International relations (IR) is a discipline where the characteristics, qualities, causes, and outcomes of interactions between states are discussed from multiple perspectives. It is not enough to find solid explanations of national behaviors but to examine how different actors contribute to national and international security. Globalization has changed the environment, culture, and political spheres, explaining the urgency of positivism (the power of human reason and law) and post-positivism (collective identities and constructs). Each theory has its advantages and disadvantages within the IR context. Compared to liberalism and realism, where definite positive aspects of interpersonal relationships affect security, international society theory focuses on various norms and values that allow relating IR.
Three Strong Points of the International Society Approach
One of the main points for this theoretical perspective is related to the real attitudes of states towards their roles and places. All players need to define a common set of rules and share their ideas within the existing institutions. Thus, the tradition of realism (also called Machiavellian) in international society turns out to be beneficial for nations with their interests and agreements. According to Machiavelli (2014, p. 40), if a person becomes a ruler with the people’s support, it is necessary to keep those people’s interests in mind and maintain them on his side. It is normal for states to cooperate and presume anarchical methods to keep the peace but be always ready for war.
Another point is based on the revolutionist aspect when people are united on certain moral principles. Kant and his followers supported this issue by explaining society as a more significant factor than states and organizations. There are many rules and laws to be followed for the whole society, neglecting other state systems. This idea helps people stay in contact and support the worth of human rights, equality, and freedom.
The third assumption in the chosen theoretical perspective is connected to the rationalist approach that combines the characteristics of the previous two ideas. Grotius was the philosopher whose teaching formulated the principle of rationalism and defined states as the primary actors that had to follow the universal rules. International society should be aware of common rules to reduce conflict possibilities. There has to be a balance of power within the frames of international law and diplomatic relationships.
One Important Critique of International Society Theory
Despite the intention to create a solid and equal society, the international society approach has several shortages and ambiguous issues that provoke additional critics and questions. For example, realists could use their long history and prove that states’ cooperation is one of the most powerful ways to achieve security (Jackson et al., 2019, p. 98). They would hardly agree that international society might be formed by states bound by common moral rules and values, neglecting their interests. States may have some issues in common to prove their respect and support, but it happens not because they have no other options to follow but because it is in their interest to cooperate. Thus, cooperation cannot be the major element in explaining the IR quality – it is not enough to cover all states’ needs and expectations. However, defining this current international society perspective is explained by the narrowness of other theories and the inability to cover all sides of international relations in the modern world changed by globalization. Although some concerns are present in the chosen theory, its identification of realism, rationalism, and revolution characteristics are good contributions to the discipline and further recommendations.
Two Theoretical Approaches
Several positivist theories have successfully gained recognition and support in many societies during the last centuries. Realism and liberalism are the two prevalent theories that serve as the basic IR foundations. According to realists, states should increase their power by developing actions in the existing international system and addressing their competitive interests (Jackson et al., 2019, p. 70). State security and power remain the two critical issues in this theoretical perspective. Still, these statements seem too narrow and do not allow diversifying other possibilities and approaches in developing international relations. Realism shows that the only outcome of international relationships is conflict, and it is necessary for states to be ready for it one day. Such conflict-related human nature is offensive and pessimistic, proving the desire to find another theory for strong IR development.
Liberalism is another positivist perspective for consideration as opposed to the international society approach. Liberals aim at embedding states in domestic and international contexts to constrain their actions. Following the liberal tradition, human beings are the core of international relationships with good and peaceful intentions (Jackson et al., 2019, p. 124). Institutions are not the outcomes but security causes with no material power (Bull, 2002, p. 126). In other words, wars and conflicts are not acceptable in states involved in IR. At the same time, this approach limits the power or even the possibility of change, which contradicts the idea of globalization. Therefore, liberalism is not as effective as the international society approach is for modern people.
There are many reasons to support and oppose international society as the most effective IR theory in today’s world. People want to cover all their needs and use available resources to prove their professionalism and powers. Compared to liberal and real thoughts, characterized by the opposite extremes of peace and war, the chosen theoretical perspective combines liberalism and realism and creates a background that develops the best opportunities for the IR discipline.
Bull, H. (2002). The anarchical society: A study of order in world politics. 3rd ed. Palgrave.
Jackson, R., Sørensen, G., & Møller, J. (2019). Introduction to international relations: Theories and approaches. 7th ed. Oxford University Press.
Machiavelli, N. (2014). The prince (T. Parks, Trans.). Random House UK. (Original work published in 1532).