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Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The English School Theory

The English School of international relations theory (sometimes also referred to as Liberal Realism, the International Society school or the British institutionalists) maintains that there is a 'society of states' at the international level, despite the condition of anarchy (that is, the lack of a global ruler or world state). The English school stands for the conviction that ideas, rather than simply material capabilities, shape the conduct of international politics, and therefore deserve analysis and critique. It thus can be seen as a via media between realism and liberalism/cosmopolitanism[1] but also has independent elements that clearly distinct it from these theories

International System
The English school starts with the realist assumption of an international system that forms as soon as two or more states have a sufficient amount of interaction. It underlines the English school tradition of realism and Machtpolitik (power politics) and puts international anarchy at the centre of International Relations Theory.[1]

International Society

Hedley Bull, however, argued, that states share a certain common interest (usually the "fear of unrestricted violence  that lead to the development of a certain set of "rules". He thus defined the international system as
a group of states (or, more generally, a group of independent political communities) which not merely form a system, in the sense that the behaviour of each is a necessary factor in the calculations of the others, but also have established by dialogue and consent common rules and institutions for the conduct of their relations, and recognise their common interest in maintaining these arrangements.
These rules are maintained by a set of institutions: war, the great powersdiplomacy, the balance of power, and international law, especially in the mutual recognition of sovereignty by states. Since these rules are not legally binding and there is no ordering institutions, speaking of norms would probably be more appropriate. States that respect these basic rules form an international society. Brown and Ainley therefore define the international society as a "norm-governed relationship whose members accept that they have at least limited responsibilities towards one another and the society as a whole"[4]. States thus follow their interests, but not at all costs.[5]
There are differing accounts, within the school, concerning the evolution of those ideas, some (like Martin Wight) arguing their origins can be found in the remnants of medieval conceptions of societas Christiana, and others such as Hedley Bull, in the concerns of sovereign states to safeguard and promote basic goals, especially their survival. Most English School understandings of international society blend these two together, maintaining that the contemporary society of states is partly the product of a common civilization - the Christian world of medieval Europe, and before that, the Roman Empire - and partly that of a kind of Lockean contract.

[edit]World Society

Based on a Kantian understanding of the world, the concept of world society takes the global population as a whole as basis for a global identity. However, Buzan also argued that the concept of World Society was the "Cinderella concept of English school theory", as it received almost no conceptual development.[1]

[edit]Reexamination of traditional approaches

A great deal of the English School of thought concerns itself with the examination of traditional international theory, casting it — as Martin Wight did in his 1950s-era lectures at the London School of Economics — into three divisions (called by Barry Buzan as the English School's triad, based on Wight's three traditions):
  1. Realist (or Hobbesian, after Thomas Hobbes) and thus the concept of international system
  2. Rationalist (or Grotian, after Hugo Grotius), representing the international society
  3. Revolutionist (or Kantian, after Immanuel Kant) representing world society.
In broad terms, the English School itself has supported the rationalist or Grotian tradition, seeking a middle way (or via media) between the 'power politics' of realism and the 'utopianism' of revolutionism.
Later Wight changed his triad into a four part division by adding Mazzini (see: Martin Wight, Four Seminal Thinkers in International Theory: Machiavelli, Grotius, Kant, and Mazzini).
The English School is largely a constructivist theory, emphasizing the non-deterministic nature of anarchy in international affairs that also draws on functionalism and realism.

[edit]Internal divisions

The English School is often understood to be split into two main wings, named after two categories described by Hedley Bull:
  • The pluralists argue that the diversity of humankind - their differing political and religious views, ethnic and linguistic traditions, and so on - is best contained within a society that allows for the greatest possible independence for states, which can, in their forms of government, express those differing conceptions of the 'good life'. This position is expressed most forcefully by the Canadian academic Robert Jackson, especially in The Global Covenant (2001).
  • The solidarists, by contrast, argue that the society of states should do more to promote the causes of human rights and, perhaps, emancipation - as opposed to the rights of states to political independence and non-intervention in their internal affairs. This position may be located in the work on humanitarian intervention by, amongst others, Nicholas Wheeler, in Saving Strangers (2000).
There are, however, further divisions within the school. The most obvious is that between those who argue that the school's approach should be historical and normative (such as Robert Jackson or Tim Dunne) and those who think it can be methodologically 'pluralist', making use of 'positivist' approaches to the field (like Barry Buzan and Richard Little).

[edit]Affinities to others

The English School does have affinities:
Contemporary English School writers draw from a variety of sources:


The 'English-ness' of the school is questionable - many of its most prominent members are not English - and its intellectual origins are disputed. One view (that of Hidemi Suganami) is that its roots lie in the work of pioneering inter-war scholars like the South African Charles Manning, the founding professor of the Department of International Relations at the London School of Economics. Others (especially Tim Dunne and Brunello Vigezzi) have located them in the work of the British committee on the theory of international politics, a group created in 1959 under the chairmanship of the Cambridge historian Herbert Butterfield, with financial aid from the Rockefeller Foundation. Both positions acknowledge the central role played by the theorists Martin WightHedley Bull (an Australian teaching at the London School of Economics) and John Vincent.
The name 'English School' was first coined by Roy Jones in an article published in the Review of International Studies in 1981, entitled "The English school - a case for closure". Some other descriptions - notably that of 'British institutionalists' (Hidemi Suganami) - have been suggested, but are not generally used. Throughout the development of the theory, the name became widely accepted, not least because it was developed almost exclusively at the London School of Economics, Cambridge and Oxford University.

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