Anarchy and International Relations: A Reconsideration

By Jonathan Havercroft and Alex Prichard. Jonathan Havercroft is Associate Professor in International Political Theory at the University of Southampton (Academia.eduGoogle Scholar). You can read more posts by Jonathan here.


What is anarchy? Despite its centrality to the self-image of the discipline of International Relations, few have critically enquired into the essence of this concept.  Most still deploy textbook definitions, namely that anarchy is the absence of rulers, of a centralized authority, or a system of self-help. This basic understanding of anarchy is largely uncontested. However, by contrast, the study of the purported causal effects of anarchy, rather than the meaning of the concept itself, has arguably shaped the evolution of the discipline over the last fifty years at least. Debates between classical and neo-realists, and between neo-realists and neo-liberals, revolved around understanding ‘order without an orderer and organizational effects where formal organisation is lacking’.

The rejection of the terms of these two debates, including a rejection of anarchy, was central to the evolution of normative and critical IR theory. Anarchy was synonymous with statism, with the absence of morality, and what Jo Freeman called, in a different context, ‘the tyranny of structurelessness’, where hierarchies and domination proliferated in the absence of formal institutions. Elsewhere, the analytical virtue of anarchy was itself questioned, such that to focus on anarchy was itself a problematic collusion with the gendered and Eurocentric legacies of modernity. Barry Buzan and Richard Little (2001) argued that IR’s failure to speak beyond the confines of our own academic and intellectual silos was primarily a function of the discipline’s ‘anarchophilia’. IR has had little influence, they argued, because our core concept has had such little traction outside the neo-neo debates that have shaped so much of the discipline, but little else.

Yet despite this extensive debate, few have taken the time to interrogate the concept’s plural meanings, to see what the consequences might be if anarchy itself were defined differently. This paucity of critical conceptual analysis is surely a function of how uncontested the meaning of this concept has been, despite its centrality to the field.

In a recently published special issue of the Journal of International Political Theory we seek to puff at the glowing embers of this debate. Our aim is to take stock of, examine, and reconsider the concept of anarchy, and its place in the study and practice of international relations. We contest mainstream conceptualizations of anarchy by drawing upon original research in political philosophy, medieval history, pluralist theory, history of political thought, and of course, IR theory. The aim is to investigate how differing conceptions of anarchy can advance the study of world politics. Our conclusion is that there are a range of ways in which anarchy can be defined, deployed, and perhaps even appropriated by IR theorists, and that ‘the anarchy problématique’ has plenty of life in it yet.

 

Yesterday we woke to the news that the United States of America has chosen a new president: Donald Trump.

By Jonathan Havercroft, Associate Professor in International Political Theory at the University of Southampton (Academia.eduGoogle Scholar). You can read more posts by Jonathan here.


What happened?

As was the case with the 2015 UK General Election and the Brexit Referendum many of the pollsters and pundits were wrong in their projections that Hillary Clinton would win the U.S. Presidency. I include myself in that camp, so there is no gloating from me over the outcome.

All I will say is that the rise of polling aggregation websites such as fivethirtyeight.com has created a bit of over confidence in the general public (and political junkies in particular) about how predictive polls can be. I am not an expert in survey research methods, but all of my professional colleagues who are tend to be far more cautious about making predictions as they are well aware that polls, and even aggregates of polls can go wrong.

Figuring out exactly how Donald Trump pulled off this upset is a bit simpler. Looking at where he did well at the state and county level in the U.S. shows that he overwhelmingly won white, noncollege educated voters in places such as the upper Midwest (states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin). While these voters have been trending towards the Republican Party for some time, Obama was able to keep enough of them in his electoral coalition to win twice. Enough of them broke for Donald Trump in key swing states that he was able to carve out an electoral college win.

What does this mean?

As has been the case since Donald Trump announced his candidacy, conventional political wisdom has often been wrong. Despite significant cynicism among voters, politicians do often at least try to keep their major campaign promises. In Trump’s case, despite his often overthetop rhetoric, he has been remarkably consistent about what he wanted to if he won the election. Let’s review his core promises.

“Build a wall and get Mexico to pay for it”

It is still difficult for me to imagine how Trump will persuade Mexico to pay for his proposed border wall (short of potentially threatening Mexico with the United States’ military might), but I do believe that it is likely that one of his first goals will be to ask Congress to fund the construction of a wall.

Implicit in this promise was also a plan to for stricter immigration. While he did waffle throughout the campaign about what exactly this would mean, at different points he did promise to prevent all Muslims from entering the U.S., and engage in mass deportations of the approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Again campaign rhetoric will quickly run into questions of cost and feasibility, but there is no doubt that Trump and the Republican Party will take his win as a mandate to crackdown on both legal and illegal immigration.

Trade Protectionism

The region where Trump pulled off his upset is often referred to as the “Rustbelt”. It is the part of the U.S. that has experienced the most significant deindustrialization over the last 40 years. Many members of the working class in these regions have lost their high-paying unionised jobs in steel factories and car plants as companies have moved their manufacturing facilities to other countries with lower wages.

Trump has promised to tear up unpopular trade deals such as NAFTA (a trade deal often closely associated with the Clintons) and get better deals. Again, what such better deals entail was never fully spelled out. But a Trump Presidency coming on the heels of a Brexit vote clearly signals that the era of free trade and low tariffs is nearing an end. From a UK perspective, suddenly needing potential trade partners, the timing of the rise of protectionism in the U.S. could not be worse.

Skepticism towards NATO and Military Alliances

While Trump promised to “defeat ISIS”, again his campaign never offered any coherent explanation of how they would do this. Aside from escalating the war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, most of Trumps other foreign policy promises were decidedly isolationist.

He frequently signaled that he would seek détente with Russian President Vladimir Putin; and he indicated at several points a desire to rework the NATO alliance, going so far as in one interview to claim that he might not come to the aid of a NATO ally that was being attacked.

This is dangerous for a few reasons. First NATO, and other collective security arrangements, rely on the premise that “an attack against one member state is an attack on all member states”. This is intended to create a credible commitment between all members that will deter potential adversaries from invading any country. If the most powerful member in the alliance (the U.S.) signals that it no longer would be willing to come to the defence of a European ally, members of the alliance could be left defenseless against rival states.

As Russia has already invaded and annexed a portion of the Crimea, many states in Eastern Europe are concerned that a breakdown of NATO could leave them vulnerable to a Russian invasion. Secondly, if Trump does begin to withdraw the U.S. from its international alliances in both Europe and the Asia Pacific, it is not clear who or what fills the void. Does this election signal the end of U.S. hegemony in military affairs, and the rise of some new multipolar regime where every state (including the UK) must go it on its own?

Possible Attacks on the Rule of Law

One of the reasons this campaign was so nasty was because of the personal nature of Donald Trump’s attacks on his political opponents. At different times during the campaign he attacked the independence of judges (threatening one judge who was overseeing a lawsuit against him) and threatening to rewrite U.S. libel laws to make it easier for him and other public figures to sue media outlets for negative coverage.

Most jarring of all was his threat to lock up Hillary Clinton if she lost. The controversy over the handling of State Department emails has dogged her during the course of the Presidential campaign, yet despite several investigations, no one has been able to produce evidence that Clinton has committed a crime. Yet central to Trump’s closing argument during the campaign was a promise the “drain the swamp”.

Trump and the Republicans today find themselves in control of both Houses of Congress, and in a position to swing the balance of power on the Supreme Court to a conservative majority. Americans are fond of praising their governmental system as one built on checks and balances designed to prevent tyranny. But we find a President Elect today who is openly disdainful of the rule of law, without any other branch likely to check any attempt he might make to overstep his authority.

While it seems absurd, it is certainly possible, perhaps even likely, that Trump and the Republicans might use this victory to fulfill their campaign promise to prosecute Clinton and her political enemies. President Obama may have to use his Presidential power of the pardon (much as President Ford pardoned President Nixon after Watergate) in order to prevent a constitutional crisis over whether victor of an election can use the powers of the executive branch to punish the loser.

How dark is it?

This is a hard question to answer. If we take Trump at his word and look at his mandate, he is in a position to implement much of his platform if elected. Obviously there are ways for political opponents to resist these actions through both legal avenues and protests, yet all of the most effective levers are in the hands of Trump.

During the course of the Presidential campaign, many on the left openly asked if Trump was a fascist, and occasionally went so far as to compare him to Mussolini or Hitler. I think that this strategy (one that the Clinton campaign played into by trying to brand Trump as unfit for office) backfired. The danger of comparing Trump to the worst figures of the 20th Century is that if he does not seem as bad as them the accuser ends up seeming histrionic.

I think a more interesting, and perhaps disturbing possibility, is that the liberal consensus of respect for the rule of law, commitment to global free trade, free movement of peoples, and collective security between democratic nations, might have been exceptional; and democratic authoritarianism (i.e. popularly elected leaders who reject the rule of law and liberalism) might be more common.

President Erdogan of Turkey, President Putin of Russia, and Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy are all recent examples of right wing populists who have exercised power in this way. Rather than being a deviation from the norm, the victory of Trump might be viewed as a rejection of the liberal consensus that has governed the U.S. and much of Western Europe since the end of World War II. Coming on the heels of a Brexit vote that was very much fueled by similar sentiments, and the rise of right wing populist movements on the continent, it is worth reflecting on why so many voters are rejecting the liberalism that Westerns have taken for granted for much of the last century.

Misarchism

Jonathan HavercroftBy Jonathan Havercroft, Senior Lecturer in International Political Theory at the University of Southampton (Academia.eduGoogle Scholar). You can read more posts by Jonathan here.


misarchism

My current research project examines the ideology of misarchism. Misarchism means the hatred of government or rule.  I am interested in both the intellectual history of the concept and its revival in contemporary right-wing populist movements in the U.S. and Europe. The term originally appears in German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals, second essay, section 12, where he writes:

The democratic idiosyncrasy of being against everything that dominates and wants to dominate, the modern misarchism (to coin a bad word for a bad thing) has gradually shaped and dressed itself up as intellectual, most intellectual, so much so that it already, today, little by little penetrates the strictest, seemingly most objective sciences, and is allowed to do so.

In developing this term, Nietzsche was critiquing the political philosopher Herbert Spencer for attempting to ground political philosophy in the new science of evolution. Nietzsche objected to these types of philosophies on two grounds. First, evolutionary philosophies were reactive ideologies – they focused on the process of adaptation to explain change – where as Nietzsche felt that change was brought about through power struggles by conflicting entities. Second, these evolutionary philosophies denied the roles of power, struggle, and domination in both political and biological processes.

Today, we tend to label the political philosophy of Herbert Spencer and his followers social Darwinism, but this term is doubly misleading. First, it is misleading because what 19th century theories of evolution had to say about politics was (and still is) a contested terrain. Second, it is misleading because Darwin’s theory of evolution was not the most influential biological theory in this debate. That distinction belonged to the French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. Lamarckian evolution posited that a mechanism of inherited characteristics was the driving force behind how species evolved. Conversely, Darwin argued that random variation in the traits of organisms drove the process of evolution. This difference in causal mechanisms leads to two different views about what evolution is. If one sides with Lamarck, then evolution is a progressive process in which only the fittest organisms survive over time. Conversely, if one agrees with Darwin, then evolution is a process of random selection in which mutations in an organism’s traits and changes in the natural environment lead to species variation, but there is no clear progress or teleology in the evolutionary process. In this debate Spencer sided decisively with Lamarck and argued that social changes in areas as diverse as economics, politics and morality were all driven by an evolutionary process in which only the best traits were inherited from one generation to the next.

For Spencer, this process of “survival of the fittest” meant that society itself was getting better over time and individuals were becoming more moral. This belief that society was progressing through a process of the survival of the fittest, led Spencer to defend a radical laissez-faire ideology. He believed that any attempt by the government to intervene in the market place or offer assistance to the poor or disadvantaged would undermine the process of social evolution, and as a consequence would weaken society.

This 19th century ideology of misarchism had four core features: 1. opposition to any kind of government action except for the administration of justice; 2. opposition to any assistance to the poor and disadvantaged; 3. belief that the social system will produce the best possible outcomes for society as a whole when the individual members of society act without government assistance; 4. the belief that morality, rather than government, should regulate the behavior or society. What this added up to was a fierce opposition to any government action outside of the use of a judicial system to punish crimes against individuals and private property.

In labeling Spencer’s philosophy as misarchist, Nietzsche points out that it is hatred of government that animates these types of movements. The term combines the ancient greek roots mis for hatred and arkhein for government or rule. This makes misarchism distinct from two other right wing ideologies – libertarianism and social conservatism. Libertarians ground their ideology in a defence of individual rights and freedom. And while libertarians would agree with misarchists on issues of the government’s role in the economic sphere, they differ when it comes to the police powers of the state as misarchists tend to favour heavier police interference in areas of personal conduct such as drug consumption. Conversely, social conservatives ground their ideology in the preservation of the existing social order and defend the use of government in areas that preserve traditional values and social institutions.