other formally organized institutions of the political system). Habermas takes these terms from Nancy
Fraser, who used them to describe Habermass two-track conception of
democracy (see Fraser 1992). In this division of labor, weak publics assume
a central responsibility for identifying, interpreting, and addressing social
For a good part of the normative expectations connected with deliberative
politics now falls on the peripheral structures of opinion-formation. The
expectations are directed at the capacity to perceive, interpret, and present
encompassing social problems in a way both attention-catching and innovative. (Habermas 1996b: 358)

However, decisionmaking responsibility, as well as the further filtering of

reasons via more formal parliamentary procedures, remains the task of a
strong public (e.g., the formally organized political system).
Second, along with this division of labor between strong and weak
publics and as a consequence of his increased acknowledgment of the
decentered character of modern societies, Habermas argues that radical
democratic practice must assume a self-limiting form. Democratization is
now focused not on society as a whole but on the legal system broadly conceived (Habermas 1996b: 371). In particular, he maintains, it must respect
the boundaries of the political-administrative and economic subsystems
that have become relatively independent of the integrative force of communicative action and are in this sense autonomous. Failure to do so, he
believes, at least partially explains the failure of state socialism (Habermas
1990b). For Habermas, the goal of radical democracy thus becomes not the
democratic organization of these subsystems but rather a type of indirect
steering of them through the medium of law. In this connection, he also

Deliberative Politics


describes the task of an opinion-forming public sphere as that of laying

siege to the formally organized political system by encircling it with reasons without, however, attempting to overthrow or replace it (Habermas
1996b: 486487 [appendix 1]).
These two features raise a number of difficult questions about the
scope and limits of democratization. Given the metaphorical language often
employed in his discussion, it is not obvious what specific proposals for
mediating between weak and strong publics would follow from his model.
Some have questioned, for example, whether he has not conceded too much
to systems theory, and Nancy Fraser, in an instructive discussion of
Habermass conception of the public sphere, raises the question whether
there might not be other ways in which the division of labor between strong
and weak publics could be drawn (Fraser 1992: 135f.; cf. Cohen and
Rogers 1992). Habermass own response, I think, would be that an answer
to these questions will not be found at the level of normative theory but
depends on the empirical findings of complex comparative studies.
A second, more general question that arises in connection with this
model of democracy is whether Habermass confidence in the rationalizing
effect of procedures alone is well founded. In view of his own description
of weak publics as wild, anarchic, and unrestricted, the suspicion can
at least be raised whether discursive procedures will suffice to bring about
a rational public opinion (Habermas 1996b: 308). To be sure, he states that
a deliberative politics depends on a rationalized lifeworld (including a
liberal political culture) that meets it halfway (Habermas 1996b: 302;
see also Habermas 1990a: 207208; Offe 1992). Thus for Habermas, a genuinely deliberative politics will require a sufficiently disenchanted world
in which normative questions can be distinguished from truth claims as
well as a more or less liberal background culture (or civil society) in
which questions of personal morality can be distinguished from questions
of political or social justice. Still, without more attention to the particular
liberal virtues that constitute the shared political culture and give rise to
some notion of shared purposes, it is difficult to see how Habermass model
can address some of the concerns raised by more recent politics of identity
and the apparent loss of any notion of a common or shared political community in the modern liberal state (Dworkin 1988; Macedo 1990; see also
Buchwalter 1992: 576).
Finally, in connection with our present focus on international relations
and global democracy, a third general question can be raised: Has
Habermas drawn all of the relevant or even most appropriate conclusions
from his own proceduralized interpretation of democracy and popular sovereignty? Given Habermass attempt to minimize any substantive dimension to the notion of a popular will and to emphasize instead an idea of
popular sovereignty that is found in those subjectless forms of communi-


The Practice and Praxis of Critical IR Theory

cation that regulate the flow of discursive opinion- and will-formation, the
question can be asked what role, if any, more traditional territorial political
boundaries ought to play in his conception of democracy (Habermas 1996b:
486). I have already referred to a certain ambivalence on this issue in
Habermass work. Nonetheless, it is also the case that recent reflections on
some possible forms of a cosmopolitan democracy might find additional
conceptual resources in Habermass own two-track, procedural approach.
For example, his distinction between strong and weak publics might also
perform an important function at the international level, and his remarks on
the self-limitation of democracy would seem to support recent calls for a
more differentiated or dispersed conception of sovereignty. Let me first
recall some of this discussion concerning a new cosmopolitanism.

The new cosmopolitanism, or universalism, itself has taken different forms

(not all of which are equally inimical to the nation state, though all would
challenge its claims to undivided internal and external sovereignty). One
form is a renewed insistence on respect for human rights that transcends
national boundaries and concernsreflected, for example, in the revival of
interest in theories of international justice (Beitz 1979; Vincent 1986;
Pogge 1994). Another form is expressed in the call for a new world order
with greater power delegated to international governmental bodies such as
the UN. Finally, still others argue for a global constitutionalism or global
governance in which power and authority is shared among the three systems of the nation states, international governmental institutions, and nongovernmental organizations and citizens associations of various sorts (see
especially Falk, Johansen, and Kim 1993; Rosenau 1997).
Without specifically endorsing any one of these proposals to the exclusion of another, I would like to explore an alternative way to address some
of the deeper concerns that motivate them. My remarks fall within the
range of what might be called Kantian cosmopolitanism, since they preserve an important role for the nation state but nevertheless question the
conception of exclusive sovereignty assumed in most democratic theory. In
other words, rather than a shift from the nation state to a world state in
which the underlying conception of sovereignty remains unchallenged, I
would like to explore the possibility of a more differentiated conception of
external sovereignty that parallels a proposal I have made elsewhere (in
response to the communitarians) for a more differentiated conception of
internal sovereignty (Baynes 1992, 1997).
As David Held points out in his informative essay Democracy and the
Global System, modern republican theory, including recent democratic
theory, generally works with an unquestioned conception of political sover-

Deliberative Politics


eignty in which the state is conceived as a circumscribed structure of

power with supreme jurisdiction over a territory accountable to a determinate citizen body (Held 1991: 223). Democratic theory in particular
assumes a remarkably unitary conception of sovereignty in its commitment
to what Held calls a symmetrical and congruent relationship between
political decisionmakers and the recipients of political decision:
In fact, symmetry and congruence are assumed at two crucial points: first,
between citizen-voters and the decision-makers whom they are, in principle, able to hold to account; and secondly, between the output (decisions, policies, etc.) of decision-makers and their constituentsultimately, the people in a delimited territory. (Held 1991: 198)

The idea of sovereignty presumably strengthens this general conception of

democracy both by localizing the power and authority in a single agency
that can be held accountable to the citizenry and by defining through territorial boundaries the relevant group for which the sovereign is responsible
and to which it can be held accountable. Internal and external sovereignty
thus mesh well with this common interpretation of democracy.
However, as Held (along with many others) points out, this conception
of sovereignty is barely recognizable in the contemporary world. Trends
toward global interconnectedness have both modified and constrained the
exercise of sovereignty and called into question its assumptions about symmetry and congruence. Processes of globalization have produced structures
of decisionmaking that are less tied to the legal jurisdiction of the nation
state and hence also less accountable; at the same time those decisions still
made within the legal framework of the nation state frequently have consequences that go well beyond national territorial borders.
In support of this claim regarding increased constraint upon not only
the states de facto autonomy but also its sovereignty, Held points to structural changes within national political economies and the growing power
and maneuverability of multinational corporations, to recent developments
in international law, and to the emergence of hegemonic powers and power
blocs (like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO] or the European
Union [EU]) that make it difficult for independent nation states to pursue
policies exclusively on their own terms. Held then concludes:
These processes alone warrant the statement that the operation of states in
an ever more complex international system both limits their autonomy and
impinges increasingly upon their sovereignty. Any conception of sovereignty which interprets it as an illimitable and indivisible form of public
power is undermined. Sovereignty itself has to be conceived today as
already divided among a number of agenciesnational, regional, and
internationaland limited by the very nature of this plurality. (Held 1991:


The Practice and Praxis of Critical IR Theory

Following a suggestion of Hedley Bull, Held describes the results of these

trends toward globalization as a kind of neo-medieval international
ordera modern and secular counterpart to the kind of political organization that existed in Christian Europe in the Middle Ages, the essential characteristic of which was a system of overlapping authority and multiple loyalties (Held 1991: 223). In contrast to Hedley Bull, however, Held
suggests that the model of overlapping authorities and criss-crossing loyalties may continue to offer some normatively attractive features.
In his essay Cosmopolitanism and Sovereignty, Thomas Pogge has
also proposed a model of differentiated or dispersed sovereignty in connection with a cosmopolitan ideal:
What I am proposing instead is not the idea of a world state, which is really a variant of the pre-eminent state idea. Rather, the proposal is that governmental authorityor sovereigntybe widely dispersed in the vertical
dimension. What we need is both centralization and decentralizationa
kind of second-order decentralization away from the now dominant level
of the state. (Pogge 1994: 99)

As Pogge goes on to point out, differentiated or dispersed sovereignty is

not simply the product of actual social, political, and economic trends; considerations of peace and security, global economic justice, and environmental preservation provide reasons for preferring such dispersed sovereignty
from a normative point of view as well. Equally important for Pogge is the
consideration of democracy itself: Persons have a right to an institutional
order under which those significantly and legitimately affected by a political decision have a roughly equal opportunity to influence the making of
this decisioneither directly or through elected delegates or representatives (Pogge 1994: 105). For Pogge, as for Held, increasing global interdependence requires that new forms of decisionmaking be developed that are
able to secure simultaneously mechanisms for local autonomy and effective
input and accountability on global issues that impact individual livesin
other words, both centralization and decentralization in a dispersal of state
Of course, as Held also points out, these trends have not made the
nation state irrelevant or obsolete, and the trends are themselves highly
ambivalent so far as concerns the values of global justice, peace and security, andperhaps especiallydemocratic rule (see also Rosenau 1997: 232;
D. Miller 1995). However, what they nonetheless indicate at a normative
level is the need to think creatively about global constitutionalism in ways
freed from the unitary conception of external sovereignty (assumed in most
contemporary democratic theory, including that of Habermas). For example, although a simultaneous democratization and strengthening of the
powers of the UN in the postCold War world remain one obvious (and

Deliberative Politics


desirable) option, a single centralized world government with coercive

police powers is not the only alternative to the current system of nation
states. Other possibilities for global constitutionalism that would bring
together in democratically creative ways the existing system of states,
international governmental institutions, and a global civil society comprising a variety of nongovernmental organizations and citizens associations
remain to be explored.
It is in this context that some of Habermass proposals concerning a
procedural and two-track conception of democracy are most relevant for
normative theorizing. On the one hand, his division of labor between weak
and strong publics draws attention to the important role of civil societyas
a domain analytically distinct from both the economy and the administrative statein processes of communication and the formation of public
opinion. This tripartite model provides a useful framework within which
issues of global democracy can be discussed and the increasingly fashionable idea of a global civil society located (Lipschutz 1996). This model
identifies neither the territorial administrative state nor the transnational
market economy as the primary locus for the identification, thematization,
and communication of relevant issues and concernsthat is, the formation
of public opinionbut the vast and pluralistic network of associations and
citizens groups that compose the informal public sphere within civil society. Relevant in this context as well, although it should not be overestimated,
is the development of new telecommunications technology and forms of
global communication media that provide a powerful tool for citizens
groups to convey information rapidly and widely and thereby shape public
opinion (for a balanced discussion, see Barber 1997: 208228). This conception of civil society, with its corresponding weak publics, is not, however, a panacea, and as Habermas himself notes, the mere presence of global
communication media does not alone ensure more reasoned and informed
deliberation among the relevant parties (see Habermas 1992b: 456; see also
Baynes 1994).
On the other hand, the idea of strong publicswhich bear responsibility for accountable decisionmaking in Habermass theorycan be imagined
in a more dispersed and overlapping manner along the lines proposed by
Held, Pogge, and others. In fact, it is precisely the procedural conception of
democracyone not tied to a specific ethnic or national identitythat provides occasion for rethinking this idea of dispersed sovereignty along more
functional and less territorial or substantialized lines.
Of course, the idea of cosmopolitan democracy or global constitutionalism itself raises extremely difficult questions of accountability and democratic legitimacy. Like the corresponding differentiation of internal sovereignty, the differentiation of external sovereignty would have to proceed in
a way that would ensure that the various authorities remain accountable to


The Practice and Praxis of Critical IR Theory

the parties affected by their actions. Such authorities would also have to be
constituted in a way consistent with basic individual rights and principles
of democratic legitimacy. I have no more specific recommendations to
offer in this regard other than to refer again to some of the tentative proposals for a democratic neocorporatism. At a minimum, however, the conception of differentiated (internal and external) sovereignty would seem to
require both a corresponding cosmopolitan and pluralist public sphere
capable of taking up in different ways and at various levels problems and
thematic issues bearing on the formation of international policies and institutional forums of decisionmaking that would guarantee accountability to
those most affected by the decisions made.

1. Habermas cites Frank Michelmans Laws Republic as an example of this
sort of republicanism; he might also have referred to some of the writings of
Charles Taylor. Habermass own position seems closest, however, to the
Madisonian republicanism of Cass Sunstein (Sunstein 1988).
2. Although I think Donald Moon overestimates the dangers of unconstrained
conversation, especially for individual privacy rights, he points to the difficult
question concerning the kinds of institutional design that are appropriate to help
ensure that the deliberations conducted in unconstrained conversation influence the
process of decisionmaking. Should there, for example, be a system of public voting
(see Moon 1991)?

Deiniol Lloyd Jones

In his Keywords, Raymond Williams notes that the term mediation has
long been a relatively complex word in English and that it has been
made very much more complex by its uses as a key term in several systems
of thought (Williams 1988: 204). As Williams points out, mediation has
been used in a political sense to describe the reconciliation of adversaries,
in a metaphysical sense to describe the reconciliation of humans with their
own nature, and in a religious sense to describe the reconciliation of
humanity with a transcendent God. The meaning of mediation is traditionally complex, and in this chapter I discuss some of these complexities.
Unfortunately, perhaps, I wish to complicate things further by demonstrating how new thinking about international relations (IR) creates an alternative account of agency and international mediation. I hope that the critical
account of mediation introduced in this chapter will become a keyword
in the now prevalent postpositivist, realist international relations vocabulary.
In this chapter I discuss the topic of international mediation from a perspective informed by critical IR theory. Concentrating on questions of
agency and practice, I attempt to answer the following questions: What
agents in international politics are mediators? What strategies or tactics do
they employ? Three sets of answers to these questions are explored: the
power political, or geostrategic; the facilitative, or problem solving; and the
critical, or cosmopolitan. The first two approaches are traditional in the
sense that they represent a fairly well known body of writing. The third
approach is a new paradigm based on insights into the practical and theoretical failures of the existing debate.
A brief definition of the new approach might proceed as follows.


The Practice and Praxis of Critical IR Theory

Mediation is the application of democratic public law and the creation of a

dialogic community in a situation of conflict. Mediation is the creation of
cosmopolitan solutions to international disputes. Owing to the complexity
of this task, the likely mediators will be coalitions of states embedded in
regional security frameworks committed to the realization of a cosmopolitan international order. Mediation as communicative action demands the
creation of what I will call cosmopolitan power. I use this phrase in two
senses: The mediator is a cosmopolitan power, and the political agreement
that results from a critical mediation process creates cosmopolitan power.
Viewing the topic in terms of the creation of cosmopolitan power combines
the normative agency of the facilitative approach with the recognition that
forms of strategic and instrumental action are often needed when mediating
disputes. Yet mediation as communicative action is not geostrategy plus
facilitation where the two forms of diplomacy remain discrete forms of
action to be employed during different phases of conflict resolutions long
cycle of reform. Rather, mediation as communicative action is a distinct
paradigm that combines unique forms of practice and a distinct normative
Cosmopolitan power, democratic public law, and the dialogic community were all absent from the Oslo process, the most recent mediated peace
process between Israel and Palestine and the focus of the concluding section of the chapter. Arguably, and contrary to popular opinion, this process
collapsed because of reasons that were internal to its nature rather than for
reasons imposed, as it were, from the outsidefor example, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin or the election of a Likud government, though these
events were obviously influential. Some of the reasons for the failure of
Oslo, I suggest, stem from the absence of the type of mediation I describe
in this chapter.

Mediation in Our International System

Mediation is a form of conflict resolution that stresses the vital role of a
third party in the process of creating peace and facilitating agreement
between erstwhile disputing actors. Mediation plays a prominent role in
contemporary international affairs. The constitution of the only form of
contemporary international government refers to mediation as a form of
conflict resolution. Article 33 of the UN charter requires all parties to an
international dispute that is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace to submit to a mediation process. Whenever historic or
epoch-making international events make the headlines, a mediator has
often played a role in shaping these events. The prominence of this type of
international politics, where a few individuals make decisions that may

Creating Cosmopolitan Power


affect the lives of millions, entails the need for serious critical analysis and
debate within the theory of international relations.
Forms of critique can be fruitfully applied to international mediation.
Critical IR theorists should always strive to peer beyond what Noam
Chomsky calls language in the service of propaganda (Chomsky 1992).
As George Orwell writes in his essay Politics and the English Language,
Adjectives like epoch-making, epic, historic, unforgettable, triumphant,
age-old, inevitable, inexorable, veritable, are all used to dignify the sordid
processes of international politics (Orwell 1984: 352). Typically, and
unfortunately, these ideological and honorific adjectives are all used in connection with mediated peace processes, new world orders, and the like
and obscure more than they illuminate. The media may parrot peace
process as if in a tranceto refer, for example, to the mere fact that some
sort of negotiations are taking place. However, the theory of international
relations is rightly charged with giving some normative direction and sense
to the empty tokens of popular conflict-resolution discourse.
But despite mediations unhealthy relationship with what Orwell calls
the sordid processes of international politics, serious commitments to maintaining international order are going to have to rely, at least in part, on relatively informal mediation processes. For in the absence of any clear form of
global government, mediations, sanctioned by the rules of a normatively
structured international order, could represent an informal diplomatic tool
capable of pursuing just and workable political settlements to contemporary international conflicts.

The Failures of Power Politics

Existing forms of mediation agency and practice are flawed. There are two
forms of agency and practicethe power political, or geostrategic, and the
facilitative, or problem solving. These traditions may be associated with, on
the one hand, the social philosophy of positivism and, on the other hand,
the more interpretivist, or hermeneutic, tradition of social philosophythe
historic rival to the growth of the human sciences. The former relies on a
distinction between facts and values or power and morality. The latter
emphasizes the intersubjective constitution of social reality.
In the power political approach, third parties are neorealist states.
Third parties become involved in conflicts to increase their power relative
to other actors in the anarchical structure of the international system.
Mediation may represent an opportunity for a third party to gain power and
leverage, or it may be necessary to avoid certain unwanted costs. In this
analysis, costs and benefits are conceived in realist termscontrol over
economic, political, and military resources. The power political approach


The Practice and Praxis of Critical IR Theory

also tends to emphasize absolute rather than relative gains. On this understanding, mediation is a form of bargaining where actors trade tangible
goods. Thus for power politics, the cultural or moral ends of a society have
to be transformed into a tradable item if they are to enter into the mediation
process. For example, national rights over a historic capital could be traded
for concessions on trade terms or lower interest rates. Culture and morality
are rationalized by the power political mediation.
There are problems facing the power political approach. Power
politicalgeostrategic agency rests on what Linklater has called the
immutability thesisthe view that the international system is a structure of
competitive strategic relationships; this structure is immune to historical
change and banishes questions of the good or the right from international
politics (Linklater 1996b). However, there is no conclusive evidence,
whether historical, empirical, or philosophical, to support the structuralist
argument. It is commonly recognized within the theory of international
relations that the conditions of moral agencyought to implies canare
not systematically banished from international discourse altogether.
Whether they like it or not, mediators are moral agents.
A further problem is that societies in conflict experience severe or
acute forms of crisis that affect social relations at levels below the state.
Crises of societal reproduction both threaten and involve the store of cultural knowledge, the individual personality, and the possibility of social
integration (Habermas 1984, 1989a). However, power political agency
works on a state-to-state level. States and the realities and facts of power
constitute the stuff of society and history for the power political view
what Barry Buzan calls the timeless wisdom of realism (Buzan 1996).
There is thus a danger that power political agency will create political
orders without social roots or a historical basis. Edward Said discusses the
Camp David agreements in these terms. Said argues that the agreements in
the Middle East in the late 1970s were an artificial structure imposed on the
natural course of history and events (Said 1979: 171).
A fundamental problem is that power political approaches subsume the
regional dynamics of a conflict under a wider struggle for global mastery
and power; thus they prime a local conflict with all the tensions of global
politics. We can see that process occurring during the late 1960s and early
1970s when U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger intervened in the
Arab-Israeli struggle on the basis of a Cold War mentality. Sinai I and II
plus the Camp David agreements lifted the local conflict between Israel and
the states on its borders above the concerns of international law. They also
reduced the autonomy of the regional actors who found themselves unable
to pursue local policies without the necessary blessing from the superpower
patron. Though the Cold War is over, these regional reflections of global
dynamics continue to influence history, and they render conflict resolution

Creating Cosmopolitan Power


extremely difficult. Israel, for example, still benefits from massive financial
and military aid dispensed by the remaining superpower, and many, including those within Israeli society itself, argue that this aid makes the possibility of compromise with Israels Arab neighbors, particularly the
Palestinians, more rather than less remote. Where all forms of local political life are forced to link themselves to a global mind-set that has remote
origins, there often follows a lack of regional responsibility. All sorts of
strange ideologies that purport to explain and unify the complex realities of
global society are created, and these ruin the chances of a sensible regional
politics. As we shall see, the Oslo process tried to remedy these difficulties
by placing responsibility for conflict resolution in the laps of regional
actorsthe Israeli Labor government and, more significant, the Palestine
Liberation Organization (PLO). The collapse of the Soviet Union by 1991
naturally assisted this goal. Yet the resurrection of regional autonomy
was also an intentional political act. The Americans were not informed
about the success of the secret backchannel in Oslo until it had actually
produced an agreement. Supporters of the Oslo channel trace its success, at
least in part, to the resurrection of regional autonomy through facilitation.
Although local politics can never be entirely separated from global concerns, in the case of Oslo the aim was to short-circuit the political and
media circus in Washington by bringing the disputants face-to-face.

The Failures of Facilitation

Facilitators tend to be small states or nonstate actors, such as academics or
church leaders, who are committed to social change. Facilitators recognize
the social or intersubjective character of reality and argue that even atomized strategic action may require a shared consensus about the rules of
social life before it can take. In a power political model, the two sides have
to be prepared to bargain with each other, and this attitude implies a certain
degree of mutual recognition. Facilitators note, however, that cognitive and
existential psychological obstacles can stand in the way of conflict resolution based only on strategic bargaining.
Cognitive barriers to negotiation may involve problems of poor information and decisionmaking in uncertainty. Here facilitators act as conduits
of information, reassuring disputing actors of mutual rationality and thus
enabling virtuous cycles of cooperation. More significant, however, are
existential psychological barriers to dialogue. Individuals who live through
acute international conflict often console themselves with stories of their
own virtue and the wickedness of others; facilitators call this dynamic the
demonization of the other. Even where these stories or narratives are obviously exaggerated, they persist in the cultural and historical memory and


The Practice and Praxis of Critical IR Theory

make forward-looking forms of politics extremely difficult to construct.

Facilitators create a social setting where dialogue can resume as the other
becomes recognized as a potential moral agent in, to use Hans-Georg
Gadamers phrase, a fusion of horizons.
Problems facing the facilitator stem from the fact that the facilitator
lacks strategic power. Or rather, the forms of strategic power possessed by
the facilitator are limited to the application of social psychologywhat
Michael Banks and Chris Mitchell call dispassionate theory or formal
technique (Banks and Mitchell 1996: ix). Facilitators are masters of communication in the problem-solving workshop. They sell social scientific
expertise. But to gain influence with disputants, facilitators must, in a
sense, prostrate themselves before the disputants in the conflict situation.
Like a psychoanalyst, they must offer tact, secrecy, and privacy, and they
must avoid introducing their own values and opinions into the conflict situation. In a world of playground bullies, facilitators must act, according to
one Norwegian facilitator, as the friend to both sides. Facilitators must be
trusted and must not appear as a threat. Thus private individuals, academics, and weak or small states in the international system make successful
facilitators. The Norwegians, for example, owed their place as facilitators
in the Oslo process to their possession of these qualities. The Norwegians
offered secrecy. They had no obvious strategic interest in the outcome of
the dispute other than the universal goal of peace and stability, and, owing
to their weakness, disputants could claim that no outside powers were interfering with state security, especially important in the case of Israel.
However, given that facilitative action is, as it were, value free, abstract,
and more concerned with instituting procedures, how does facilitation propose to achieve its normative goalsthe goals that Banks and Mitchell
refer to as stability, peace, justice, progress and legitimised authority
(Banks and Mitchell 1996: viii)?
A recent attempt to marry facilitation with the creation of substantive
normative goals has involved the introduction of critical political practice.
Mark Hoffman argues, for example, that facilitation, emphasises the centrality of an analytic and relational empathy, a shared sense of otherness,
which becomes discernible through something like a process of
Habermasean communicative ethics (Hoffman 1995: 10). Jay Rothman,
another academic who has thought long and hard about these issues, also
refers to Habermass political ethics (Rothman 1992). Habermas has strong
links with the traditions of interpretative sociology; thus the turn toward
Habermas on the part of the theory of facilitation is a sensible and understandable one. The hope is that facilitation can (1) take account of the
rational redemption of moral and political claims, (2) still remain at a formal or procedural level, (3) deliver on the promise to achieve substantial

Creating Cosmopolitan Power


normative goals, and (4) retain the strong links with the tradition of interpretative sociology.
Although these recent developments in the theory of facilitation are a
step in the right direction, facilitation faces a fundamental problem.
Facilitation theory works with the assumption that conflict is based on the
inability to engage in forms of dialogue rather than on an unwillingness to
engage in forms of democratic dialogue. Or rather, any unwillingness to
engage in democratic dialogue is the result of social-psychological obstacles rather than a political or moral commitment. I call this argument the
objection from rational intransigence. In facilitation theory, intransigence
toward dialogue is the result of distortions in communication that the parties may themselves view as irrational in the sense that their existence is
recognized by a disputant to impede the pursuit of goals that the disputant
actually identifies as an interest. In this situation, the facilitator acts like a
psychoanalyst assisting the disputants own efforts to move the political
process forward. However, the objection from rational intransigence points
out that intransigence toward the creation of, for example, the dialogic
community can be, for one or more disputant, a political or moral end in
itself. Here, obstacles to the intersubjective construction of political reality
are the result of conscious or deliberate obstructions to the democratic
process. Thus one or more disputant (1) may understand, cognitively, the
conflict situation perfectly and (2) may have the social and psychological
ability to recognize the other yet (3) may still have no desire to enter into a
politics more attuned to dialogic relations. In a situation of rational intransigence, the application of a facilitative technique may merely give the
upper hand to the intransigent party. Edward Said puts the point in the following way. Assessing the efficacy of the problem-solving workshop, he
writes: Can one imagine endorsing similar discussion between a few well
intentioned German and French intellectuals during the occupation of
France? (Said 1995: 35). Said argues that dialogue must be rooted in
action. In terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for example, Said prefers
the intifada to the Oslo process and argues that the former is an authentic
intellectual idiom and not merely a discourse of politics (Said 1995).
The references to Jrgen Habermas in the literature of facilitation to
date have more in common with Habermass earlier model of critical social
theory that was based on the idea of unconscious, systematically distorted
communication. They neglect the later emphasis on moral-deontological
theory. For the critical analyst, however, violent social conflict can also
occur because there are political forces oblivious to the moral duty that
demands that political orders be redeemed with reference to the right. This
stance is rational intransigence, and it is hard to see how facilitators could
combat it given that their power is limited to the application of social-psy-


The Practice and Praxis of Critical IR Theory

chological techniques. Facilitators are correct to turn to critical practice to

boost their normative and practical energies. As a result, however, they
have to accept the deontological side to critical practice, which, in the discourse ethics of Habermas, for example, distinguishes between right and
wrong and not merely between the rational and the irrational, the conscious
and the unconscious.

Creating Cosmopolitan Power

We start to remedy some of the difficulties with the preceding approaches
when we turn toward the recent critical writing in international relations.
Mediation as communicative action begins with a set of normative standards rooted in Kantian political theory. Habermas, for example, turns
Marxist sociology back to its Enlightenment roots in order to provide a
defense of reason capable of withstanding the worst ravages of postmodern
skepticism. Habermass normative understanding is Kantian in character.
The mark of moral consciousness in discourse ethicsHabermass boldest
statement of moral theoryis deontological (concerned with duty), cognitivist (aiming to deliver moral knowledge), formal (it does not prescribe
substantive injunctions), and universal (the moral point of view is deemed
to apply across time and space). The debates surrounding Habermass
attempt to breathe life into the Enlightenment project are too wide in scope
to detail here. However, the test of universalism is applied only when
events threaten the basic fundamental and generalizable interests of disputing. The results of communicative action are always open to revision in the
light of new knowledge and experience. The application of the rules of procedural justice is itself a moral question.1
A critical mediator wishes to create a peace process based on a principle of universalization. As Habermas writes, All affected can accept the
consequences and the side effects its general observance can be anticipated
to have for the satisfaction of everyones interests and these consequences
are preferred to those of known alternative possibilities for regulation
(Habermas 1990a: 65; my emphasis). Put rather succinctly, the principle of
universalization embodies and creates what David Held has called democratic public law, or it embodies and creates what Linklater has called the
dialogic community (Held 1995, Linklater 1998).
What strategies and tactics are involved in this process, and are these
different from the strategies and tactics as described in the previous paradigms? Is the critical mediator a power politician or a facilitator? Or are
there alternative forms of practice that can be called critical mediation
Critical forms of practice can be discerned by examining the problems

Creating Cosmopolitan Power


facing the introduction of the principle of universalization. A discourse theory of morality has a vision of an ideal society in which all parties can enter
the political process as equals. These parties judge any claim that may be
advanced, and they do so without any prior assumption about the nature of
ultimate outcome other than the desire that it should embody the results of
democratic procedure. In Habermass terms, cosmopolitan morality presupposes postconventional reasoning. The problem, however, is that his ideal
can be approximated only in realityif it can be realized at all. For example, disputing parties may not be able to discuss certain positions in the
context of the dialogic community without immediately losing public
office. It is unlikely that a political party in Israel, for example, could campaign for national rights for Palestinians and also remain in power. Thus the
application of democratic law and the attempt to realize the ethics of the
dialogic community may result in a hopeless antagonism between the mediator and one or more of the disputants with the result that the mediator is
disqualified as an impartial outside agent. One of the strengths of facilitation, it might be argued, is that it works with a concept of politics more
attuned to the real problems of protracted social conflict. One of the
strengths of power politics, it might be argued, is that it does not have overly idealistic ambitions for the international world. These objections are
important. Does it follow, however, that all forms of mediation practice are
facilitative or power political?
The answer to this question is no. Mediation can combine might with
right, to put the matter colloquially, if it aims at the creation of cosmopolitan power. I mean this term in two senses. First, the mediator can become a
cosmopolitan power, a power capable of commanding resources and influencing outcomes, even in a situation marked by rational intransigence.
Second, the mediator can work to create cosmopolitan power in the context
of the dispute. If we conceive of the mediator as a cosmopolitan power, it is
possible to avoid both the problem of amorality that is posed by the power
political approach and the problem of weakness in the face of rational
intransigence, which is posed by the facilitative approach. The mediator
intervenes as a resourceful, strategic third party that aims to strengthen the
forces of democracy and dialogue within the region in dispute.
This approach is similar to what one writer has recently called a governance-based approach to international mediation. F. O. Hampson writes:
Governance-based approaches see the challenge of peacebuilding and
third party involvement in terms of the creation of participatory governance
structures, the development of new social norms, and the establishment of
the rule of law and democracy (Hampson 1997: 737). The critical
approach attempts to ensure that those parties who are committed to negotiations in a dialogic community receive all the diplomatic, technical, economic, and political support necessary to defeat the forces of intransigence.


The Practice and Praxis of Critical IR Theory

There are, of course, risks associated with this approach. The intransigent parties are likely to regard the external power as hostile and might aim
to disrupt its plans. And rather than forcing a compromise, the mobilization
of democratic power may actually lead to an escalation of the conflict.
Hampson notes: Governance-based approaches underestimate the difficulties of democratisation and the unstable political forces that may be
unleashed by democratic institutions and processes in societies unaccustomed to democracy and the rules of law (Hampson 1997: 737).
Furthermore, this type of intervention is likely to be expensive and difficult to manage. It would involve long-term commitment and expense
measured in political, economic, and diplomatic terms. For these reasons,
cosmopolitan forms of mediation practice are best managed by coalitions
of states embedded in regional security frameworks. This type of organization would have the resources needed for cosmopolitan mediation. The
likely agents of critical mediations would be coalitions of states, international institutions, organizations, and nonstate actors bound together
through treaty and mutual obligation whose foreign policies are motivated
by the creation of cosmopolitan democratic public law.
Like the power political paradigm, the critical approach involves
states. Yet there are significant differences between the critical and the
power political approach in terms of identifying the relevant actors. First,
the critical or cosmopolitan mediator does not exist in a neorealist moral
philosophy or history. The cosmopolitan mediator believes in the possibility of profound and meaningful historical change. Second, the activities of
these states are subject to moral and political standards enshrined in treaty
and law that are derived from cosmopolitan political principles, for example, those detailed in the thought of theorists such as Habermas, Held, and
Linklater. Basically, critical mediators are neo-Kantians on the international stage. Third, the critical approach emphasizes the importance of building
coalitions. In the power political paradigm, the mediator is normally a sovereign, unitary, and discrete actoreither, for example, a single state or a
superpower. The critical mediator, however, is not a solitary unit, and the
hope is that the process of coalition building will avoid the worst sins of
national self-interest and that egoism and political projects containing more
generalizable interests will emerge as a result.
Like the facilitative paradigm, the critical approach works with a more
culturally sensitive social philosophy, and it shares the ambition that mediation can create social change and a normatively desirable outcome.
However, unlike the facilitative paradigm, the critical approach insists that
change in international conflict involves large-scale historical processes
that can be altered and harnessed only by medium-to-large international
entitiessuch as coalitions of states embedded in regional security frameworks. International politics requires political, economic, legal, and even

Creating Cosmopolitan Power


military resources that are beyond the reach of facilitating small states and
certainly beyond the reach of private individuals. Strategy for communication involves the creation of cosmopolitan power. This is not the neorealist
power of the solitary international actor. But it is a power that has more in
common with the traditional, realist understanding of mediating power than
the facilitative reliance on the power to induce communication through successful social psychology. This type of power is made manifest when coalitions of large-scale international actors, mediated through international
institutions, are created in pursuit of common goals. It is a form of power
akin to what political philosophy calls action in concert (Arendt 1958). In
addition, and unlike the facilitator, the critical mediator will not work
through private backchannels. For the most part, the activities of the critical mediator will be open to public scrutiny. Because these activities
involve highly visible international actors, they will be impossible to conceal.
Thus, in some small measure, I attempt to offer a distinct set of
answers to the practical questions of agency. First, I have detailed the types
of actors who can be identified as critical mediators. Second, and in contrast to power political and facilitative approaches, I have defined a unique
set of strategies. The critical mediator is a coalition of states embedded in a
regional security framework that is committed to a world order based on
cosmopolitan principles. In its attempt at conflict resolution, this actor
would attempt to mobilize the forces committed to the creation of democratic public law. The critical mediator is cosmopolitan power creating cosmopolitan power. I wish now to highlight some of the points already made
and expand on the analysis by turning toward the question of the Oslo
Accords and process and the role of the Norwegian small-state facilitation.
This minicase study should cast further light on how a critical approach to
international mediation can make itself a reality. Future progress in this dispute will require critical, or cosmopolitan, mediation.

The Radical Intimacy of the Hearth:

Norway in the Middle East
The normative argument for the Oslo Accords rests quite clearly on the
case that the accords embodied mutual recognition. For a start, the accords
contained letters of mutual recognition that were designed to underpin the
legitimacy of the substantive agreements. In his letter to Yitzhak Rabin,
Chairman Yasir Arafat, on behalf of the PLO, agrees to recognize the right
of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security. Rabin, in his letter to
Arafat, states, The Government of the State of Israel had decided to recognise the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. Many of


The Practice and Praxis of Critical IR Theory

those who supported the accords in 1993 fastened onto this issue of mutual
recognition. They argued that although the accords had many flaws and
although many stumbling blocks would arise, mutual recognition had
changed the basic dynamic of the conflict. Efraim Karsh, for example,
echoes the arguments about symbolism and mutual recognition:
The Declaration of Principles . . . signed on the White House Lawn on 13
September 1993, was a watershed in the one-hundred-year war between
Arabs and Jews. After a century of denial and rejection, of bloodletting
and bereavement, Arabs and Jews have finally agreed to bury the hatchet
and settle for peace, based on mutual recognition and acceptance. (Karsh
1994: 1)

When we apply the normative standards of critical mediation agency as

previously detailed, however, the arguments about mutual recognition do
not seem so secure. The twin issues of statehood and security dominated
the Oslo process. The Palestinian delegation hoped, eventually, to create a
Palestinian state. The Israeli delegation looked to ensure the security of an
Israel expanded, to a greater or lesser degree, into the territory captured
during the 1967 war. The final version of the Declaration of Principles
(DoP), which was completed in August 1993 after months of negotiation,
reflected the central dynamic of Osloa dynamic that placed the core
Israeli demands for security in a partially expanded state at the center of the
process while marginalizing the Palestinian national demands.
Consider, for example, Article IX and Article VII(5) of the agreed minutes to the Declaration of Principles. Article IX states that both sides will
review jointly laws and military orders presently in force in remaining
spheresthe remaining spheres being defined as those that are not the
responsibility of the Palestinian Council. Thus in the West Bank and Gaza
as a whole (1) Israeli military law would remain in place after Oslo and (2)
the remaining spheres are subject only to the review of the various joint
committees charged with implementing the agreement. This may seem like
an interim or compromise position. However, lest there be any misunderstanding about the future dynamic, any eventual undertaking or obligation
to withdraw militarily is negated by Article VII(5) of the agreed minutes.
This article states, The withdrawal of the military government will not
prevent Israel from exercising the power and responsibilities not transferred to the [Palestinian] Council. The Palestinian Council now has
authority over direct taxation, tourism, and other social matters. Thus military and security policy in the West Bank and Gaza as a whole remains subject to Israeli sovereignty. This much is made explicit in Shimon Peress
account of the Oslo negotiations (Peres 1995: 392).
Thus it is no accident that since 1993 Israel has retained effective control over the West Bank and Gaza. Five years after the 1993 Washington

Creating Cosmopolitan Power


ceremony, Zone A, 3 percent of the West Bank, was under complete

Palestinian control. The Palestinian National Authority directed both security and civilian policy. Zone B, 24 percent of the West Bank, was under
joint Israeli security and Palestinian civilian control. Zone C, 72 percent of
the West Bank, was under complete Israeli control, as if the Oslo Accords
had never happened. From the normative point of view it is arguable that
they never did. By 1999, the Oslo process had effectively stalled.
When we examine questions of agency, there are a number of reasons
for the lack of critical normative standards in the Oslo project. One can
highlight, for example, the fact that the DoP was negotiated before the letters of mutual recognition. Habermas might argue that this is a performative contradiction. The argument would be that one cannot discuss the
nature of intersubjectivity in international relations before recognizing the
other as a potential moral agent. It is also possible to highlight the lack of
legal and negotiating skills in the Palestinian delegation. Abu Mazen, one
of the principal Palestinian agents in Oslo, writes: We did not review the
texts with a legal consultant for fear of leaks. . . . I tried to make use of the
remnants of the legal knowledge I had acquired while studying law at
Damascus University, but I could not draw much comfort from them
(Mazen 1995: 162).
Focus, however, on the causal role or power of the Norwegian facilitation. The Norwegian form of facilitation was perhaps the most significant
contribution to the fact that Palestinian national demands were ignored in
the Oslo process. The problems stem from the fact that Norwegian thirdparty agency exists inside the radical intimacy of the heartha phrase I
use to describe the strange amalgamation of the domestic and the international that makes up the character of the Norwegian facilitation.
Conducting negotiations with the Palestinians through the radical intimacy of the hearth is a rational strategy for Israel. Israeli leaders are not
keen on the idea of a Palestinian state; they also wish to preserve the ethnic
character of the Jewish state. These twin goals thus present a problem.
Political relationships have to be established between Israeli and
Palestinian leaders, given the proximity of the populations. However, these
relationships cannot be international; as such they would imply the existence of a Palestinian state. Nor can they be domestic; such a footing would
fatally compromise the idea of the Jewish state. The small-state Norwegian
facilitation is the perfect solution to this dilemma. The Oslo process and
accords are not part of Israeli domestic politics. But, existing in the radical
intimacy of the hearth, they do not represent normal international politics.
Norwegian facilitation is poised somewhere between the domestic and the
international. It emphasizes the relationships of the hearthwarmth, intimacy, empathy, and friendshipyet it claims that these relations are appropriate in the international world. Norwegian government officials were


The Practice and Praxis of Critical IR Theory

involved in the process; yet they intervened as private individuals. The

Oslo process helps sustain the existential status of the Palestinians and it
helps the Israelis negotiate with their adversaries without implying anything about their national status under international law. The Palestinians
are maintained in their space between the domestic and the international by
a peace process that also exists in this space. They are neither citizens of
Palestine nor citizens of Israel. They exist in a political limbo.
The understanding of facilitation proposed by officials in the
Norwegian government at the time of Oslo reinforces this point. There
exists a strange blurring of the domestic and the international in the mind of
the facilitator. In public, the Norwegians were allowed to develop the
stance of the sovereign powerone that, in appearance at least, is committed, principled, and substantial. When international politics actually
becomes a reality, however, the Norwegian official stance evaporates into
nothing in terms of facilitation. Thus Jan Egeland, deputy foreign minister
at the time of Oslo, states:
The whole trick was to keep it secret. As long as the parties knew that the
world knew nothing about the Oslo channel, it was not that important
what we would say in public, as long as they felt that we did not try to
maneuver them into any kind of position. They were never really concerned with what I would say on the television, for example, as long as I
didnt try to push either side to meet the other. (interview by the author,
August 1996)

Here the representative of the small state acts in a substantial manner

where it doesnt count and retreats in the only place where it does count.
Reality exists in fantasy and fantasy in reality. Facilitation is the appearance of international politics without the reality or the obligations.
Facilitative processes may have their strengths. But one of their most obvious weaknesses is that they can help perpetuate the condition of statelessness. It is hard to achieve national recognition in the radical intimacy of the
The failures of Oslo could be remedied if future mediations in the conflict between Israel and Palestine are of a cosmopolitan character. A cosmopolitan power creating cosmopolitan power is the only recipe for long-term
stability and justice. A cosmopolitan mediator is important for a number of
reasons. First, because the cosmopolitan power is made up of states embedded in regional security organizations, it follows that any interaction that
involves this power is a full-blooded form of international politics.
Mediation involving cosmopolitan power implies that disputants are international actors; they are actors who command the attention of international
organizations. This status is highly important in the case of the Israeli-

Creating Cosmopolitan Power


Palestinian dispute. As noted, it is hard to achieve international recognition

in the radical intimacy of the hearth.
Recognizing that the struggle for national self-determination lay
through international recognition, the PLO had always sought a conflictresolution process based on an international conference. Faisal Husseini
described the reasons for this position in 1991.
We Palestinians, we the PLO, are strong when the game is governed by
the rules. It is this same approach that leads us to demand an effective role
for the UN and Europe, that makes us demand that the negotiations unfold
under the twin banners of international legality and implementation of UN
decisions. (Husseini 1991: 107)

A cosmopolitan mediation is also important, as any conflict resolution

between Israel and Palestine needs to recognize that justice requires national rights for both parties in the dispute. A cosmopolitan mediation will
strive to create a dialogic community that embodies the mutual recognition
of validity claims. But the cosmopolitan mediator is important for strategic
as well as moral reasons. Given the existence of radical political forces in
the region that are opposed to mutual recognition, a third party is needed
that can strengthen the forces of democracy and compromise. A conflictresolution process in this part of the world will continue to demand the
attention of outside powersto help shape the balance of power, to oversee
implementation, to offer guarantees and financial and technical help. Given
the costs involved in such an undertaking, the cosmopolitan mediator will
need the resources of a number of states embedded within regional security
frameworks. The shocks and upheavals that occur in this part of the world
from time to time can be absorbed by international coalitions more easily
than by isolated nation states. Thus the outside role cannot be left to the
powerless facilitator. Nor can it be left to the remaining superpower (the
United States). This is a power that continues to subsume regional dynamics under a wider geopolitical strategy. Instability at the regional level is the
result. A cosmopolitan mediation needs the power of an international actor
without the dangerous and potentially arbitrary unilateralism of the superpower. When mediating powers are coalitions of states, it is less likely that
factional or sectional interests will prevail and dictate policy. Policy will
have to reflect a plurality of interests.
It is vitally important that the third party use all its power to impede
the intransigent. This is another reason to be suspicious of the mediating
superpower. The material support offered by the United States to the Likud
government after 1996 is no way for a neutral mediator to behave if the
forces of intransigence are eventually to be overcome. The creation of cosmopolitan power requires that only forces committed to the dialogic com-


The Practice and Praxis of Critical IR Theory

munity receive outside aid and that intransigent forces feel the material
consequences of their unwillingness to compromise and engage in dialogue.
Where might we find this cosmopolitan mediating power in the world
in which we actually live? Future research in this area should perhaps concentrate on the potential role of the European Union (EU). The EU is
unlikely to act against the wishes of the United States; nor, given
Germanys past, is it likely to put real pressure on Israel. However, there
are signs that the EU is becoming frustrated by its exclusion from a political process that it funds to a greater degree than any other organization.
And all the countries of the EU realize that they are affected by any instability on the EUs borders. The question arises, Can European politicians
afford to leave the peace process to the Americans? I think that the answer
is no. Peace requires not just security but a measure of justice, and the history of U.S. mediation tends to suggest that Israeli demands for security in
an expanded state are privileged over Palestinian claims for justice.
Although the EU will not, in the immediate future, step into the role of the
cosmopolitan mediator, it will have to develop a policy of some sort toward
this part of the Middle East. Doing nothing is not really an option. And
anything short of secure national rights for both parties is a recipe for further instability in the Middle East as a whole. A cosmopolitan approach to a
possible third-party role is a necessity in this context. It is not a result of
abstract academic theorizing.
It has to be admitted that we are unlikely, in the short to medium term,
to see such a power emerge. However, it is the role and purpose of critical
thinking in international relations to examine the case for the emergence of
such a power, its likely shape and nature, and the tactics and strategies it
may employ. Philosophy works with the future. It judges the present in the
light of the possible. But philosophy also works with the past. It is vitally
important to remember that the international world has changed beyond
recognition over time. If there is a source of hope for critical thinking in the
theory of international relations, it is the thought that the sheer pressure of
events will always create the unexpected. Life, whether chemical, biological, or political, exists in a state of flux. Equilibrium is inherently unstable.
Although theory must always be rooted in the actual, it is not unrealistic to
ask some pressing questions about the international institutions that define
the politics of the present day.

1. Habermas creates a distinction between moral and ethical discourses. Of
course, the distinction needs to be made with reference to particulars. Nevertheless,

Creating Cosmopolitan Power


the broad idea is that moral discourses pertain to a set of goods that no human being
can reasonably live without, whereas ethical discourses pertain to the self-understanding of a particular community. Many political disputes are actually about
whether an issue represents a generalizable interest and, therefore, ought to be open
to a wider consensus. For example, the issue of Jerusalem is seen by opinion in
Israel to be a matter for Israel to decide, whereas the Palestinians and the international community, at least in theory, claim that this issue requires consensus. The
fact that people dispute a particular rendition of the principle does not, however,
detract from the validity of the general distinction.


Chris Brown
Critical Theorysee, Frankfurt School
Oxford Companion to Philosophy (Honderich 1995)
Contemporary critical theory in English-language international relations
may best be understood as todays manifestation of a long-standing democratic impulse in the academic study of international affairs.
Craig N. Murphy in this volume
You ought to read Marx, he is the only completely scientific economist on
our side.
William Morris to a friend and comrade
(cited in Thompson 1977: 761)

As the other chapters in this volume make very clear, there is no general
agreement as to the contribution that critical theory can make to the study
of international relations (IR). None of the authors represented here can
quite match the precision of the editor of the Oxford Companionwhose
determination to restrict critical theory to a narrow meaning no doubt
reflects accurately the predilections of a particular kind of analytical philosophybut Andrew Linklater and Kenneth Baynes are certainly writing
in the shadow of the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt; and N. J.
Rengger and Kimberly Hutchings are clearly influenced by the scholarly
tradition that produced the Frankfurt School. In contrast, although even
Craig Murphy himself would not wish to argue that all contemporary manifestations of the democratic impulse could be described as critical, his
chapter, along with those of Robert Cox, Jeffrey Harrod, and Sandra
Whitworth, is eclectic in its sources and influences. Mark Neufeld reviews
three writersAlexander Wendt, Justin Rosenberg, and Cynthia Weber
none of whom could be described as critical theorists in any narrow sense



of the term, which is a rather surprising choice in view of the Frankfurtian

tone of his earlier work (Neufeld 1995). Faced with this diversity, one is
tempted to think that critical IR theorists are best understood in terms of the
kind of theory they are not doing rather than in terms of any common commitment. Thus, critical theorists are not engaged in the neoutilitarian,
rational choice theory characteristic of contemporary (neo)realism and
(neo)liberalism in international relations, and critical international political
economists oppose the economic orthodoxy of the International Monetary
Fund (IMF) and its intellectual progenitors. However, and again, this oppositional frame of mind is not, in and of itself, sufficient to delineate an
approach. If critical theory is to influence international relations it will
have to stand for something, not simply act as a catchall term to describe
the disaffected.
In trying to establish what the role of critical theory has been in twentieth-century social and political thought, and could be in twenty-first-century international relations theory, we may find it helpful to begin with an
obiter dictum of a nineteenth-century socialist, internationalist, agitator,
novelist, poet, and visual artistthe extract from the correspondence of
William Morris that heads this chapter. Morris was a committed left agitator, well versed in the politics and economics of the socialist movement of
his day; the terms he uses to recommend Marx to a comrade are revealing.
Marx is a scientific economist who is on our side. We have a side; our
side is the side of the people, the wretched of the earth, the dispossessed,
the proletariat, the workers by hand and brain. The other side is that of
the capitalists, autocrats, imperialists, and other oppressors. These two
sides have histories stretching back in time to medieval peasants revolts
explored in Morriss The Dream of John Balland beyond and will disappear only after the final revolution (see News from Nowhere in Morris
1986). We look to theorists who are on our sidestudents of international
relations will recall Robert Coxs injunction that theory is always for
someone and for some purpose (Cox 1981: 128)but we expect them to
be scientists, indeed, completely scientific. This, according to Morris, is
where Marx scores; he is a scientific economist who is on our side. Note
well that we are not on his side; he is on ours. In the 1880s, the idea that
our side might be defined as Marxist would have seemed absurd to Morris.
Marx was exciting to Morris because he provided something that Morris
recognized to be missing in much of his own workan account of the
laws of motion of capitalist societynot because he provided an allencompassing social doctrine, much less a normative theory of society
(Brown 1992a).
Unwittingly, in this aside Morris highlighted three of the central questions for radical thought and action in the twentieth century, questions that
all branches of critical theory, widely or narrowly defined, have felt obliged

Our Side?


to address. What is the relationship of radicalism in generalour sideto

the legacy of Karl Marx? How is our side affected by those movements in
the philosophy of science in the twentieth century that have put in doubt the
possibility of a completely scientific social theory? And most fundamentally, can we still think of our side as possessing a kind of unity, or are there
now many sides, many axes of oppression and resistance? The rest of this
chapter explores these three questions and their relationship to the possibility of a critical international relations theory.

Our Side and the

Contested Legacy of Marx and Engels
In the 1880s Morris could, unselfconsciously, think of Marx simply as a
figure on our side, but for much of the twentieth century things were not
like that. The relatively loose and eclectic Socialist International, which
held together British Fabians and Labourites, German Social Democrats,
Russian Bolsheviks, and French Socialists without attempting to impose
ideological uniformity, collapsed in 1914 with the outbreak of World War I
(Kolakowski 1978). Prior to 1914, most of the members of the Second
International thought about economic affairs in broadly Marxian terms
(perhaps filtered through the work of German-speaking, Marx-inspired
economists such as Rudolf Hilferding and Rosa Luxemburg or adapted by
British radical liberals such as John Hobson or Henry Brailsford) but adopted political strategies appropriate to their particular circumstances (parliamentary here, revolutionary there) and moral philosophies according to
their predilectionsChristian nonconformist in Great Britain, neo-Kantian
in much of Germany, Tolstoyan for many Russians (but not, of course,
Lenins Bolsheviks).
After the Great War everything had changed. The general radicalization brought on by the collapse of European liberalism in 1914 promoted
extremism of the right and left, and the victory of the Bolsheviks in Russia
(and, perhaps more significant, the failure of socialist revolutions elsewhere) brought to prominence the most intolerant, authoritarian strain of
Marxism then available. When Marxist-Leninism became Stalinism and
dialectical materialism (dia-mat) became an official ideology with
answers to all questions, from political strategy to art (socialist realism)
and science (Lysenkoism), the legacy of Marx became a killing matter and
not simply an issue for intellectual discussion. By the late 1920s the old
socialism movement was bitterly divided between, on the one side, an
increasingly totalitarian, Soviet-run Communist International issuing edicts
in the name of scientific socialism and, on the other, a loose alliance of
social democratic and labor parties committed to reformism and the ballot



box and increasingly skeptical of Marxian economic theory. The 1930s saw
a new softer communist strategy in the face of fascismsocial democrats
moved from being social fascists to potential partners in a Popular
Frontbut, if anything, the two wings moved further apart. Franklin
Roosevelts New Deal in the United States and the emergence of Keynesian
economic theory (owing more to radicals such as Hobson than to Marx)
seemed to offer a third way between communism and capitalism.
It is in this context that critical theory in its original, Oxford
Companion to Philosophy sense emerges. The founders of the Institute for
Social Research in Frankfurt were consciously attempting to preserve,
extend, and deepen a tradition of nondogmatic Marxian thought. In an
attempt to counteract the simplicities of Soviet-style scientific socialism,
they developed the Hegelian roots of Marxs thought. Unwilling to become
Stalinists but alienated from the increasingly reformist German Social
Democratic Party, they turned away from politics and economics and
toward philosophy and culturea step Perry Anderson sees as characteristic of Western Marxism (Anderson 1979). At the heart of their enterprise
remained the project of emancipationthe Enlightenment commitment to
freedom, the belief that social thought and political action ought to be oriented toward liberationeven though the unfolding disasters of the 1930s
and the flight of the Institute for Social Research to the United States
induced a culture of pessimism that ultimately resulted in Theodor Adorno
and Max Horkheimers Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944/1979), in which
the Enlightenment project is put into question and found wanting. What is
less clear about the Frankfurt School is not its commitment to but rather its
account of the agency of emancipation. A good part of the schools deviation from Marxism lay in its skepticism about the positive role of the proletariatthere were too many working-class Nazis in Germany in the early
1930s for illusions on this scorebut if not the proletariat, who, or what?
Arguably the founders of the Frankfurt School were too close to Marx to
provide an answer to this question.
Eventually it is the successors of the founders who provide a kind of
answer to the problem of agency, at the expense of greater distance from
Marx. Herbert Marcuse, from the older generation, rather implausibly
invested the lumpenproletariat and dclass students with the historic role
of the working class (Marcuse 1972b), whereas writers such as Habermas,
and later still Axel Honneth, look elsewhere altogether than class and productive relations for the driving force behind social change. Insights
derived from developmental psychology, discourse ethics, and a neoHegelian struggle for recognition provide a moving force in human relations, a role that class conflict no longer can perform (Habermas 1990a;
Honneth 1995b). Ultimately, the heirs of the Frankfurt School and critical
theory in this restricted sense leave Marx well behind; he becomes one

Our Side?


influence among many, perhaps less significant than Kant, albeit more significant than anyone else.
How does this shift work with critical theories of international relations? Here we see one of the many divides in the field. Critical theorists
such as Linklater and David Held have, for the most part, followed the
standard Frankfurt trajectory and left Marx some way behind themtheir
current concerns with cosmopolitan democracy and post-Westphalian political community have everything to do with late-Frankfurt themes such as
inclusion and exclusion, recognition and moral development, but very little
to do with traditional Marxian notions of class and production (Linklater
1998, Held 1995). Critical international political economists, in contrast,
remain largely wedded to Marxian categories, albeit updated where appropriate. The title of Robert Coxs major work, Production, Power and World
Order: Social Forces in the Shaping of History (1987), tells its own story
without calling on that authors not-altogether-serious description of himself as your friendly neighbourhood Marxist-Leninist subversive (Cox
1986: 249). Coxs seminal 1981 article, cited previously, although one of
the foundation documents of critical IR theory, does not draw on the
Frankfurt School, and its inspiration is clearly classical Marxism with
Antonio Gramsci rather than the Institute for Social Research as the main
interwar reference point.
This affiliation is at the programmatic level, but much of the actual
political economy of this branch of critical international relations theory is
Marxist-Leninist in inspiration rather than Marxist as such, filtered through
the dependency school of center-periphery analysis, which was in turn
heavily influenced by the U.S. Marxist Paul Baran (Baran 1957). Bill
Warren, a more orthodox Marxist, traces this link in his Imperialism:
Pioneer of Capitalism (1980), in which he relates 1960s and 1970s writings
on the development of underdevelopment to Lenins declaration of 1917
that capitalism had reached its highest stage and was now a degenerate
social form. This point cannot be pressed too far; as the chapters by Cox,
Harrod, and Murphy in this volume make clear, there is more to critical
international political economy than the point would suggest, but the basic
thrust behind this work is clearly more in line with the Marxist tradition
than is the case with critical IR theory as such.
The position of writers such as Cox and Harrod appears to be based on
the argument that it is possible to employ a great deal of Marxist (Leninist)
economic thought without accepting responsibility for Marxist (Leninist)
political practice; one can, as it were, unpackage Marxism and pull out the
good bits (the account of the laws of motion of capitalist economies) while
leaving the bad, totalitarian, bits behind. Whether this is in general a viable
strategy is contestableespecially in the light of the doubts about a politics
largely based on production, which will feature in the following discussion



of our sidebut it has become particularly difficult to follow in the context of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the peoples democracies in
19891991. Although these societies clearly suffered a political crisis
partly induced by pressures from outsidethey also fell because the root
idea upon which they were constructed, that it is possible to plan an economy by reference to need rather than purchasing power and without employing the mechanism of the market, proved false. As Alec Nove demonstrated
before the fall, a feasible socialism cannot be constructed on the basis of a
fully planned economy (Nove 1983). Moreover, the idea of a world in
which scarcity has been abolished seems even less credible in an era of
environmental consciousness than it did a generation or two ago, when the
leaders of the Soviet Union committed that country to the hubristic
schemes for physical transformation, the debris of which their successors
are still struggling to cope with.
In short, whereas it might once have made sense to think that Marxian
economics are part of the solution to the worlds ills, it now seems clear
that they are no more than another way of posing the problem of industrialism. As with Frankfurt School thought on agency, however, it is by no
means clear what the implications of this point are, that is, what a nonMarxist critical international political economy might look like. An understandable desire to resist the human suffering caused by too rigid an application of neoliberal economic remedies by institutions such as the IMF
obviously constitutes part of the new problematic but is no substitute for a
positive take on the world economy. What a plausible positive economic
policy for our side might look like today is by no means clear if the aim is
to distinguish an explicitly critical theory of the world economy from the
work of radicals such as Will Hutton or Paul Hirst (Hutton 1995; Hirst and
Thompson 1996). The problem is deepened by the difficulties with the
notion that we have a side anymore. This issue will be discussed further
on, but first some thoughts on the nature of science need to be aired.

What Does It Mean to Be

Completely Scientific Today?
Morris termed Marx the most completely scientific thinker on our side, and
Marx would have agreed wholeheartedly. Although critical of the kind of
bourgeois methods promoted by John Stuart Mill and committed to the
dialecticin which a reawakening of interest has recently been called for
by Christian Heine and Benno Teschke in a debate in the pages of
Millenniumand although employing some formulations that have been
used by later constructivist scholars, Marx had no doubt about the scientific
value of his work (Heine and Teschke 1996; Millennium 1997). He in fact

Our Side?


sent a copy of Volume 1 of Das Kapital to Charles Darwin, explicitly

equating their respective achievements. Moreover, along with most progressives of the age, he believed that scientific truth necessarily promoted
his cause. If, as Kant suggested, Enlightenment meant humanitys emergence from its self-incurred immaturity, then science had a major role to
play in this emergence. The (scientific) truth would set us free. It is interesting to note a similar faith expressed by those indefatigable social
researchers, the Fabians Sidney and Beatrice Webb. When presented with a
legacy earmarked for the promotion of socialism, they used the money to
found the London School of Economics without stipulating that the
research conducted at that institution be explicitly socialist; their faith was
that high-quality social research would necessarily promote the cause of
socialism irrespective of the intentions or predilections of the researcher.
On the darker side, a similar faith in the value of scientific truth underlay
the Eurocentrism of virtually all varieties of progressive thought in the
nineteenth century, famously expressed in Marxs contemptuous dismissal
of the rural idiocy of village life in India, where the natives worshipped
monkeys and cows rather than dedicating themselves to self-emancipation
(Marx 1973).
Some echoes of these ideas can still be found at the beginning of the
twenty-first century, but in general the experiences of our time have not
been kind to these habits of thought. We are only too aware that the products of science can kill as well as preserve life. It is not necessary to be a
Green to see that environmental degradation is a by-product of a mind-set
that sees nature simply as a resource to be used by humans for their own
purposes; the faith that scientific progress will always work with the grain
of the interests of humanity is hard to sustain on the record of the twentieth
century. However, a more fundamental challenge to progressive thought is
posed by shifts in our understanding of the nature of scientific truth.
A characteristic feature of most versions of the philosophy of science
and scientific methodology in the twentieth century was a move away from
foundational thinking (Brown 1994a). Conventional accounts of scientific method nowadays stress the provisional nature of scientific truthnow
to be equated with unrefuted hypothesesand the extent to which the
observer is required to decide what the implications of an experiment are,
this decision being underdetermined by evidence (Chalmers 1982). More
radical accounts stress the interconnections of truth and power and our
inability to think without frames of reference that cannot, themselves,
directly be put to the test (Bernstein 1979). These shifts in thinking have
obvious implications for the relationship between the natural and the social
sciencesin particular for the notion that these discourses (a favored term
today, reflecting current understanding of the importance of language)
share a common methodology, common goals (the production of causal



explanations), and a common commitment to value-free research, a notion

conveniently (perhaps sometimes too facilely) summarized as positivism.
One feature common to all varieties of critical theory in general, and
critical international relations theory in particular, is their hostility to positivismalthough it should be noted that not all critics of positivism are
critical theorists.1 In the 1930s one of the founding texts of the Frankfurt
School was Horkheimers Traditional and Critical Theory, in which he
argues forcefully that social research cannot be based on the notion of a
value-free science and an instrumental conception of reason (our side, yet
again, is crucial), and part of the Frankfurt Schools critique of Soviet
Marxism was based on the facile scientism of that doctrineand its
technophilia, perfectly caught in Lenins equation: communism = socialism + electrification (Horkheimer 1972). However, since these early days,
critical theorys response to antifoundationalist thought has taken a number
of different directions, and here again, we can see the many, often contradictory, varieties of critical international relations theory clearly displayed.
Modern Frankfurt School writers, in particular Habermas, and international relations theorists who draw inspiration from this directionin particular Linklater and Mark Neufeldhave been troubled by what they take
to be the potentially conservative implications of a radical antifoundationalism and have sought to reestablish criteria of truth, most prominently via
Habermass account of discourse ethics and communicative action
(Habermas 1984, 1989a). Modern epistemology has undermined the idea of
truth as correspondence to reality; truth as consensus endorses local standards and is, on the face of it, essentially conservative, but to surrender the
notion of truth altogether is, on this account, to open the way to irrationalism. Instead the answer is to establish truth by consensus, but a consensus
achieved via dialogue under circumstances in which considerations irrelevant to truth are excluded, in which the force of the better argument can
come through. A central issue herefor Habermas but also, perhaps especially, for his followers in critical international relations theoryis the
nature of this dialogue and whether any particular voices are heard louder
than others. Clearly voices cannot be excluded arbitrarily, and it would be
wrong to suggest that either Habermas or his followers employ Eurocentric
or gender-based criteria to restrict the voices that can be heard. The more
compelling criticism is that although these and other dissenting voices are
heard, the cost is that dissenters are obliged to speak in a particular kind of
way, using, as it were, received pronunciation rather than the dialects
they employ in everyday life. As Linklaters chapter in this volume makes
clear, the key question is the extent to which the requirement of dialogue is
compatible with the maintenance of difference.
Adherents of other varieties of critical theoryvariously termed both
by themselves and by critics as late modernist, poststructuralist, or post-

Our Side?


modernistcriticize the project of trying to reestablish truth with a capital

T, seeing no need to provide their truth claims with transcendental backing.
These authorslargely missing from this volume but criticized occasionally hereinregard the search for new foundations for truth as, at best, ill
conceived, at worst as part of the process of normalization, or overcoming
difference, already too prevalent in our society. Living without truth may
involve becoming entangled with the paradoxes of relativism, but as
William Connolly puts it, the postmodernist thinks within the code of paradox because only attentiveness to paradox can loosen the hold monotonic
standards of identity have over life in the late modern age (Connolly 1988:
339). Writers such as James Der Derian, David Campbell, Michael Shapiro,
and Christine Sylvester have made major contributions to contemporary
(critical?) international relations theory while working within this code of
paradox (Der Derian 1992; Campbell 1992; Sylvester 1994; Shapiro 1997).
The gap between this kind of critical theory and the critical theory of
the Frankfurt School and its followers is very wide; indeed, much of
Habermass later theoretical work has been directed toward attacking postmodernism and poststructuralism, the (mainly French) young conservatives, as he has been wont to refer to them (Habermas 1987). This may be
a case of Freuds narcissism of small differences in action, especially
since the Frankfurt School and the Left Bank have in common the fact that
they take the problems of truth seriously, in a way that some critical theorists who have stayed closest to old-style Marxism clearly do not. Jeffrey
Harrods use of the metaphor of unmasking in his chapter in this volume is
revealing here: The notion that it is possible for the social theorist to reach
down to the reality that lies under the mask is precisely what is put in question by critical theorists of a postmodern or even, perhaps, a Frankfurt
School orientation. There is, of course, something quite attractive about the
idea of putting aside these problems and concentrating on real people and
real places, as another critical theorist somewhat impatient of epistemology has put it (Booth 1991b). The difficulty with this strategy is that problems with truth, dialogue, and difference soon spill over from matters of
epistemology into matters of substance, and that is the case on this occasion. The issue of difference raises the most basic question of allwhether
we still have, or have ever had, a side at all.

Two Sides, Many Sides?

Critical International TheoryA Case for Closure
The writings of Morris and Marx show that both were very well aware of
the complexity of the class structure of their worldnot simply those complexities generated by intermediate classes such as the petite bourgeoisie



but also those complexities that were the product of the existence within
capitalist social formations of precapitalist strata (Marx 1968a). Nonetheless, a certain Manichaeanism pervades their work. Things are moving in
the direction of a world in which our side will directly confront their side;
in the name of science Marx tries to avoid portraying this confrontation as
one between good and evil, but that thought is rarely far from the surface of
his work. A world penultimately composed of two sides seems the only logical result of the theory of history espoused by Marx. The notion that
human development takes the form of successive modes of production
(stages)ancient slavery, medieval feudalism, modern capitalism, a
socialist-communist futureis central to historical materialism, and this
idea explains why Marx could be so dismissive of societies that had not
been part of this trajectory (Marx 1968b). Asia had been stagnant, outside this dynamic sequence of human development; it needed to be brought
into world history by European imperialismnot, of course, that the imperialists understood that this was what they were doing. In the end, or rather
just before the end, our side will consist of all the oppressed and dispossessed, all the downtrodden, the wretched of the earth, led by the proletariat, the industrial working class; their side will consist of all oppressors of
every kinda shrinking band led by capitalistswho will be swept away
in the revolution, after which there will be no sides at all. Famously, Marx
himself refused to be drawn in on the nature of postcapitalist society, but
William Morris, in News from Nowhere, provides a compelling fictional
picture (along with an account of how this utopia emerged that is Leninist
avant la lettre).
How did twentieth-century critical theory respond to this scenario? As
already noted, the Frankfurt School in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s was
understandably skeptical about the emancipatory role of the working class.
The workers were too readily seduced by Nazi or, for that matter, Stalinist
propaganda. Moreover, the cultural resources available for the development
of an emancipatory working class had dried up. Here is the real dialectic of
enlightenment: The very material forces that Marx had seen as the basis for
a future emancipation lay behind this cultural desert. Under the influence of
capitalism and the uneducated taste of the bourgeoisie, culture divides into
a high culture that is increasingly inaccessible and avant-garde and a low
culture of diminishing worth whose greatest achievement today is the
advertising jingle.2 The Frankfurt School did not, however, abandon the
idea of a unidirectional linear history; indeed, its pessimism was precisely
based on the view that this history, the only one available, was turning out
badly. And whatever might be said about the difference between critical
and traditional theory, it remained the case that the scientific knowledge
developed in the West was qualitatively superior to that produced else-

Our Side?


where and that, as Habermas and his followers still insist, Western rationality is central to the prospects for emancipation.
Habermas and his IR followers no longer think in terms of revolution
as the precondition for emancipation, and as noted previously, their dialogic commitment extends to all comers of all genders, continents, and cultures. It remains moot whether this strategy is as open as it seems. It is certainly the case that whereas in the nineteenth century the Enlightenment
project of emancipation seemed dominated by, if not officially limited to,
white males, today different genders and races are incorporated; neither
sexism nor racism can play any part in determining who is on our side, and
multiculturalism on the left attempts to make our side as open as possible to
the contributions of other cultures. However, a basic problem remains: Our
side in the Marx-Morris sense was based on the notion that all forms of
oppression could ultimately be contextualized and organized by the relationship of individuals to propertythe ownership of the means of production in Marxs terms, wealth more generally for Morris. It is this context
that lies behind Marxs metanarrative and that still informs the more Marxinfluenced of contemporary critical theorists.
But is it really the case that this metanarrative still stands? Postmodern
politics suggests not; indeed, one might note, not altogether frivolously,
that Britains New Labor Party, the most successful of postmodern political
groupings, is explicitly dedicated to the notion that there is a third way
between our side and their side (Giddens 1998). This notion is in the context of politics in a postindustrial society, but there is a less frivolous, much
wider point to be made here. Our current world order produces many losers
as well as a few winners, but it is by no means clear that all the losers are
on the same side, part of some global rainbow coalition in which the newly
industrialized workers of the South join hands with the displaced industrial workers of the North, oppressed women in northern India make
common cause with demonized radical Islam, Hindu nationalists develop
affinities with gays in Zimbabwe or inner-city African Americans, and so
on. On the face of it, emancipation for some of these subordinate groups
may involve the continued oppression of others; in any event the simplicities of the world of William Morris and Karl Marx seem gone forever.
Here lies the most significant divide in critical international relations
theory. Those critical theorists closest to the Frankfurt School and, a fortiori, those closest to Marx, Lenin, and Gramsci hold to the faith that ultimately there is only one side for usthat through dialogue difference can
be preserved and exclusion ended or, in the latter case, that, contrary to
appearance, differences in gender, race, and culture in the last resort are
significant only because of politico-economic structures. Other critical theoristspostmodernists and their ilkfurther from Marx and skeptical of



the capacity of dialogue to establish truth reject this project, looking

instead to celebrate difference and develop social theory and political practice on the basis of cultural diversity. Does it make sense to think of these
two bodies of thought as part of the same broad critical movement? Rather,
it seems better to accept that there are divisions here that cannot be papered
over. This chapter began with the Oxford Companion starkly equating critical theory with the Frankfurt School. If we bear in mind that there are no
ideological tests for admission to the Frankfurt School and no definitive
Frankfurt School positions, only a Frankfurt School perspective, perhaps it
would be best to abandon extreme eclecticism and admit that this is,
indeed, the most helpful, least confusing, way to think of critical theory.

This overview of the debate on critical theory and IR is based loosely on my contribution to the proceedings of the conference held at the University of Wales,
Aberystwyth, in 1996, which was the starting point for this volume. I have also had
the opportunity to review most of the other chapters in this volume in draft form. I
am grateful to all the contributors and participants in the discussions at that most
productive and convivial weekend, and in particular to Richard Wyn Jones, who has
had the unenviable task of shaping the proceedings into book form.
1. This may be a convenient point at which to clarify the relationship between
critical IR theory and constructivist IR theory. Briefly, constructivism and critical
theory share an opposition to positivism, but the radical impulse associated with
critical theory is not necessarily to be found in the writings of constructivists. Thus,
for example, Friedrich Kratochwil has employed the Wittgensteinian notion of a
constitutive rule in ways that are clearly and necessarily antipositivist but that
endorse many of the existing rules of international society (Kratochwil 1989, 1995).
Similarly, Alexander Wendts employment of structuration theory is antipositivist,
but his work remains essentially within a state-centric framework (Wendt 1987,
1992). It should be noted that the structuration theory favored by Wendt is wholly
incompatible with the Wittgensteinian distinction between constitutive and regulative rules, on which Kratochwils work is based. That two of the most important figures in constructivism differ at such a fundamental level casts severe doubt on the
coherence of the school; perhaps the best way to understand constructivism is as yet
one more oppositional tendency within the U.S. academy, a banding together of
scholars who have little in common other than their opposition to the prevailing
positivist orthodoxy in U.S. international relationsthough, as previously suggested, much the same might be said of critical IR theory.
2. Adorno traces this process in terms of the history of music, arguing that
after The Magic Flute [1791] it was never again possible to force serious and light
music together and that thereafter, bourgeois philistinism took over (Adorno
1938/1982). Roger Scruton has recently commented on the absurdity of this claim
(Scruton 1997: 468474). Apart from the obvious fact that the bourgeoisie has been
the main patron of serious (including atonal and avant-garde) music for the past
two centuries and that many nineteenth-century composers wrote tunes that were
whistled in the streets by ordinary folk as well as listened to at La Scala and Covent

Our Side?


Garden, there has rarely been so rich and varied a combination of serious and light
music as in the United States of the 1930s and 1940s, when Adorno wrote his jeremiads. From Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington to George Gershwin, Cole
Porter, and a host of lesser talents, this was a time of extraordinary creativity, and
Adornos inability to recognize this richness can only be attributed to a sad snobbishness or the closure of a mind at the end of its tether.

Alexander Wendt

A book on critical theory and international relations is at once also a book

on positivism and international relations, since it is in relation to positivism
that critical theory is constituted. Whereas positivism generally affirms the
possibility of separating fact and value, distinguishing subject and object,
and achieving objective knowledge about the world, critical theories1 generally deny these separations, stressing the entanglement of facts and values, the breakdown of subject-object distinctions, and the relativity of all
knowledge claims to someone or some purpose. Positivism is the other to
critical theorys self.
Many of the differences in this binary stem from different answers to
perhaps the first question of any discipline of international relations, namely, What is IR for? If we had to pick one description of what positivists are
after, it might be policy relevance. IR should try to explain how the international system works so that policymakers can use that knowledge to preserve the aspects of it we like and change those we dont. Robert Cox has
famously called this a problem-solving approach to social science, in which
the goal is to solve problems within, and thus reproduce, the existing order
(Cox 1981). In contrast, perhaps the most common answer that critical theorists give to the question is emancipation. IR should try to uncover the
deep structures that make the existing order possible and identify alternatives to those structures so that we can liberate ourselves from their oppressions. Moreover, since the existing order is defended by policymakers, critical theory is aimed primarily at policytakers, especially in civil society,
and thus reflects a democratic impulse in scholarship compared to positivisms perhaps more technocratic one (see Murphy, Ch. 4, this volume).
As a result of these different political agendas, social scientific knowledge



is thought to require different forms: lawlike generalizations about past

behavior for positivists, reflexive understandings of deep structure for critical theorists.
There is much to recommend this framing of the positivist-critical
debate, but the distinction between problem solving and emancipatory theory can also get quite blurry, since both are ultimately about making the
world a better place. Few positivists in IR are committed to reproducing the
existing international order for its own sake. A vocal minorityrealists
have a principled belief that it is impossible to transform the character of
anarchic systems and that trying to do so can therefore be dangerous. But a
majorityincluding both liberal cosmopolitans and rational choice institutionalistsare committed to reform of the international system. To be sure,
reform implies preservation of at least some features of the status quo and
to that extent can be discounted as problem solving within the existing
order. But that interpretation doesnt do justice to the depth of reform
sought by many positivistsprotection of human rights, abolition of war,
collective security, global distributive justice, environmental cooperation,
an international rule of law, and so on. It also neglects the fact that most
critical theorists themselves would preserve features of the existing order;
few are advocating permanent revolution. The problem here is that problem
solving and emancipation are inherently relative to questions of who and
what. A practice or theory could count as problem solving by one standard
and emancipatory by another. The recent effort to abolish antipersonnel
land mines is a good example: In most respects this enterprise takes the
deep structure of international politics as given, but for the individuals
whose lives are saved, whos to say that it is not emancipatory? The positivist-critical binary seems to make it difficult to be both policy relevant
and emancipatory at the same time.
One way to begin thinking about transcending the positivist-critical
binary is to see it as a problem of time horizons. Positivists tend to operate
with a relatively short time horizon. Policy relevance means relevant today
with a view toward next month or at most next year. Given such a time
frame, major structural change of the system cannot realistically be on the
agenda, although significant emancipatory efforts might be made on a local
or microbasis. Critical theorists tend to operate with a longer time horizon,
envisioning changes over years or even decades. Given that horizon, major
structural transformation is a real option.
Where both sides fail, howeverand this failure is the reason they
tend to talk past each otheris in linking the two time frames. The positivist emphasis on predictive power as a measure of theoretical success
might seem to offer a natural bridge between short- and long-range thinking, but in social scientific practice prediction has usually meant retrodiction, and generalizations about the past are not a very reliable guide to the

What Is International Relations For?


future in a complex, uncertain world. And indeed, few positivists make

forecasting an important part of their work (for an interesting exception,
see Bueno de Mesquita, Newman, and Rabushka 1996). Critical theorists
tend to neglect the short run. Despite getting equal billing from Andrew
Linklater with normative and sociological inquiries, praxeology, in effect
the science of linking ends to means, is probably the least developed of
critical theorys three agendas (Linklater, Ch. 2 in this volume). The result
of both tendencies is that as an intellectual community, we in IR are not
very good at thinking about how the world community can act today to
realize its interests over the long term.
The problem of long-range choice and satisfaction is not an easy one,
either practically or conceptually, in part because it involves uniquely difficult, essentially epistemological, issues of knowledge and rationality: If the
present is complex and the future radically uncertain, then it is not clear
what rationality even means, let alone what rational choices should be. For
different reasons traditional positivist and critical views of social science
are not well equipped to address these problems, which may help explain
their neglect. Nor do I have any solutions here. What follows is only a very
preliminary, and quite speculative, survey of issues. But it does advance a
conception of what IR should be, for that approach at least speaks to the
The overall aim of this conception is a science (broadly defined) for
purposive control over the constitutional evolution of the world system. A
presumption of such an inquiry is that the world system today is in fact
evolving a constitutional order, perhaps in a manner analogous to the way
that Britain evolved a constitution. Realists might doubt this presumption,
foreseeing only a continued war of all against all, and they may prove right.
But the range and depth of institution building in contemporary world politicsthe UN, European Union (EU), World Trade Organization (WTO),
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and so oncombined with
U.S. preponderance for the foreseeable future, are such that the possibility
of global constitutionalism should at least be considered as a premise. And
if were going to evolve a constitutional order anyway, it makes sense to
think scientifically (again, broadly defined) about how we might direct that
process. Recent scholarship on global governance and European constitutionalism has begun to do this (see Rosenau and Czempiel 1992; Falk,
Johansen, and Kim 1993; Young 1994; Onuf 1997; Ikenberry 1998; Weiler
1997). IR nevertheless largely lacks such a science today. As long as that
remains the case, IR will have little to offer policymakers, or -takers, in the
way of useful strategies for institutional reform, and whatever befalls the
system in the long run will happen to it (and us), rather than be what we
sought to bring about. Evolutionary control is ultimately about collective
self-control in the face of the future.



There are various ways to think about the kind of control sought in
such a project: constitutional design, social engineering, evolutionary
guidance, system steering, collective character planning, and so on
(see, respectively, Goodin 1996, Turner 1998, Banathy 1998, Luhmann
1997, Elster 1983). These metaphors have different inflections and requirements that might be interesting to compare. But here I address only one,
steering, and use it to illustrate the larger problematic.
The spirit of my inquiry is postcritical, by which I mean a view of what
social science is, for that view combines emancipation, which can occur
only by deep transformation of the existing order over the long run, with
the positivist willingness to think scientifically about that task. In a sense
this combination of science and emancipation is what critical theory, in the
early Frankfurt School, was originally all about, and to that extent the argument of this chapter is very much in a traditional critical vein. However,
among critical theorists today, those with postmodernist sensibilities tend to
reject the idea of science altogether, and even most of those who are
opposed to postmodernism (such as Marxists) tend to shy away from the
science part of the equation because of its association with positivism.
Given the antipositivist, antiscience connotations of contemporary critical
theory, therefore, adding post to critical seems necessary to capture my
meaning, even if that means merely getting back to square one. Thus this
chapter echoes some of the themes expressed in Nicholas Renggers and
Andrew Linklaters contributions to the volume, and indeed it might be
seen as taking off from Linklaters suggestive remarks about praxeology. In
the next section I define what I mean by steering and locate it in the context
of two views of where social order comes from. I then discuss three questions that a science of steering raisesWhos driving? Where should we
go? How do we get there?and show how these questions create difficulties for traditional positivist and critical conceptions of social science. I
conclude with some thoughts about what a science of steering would need
to look like.

The Idea of Steering

Evolutionary steering can be seen as a way of navigating between two
views of where social order comes fromin Friedrich Hayeks terms,
spontaneous and constructed order (Hayek 1973).2 The issue at stake
between these views is the extent to which the outcomes of social evolution
can be or are intended. Since this issue concerns the ability of human
agents to deliberately create and control the structures in which they are
embedded, it involves something of an agent-structure problem, although
one different from that in my earlier discussions (Wendt 1987; see also

What Is International Relations For?


Pettit 1993). Here the question is the degree of freedom and voluntarism
versus structural determinism in the historical process; there it was whether
agents or structures can be reduced to each other.
The spontaneous-order tradition holds that social orders are an unintended consequence of various actions. Order emerges spontaneously from
the complex concatenation of human activities, structured by preexisting
institutions but over time unwittingly transforming those institutions as
well. The reasoning here is evolutionary, depicting a process that operates
behind the backs of actors, and indeed one of the principal mechanisms by
which it is thought to work is through the selection of certain practices and
institutions over others (on Hayeks theory of cultural selection, see
Vanberg 1986 and Hodgson 1991a; cf. Adler 1991). Practices and institutions that meet the needs of agents tend to survive, whereas those that do
not are selected out. Competition is therefore a good thing, since as a discovery procedure it helps societies determine what works and what doesnt.
We can think of this argument as putting structure before agency,
determinism before voluntarism, since it locates the ultimate mechanism of
historical change in the logic of social structures rather than in the foresight
of purposeful agents. To that extent it reflects a welcome humility about the
human condition. However, despite its focus on structure, it would be a
mistake to interpret this view as saying that agents are irrelevant (which
would be odd for the libertarian Hayekians), for two reasons. One is that
social structures have the effects they do only because of the activities that
instantiate them. Human behavior is necessary to carry all social structures, and so even the most structurally determined outcomes happen only
because of what people do. But creating outcomes unintentionally is different from doing so intentionally; thus it might be useful to call the former
action and the latter agency, or something like that. The other way in
which agents matter is that human beings are purposeful creatures who in
their daily lives are constantly intervening in history, trying to bend bigger
or smaller parts of it to their will. And often they succeed: On the local
level, over the short term, many outcomes are intended. Thus the point
being made by spontaneous-order theorists must be that it is only on the
more macroscopic level, over the longer term, that deliberate control is not
really possible.
A constructed order, then, is one in which institutional and perhaps distributive outcomes are deliberately chosen by some agency.3 The parameters of social order are intended rather than unintended; freedom rather than
determinism drives evolution; agency rather than structure is what counts.
There are relatively few successful pure constructed orders historically,
domestic or international, but there are some. The U.S. Constitution is perhaps the most brilliant example, and Western academics and policymakers
are now busily trying to replicate its success with constitutional engineer-



ing in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. Successful constructed orders are

harder to find in international politics, but the European Union and perhaps
the UN are plausible candidates.
The idea that social order can be subjected to purposive choice reflects
an Enlightenment faith in human reason and will quite at odds with the
spontaneous-order tradition. Yet looking at modern societies, which are
incredibly complex systems that on balance function remarkably well, one
is tempted to ask, How could such systems not be the product of design?
Could they have arisen all by themselves, just by accident? However, just
as the beauties of nature do not necessarily reveal the workings of a god,
the theory of spontaneous order shows that often what seem to be the products of design are actually the products of an invisible hand, whether of a
market, anarchy, balance of power, or whatever (Ullmann-Margalit 1978).
Once the false positives of designs by unintended consequences are taken
out, it seems clear that most long-term developments in social evolution fit
the spontaneous- better than the constructed-order model. This is probably
particularly true in international relations, where there is no single designer.
In domestic politics there is usually a centralized, corporate actor (the state)
that can guide the evolution of society. But the anarchy of the international
system is defined as such by the absence of a unified agent, by a proliferation of agents who are often in conflict. Individual great powers may sometimes achieve hegemony, but historically their ability to institutionalize
international orders has been limited and transitory. In an anarchy it is
unclear how a constructed order could ever get off the ground.
Advocates of spontaneous order might add that this is just as well,
since the record of constructed orders in domestic life has been often one of
spectacular failure and totalitarianism. Communism, fascism, and perhaps
now the welfare state are all failed attempts to direct social evolution and
were hugely costly in human and material terms. Insofar as it contributed to
the outbreak of World War II, the League of Nations, one of the few multilateral efforts to design an international order, fared little better (for a good
critique of what amounts to constructed-order thinking about international
organization, see Gallarotti 1991). These examples sound a powerful cautionary note about the dangers of overconfidence in our ability to control
social evolution, which has been internalized by libertarians and critical
theorists alike.
Yet it would be a mistake to reject altogether the attempt to shape
social evolution, since there are also good reasons to worry about putting
too much faith in a spontaneous approach. First, natural selection can take
decades or even centuries to select for fit institutional forms, during which
time all sorts of misery are possible. Human sacrifice and feudalism were
both spontaneous rather than constructed orders; would it not have been
better if some advocates of constructed order had existed back then to

What Is International Relations For?


deliberately bring those institutions to an end earlier than natural selection

did? Second, trusting spontaneous order can encourage political complacency; had the U.S. Founders been Hayekians, for example, it is not clear
how they could have justified designing a constitutional order for the
United States.4 Third, the functions of social science seem too limited in
this approach. If social scientists should not be trying to anticipate and
shape the future, whether that means telling us that human sacrifice is bad
or a constitution is good, what should they be doing? Social science seems
to have an inherent constructivist sensibility. Finally, whether or not our
efforts are doomed to failure, it seems to be our nature as human beings to
try to influence the world around us. We all do this on a microscopic level
every day, and we expect our leaders to do it on a macroscopic level over
the long term. Thus there seems little point in telling decisionmakers not to
make choices with a view toward the future. The point should be rather to
use insights from the critiques of constructed order to help them do so more
There are, then, pluses and minuses to spontaneous and constructed
orders. Inevitably, the best path lies somewhere between the extremes. One
way to think about something in between, to capture what is useful about
constructed orders while remaining within a spontaneous approach overall,
is with the metaphor of evolutionary steering. As I shall use the term,
which I borrow from Niklas Luhmann,5 steering assumes that social orders,
and perhaps especially international ones, mostly develop behind peoples
backs through evolutionary dynamics of natural selection and social learning (see Wendt 1999: ch. 7). Most of what happens in social life over the
medium to long run is not intended by anyone, policytakers or -makers.
Thus the most that we can expect of steering is to channel, nudge, or guide
evolution along in certain directions in an effort to avoid really bad outcomes and perhaps bring about a few good ones. Rather than determine
particular events, the objective could be only to influence broad, developmental tendencies. This approach might sometimes involve efforts at conscious design in the sense of discrete moments of institutional reform, but
its more about day-to-day guidance of the evolutionary process itself, trying to exploit its internal dynamics so that it movesof its own accord, as
it willin a preferred direction. Relative to a pure constructed order, that is
a very modest conception of human agency, but it would still constitute a
considerably higher degree of purposive choice than we currently have
about international politics.
Three aspects of this conception of steering seem noteworthy, especially in light of the positivist/critical binary: instrumental rationality, goal
directedness, and reflexivity. First, steering is about control and as such
involves instrumental rationality, relating ends to means (cf. Luhmann
1997). It is a looser form of control than that which animates the construct-



ed-order approach, but for critical theorists, who often seem uncomfortable
with any kind of instrumental rationality, it may still smack of the putatively technocratic ethos of positivism. Much of this unease stems from the fact
that instrumental rationality is often used to control others, usually without
their consent. Steering, however, is largely about controlling the self, the
collective, global self, over time (how that self is constituted is an important issue raised further on). Although having an instrumentally rational
component, self-command is less problematic normatively because in being
applied to the self that component is intrinsically more accountable
(Schelling 1984). If I make the ends-means calculation that going to college will improve my job prospects, I will have to coerce or discipline
myself in the short run, but that is a matter very different from making such
a decision for others.
Second, the point of the control sought in steering is to bring about better outcomes than would naturally, or spontaneously, occur. One steers in
order to go somewhere, and thus steering presupposes purpose, goal directedness, intentionality. Now, this statement in itself says nothing about the
content of our purposes; a capacity for evolutionary steering could be used
for good or evil. This is where the critical part of postcritical thinking
comes in with a key normative constraint: Steering should be about emancipation, about freeing ourselves from the problematic social structures that
cause war, human rights violations, racism, poverty, and so on. Critical theory, of course, already says this, but it tends to be better on emancipation
from than emancipation to, and still weaker on how to get from here to
there. Combining an emancipatory intent with an instrumental approach
toward the future seems more likely to get us where we want to go.
Finally, evolutionary steering depends on another important critical
theory concern, namely reflexivityunderstanding the role that our own
beliefs and practices play in sustaining the social structures in which we are
embedded. Here the connotations of the steering metaphor might be misleading. Steering a car on the road does not require much reflexivity. One
should ideally know where one is going, of course, but since it is an external object (a car) that one is steering, there does not seem to be much need
to know thyself to succeed. If steering a social system is ultimately about
the evolution of a collective self, however, then knowing that selfhow it
is constituted, how it functions, and how it can be transformedis crucial.

Problems of Steering
Even if we interpret a construction problematic in world politics in the relatively modest terms of evolutionary steering, we still face hugely complex
problems. In the first instance, it is not clear who the agent of global steer-

What Is International Relations For?


ing should be, and, in the second, what kind of constitution it should try to
create. In other guises these two issues are already the subject of considerable scholarship in IR, and all I do in the following is reflect on them from
a steering point of view. Something else that has been neglected in the literature is more interesting to me here: Regardless of who is steering or where
they want to go, lurking in the background is an epistemological problem
of knowing how to get from here to there, of long-range choice. In different
ways all of these problems, and especially the last, challenge traditional
positivist and critical conceptions of social science. I pretend no solutions
here; my goal is merely to identify some questions that a science of steering
naturally poses.
Whos Driving?
If steering the international system presupposes a driver, then perhaps the
first problem, analytically if not temporally, is constituting the subject, the
intentional agent, who will be doing the driving. This problem has both
practical and normative aspects.
The intentionality of social systems is different from the intentionality
of individuals in that it involves not a single agent but a collective one, a
we or plural subject (Gilbert 1989). Plural subjects can take two basic
formscentralized, formally unitary organizations such as firms or states
(a corporate identity or self) or decentralized teams of formally independent actors working together on a regular, harmonious basis (a collective
identity or self).6 Both forms of agency might be relevant to steering the
international system. Corporate steering agencies could be either greatpower hegemons who try to run the show on behalf of the system or international organizations with authoritative powersuch as, increasingly, the
EUin which states merge their bodies. These would constitute international steering agencies on the centralized, domestic-analogy model. But
the subject of international steering could also be a collective, a group of
states and/or nonstate actors who retain their formal individuality but in
practice cooperate closely in guiding the system. The great-power concert
is an early manifestation of such a decentered agency; its spirit is found
today in informal arrangements such as the Group of Seven (G7). A more
institutionalized version of teamwork is represented by the idea of an international statea formal structure of political authority that lacks an authoritative center but that can discipline its elements to cooperate, for example,
the WTO or, perhaps, the EU (Picciotto 1991, Wendt 1994; also with specific reference to the EU, Caporaso 1996). And finally, also relevant to the
constitution of a collective steering agency at the international level are
transnational public spheres trying to keep states democratically accountable (Lynch 1999, Mitzen 1999). In short, the requirements of plural sub-



jectivity impose some limits on the individual elements (e.g., they have to
work together), but these requirements can be met in various ways.
No matter what their internal constitution, however, as every student of
collective action knows, creating plural subjects is difficult and is compounded in international politics by the absence of centralized authority
(anarchy). On top of the usual problems of free riding that make collective
action difficult, anarchy creates incentives to pursue relative rather than
absolute gains, making such action all but impossible. Indeed, realists have
devoted much of their energy in recent years to showing why we should
never expect anything more than episodic collective action in international
politics. In contrast, nonrealists have worked equally hard to show that
under certain conditionswhere there is concern for the future, an expectation of continued interaction, relatively few actors, little likelihood of violence, and so onactors can cooperate under anarchy, as they in fact often
do in real life (much of the resulting debate can be found in Baldwin 1993).
With deepening economic interdependence and a widening democratic
peace, these conditions are gaining strength in the early twenty-first century, holding out the prospect that a capacity for international steering will
This prospect calls up the normative side of the question, however,
namely who should be the subject of steering. Steering at the international
level involves choices that could affect literally everyone in the world and
thus raises serious questions of democratic accountability. This is especially true if steering is done at least in part by the currently most powerful
actors in the systemstates. States might be democratic at home, which
would permit some accountability at the domestic level, but hardly any
mechanisms exist yet at the system level to regulate their actions. This lack
has already led to significant worries about a democratic deficit in the
European Union, worries that are being allayed only partly by the gradual
strengthening of the European Parliament, and there is every reason to
think that other transnational accountability problems are going to become
more intense over the coming decades as well (Held 1995).
For this and other reasons, some critical theorists might object to the
idea of states as subjects of international steering (if they didnt object to
the whole idea of steering in the first place), perhaps putting their faith in
empowering global civil society instead. Indeed, although I cant argue the
point here, I suspect the issue that most reliably marks off scholars in IR as
critical theorists is hostility toward the state (which makes sense, since
states are the core of the given in international life that must be problematized). Those who see themselves as positivists are generally inclined to
work with the state, whereas those who count themselves as critical theorists tend to treat states as the problem.7
From the standpoint of transnational democracy, antistatism might be a

What Is International Relations For?


good thing, but there are also other values at stake in steering, perhaps the
most important of which is just getting things done, and that will require
including states in the constitution of any future international steering
agency. No other actor has remotely the potential for steering the international system as do states, and thus if we want to steer the systema debatable goal, to be surewe should exploit that fact. That still leaves us with
the problem of making steering accountable, which is why it is important to
make global civil society and public spheres part of the process. But the
critical theorists concern with constituting a democratic subject of steering
should not come completely at the expense of the positivists concern with
constituting a viable one.
Where Should We Go?
Assuming that a capacity for system steering can be created, the question
then arises of where we should use it to go. The answer is partly constrained by where we can go, since the evolution of the international system, like any social system, is path dependent. The world today is emerging
from a deeply embedded state-centric approach to political community, and
thus many places we might like to gofor example, a pure cosmopolitanism of open borders and human rights for allare simply not available
to us in the foreseeable future. And indeed, trying to create such a world
before the conditions are right could lead to precisely the kind of imposed,
illegitimate, and ultimately unstable order that critics of constructed order
have long emphasized.
Nevertheless, narrowing our vision to what is possible still leaves us
with many options. These choices are in important part normative, reflecting competing values and visions of what such an order should look like.
They have been the subject of considerable debate in political theory
between cosmopolitans and communitarians, a debate in which the relative
weight of the rights of individuals, groups, and states is at stake (for good
overviews, see Brown 1992b and Van Dyke 1977). I dont have anything
special to contribute to this debate here, except two observations suggested
by a concern with steering.
First, more so than other conceptions of what IR is for, a steering problematic brings positive and normative inquiries naturally together. The positivist emphasis on separating facts and values encourages the isolation of
normative thinking to political theory, whereas critical theorys reluctance
to think instrumentally and scientifically leaves empirical inquiries largely
to positivists. Under the traditional models of what IR is for, in other
words, there is not much for students of facts and of values to talk about.
Each have their own domain, and there is little to bring them together.
Figuring out where to go, in contrast, cannot be done except by talking



about facts and values together, and to that extent the steering problematic
gives content and direction to both.
Second, the problem of deciding where to go raises the question of
whether the criteria we use to evaluate destinations should be substantive or
procedural. Should we think about the goal of steering in an outcome-oriented way, aiming for particular goods, or more modestly in terms of
process, worrying only about who is involved in decisionmaking and how it
is carried out? A substantive approach seems more faithful to the basic idea
of steering, but the existence in world politics of significant contestation
about values argues for a procedural approach. And more interesting, so do
the epistemological problems of knowledge and rationality in long-range
choice, to which I now turn.
How Do We Get There?
Arguably the most fundamental problem of steering is choosing the right
means to achieve long-term ends, because it exists no matter who the subject of steering is or where it wants to go. Even a perfectly accountable and
politically correct driver faces the problem of navigating through time from
a complex present to an uncertain future. Whereas the first two problems
have been the subject of considerable IR scholarship, that is not true of this
third one. The problem is at base epistemological in the sense that once we
start thinking about the futureabout timein a way that gives meaning to
our choices today, it becomes unclear what counts as informed, rational
choice. The kinds of knowledge that positivists and critical theorists want
to create are of relatively little help in thinking about how to relate the
future to the present, and thus the problem of steering is most likely to yield
new insights. The problem has various aspects, which I have grouped under
two headings.
The knowledge problem. This problem refers to the fact that it is simply
very difficult, and perhaps impossible, to know how to control the evolution of social systems.8 We just dont have the kind of knowledge, or at
least not anywhere near enough of it, to successfully relate means to ends,
at the system level, over the medium to long term. This constraint has both
subjective and objective aspects concerning properties of the observer and
of the observed.
On the subjective side, the knowledge problem is the familiar one of
bounded rationality. The issues here are the limited information-processing
capabilities and cognitive biases of the human mind. Even if social systems
are in principle knowable, creatures of our limited physical constitution
cannot fully exploit this fact to achieve steering capacity.
Serious as it is, however, bounded rationality is probably not the hard-

What Is International Relations For?


est part of the knowledge problem, which is that social systems might not
be knowable in the first place. If the problem were ultimately subjective,
we could hope that over time, with the march of social science and computer technology, we will be able to compensate for our cognitive limits and
get better at steering. But there may be significant objective constraints on
that prospect. The reason stems from the fact that to say we can know the
future is to say it is already determined in the present. A knowable universe
is a deterministic universe, or an ergodic universe, as Paul Davidson
(1996) puts it. Yet there seem to be at least two features of social systems to
suggest that they may ultimately be nondeterministic. One is complexity:
nonlinear and chaotic dynamics that create randomness and unpredictability, stemming not from inadequacies in our cognitions or instruments but
from reality itself. The other is uncertainty, where this is defined as distinct
from riskrisk being a situation where one can define a probability distribution over future states, whereas uncertainty exists when such an effort is
impossible because the domain of possible future states does not yet exist
(on the differences between uncertainty and complexity, see Langlois and
Everett 1992, and on the risk-uncertainty distinction, see Knight 1921). The
theoretical and practical implications of uncertainty in this sense are quite
radical and have been the subject of considerable debate in economics
between mainstream Keynesians and heterodox Austrians and postKeynesians (see, for example, Lawson 1988, Kelsey and Quiggin 1992,
Runde 1995). Complexity and uncertainty together support the famous
epistemological argument against socialism, which shows that markets
will inevitably be more efficient than command economies because central
planners can never have as much knowledge of an economy as the decentralized knowledge produced by the price mechanism (see especially Hayek
1945), and this argument seems equally relevant to the problem of steering.
In any case, it seems likely that since complexity and uncertainty will grow
exponentially with the scale of the system and distance from the present,
the knowledge problem involved in steering at the global level will be as
difficult as it could possibly be.
Paradoxically, however, it also seems to be the case that a nondeterministic, and therefore unknowable, environment is a precondition for
steering in the first placeat least if the idea of steering implies, as I think
it must, any sense of choice, intentionality, or free will. This is because in
order to be meaningful as choice, an action cannot be predetermined. If it
were the case that all our actions today were determined 100 years agoas
knowing the future today would seem to implythen in what sense are
those actions choices as opposed to just mechanical enactments of structural conditions? And if the future is already determined, in what sense could
choices today make any difference? In short, the idea of steering seems to
embody a contradiction: It assumes that what we do today makes a differ-



ence to the future; at the same time it requires foreknowledge of what will
happen if we make those choices that vitiates their being choices at all. I
dont know how to resolve this contradiction, but it is the kind of paradox
that emerges once we start thinking about time in a systematic, historical
way (on historical conceptions of time, see Bausor 1983, Setterfield 1995).
The rationality problem. Problems of time are perhaps even more salient for
a second challenge of relating short-term means to long-term ends, which is
that the definition of rationality, and therefore of rational choice, is ambiguous in that context. In day-to-day decisionmaking it seems useful to assume
that to rationally choose means to maximize expected utility. But in decisionmaking over time, two of the three elements of this decision rule,
expectations and utility, become problematic.
Utility is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, it is not clear how
future utility should be weighed against present utility. We might all agree
that, other things being equal, it is better to consume utility today rather
than tomorrow, but how much better, and what if things are not equal?
External or structural conditions may sometimes provide an answer, but
only sometimes. Thus in a Hobbesian war of all against all we are essentially forced to discount the future heavily, or else we wont live long enough
to enjoy it. But that external constraint is no longer present in the emerging
constitutional order were talking about here, and thus we are more free to
assign whatever value we like to future utility. How we do that will depend
at least partly on normative judgments about our responsibilities to future
generations, which reasonable people can disagree about. The issue of
intergenerational justice brings up the second problem with measuring utility over time, which is that the subject to which we are attributing utility,
who has utility, is not constant. Plural subjects are actually groups of individuals whose membership changes over time, so that even if there is a
sense in which a future international steering agency is the same as one
today, there is also a sense in which it is different (Wendt 1999: ch. 5). To
that extent, decisions that we make about our long-term utility are actually
decisions about the utility that others will get. As with the problem of
weighing future utility, it is not clear what the criterion of rational should
be under such conditions.
The second component of the expected-utility framework, expectations, is equally problematic in historical time. The problem here is determining what constitutes a rational expectation about the future. What we
have to go on is our past experience, and so some would say that the rational thing to do is simply extrapolate from that experience to the future. That
assumption gains further support from the self-fulfilling nature of social
expectations (Wendt 1999: ch. 4), which helps create institutional inertia
and path-dependent development. However, we have already noted the par-

What Is International Relations For?


adox that it is a precondition for meaningful choice that agency not be

determined by the past, which means that steering becomes possible precisely insofar as it deviates from past experience. And then there is the even
deeper problem of constituting the present, the baseline knowledge about
today from which rational expectations about the future are to be drawn.
The problem here is that what we think about the present depends on what
we expect in the future (see the very interesting discussion of this point in
Parsons 1991). If we suddenly discovered that a giant meteor was going to
destroy the earth in two weeks, the meanings most of us would assign to
the present would radically change. To the extent that present and future are
mutually constituted in this way, the idea of defining rational expectations
on the basis of past experience begins to look incoherent (Bausor 1983).
Maximizing expected utility, in short, is difficult even to conceptualize, much less to do, when historical time is brought into the equation. Thus
it is not clear that using this formula to think about steering is rational.
Indeed, in a widely cited article, Ronald Heiner has argued that given our
inability to optimize under conditions of uncertainty, trying to do so may
actually decrease our performance, and that we would do betterand in
fact do do betterby simply following certain elementary rules of thumb
that constrain our flexibility to choose rationally (Heiner 1983; see also
Beckert 1996; cf. Langlois 1985). Whether this approach is right I dont
know, but it seems a question that a steering problematic needs to address.

The Limits of Positivism and Critical Theory

These three questions about evolutionary steering are obviously difficult
ones, and perhaps unanswerable. However, contemporary positivist and
critical conceptions of social science dont help matters much because in
different ways each is ill equipped to address them, and the binary character of their debate makes it difficult to think beyond toward a synthesis.
Positivism has difficulties with both the normative and positive aspects
of steering. On the normative side positivists freely acknowledge silence
because in their view science should be concerned only with facts, separated strictly from values. Yet as we saw, we cannot answer any of the three
questions about steering without making normative choices. That does not
mean that trying to separate facts and values is wrong, since there are purely explanatory, scientific aspects to steering. But it does mean that as long
as our idea of IR is limited to positivism, we wont be able to use our newfound knowledge for steering.
What is more interesting, however, is that positivismand here I mean
only the logical empiricist version of positivism that has dominated IR
since the 1960salso runs into problems in what should be its strength, the



positive analysis of steering. This problem stems from the relatively poor
fit of its ideal of science with the reality of the historical world. The goal of
social science, according to positivism, is axiomatic theory based on lawlike generalizations about past experiencea worthy objective, to be sure,
but one problematic for a science of steering for at least three reasons.
First, the fact of complexity is likely to frustrate efforts to find the allimportant generalizations. The significant exception of the democratic
peace aside, IR scholarship to date has failed to turn up many interesting
behavioral laws on which we can ground theories. Second, even if IR
scholars manage to find such laws, they will by definition be about the past
and as such not a particularly reliable guide to the future, given the complex and uncertain nature of the world. Indeed, as weve seen, that the past
would be a reliable guide to the future in some sense undermines the whole
idea of steering, which presupposes a capacity to break with the past. And
finally, making the discovery of behavioral laws a key objective of science
is likely to make our theories more conservative, to blunt their critical edge,
because in order to find laws we will have to take the institutions that generate them as given. Thats fine if our goal is problem solving within the
existing order, but the point of steering, at least if we want to go anywhere,
is to emancipate ourselves from that order (or its problematic aspects);
thats hard to do if we have taken the order as given. Behavioral laws are
great to have, since they tell us something important about how the system
in which we now find ourselves works, but if we want to change that system we also need knowledge of the deep social structures that make those
laws possible.
This last point reminds us that the troublesome requirement that a science of steering be based on behavioral laws is not intrinsic to positivism,
understood broadly as the view that the scientific method is our best guide
to how the world works, but only to the logical empiricist version of positivism, which is rooted in a Humean view of causality that makes laws necessary for knowledge. In recent years an alternative, scientific realist form
of positivism has become dominant in the philosophy of science. Scientific
realism is non-Humean and so less concerned with regularities of experience (for discussion of these issues, see Wendt 1999: ch. 2). In the realist
view the emphasis in science should be not on behavioral regularities but
on often unobservable causal mechanisms and deep structures, which in
some conditions might generate regularities at the level of experience but in
other conditions might not. There are various epistemological arguments
for this proposal, but whatever their merits, it has the additional virtue here
of coping more effectively than logical empiricism with the knowledge and
rationality problems in evolutionary steering. Here, the basis on which we
steer should be an understanding of structural logics and tendencies, even if
we cant predict specific events (Lawson 1995), and even if this requires

What Is International Relations For?


knowledge of behavioral regularities that are much harder to come by.

What this suggests, therefore, is that if understood in realist terms, positivism could actually be a foundation for critical theory rather than always
its other, a possibility arguably manifested in the fact that a realist view of
science is implicit in Marxism, the origin of contemporary critical theory.
Most critical theorists will want none of that proposal, perhaps, but
without a scientific realist foundation it is difficult to see how they can help
emancipate us from repressive structures in the world. Indeed, despite its
praxeological concern, critical theory is also ill equipped for steering. This
lack stems from the flip side of one of its main contributions to social science, namely, its democratic impulse. Critical theory encourages us to think
about ways to make steering as accountable as possible, but too much concern for democracy can paralyze attempts to solve the problems of steering
previously noted and thus to realize other valueslike getting somewhere.
I see this paralysis arising in three ways.
First, critical theorists focus on empowering the weak makes it difficult for them to enlist the strong, especially states, in system transformation. Democratizing the world system by strengthening civil society is
important, but global civil society will never be a primary agency of international steering and thus does not solve the problem of whos driving.
Oppositional politics make for fewer messy compromises, but given the
weakness of civil society, refusing to engage states in system reform is in
effect saying that were not going anywhere. Second, the critical IR literature, especially in its more postmodern forms, has shown little inclination
to do the kind of rigorous and systematic empirical work about the contemporary international system that would reduce the knowledge problem in
steering. In part this attitude reflects a healthy skepticism toward the narrow criteria positivists use to define rigorous and systematic (Walker
1989). However, it may also reflect a deeper, epistemological anxiety about
making any claims about how the world really works, since truth can be a
form of domination. Either way, the result is that critical IR scholarship has
been not much interested in building a scientific understanding of our current situation and thus is in a poor position to help reduce our uncertainty
about the future. This result relates to a third danger of critical theorys
democratic impulse, which is that it can lead to an anxiety about instrumental rationality altogether because it can be a basis for technocracy, bureaucratization, and totalitarianism. Yet instrumental rationality is also an
essential part of steering, if only because steering involves means-ends calculations. A conception of social science that eschews instrumental rationality, therefore, will be an inherently partial one with respect to the steering
In different ways, these three limits all contribute to a concluding danger in critical theory, which is a tendency toward utopian thinking, toward



idealism in the pejorative sense. Constrainedor liberated, as the case may

befrom talking scientifically about how current structures work or how
we can be emancipated from them, we are also relieved of the mental discipline that reality imposes. Idealism frees theory to speculate about normatively desirable outcomes but can also make for a certain lack of realism
(for an example that illustrates both the promise and limits of this kind of
thinking, see Archibugi 1995). And irrealism, in turn, can be a poor guide
to action: The theory of the second best suggests that if the best outcome is
unattainable, it may be irrational to pursue it if that pursuit prevents
achievement of a second-best outcome (Goodin 1995).
A science of steering requires creative speculation about desirable
future states combined with objective analysis of current structures and
constraints, not just one kind of knowledge or the other. In that light, even
though the concept of evolutionary steering tends to fall between the cracks
of the positivist/critical binary, by virtue of the fact that positivists and critical theorists bring different strengths and weaknesses to the issue, it is also
an idea that by its nature might get them talking to each other.

It is obvious that these remarks barely scratch the surface of some very
complicated issues. But given the relative neglect of critical praxeology in
IR scholarship, perhaps even a preliminary survey is useful.
I want to make a last point about time and the role of expectations
about the future in international politics, and about the kind of IR scholarship that would contribute to shaping those expectations. If policymakers
(or -takers) think that the future will be just like the past, they will make
choices today on that basis. And whether intentionally or not, those choices
will generate the self-fulfilling prophecies that drive the evolution of the
world system over the long run. What I want to emphasize here is the paradox of choices being made on the basis of expectations about the future, the
actual character of which will depend on those very choices. If the concept
of choice is to be meaningful, we have to assume that the future is open,
and our expectations about it should therefore be treated as endogenously
rather than exogenously determined. And that approach in turn creates a
space for IR scholars to try to create expectations in much the same way
that advertisers try to create tastes (see Parsons 1991). Because of path
dependency those efforts are constrained in important ways by where the
system is today. Yet because social evolution depends so much on the
choices that people make, there is always room in principle for creating
expectations that are not simply extrapolations from the past but that also
reflect where we want to be in the future. To fully exploit this potential,

What Is International Relations For?


however, IR needs to think in a fundamentally forward-looking way rather

than in the backward-looking way we mostly do now, and that will require
thinking through some issues about time that have yet to be addressed
much in IR.
This conclusion raises the question of what a forward-looking, steering-oriented social science might look like. Perhaps the most well developed answer is the discipline of constitutional economics, essentially
founded by James Buchanan, which is interested in choices among rules or
constraints (Buchanan 1990; also see Vanberg 1994a and the journal
Constitutional Political Economy). Work in this tradition has done much to
clarify important problems of constitutional design and includes tentative
applications to international politics as well (Sobel 1994, Vibert 1995). To
be sure, constitutional economics is associated with an individualist ontology and libertarian ideology that some might find unpalatable. A question
worth exploring is how much that ontology and ideology are integral to the
science. But there are, in any case, other theoretical resources with which to
build a science of steering, including the new constitutionalism in political
theory and a growing body of theoretically informed empirical work on
constitutional design in the European Union, the former Soviet bloc, South
Africa, and so on (a sampling of this literature might include Horowitz
1991; Soltan and Elkin 1996; Weiler 1997; Elster, Offe, and Preuss 1998).
An interesting feature of all this scholarship is that it is not easily classified
as either positivist or critical but combines elements of both. Perhaps thinking about steering would be a way to put the positivist/critical binary to
good use.

1. The plural here is important; even more so than positivism, critical theory
today encompasses a wide range of epistemological, ontological, and political commitments, virtually the only common thread in which is rejection of positivism.
Schools of thought often grouped under this heading include Gramscian and
Frankfurt School Marxism, radical feminism, and postmodernism, among others.
The characterizations of critical theory in this chapter apply more or less well to
these different theories, and in some cases not at all.
2. Applied to constitutional evolution, Hayeks distinction seems parallel to
McIlwains (1940) between ancient and modern constitutions.
3. Hayek calls advocates of this approach constructivists, which may be confusing because the term means something different today in IR. Constructivists in
IR also emphasize the role of agency in creating social orders but make no assumption that institutional outcomes are or should be intended.
4. In fact, Hayek himself has advocated constitutional designs (e.g., 1979); the
problem, as otherwise sympathetic critics have noted (Witt 1994: 185186), is that
it is hard to justify this kind of interventionism within a spontaneous-order approach
(cf. Vanberg 1994b: 190195).



5. However, to the extent that I understand his treatment, he uses it to very different effect (see Luhmann 1997). My thinking on the balance between spontaneous
and constructed orders is based on Prisching (1989), Hodgson (1991b), Wilke
(1992), and Vanberg (1994b).
6. On teams, see Sugden 1993, and on corporate versus collective identity, see
Wendt 1999: ch. 5.
7. This raises the question discussed by Neufeld (Ch. 8 in this volume) of the
extent to which my own work can be considered critical. Although I have long seen
myself as working in a critical vein (1987, 1992) and have once been asked to stand
in for critical theory (1995), my thinking has always been state-centric and positivistic, on both counts giving it dubious credentials as critical theory. For a good
discussion of the relationship between critical theory and constructivism in IR, see
Price and Reus-Smit (1998).
8. The phrase the knowledge problem is Lavoies (1985); my treatment is
somewhat broader.


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The Contributors

Kenneth Baynes is associate professor of philosophy at the State

University of New York at Stony Brook. He is author of The Normative
Grounds of Social Criticism: Kant, Rawls, and Habermas and coeditor,
with James Bohman and Thomas McCarthy, of After Philosophy: End or
Transformation? His latest work, Discourse and Democracy: Essays on
Habermass Between Facts and Norms, coedited with Rene von
Schomberg, is forthcoming. He has also translated several key texts in contemporary critical theory, including Axel Honneths The Critique of Power.
Chris Brown is the author of International Relations Theory: New
Normative Approaches and Understanding International Relations, and
some two dozen papers in the 1990s on various aspects of contemporary
international political theory. He is past chair of the British International
Studies Association and, after holding posts at the Universities of Kent and
Southampton, is now professor of international relations at the London
School of Economics.
Robert W. Cox is professor emeritus of political science at York
University, Toronto. He is author of Production, Power, and World Order:
Social Forces in the Making of History and a collection of essays prepared
with Timothy J. Sinclair, Approaches to World Order.
Jeffrey Harrod is currently senior research fellow at the Research Centre
for International Political Economy, University of Amsterdam. He is professor emeritus from the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague,
Netherlands. Among his publications are Power, Production and the


The Contributors

Unprotected Worker; Industrialisation and Labour Relations; and Social

Forces and International Political Economy: Joining the Two IRs, in
Stephen Gill and James H. Mittleman (eds.), Innovation and
Transformation in International Studies.
Kimberly Hutchings is senior lecturer in politics at the University of
Edinburgh. She is author of Kant, Critique and Politics; International
Political Theory; and Cosmopolitan Citizenship (coedited with Roland
Dannreuther). She is currently writing a book on Hegel and feminist philosophy.
Deiniol Lloyd Jones is lecturer in international studies at the University
of Leeds. His research interests center on the third-party initiatives in
processes of conflict resolution and questions of cosmopolitan international
theory. He is the author of Cosmopolitan Mediation? Conflict Resolution
and the Oslo Accords, and articles on political theory and international conflict, and he is winner of the Lord Bryze Prize for Comparative and
International Politics. Currently, he is writing a book on ethics and the individual in postconflict societies.
Andrew Linklater is the Woodrow Wilson Professor of International
Politics at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. His latest books are The
Transformation of Political Community: Ethical Foundations of the PostWestphalian Era and Theories of International Relations.
Craig N. Murphy is M. Margaret Ball Professor of International Relations
at Wellesley College and president of the International Studies Association.
His teaching and research interests include international political economy,
North-South relations, and international organization. He is editor of the
journal Global Governance.
Mark Neufeld teaches in the Department of Political Studies at Trent
University in Peterborough, Canada. He is the author of The Restructuring
of International Relations Theory and has published articles in Millennium,
Review of International Studies, and Global Society. He is presently completing a book on globalization.
N. J. Rengger is professor in international relations at the University of St.
Andrews. He is author of International Relations, Political Theory and the
Problem of Order and Political Theory, Modernity and Postmodernity:
Beyond Enlightenment and Critique.

The Contributors


Alexander Wendt is associate professor of political science at the

University of Chicago. He has taught previously at Yale University and
Dartmouth College. He is the author of several articles on international
relations theory as well as the recently published book Social Theory of
International Politics.
Sandra Whitworth is associate professor of political science and
womens studies at York University in Toronto, Canada, and research associate at the Centre for International and Security Studies, York University.
She is author of a number of journal articles and book chapters, as well as
Feminism and International Relations. Currently, she is writing a book on
gender, race, and the politics of peacekeeping for the Lynne Rienner
Critical Security Studies series.
Richard Wyn Jones is senior lecturer in the Department of International
Politics at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. He is author of Security,
Strategy and Critical Theory and editor of the journal Contemporary
Wales. He is currently writing a book on Welsh nationalism.


Aberystwyth. See University of Wales,

abuse, sexual, 154. See also prostitution
Adorno, Theodor, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11,
1415, 23, 9496, 99, 100102, 104,
105, 128, 202203
agency, 5559, 171, 173, 180183, 196,
211, 213, 219. See also agentstructure problem
agent-structure problem, 208213. See
also agency
AIDS, 154155
Akashi, Yasushi, 155
Alker, Hayward, 68
Amin, Samir, 93
Anderson, Perry, 194
Angell, Norman, 64, 65
Annan, Kofi, 50
Apel, Karl-Otto, 5, 30, 41
Arafat, Yasir, 181
Armstrong, Louis, 203
Aron, Raymond, 37
Ashley, Richard, 80, 83
Bakhtin, Mikhail, 28
Bakunin, Mikhail, 26
Banks, Michael, 176
Baran, Paul, 195
Barber, Benjamin, 161, 162
Bartleson, Jens, 80, 82
Baudrillard, Jean, 141

Beitz, Charles, 99, 161

Benhabib, Seyla, 28,
Benjamin, Walter, 5, 9, 94, 128
Bernstein, Jay, 100102, 105
Bhaskar, Roy, 132
biosphere, 5152. See also
environmental degradation
Blair, Tony, 55. See also New Labour
Bloch, Ernst, 96
Booth, Ken, 78, 96
Boulding, Elise, 68, 69
Boulding, Kenneth, 68
Boutros-Ghali, Boutros, 50, 152, 155
Brailsford, Henry, 193
Bronner, Stephen Eric, 7,
Brown, Chris, 10
Buchanan, James, 223
Bull, Hedley, 40, 168
Bush, George, 52
Buzan, Barry, 115, 174
Cambodia, 151157
Campbell, David, 199
Camp David agreements, 174. See also
Israeli-Palestinian dispute; Palestine
Liberation Organization (PLO)
Canada, 57
capitalism, forms of, 54
Carr, E. H., 4647, 61, 66, 72, 114
Chase-Dunn, Christopher, 93




Checkel, Jeffrey, 12
Cheysson, Claude, 48
China, 55; ancient, 34
Chomsky, Noam, 67, 173
citizenship, 3435, 3841
civilization, 53
civil society, 52, 57, 59, 164, 165, 169,
205, 221; global, 39, 161, 169,
214215, 221. See also public sphere
class, concept of, 49, 137
Cold War, 46, 68, 69
communicative action, theory of, 98,
172, 198. See also Habermas
Communist International, 193
conflict resolution, 172175, 185
Connolly, William, 199
constructivism, vii, 3, 4, 10, 1215, 16,
93, 98, 103, 108, 131134, 196, 202,
consumerism, 52, 53, 161
corporate elites, 122. See also
transnational corporations (TNCs)
cosmopolitanism, 92, 109, 166, 180,
184, 185, 215. See also democracy,
counterhegemony, 56, 57, 59
covert world, 5657
Cox, Robert W., 2, 5, 14, 18, 37, 63, 70,
80, 8185, 96, 120, 122, 150, 192,
195, 205
critical social theory, 6, 9, 24, 35,
Curle, Adam, 73, 74
Curtis, Grant, 155
Darwin, Charles, 197
Davidson, Paul, 217
Dialectic of Enlightenment, 7, 95, 194
de Certeau, Michel, 104106
deliberative politics, 163165
Delors, Jacques, 57
democracy: cosmopolitan, 39, 169, 195;
deficit, 214; procedural, 162163,
169; theory of, 18
Der Derian, James, 80, 82, 199
Derrida, Jacques, 11, 24, 40, 80
de St. Pierre, Abbe, 91
Deutsch, Karl 68
Devetak, Richard, 98, 99
Dilthey, Wilhelm, 116
discourse ethics, 9899, 198. See also

Dulles, John Foster, 68

Durkheim, mile, 104
Earth Summit, 52
economics, 115, 118, 194, 217, 223;
rethinking, 52. See also
hyperliberalism; international
political economy; market mentality;
Egeland, Jan, 184
Ellington, Duke, 203
Elshtain, Jean, 80, 84
emancipation, 3, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15,
16, 19, 30, 70, 84, 89, 92, 98, 99,
131, 133134, 151, 197, 205, 208,
emancipatory: change, 67, 23;
potential, 18, 139, 200201; project,
24, 26, 43, 83, 92, 100106, 194;
theory, 96, 206
English School, 43
Enlightenment, the, 24, 25, 45, 92, 98,
104, 138, 178, 194, 197, 200, 201,
Enloe, Cynthia, 69, 80, 84, 150151,
environmental degradation, 51, 125. See
also biosphere
episteme, 130, 132, 133
equal rights, 28
EU. See European Union
Eurocentrism, vii, 197, 198
European Union (EU), 167, 186, 207,
210, 213, 214, 223
facilitation, 175178, 179; Norwegian,
Falk, Richard, 92, 161, 162
feminism, 25, 26, 28, 34, 53, 70, 71, 79,
80, 8385, 89, 93, 96, 121, 132, 137,
138, 141143, 149159
fieldwork, 156157. See also research
Fishkin, James, 163
Follet, Mary Parker, 67
Foreign Affairs, journal of, 69
foreign policy, critical analysis of, 42,
Foucault, Michel, 11, 24, 28, 80, 83,
140, 141
Frankfurt School, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 23, 25,
32, 79, 80, 9397, 127, 129, 137,

138, 191, 194200, 202, 208; early,
14; influences on, 34
Fraser, Nancy, 17, 32, 144, 164, 165
Freud, Sigmund, 94, 104
Friere, Paulo, 93
Fromm, Eric, 5, 94, 95
Frost, Mervyn, 137
G7. See Group of Seven
Gadamer, Hans-Georg, 28, 176
Galtung, Johan, 68
Gershwin, George, 203
Giddens, Anthony, 32, 132
Gill, Stephen, 96
globalization, 4749, 52, 58, 122, 127,
161, 167, 168; of production, 48
Gramsci, Antonio, 5, 6, 9, 75, 129, 195,
201. See also Gramscian tradition;
neo-Gramscian approach
Gramscian tradition, 8, 11, 15, 17, 93,
137. See also Gramsci, Antonio;
neo-Gramscian approach
Grant, Rebecca, 80
Greece, ancient, 33, 34
Greene Balch, Emily, 63, 65, 66, 70, 75
Green Movement, 55
Grotius, Hugo, 91
Group of Seven (G7), 50, 56, 213
Gunder Frank, Andr, 93
Habermas, Jrgen, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 14,
17, 18, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30, 32, 40, 41,
62, 68, 80, 82, 85, 96, 97, 101, 103,
106, 108, 161, 162166, 169, 170,
176179, 180, 183, 186, 194, 198,
199, 201. See also communicative
action; discourse ethics
Halliday, Fred, 93
Hampson, F. O., 179, 180
Harding, Sandra, 141
Harrington, Michael, 67
Harrington, Mona, 71
Harrod, Jeffrey, 5
Hayek, Friedrich, 208, 223
Held, David, 99, 161, 166169, 178,
180, 195
Hegel, G. W. F., 2, 24, 34, 94, 104
Hegelian-Marxist tradition, 5, 9,
hegemony, 56, 57
Heine, Christian, 196
Heiner, Ronald, 219


Hilferding, Rudolf, 193

Hindu nationalists, 201
historical materialism, 18, 24, 97, 134,
135, 137, 200
historicism, 81, 89
Hobbesian tradition, 46, 218
Hobsbawm, Eric, 59
Hobson, John A., 61, 62, 64, 66, 70, 72,
193, 194
Hoffman, Mark, 3, 7, 10, 73, 96, 99,
108, 176
Hoffmann, Stanley, 71
Holsti, Ole, 68
Honneth, Axel, 5, 18, 194
Hopf, Ted, 3, 12
Horkheimer, Max, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 14, 17,
94, 95, 131, 144, 197
human rights, 38, 50, 161, 206, 212,
Hurst, Paul, 196
Husseini, Faisal, 185
Hutton, Will, 196
hyperliberalism, 48, 54. See also
IMF. See International Monetary Fund
immanent critique, 88
immutability thesis, 25, 174
imperialism, 64, 65, 72, 118, 200
India, 201
inequality, global, 74
International Monetary Fund (IMF), 50,
56, 192, 196
international political economy, 2, 15,
72, 93, 120, 123, 192; critical, 195,
196. See also economics
international society, 33, 34, 36, 42, 98,
103, 113, 118, 215; Hellenic, 33, 36
international system, 4951, 91, 92, 97,
intersubjectivity, 5255
intervention, discourse on, 140
Islam, 55, 201
Israeli-Palestinian dispute, 175177,
181186. See also Camp David
agreements; Palestine Liberation
Organization (PLO)
Jackson, Robert H., 76
James, Alan, 151
Japan, 57



Jay, Martin, 9
Jennar, Raoul, 154
Jospin, Lionel, 55
Kaplan, Caren, 152, 159
Kant, Immanuel, 34, 37, 79, 9192,
104, 116, 195, 197
Kantian tradition, 5, 3841, 8687, 166,
Karsh, Efraim, 182
Kellog-Briand Pact (1928), 114
Kennan, George, 67
Keohane, Robert, 3, 31, 69, 108,
141142, 149
Keynes, John-Maynard, 194, 217
Khmer Rouge, 153154
Kissinger, Henry, 69, 174
Korea, war, 120
Korsch, Karl, 94
Kratochwil, Friedrich, 12, 14, 202
labor, concept of, 18
land mines, 206
League of Nations, 65, 66, 72, 120,
Ledgerwood, Julie, 154
Lenin, Vladimir Illich, 195, 198, 201
Liebnitz, Gottfried Wilhelm, 91
Linklater, Andrew, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 10, 11,
13, 18, 80, 8285, 93, 97, 98, 99,
102103, 106, 108, 174, 178, 180,
195, 198, 206
Lippmann, Walter, 67
Lowenthal, Leo, 94
Luhmann, Niklas, 211
Lukcs, Georg, 94
Luxemburg, Rosa, 193
Lyotard, Jean-Franois, 11, 28, 29, 41
Machiavelli, Niccol, 113. See also
Machiavellian, 37. See also
Machiavelli, Niccol
Madeuf, Bernadette, 47
MAI. See Multilateral Agreement on
Mann, Michael, 32
Mannheim, Karl, 113
Marcuse, Herbert, 5, 94, 95, 127, 194
market mentality, 5152, 124. See also
economics; hyperliberalism;

international political economy;

Marx, Karl, 34, 92, 94, 104, 192196,
197, 199, 200, 201. See also
Marxism, 8, 23, 25, 26, 27, 3031, 37,
42, 43, 49, 53, 79, 80, 81, 97, 104,
129, 132, 134, 135, 137, 145, 178,
196, 221. See also Marx, Karl
Mazen, Abu, 183
McCarthy, Thomas, 127
mediation, 171175, 178181, 182,
184, 185, 186
Mexico, 5758. See also Zapatista
Methuen, treaty of, 116
Metz, Johann Baptist, 93
Michalet, Charles-Albert, 47
Mill, John Stuart, 196
Mills, C. Wright, 134, 135, 136, 138
Mitchell, Chris, 176
Mitrany, David, 67
Mohanty, Chandra, 152
Moltmann, Jrgen, 93
Moon, Donald, 170
Morgenthau, Hans J., 111, 112114,
117121, 125
Morris, William, 191, 192, 193, 196,
199, 200, 201
Multilateral Agreement on Investment
(MAI), 50
Murphy, Craig, N., 1, 16, 191
NAFTA. See North American Free
Trade Agreement
NATO. See North Atlantic Treaty
nbuleuse, 56
Nehru, Jawaharlal, 67
Nelson, Benjamin, 29, 32
neo-Gramscian approach, 31, 70, 80,
85. See also Gramsci, Antonio;
Gramscian tradition
neoliberalism, 17, 49, 50, 53, 72, 76,
123, 192, 196. See also economics;
hyperliberalism; international
political economy; market
neorealism, 23, 25, 32, 42, 45, 46, 47,
66, 67, 76, 80, 81, 83, 88, 112120,
133, 180181, 192, 206

Neufeld, Mark, 7, 8, 10, 149, 150, 198,
New Deal, Roosevelts, 194
New Labour Party (UK), 201. See also
Blair, Tony
Newland, Kathleen, 80
Niebuhr, Reinhold, 61, 66, 67
nihilism, 100102
Nixon, Richard, 69
normative theory, 1, 2, 5, 161
North, Robert, 68
North American Free Trade Agreement
(NAFTA), 5758
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
(NATO), 167, 207
Nove, Alec, 196
Ong, Aihwa, 152
ontology, 4546, 59
Onuf, Nicholas, 14
Orwell, George, 173
Oslo peace process, 175178, 181185
Palestine Liberation Organization
(PLO), 175, 181, 185. See also
Camp David agreements; IsraeliPalestinian dispute
Paris Peace Agreement (1991), 153
Pati, Daphne, 158
peace research, 68, 7273
Peres, Shimon, 182
Perkin, Harold James, 123
Peterson, V. Spike, 80, 84
Plato, 103105
PLO. See Palestine Liberation
Pogge, Thomas, 161, 168, 169
Polanyi, Karl, 51, 54, 66
Popper, Karl, 116
Porter, Cole, 203
positivism, 1, 2, 3, 14, 15, 70, 71, 81,
83, 84, 97, 115, 116, 130, 132, 135,
136, 138139, 150, 157, 173, 198,
205208, 212, 214, 215, 219221
post-Fordism, 48
post-Marxist approach, 25, 27, 30
postmodernism. See poststructuralism
Postone, Moishe, 18
postpositivism, vii, 12, 31, 32, 40, 97,
106, 171, 223; problems of, 3637
poststructuralism, vii, 3, 4, 1012, 15,


16, 2324, 25, 26, 31, 34, 59, 74, 79,

80, 8285, 93, 106, 132, 137, 138,
141, 143, 178, 198, 201, 208
praxeology, 3642, 222
Price, Richard, 1214, 15, 16, 224
prostitution, 153154. See also abuse,
public sphere, 164165, 170, 215;
transnational, 213. See also civil
Pufendorf, Samuel, 91
Rabin, Yitzshak, 172, 181
rape, 154
Rapoport, Anatol, 68, 72, 73
rationality, 11, 120125, 130, 201, 207,
211, 212, 216, 218219, 221
Ratner, Steven, 151
realism. See neorealism
Reich, Robert, 123
Rengger, N. J., 4, 10
research, 149160, 198
Reus-Smit, Christian, 1214, 15, 16,
Rhodes, Cecil, 63
Ricardo, David, 116
Rorty, Richard, 28, 29
Rose, Gilian, 105
Rosenau, James, 161, 162
Rosenberg, Justin, 93, 131, 134139,
141, 145, 191
Ruggie, John Gerard, 12
Russell, Bertrand, 113
Russett, Bruce, 68
Russia, 55. See also Soviet bloc, former
Said, Edward, 93, 174, 177
Sakamoto, Yoshikazu, 57
Schopenhauer, Arthur, 113
Schumpeter, Joseph, 113, 118
Schwarzenberger, Georg, 111, 112115,
scientific-objectivism, 1, 2
Scruton, Roger, 202
security studies, 2, 31, 96
Shapiro, Michael, 199
Sharoni, Simona, 157
Shawcross, William, 152
Singer, J. David, 68, 69
Small, Melvin, 68, 69
Smith, Steve, 71, 149, 150



socialism, scientific, 194

Socialist International, 193
social movements, 57, 58, 61, 70, 73,
74, 8990
society, European, 34
Socrates, 105
South Africa, 223
sovereignty, 88, 140, 143, 162, 165,
Soviet bloc, former, 223. See also
Stacey, Judith, 157
state: concept of, 139140;
personification of, 117, 120
Strange, Susan, 74
Sunstein, Cass, 162
Sylvester, Christine, 80, 199
Taylor, Charles, 31
telecommunications technology, 169
Teschke, Benno, 196
Thatcher, Margaret, 57. See also
Thatcherism, 55. See also Thatcher,
Tickner, Ann, 80, 96, 141142
Tennies, Ferdinand, 114
Tooze, Roger, 72
TNCs. See transnational corporations
transnational corporations (TNCs), 48,
111112, 123, 167. See also
corporate elites
Trilateral Commission, 50, 56
truth, concept of, 62, 68, 71, 81, 130,
132, 135, 141, 197199, 202,
UN. See United Nations
United Nations (UN), 50, 51, 119,
120, 166, 168, 172, 185, 207,
210; peacekeeping, 149,
UNDP. See United Nations
Development Programme
Unger, Roberto Managebeira, 93
UNIFEM. See United Nations
Development Fund for Women
United Nations Development Fund for
Women (UNIFEM), 152

United Nations Development

Programme, 74
United Nations Transitional Authority
in Cambodia (UNTAC), 151157,
United States, 57, 64, 67, 186, 207, 209;
imperialism, 65
universalism, ethical, 2627, 30, 43
University of Wales, Aberystwyth, viii,
46, 65
UNTAC. See United Nations
Transitional Authority in Cambodia
Urquidi, Victor, 72
Vale, Peter, 7172
Verfassungspatriotismus, 162
Vietnam, war, 120
von Vattel, Emmerich, 91
Wales, 17
Walker, R.B.J., 11, 80, 83
Wallerstein, Immanuel, 93
Waltz, Kenneth, 2, 69
Walzer, Michael, 30
Warren, Bill, 195
Webb, Beatrice, 197
Webb, Sydney, 197
Weber, Cynthia, 131, 139143, 145, 191
Weber, Max, 37, 53, 58, 104, 113
Wellesley College, 63
Wellmer, Albrecht, 5
Wendt, Alexander, 1213, 14, 131134,
135, 141, 149, 191, 202
WHO. See World Health Organization
Wight, Martin, 92
Williams, Raymond, 171
Wilson, Woodrow, 65
Wolf, Margery, 158
World Bank, 50
World Economic Forum, 50, 56
World Health Organization (WHO), 154
World Trade Organization (WTO), 50,
207, 213
Wright, Eric Olin, 123
WTO. See World Trade Organization
Zaire, 58
Zapatista rebellion, 57. See also Mexico
Zimbabwe, 201

About the Book

This book represents the first attempt to bring together the leading critical
theorists of world politics to discuss both the promise and the pitfalls of
their work. The authors range broadly across the terrain of world politics,
engaging with both theory and emancipatory practice. Critiques by two
scholars from other IR traditions are also included. The result is a seminal
statement of the critical theory approach to understanding world politics, an
essential point of reference for future work in the field.
Richard Wyn Jones is senior lecturer in international politics at the
University of Wales, Aberystwyth. He is author of Security, Strategy, and
Critical Theory.