Critiquing the Canon: International Relations Theory considers canonical ideas and thinkers within International Relations and locates them within their historical and geopolitical contexts. Each chapter is dedicated to a particular thinker, and encourages students to explore the limitations of the canon, supporting the decolonizing of our understanding. Pedagogical features include author tutorial videos and end-of-chapter questions to prompt students to develop their own voice and perspective on international relations.
6. Alexander Wendt
This chapter examines the key ideas and concepts of ‘classical’ anarchist thinkers. Among the ideas associated with anarchism are: a belief in the potential of human nature, and a corresponding critique of arbitrary authority; a refusal of state authority; a rejection of the institution of private property; militant atheism; and an emphasis on the importance of revolutionary politics. The chapter first considers how anarchist views on human nature, the state, political action, private property, and religion vary, and where possible, what unites them. It then discusses recent critical responses to anarchism, particularly ‘post-anarchism’, and specific historical examples of anarchism. It also analyses the extent to which anarchism can be regarded as a cohesive political ideology.
35. Angela Y. Davis
This chapter examines the core ideas of Angela Davis’s radical Marxist, abolitionist, political theory. It starts by looking at her experiences of racism, sexism, and imprisonment which underpin her activism to create a better world against the oppressions of the capitalist, white supremacist and heteropatriarchal state. Additionally, Davis advances arguments for the abolition of prisons. Davis’s abolitionism promotes a more humane and inclusive society based on radical conceptions of community, caring, and solidarity. The chapter also covers Davis’s work examining how Black women in particular faced multiple and intersecting oppressions of gender, race, class, and sexuality, especially as articulated in her Women, Race and Class (1981).
This chapter examines St Thomas Aquinas' political ideas. Aquinas combined Aristotelian ideas with Christian concepts, distinguishing between the natural and supernatural orders, and attributing inherent validity to the natural order, including political life. His theory of law linked, through reason, the eternal law of God, natural law, human positive law, and divine law. According to Aquinas, government's justification was its purpose — securing the common good. He favoured limited monarchy in a mixed constitution. The chapter first provides a short biography of Aquinas before discussing his views on natural and supernatural orders, government, tyranny, and temporal and spiritual power. It concludes with an assessment of Aquinas' contribution to political thought in the area of just war theory.
This chapter examines a number of key concepts in Hannah Arendt's work, with particular emphasis on how they have influenced contemporary thought about the meaning of human rights. It begins with a discussion of Arendt's claim that totalitarianism amounts to a destruction of the political domain and a denial of the human condition itself; this in turn had occurred only because human rights had lost all validity. It then considers Arendt's formula of the ‘right to have rights’ and how it opens the way to a ‘political’ conception of human rights founded on the defence of republican institutions and public-spiritedness. It shows that this ‘political’ interpretation of human rights is itself based on an underlying understanding of the human condition as marked by natality, liberty, plurality and action, The chapter concludes by reflecting on the so-called ‘right to humanity’.
This chapter examines the argument of Aristotle's Politics in relation to the theory of justice that he articulates in his Nicomachean Ethics. It first provides a biography of Aristotle before discussing his view of human nature, the starting point for understanding his views on both ethics and politics. In particular, it considers what Aristotle means when he describes man as a ‘social and political animal’ (zoon politikon). It goes on to explore the theory of justice developed in Aristotle's Ethics, focusing on the notions of proportional and arithmetical equality. It also analyses the two areas of social life in which the concept of justice has a practical application: the spheres of rectificatory and distributive justice. The chapter concludes with an assessment of the continuing relevance of Aristotle for political philosophy today, especially for the debate between John Rawls and his communitarian critics.
3. Aristotle and bell hooks
This chapter compares Aristotle’s and bell hooks’ conceptions of politics. Even though he was a foreigner in Athens and therefore not a citizen, Aristotle writes from the position of the ruling classes; whereas bell hooks writes from the position of a Black American woman. The chapter examines Aristotle’s theory of teleology in relation to knowing and being, which it then contrasts with hooks’ conception of knowledge as constructed through experience and positionality in relation to marginalized groups. It further compares Aristotle’s understanding of human nature comprised of reason, appetite, and spirit to hooks’ view that human beings are political subjects constituted by systems of power that situate them in hierarchical categories, but who can reclaim agency and create their own subjectivities. Finally, the chapter focuses on the home as the first social institution in which individuals learn about authority, gender, and social relations. It contrasts Aristotle’s defence of patriarchy with hooks’ conception of homeplace as a site of resistance that Black women created to nurture and restore human dignity.
6. Baruch Spinoza
This chapter focuses on the major works of Baruch Spinoza as they impact upon politics, particularly the posthumously published Ethics (1677). This broadly philosophical work, composed over fifteen years, opens up many important ideas that are further developed in Spinoza’s two explicitly political works, Theologico-Political Treatise (1670) and the unfinished Political Treatise. The chapter explores some of the key ideas and concepts to be found in Ethics, including the concepts of nature, individuality, mind and body, imagination, and freedom. It then deepens the political ground of these concepts by addressing power and democracy. The chapter also advances Spinoza’s idea of the multitude and considers some of the political exclusions present in his political philosophy. While one may find limits in the perception of political equality, gender, and race in his works, Spinoza’s analysis of the relationship between the human condition and the natural world remains deeply prescient for many radical political thinkers reflecting on such themes today.
This chapter examines Jeremy Bentham's political thought. Bentham is both an advocate of laissez-faire and an interventionist, a liberal rationalist and an equivocally liberal thinker prepared to sacrifice the rights of individuals to the well-being of the multitude. His ideas remain contested from all quarters, yet the outline of his actual political thought remains obscure. This chapter defends an interpretation of Bentham as an important liberal thinker with a commitment to the role of government in defending personal security and well-being, but also with a strong scepticism about government as a vehicle for harm as well as good. It first provides a short biography of Bentham before discussing his psychological theory as well as his account of value and duty. It also explores Bentham's views on psychological hedonism, obligations and rules, sovereignty and law, and representative democracy. It concludes with an assessment of Bentham's complex relationship with liberalism.
13. Beyond ideology?
This chapter examines conceptions of human nature and ideological responses to globalization. It begins with a discussion of the two reasons for the persistence of ideological dispute regarding human nature. First, ideologies differ in their views of human nature, and these differences continue to generate competing visions of the good society consistent with this nature. Second, disagreement about the good society might be built into human nature. The chapter considers the different ideological conceptions of human nature and the implications of globalization for existing political ideologies such as liberalism, conservatism, feminism, environmentalism, multiculturalism, and religious fundamentalism. It also explores a range of arguments that suggest the possibility of resolving or ending ideological debate, asking whether it is possible to show the failure of a particular ideology, whether there can be a non-ideological way of doing politics, or whether there could there be an end of ideology.
23. Bhikhu Parekh
This chapter evaluates Bhikhu Parekh’s texts on multiculturalism, as they are his best-known works and have had a significant impact on political philosophers, scholars in other disciplines, and policy-makers. After introducing Parekh, the chapter examines his ideas about culture and cultural diversity. It then considers why he values intercultural dialogue and examines his approach to legitimizing cultural diversity in a polity. The chapter also discusses Parekh’s approach to fostering unity among the culturally diverse citizens of a polity and looks at how his practical political interventions relate to his ideas about what political philosophy is. Finally, the chapter considers the reception of Parekh’s work on multiculturalism and how best to interpret it.
This chapter examines Edmund Burke's political thought. It first provides a short biography of Burke before discussing the three main interpretations of him: first, as a utilitarian; second, in relation to natural law; and the third, which attempts to bring together the two antithetical interpretations. It argues that even though Burke has elements of utilitarianism in his thought, and although he subscribes to natural law and universal principles, both somehow have to coincide in the traditions and institutional practices of a community. On the question of political obligation, although he uses the language of contract, it is clear that Burke does not subscribe to its central tenets. The chapter proceeds by exploring Burke's views on sovereignty, constitutionalism, colonialism, and slavery.
18. C.L.R. James
This chapter investigates a key tension in the political thought of C.L.R. James, the celebrated Trinidadian Marxist. James believed that the human condition was defined by a search for meaningful freedom through the pursuit of collective self-determination. Yet he was conflicted as to whether peoples of African descent had to depend for this meaning on the European civilization that had enslaved and colonized them. The chapter details James’s unique contribution to Marxist thought: a ‘dialectic of freedom’ that triangulates the struggle between the bourgeoisie, the masses, and the radical intelligentsia. It then considers the impact of colonial education on James’s own development and the ways in which it made Black intellectual production, for him, intrinsically political and contentious. The chapter also explores the dualism with which James treated Blackness as a resource with which to struggle for meaningful freedom. It considers James’s legacy as edifying, precisely because of the intellectual forthrightness by which he lived his split ethical, theoretical, and political orientation towards Europe and Africa.
10. Carole Pateman and Charles Mills
This chapter begins by providing an overview of contractualism, explaining how social contract theories emerged in early modern north-west Europe as a critique of monarchical absolutisms. Contract theorists argued that absolutist monarchical governments were illegitimate. In recent years, political theorists Carole Pateman and Charles Mills have signally exposed the exclusionary violence and inclusionary discriminations related to gender, race, and class that lay within this apparently universal egalitarianism. To do this, they have theorized three prior contracts of domination: the sexual contract, the racial contract, and the settler contract. Each prior contract explains hypothetically how self-selected individuals have agreed that they can subordinate those whom they have already excluded. Thus, the subsequent social contract legitimates, not the human equality implied in its stated premises, but the inequalities that it fails to disclose. The chapter also registers the development of a further ‘capacity’ or ‘ableist’ contract modelled on the prior contracts of gender, race, and class. It examines the principles of contractual egalitarianism in relation to the subordinating dynamics of capitalist inequality.
17. Catharine Macaulay and Edmund Burke
This chapter discusses the contrasting philosophies of Catharine Macaulay and Edmund Burke regarding the fundamental nature of political society and the approaches to take on reform. Macaulay’s philosophy revolves around the core ideal of freedom as independence from arbitrary control. Additionally, Macaulay’s work recognized that people’s beliefs are shaped by the social environment but could be manipulated by elites. On the other hand, Burke’s philosophical beliefs are organic, contextual, and pragmatic while addressing the complexity and range of social considerations and human motivations that contribute to a viable and productive state. However, Burke’s philosophy could be challenged as to whether he provides protection against possible abuse of power or not. The chapter also covers the weakness in their philosophical works while considering equal citizenship rights for women and minority social groups.
11. Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de la Brede et de Montesquieu
This chapter examines the political theory and writings of French Enlightenment thinker, Montesquieu. It contends that Montesquieu’s constitutional theory of the separation of powers promoted a strong government which advanced individual freedom, maintained internal stability against absolutism and populism, and allowed the state to expand its boundaries at a moment in history when European powers were fighting each other to establish colonial empires across the world. The chapter presents the contexts in which he composed The Spirit of the Laws (1748), and then discusses Montesquieu’s typology of governments and considers the various notions of time and progress that undergird his view of how the various constitutions in the world are ordered. Finally, the chapter looks at commerce, peace, colonialism, and slavery, bringing to light the tensions and contradictions in Montesquieu’s thought.
Cary J. Nederman
This chapter examines Cicero's social and political theory, which rests upon his conception of human nature, namely that human beings are capable of speech and reason. It first provides a short biography of Cicero before discussing his discursive approach to republican rule based on the claim that human nature can only be fully realized through articulate and wise speech. For Cicero, social order requires wise leaders who direct citizens toward the proper goals of cooperation and mutual advantage and who thus seek peace rather than war. The chapter proceeds by analysing Cicero's argument that political institutions must be built upon natural law and virtue, especially justice, along with his notion of patriotic citizenship and his views on war and peace; statesmanship, courage, and otium; the origins of political inequality; and republican government.
7. Citizenship Theory
This chapter examines theories of citizenship as an important supplement to, rather than a replacement for, theories of justice. It first considers what sorts of virtues and practices are said to be required by democratic citizenship, focusing on two different forms of civic republicanism: a classical view which emphasizes the intrinsic value of political participation, and a liberal view which emphasizes its instrumental importance. The chapter then explains how liberal states can try to promote the appropriate forms of citizenship virtues and practices. It also discusses the seedbeds of civic virtue, taking into account a variety of aspects of liberal society that can be seen as inculcating civic virtues, including the market, civic associations, and the family. It concludes with an analysis of the politics of civic republicanism.
This chapter examines communitarianism and its central assumptions. It first considers two strands of communitarian thought: one camp argues that community should be seen as the source of principles of justice, whereas the other camp insists that community should play a greater role in the content of principles of justice. The chapter then explores the communitarian claim that the liberal ‘politics of rights’ should be abandoned for, or at least supplemented by, a ‘politics of the common good’. It also analyses the communitarian conception of the embedded self; two liberal accommodations of communitarianism, the so-called political liberalism and liberal nationalism; the communitarians’ ‘social thesis’, focusing on Charles Taylor’s belief that liberal neutrality cannot sustain the social conditions for the exercise of autonomy; and the connection between nationalism and cosmopolitanism. The chapter concludes with an overview of the politics of communitarianism.
This chapter examines the basic features of conservative ideology, with particular emphasis on its strongly contested nature. It begins with a discussion of two major issues: whether conservatism is distinctive ideology and whether the core ideas of conservatism have changed over time. It then shows how conservatism differs from varieties of liberalism and goes on to explore ‘conservatism’ in the United States, along with some apparent manifestations of conservatism in political parties and movements outside the United Kingdom. Finally, it looks at the relationship between conservatism and religion. Case studies on the ideas of Edmund Burke, Winston Churchill, Barry Goldwater, and Friedrich von Hayek are presented.