Anarchy and Sovereignty in International Relations


To begin with, the main problem that is being discussed in the sphere of global relations is the meaning and intricacies of two diachronic terms: anarchy and sovereignty. Many social studies scientists who specialize in international communications and development strategies have argued on what is the most effective way of approaching this question. Remarkably, the concepts of hierarchy versus anarchy have been discussed and theorized upon for centuries with no coherent conclusion. Obviously, there are many schools of thought regarding the issue of international freedom and the current process of globalization. The aim of this paper is to analyze basic liberal and realist approaches to the problem of anarchy and sovereignty and research the difficulties related to the international discourse on the future of hierarchies in a global sense. Nevertheless, the solution to the problem of determining the future of horizontal or vertical relations worldwide cannot be obviously one-sided. It is a complex, multidimensional issue that is worth studying and researching, considering the complicated socio-political state of the world.

Anarchy as a Concept

To begin with, international anarchy has three independent and quite obscure definitions that are considered modern: the lack of the superior governmental system, international order, or, on the contrary, international disorder. Correspondingly, the diverse meanings lead to various interpretations and rather opposite theories on the issue. Most scientists view anarchy in its first meaning, which is the term of showing horizontally arranged relations between countries on the world stage. In that sense, hierarchy, the term describing vertical relations with powerful authorities, becomes the phenomenon opposite to anarchy (Lechner, 2017). Remarkably, if the government of a particular country views itself as an internally sovereign state, its external relations with other countries automatically become of sovereignty or anarchy in its international order meaning. Therefore, the absence of leading or ruling figures is viewed by theorists more or less dually. First, anarchy is considered to be an international equal state of being that humanity should be inspired to achieve. Second, some political scientists like David Miller, in contrast, view such lack of hierarchy as the destruction of traditional values that lead to violence and decay.

The Conceived Sovereignty

Initially, the well-known political term sovereignty has rather different connotations and meanings, as well. In its general sense, the phenomenon represents a globally independent, self-governing country on an international stage. Remarkably, in contradiction to anarchy, sovereignty is usually viewed by the folk as a positive, patriotic and powerful term that is used to describe confidence in one’s external governmental policies (Lechner, 2017, p.2). However, a variety of respected philosophers, theorists, and scientists in the political sphere consider sovereignty as “organized hypocrisy” (Cerny et al., 2017). Cerny and Prichard assume that globalization and technological development worldwide makes sovereignty sanctimonious and disingenuous regarding the issue of liberty and equal rights. In addition, this ideology is viewed to be connected with nationalistic values of race and class supremacy if fragmentation allows the state and capital combine against the oppressed social groups. Moreover, the all-consuming aim to be independent or sovereign makes the authorities perpetuate harmful stereotypes that damage foreign nations and exploit the industrial-military complex to preserve outdated ideas of class consciousness and privilege. Hence, the concept of sovereignty comes from various contradicting sources so this discourse can be easily manipulated by the government to conceive an initially well-meaning idea of independence and patriotism into its inherently negative manifestation.

The Differing Significance of Anarchy

As it was mentioned previously, the phenomenon of anarchy is quite broad and it consists of various theories and ideologies. Regarding the proclaimed liberal approach to this issue, scientists distinguish a rather big contribution of Kant to the dialogue about the expansion of rights and morals from one country to the entire world. The philosopher called that “perpetual peace” – an ideal situation when the horizontally arranged relations turn out to be international (Lechner, 2017, p.15). Indeed, the democratic or liberal peace the Kant was mentioning in his works got global recognition and appreciation. The author was one of the few theorists who were not afraid of the aforementioned term “anarchy” in the sense of international order.

Additionally, liberals could not imagine equality with any kind of superiority or class supremacy, in consequence, the phenomenon of anarchy had a quite positive connotation. The complete horizontal arrangement was the main objective of Kantian philosophy so that individual person’s moral code could become the ultimate rule for the whole humanity. Anarchy, as in “democratic peace”, was described as the global stateless state – the living with common rules and regulations. That way anarchy, in theory, could make everyone equal and valid in the social community, regardless of their class, religion, gender, profession, and so on.

Speaking of the realist approach to the dialogue of the nature of anarchy, theorists consider Hobbs’ world-view to be related to realism. The “Hobbesian” theory is based on the idea that the government of any state is inherently insecure and dependent which makes it crucial to have centralized power resources (Havercroft et al., 2017). The author mentions that the most convenient future for humanity should be with power-holding superior state because of the incredibly flawed human nature that cannot function properly without any vertical guidance. Although multiple liberalism-oriented philosophers criticized Hobbs, his ideology was and still is greatly supported by mostly privileged social groups who gain power from the vertical arrangement of state. Considering various pieces of evidence that society actually does not compute well without any superior leader, it becomes clear why such idea of the necessary ruling system is highly appreciated among philosophers (Havercroft et al., 2017). In addition, the realist theorists argued that our human nature can be described as being rather susceptible, open-minded, and vulnerable without any person in power that manages to have control over the behavior of others. Hence, Hobbs thinks that it is essential to have a global international vertical system that could regulate not only one particular state but the entire world in order to gain general peace among all people.


To sum up, the previously mentioned concept of international anarchy and sovereignty differs greatly, regarding the controversial nature of these phenomena. The views on independence, equality, and the global regulation system are based on multiple schools of thought. In the paper, two main theories on anarchy were discussed Kantian and Hobbesian theories: the liberal and the realist approaches. Furthermore, despite all the intricacies, complications, and differences in their ideologies, authors agree that hierarchy and anarchy are the opposite terms of the political spectrum. While hierarchy and, in this case, sovereignty are vertically arranged systems with superior authorities, anarchy is an international state of living without any subordinate and superordinate units.


Cerny, Philip G., and Alex Prichard. “The new anarchy: Globalisation and fragmentation in world politics.” Journal of international political theory 13.3 (2017): 378-394.

Havercroft, Jonathan, and Alex Prichard. “Anarchy and International Relations theory: A reconsideration.” Journal of International Political Theory 13.3 (2017): 252-265.

Lechner, S. (2017). Anarchy in International Relations. In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of International Studies.

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DemoEssays. "Anarchy and Sovereignty in International Relations." July 16, 2023.