International Society and Relations

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An international society can be explained to mean a group of autonomous states that have not only formed a system that ensures that the behavior of each state is considered by others, but have also established a common dialogical agreement that ensures that the conduct of the members is governed by common rules and institutions. The states also acknowledge their common roles in sustaining these arrangements (Buzan, 2004, p.9).

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The concept of international society has four views of departure. First, the international society cannot be comprehended as anarchy (Mullerson, 2000, p. 22). Secondly, international relations should not be conceptualized as simply a direct swapping of domestic phenomena regarding the government and order, instead, the main concern of the scholarly research should be on the idea of a society comprising independent states and the observation of order within it, based on unique instruments rather than domestic ones. This non-consideration of the domestic perspective enables one to appreciate a broader view of governance systems than those related to authority and enforcement that is based at one point.

The third fundamental point is that looking at it in terms of the society does not mean that associations among the states are necessarily peaceful, and stable. The question is whether and to what limits the conflicts take place against the framework of common institutions. Whether agreement on vital issues exists or not, it does not depend on the number or degree of these conflicts, but rather on what is fueling these conflicts, and if they are occurring within the context of agreed regulations.

Therefore, to concur with the aspect of a common structure of rules and social practices does not mean that conflicts and power do not play a major role in relations among many nations. Social practices are vital in the understanding of how the balance of power operates, and the dynamic nature of war (Nugent and Vincent, 2004, p. 216). It is in this same vein that they help in understanding the morality or law that governs relationships among nations. Therefore, international society does not result, as is normally misconceived to a simple liberal aspect that is concerned with the enforcement of law and morality.

The last view of departure was that a plausibly harmonious international society had historically originated from the classical European state system. The basic duty was therefore to comprehend the past aspects upon which the theory and practice of international order was based. The uniqueness of the contemporary international society is historically exceptional and can only be conceptualized through a collection of experience right from the Renaissance times. Getting these historical basics required that theorists of international society get to comprehend both order and cooperation, with respect to how legal and moral norms function (Bull, Alderson and Hurrell, 2000, p. 5).

The international society rests on three components: power, common interests, and common values. Power is imperative in the institutions of the international society (Kingsbury, 2002, p.3). These institutions entail the equilibrium of power, the duty of great powers, and the way in which this should be managed, as well as the organization of power. Actually, there is a crucial way in which the balance of power remains the most critical basis.

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Without it and without firm understanding between the great powers and on how they should conduct relations affecting them all, then the crucial components of international relations such as law, organizations and shared values will not be attainable. One of the most essential propositions about our contemporary experience of international relations is that, the ability of independent states to exist together implies the existence of a balanced aspect of power in the sense of the way power is spread so that no single state is more powerful than others are. Therefore, international order is a reflection of common interests (Stivachtis, 2007, p.2).

States show cooperation due to the fact that, despite differences in their values and controversies in their power relations, they are able to see the possibility of benefiting from forming a framework that enables them have a common ground in numerous aspects. The international society is defined by its shared regulations, norms, and institutions. In the contemporary international society, the aspect that sticks states together is the Westphalian ideology of independence, territorial integrity and the principle of non-intervention (Worth, 2005, p.18). In the international society, states acknowledge the common need to maintain these social arrangements. Moreover, the structure of an international society is of a hierarchical order, founded on western supremacy. For example, the unchanging position of Africa in the global division of labour since independence shows that the international society is of a hierarchical makeup (Ojo, 1999, p.3).

The International society can be comprehended from three conceptions: the pluralist versus solidarist conception, the practical versus purposive associations and the Ottoman problem (Bellamy, 2005, p. 121).

Pluralism and Solidarism perspectives

From the standpoint of pluralism, states are the sole barriers of rights and responsibilities within a law that is governing many nations; however, states consent only on some low principles like common recognition of independence and non-intervention. They have different perspectives of justice, their cumulative desire for order results to the creation of some fundamental rules. The solidarist’s standpoint places a major emphasis on the implementation of international law.

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Since the international society ultimately comprises of individuals, a right and obligation to charitable involvement exists, that the pluralists will not be ready to admit. Engaged in the concept of international society, we find the appreciation that states have legal duties that are implementable. However, the use of force is justifiable by the international society, even though the connection has been in a frequent changing association to the moral and lawful order (Anon., 2009, p.4). The international society concept therefore unfolds an apprehension on this question. This, nevertheless, could be perceived as a fruitful system for dealing with interesting issues like humanitarian intervention (Roberson, 2002, p. 104).

Practical versus Purposive Associations

In purposive associations, states work together to enhance joint relations such as commerce and shared security while in practical associations, states are defined by shared rules. Whereas the latter is argued to carry obligations, the former has the authority and rules pegged on the resulting benefits; and the connection represented by norms can place a set of laws and obligations as binding as such.

The practical association is in some way compatible with pluralism, but the purposive association requires the uniformity of its members that cannot be achieved or pleasant. Those who criticize this line of thought normally emphasize on the impartiality and totality that has to be attributed to the basic traditions of international society such as independence, non-interference and the European form of state.

This perspective can further be demarcated in two different ways. First, being the connection between states and the actions they engage in together with persons who attempt to engage in politics with one another. Even though the state as a system can be conceptualized in its own terms, it is often intertwined with politics at some other points. Therefore, politics and morality that is people oriented create unique dynamics compared to politics that are within the state system. The politics within the state system does not only pose a threat to the organization international society, but also promises to provide a stronger political and social structure to the international society (Roberson, 2002, p. 104).

Common identities of the autonomous states are what demarcates an international society from an international system. The depiction of a state’s identity determines how other states will handle and recognize it within the international society. For instance, the counterinsurgency policy between the United States and Philippines in the 1950s was largely shaped by the representation of Filipinos (Ojo, 1999, p. 5). The state identities determine how they interpret themselves and their surrounding. It also helps to define the measures of action that suit a given state.

The Ottoman Problem

While the units of states formed complex inter-state societies with regard to the structure of culture, there is need for a regulatory mechanism in terms of a system’s orderliness that transcends a particular culture (Vojcanin and Dorsey, 1990, p. 234). The Ottomans did not constitute the European international society and were not willing to apply the latter’s regulations and institutions. However, their powerful nature made them to be considered by the European system major powers. Types of engagement were obtained, in this case by deriving from the Ottoman Capitulation that were later on altered and transformed into a great European instrument for dealing with those who are outside their international society (Roberson, 2002, p. 105).

International Society Challenges the Idea of International Anarchy

Anarchy is a key idea in the school of international relations called realism. It does not necessarily refer to chaos in this context, but rather, to the absence of world government or generally political authority above or amid nation states (Lake, 2009, p.1). Anarchy therefore simply connotes absence of a world government. Structural realists view anarchy in this vein as the core aspect of the international system; it is what differentiates local from international politics. Without the existence of a global government to implement international tranquility, states dwell in a state of anxiety without there being dependence on each other for defense.

They will tend to overestimate the security machinery of others and will tend to take initiatives to beef up their own security systems such as investing more in their military expenses. An example is the recent strain on U.S – Iran ties concerning the latter’s development of nuclear weaponry (Sidlaw and Henschen, 2008, p.378). This leads to a security dilemma where states attempts to buttress their security systems, raising tension among their counterparts who see their own defense thwarted by those attempts. They then respond by improving their own defense mechanisms. The outcome in accordance to the supporters of offensive realism is unavoidable conflict.

Other theorists tend to dispute this by asserting that, a security dilemma is avoidable and that in the absence of a world government, states may deem it fit to embrace the advantages of mutual aid as much of as of conflict. Anarchy, explained in the context of lack of government may not mean total disorder. It is not very different from the existence of an international society that are autonomous and yet governed by shared regulations and institutions. Their existence is possible without there being any government to ensure that law and order has been adhered to.

The existence of an international society with its own values and institutions influences the behavior of states in the same way that the absence of a global government does. This raises doubt as to whether anarchy should be accorded the significance granted it by the realist theories. It is just among many other factors that affect behavior of states (Robinson, 2008, p.18).


An international society is a state of states. It comprises of different autonomous states that come together with common rules and institutions that govern the conduct of its members. Each state that encompasses his society has a certain role to play. In studying international society, there are four points of departure: International society is not anarchy, it is not a domestic exchange of ideas regarding the government and order, the societal picture does not necessarily imply stability and peace among the inter-state associations, and that the origin of a harmonious international society is the European state.

The international society is established on three pillars: common interests, power, and shared values. In the current international society, states are glued together by the Westphalian ideology of independence, territorial integrity and the principle of non-intervention. Three perspectives also help in understanding the concept of the international society. In the pluralism and solidarism perspective, states form regulations regarding basic aspects, but they may differ on other complex issues. This is besides emphasizing on enforcement of the laws.

In practical versus purposeful associations, states are defined by common rules as well as working jointly to promote joint relations. In the Ottoman problem, an orderly system should be enacted in an international society to its cultural structure. Although some scholars view the concept of the international society as a cause for anarchy (chaos), the reality is rather the opposite. Anarchy is absence of political control that is above the states. This does not imply disorder. States within the international society have shared rules and norms, which govern their behavior.


First, a vivid comprehension of the contemporary international society requires a clear departure from some of the old concepts that blur its meaning. Secondly, in a situation where modern states find it difficult to coexist, they should learn to embrace common interests, power and shared values that should govern them. Thirdly, international conflict does not originate from international society if the latter has reciprocative mechanisms among its members, which glues them together.

Reference List

Anon. 2009. Chapter 1: Is There an Enduring Logic of Conflict in World Politics? (Online). Web.

Bellamy, A.J., 2005. International Society and its Critics. New York: Oxford University Press. (Online). Web.

Buzan, B., 2004. From International to World society? English school theory and the social structure of globalization. New York: Cambridge University Press (Online). Web.

Bull, H. Alderson, K. and Hurrell, A., 2000. Hedley Bull on International Society. London: Palgrave Macmillan. (Online). Web.

Kingsbury, B., 2002. Legal positivism and Normative politics: International Society, balance of Power and Lassa Openheim’s Positive international law. (Online). Web.

Lake, D., 2009. Anarchy. University of California: Department of Political Science. (Online). Web.

Mullerson, R. A., 2000. Ordering anarchy: international law in international society. Netherlands: Martinuf Nijhoff Publishers. (Online). Web.

Nugent, D. and Vincent, J., 2004. A Companion to the anthropology of Politics. NY: Blackwell Publishing Limited. (Online). Web.

Ojo, B.A., 1999. Contemporary African Politics: a Comparative Study of Political Transition. Maryland: University Press of America. (Online). Web.

Roberson, B.A., 2001. International society and the development of international relations theory. London: Continuum International Publishing Group. (Online). Web.

Robinson, P., 2008. Dictionary of International Security. New York: Polity. (Online). Web.

Sidlaw, E. and Henschen, B., 2008. America at Odds. OH: Cengage Learning. (Online). Web.

Stivachtis, Y.A., 2007. International order in a Globalizing World. London: Ashgate Publishing. (Online). Web.

Vojcanin, S. and Dorsey, G., 1990. Law, culture and Values: Essays in Honor of Gray L. Dorsey. New Jersey: Transaction publishers. (Online). Web.

Worth, O., 2005. Hegemony, international political economy, and post-communist Russia. London: Ashgate Publishing. (Online). Web.

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