The Moral Purpose of the State

The Moral Purpose of the State: Culture, Social Identity, and Institutional Rationality in International Relations

Christian Reus-Smit
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    The Moral Purpose of the State
    Book Description:

    This book seeks to explain why different systems of sovereign states have built different types of fundamental institutions to govern interstate relations. Why, for example, did the ancient Greeks operate a successful system of third-party arbitration, while international society today rests on a combination of international law and multilateral diplomacy? Why did the city-states of Renaissance Italy develop a system of oratorical diplomacy, while the states of absolutist Europe relied on naturalist international law and "old diplomacy"? Conventional explanations of basic institutional practices have difficulty accounting for such variation. Christian Reus-Smit addresses this problem by presenting an alternative, "constructivist" theory of international institutional development, one that emphasizes the relationship between the social identity of the state and the nature and origin of basic institutional practices.

    Reus-Smit argues that international societies are shaped by deep constitutional structures that are based on prevailing beliefs about the moral purpose of the state, the organizing principle of sovereignty, and the norm of procedural justice. These structures inform the imaginations of institutional architects as they develop and adjust institutional arrangements between states. As he shows with detailed reference to ancient Greece, Renaissance Italy, absolutist Europe, and the modern world, different cultural and historical contexts lead to profoundly different constitutional structures and institutional practices. The first major study of its kind, this book is a significant addition to our theoretical and empirical understanding of international relations, past and present.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2325-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Table and Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-2)
    Christian Reus-Smit
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-11)

    When the representatives of states signed the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in 1947, they enacted two basic institutional practices. In signing the accord, they created contractual international law, adding a further raft of rules to the growing corpus of codified legal doctrine that regulates relations between states. And by accepting generalized, reciprocally binding constraints on their trading policies and practices, they engaged in multilateral diplomacy. By the middle of the twentieth century states had been enacting these paired institutional practices for the best part of a century, and they have since repeated them many times over, in areas...

  6. CHAPTER ONE The Enigma of Fundamental Institutions
    (pp. 12-25)

    In the study of international relations, fundamental institutions have attracted little systematic analysis. Institutionalists of all perspectives readily acknowledge the importance of basic institutional practices, yet most research focuses on the incentives and barriers to institutional cooperation in particular issue-areas, such as global trade or arms control. Theoretical and empirical studies of issue-specific regime formation and maintenance have proliferated, while the underlying practices that structure these regimes have been largely neglected. This neglect has had two unfortunate consequences. First, the definition of fundamental institutions is shrouded in ambiguity: the concept itself remains unclear, and fundamental institutions are poorly differentiated from...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The Constitutional Structure of International Society
    (pp. 26-39)

    Constructivists rightly direct our attention to how primary social institutions shape state identity and in turn affect basic institutional practices. As we shall see, the socially constituted identity of the state indeed exerts a profound influence on institutional design and action. The existing constructivist account of fundamental institutions is undermined, however, by several analytical oversimplifications. First, constructivists have failed to appreciate the full complexity of the deep constitutive values that define the social identity of the state, placing too much emphasis on the organizing principle of sovereignty. And, second, they have paid insufficient attention to the discursive mechanisms that link...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Ancient Greece
    (pp. 40-62)

    The ancient Greek system of city-states occupies a special place in the study of international relations. It stands as one of the great analogues of the modern state system, a familiar world of independent states in which the eternal verities of international politics are thought to have appeared in their most rudimentary and essential form. Thucydides, the great chronicler of the Peloponnesian War, is upheld as the first theorist of international relations, his work lauded for its insights into the perpetual rhythms of international politics. Classic lines from hisHistoryare recited to undergraduates, the war between Athens and Sparta...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Renaissance Italy
    (pp. 63-86)

    Unlike those of ancient Greece, the city-states of Renaissance Italy formed a coherent society of sovereign states for a relatively short time. Until the second half of the fourteenth century, the Italian cities were deeply enmeshed in the political and legal structures of medieval Europe. Despite the economic power they reaped from the thirteenth-century commercial revolution, their independence was circumscribed by the political and military machinations of the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy. This was compounded by, and reflected in, their lack of legal authority. From the time of Charlemagne, German emperors claimed jurisdiction over the northern Italian cities...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Absolutist Europe
    (pp. 87-121)

    Scholars have long debated when the modern society of sovereign states first emerged, exhibiting all of the essential characteristics that distinguish it from previous systems of rule. For Wight, the Council of Constance (1414–18) marks the crucial turning point, whereas F. H. Hinsley emphasizes changes in the eighteenth century.¹ The most frequently cited date, however, is 1648, when the Treaties of Osnabruck and Munster—which together formed the “Peace of Westphalia”—brought an end to the traumas of the Thirty Years War. At that moment, we are told, territorial sovereignty was formally enshrined as the organizing principle of European...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Modern International Society
    (pp. 122-154)

    Contrary to the claims of Bodin and others, absolutism was neither perpetual nor immutable. In the latter half of the eighteenth century revolutionary changes in thought and practice undermined the ideological and material foundations of dynastic rule. Echoing shifts in scientific thought, political and economic theorists abandoned holistic conceptions of society, championing new ideas of political and economic individualism. The impact of these ideas was profound, with political individualism fueling the American and French Revolutions and economic individualism providing the ideological resources for the Industrial Revolution. In the ensuing fifty years European politics was riven by a protracted conflict over...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Conclusion
    (pp. 155-170)

    In 1337 Ambrogio Lorenzetti was commissioned to decorate the Council Chamber of the Palazzo Publico in Siena, the meeting place of the city-state’s governors. He painted two murals—the “Allegory of Good Government” and the “Allegory of Bad Government”—which celebrate Sienese civil and political values. The former is dominated by two figures. To the right sits a magisterial knight dressed in Siena’s colors who represents the authority of the city-state; to the left sits the female embodiment of justice, her hands holding the scales of justice in balance. A long rope runs from the scales to the knight’s left...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 171-192)
  14. Index
    (pp. 193-199)