Bull's The Anarchical Society is a ground-breaking book that proposes novel, powerful concepts for reading today's world order as well as the order that prevailed in the world in 1977. Today more than ever, we need the idea of international society, even if it has to be revisited to fit the realities of the 21st century. Written is the specific context of the Cold War and very much in the wake of the universalist values an modus vivendi of the late 1960s, Bull's ideas might seem a little outdated at first sight. But, as I will try to demonstrate, some of the concepts used in The Anarchical Society are today more valid and useful than ever. To approach the old question of how to conceptualise international relations and the maze of interrelated issues concerning international law, order, and justice, Bull gives right from the start of his landmark book a fantastic hint: think of the world around you not only as an international system, but as an international society.
[...] But, and this is the key point, it is the international system that requires diplomacy, not international society. The latter, in most diplomatic talks, simply does not have its say. Suffice it to mention the recent phenomenon of international G8 or WTO meetings and their simultaneous counter-meetings: on such occasions, the widening gap between the international system inside the meeting places, and international society outside the barricades is all but obvious. In my opinion, ever since the ‘Battle of Seattle in 2000', it has been difficult to maintain that diplomacy serves both the international system between states and the international society of mankind. [...]
[...] But even if the immediate members of international society are states, rather than individual human beings, ‘more fundamental and more important' than states and even ‘morally prior' to them (p. is humanity as a whole. In this sense, stability in the states system leads to ‘international order', much different from ‘world order', which corresponds to international society. International society has therefore a major role to play in reaching and maintaining international order. It is probably fair to picture international society as a base on which to build relations between individuals, states, and eventually states. [...]
[...] Towards the end of the book, Bull indulges into what perhaps appeared at the time as wishful thinking: ‘What we have in mind by a states system that is ideologically homogeneous is one in which states are united ( by determination to uphold a single kind of political, social and economic system. We have in mind, in other words, a universal Holy Alliance that is able to make a single ideology prevail throughout the states system as a whole, as such an ideology now prevails within the limited spheres of the American alliance system and the Socialist Commonwealth' (pp. [...]
[...] Indeed, the lesson to be drawn is that today international society is more real and more important than ever; but it tends to detach itself from the states system, of which it was part and parcel in The Anarchical Society probably something that Bull, with all his clear- sightedness, could not envisage. International society no longer needs the international system to assert itself loudly and effectively. In Thomas Friedman's words, ‘individuals can increasingly act on the world stage directly unmediated by a state'. [...]
[...] In a Bullian world, international society however anarchical is equated with a common ground or ideal for all human beings, and it is used as a binder by the international system, which gains strength and credibility in the process. First critique: a weak link between international system and international society The concept of international society is definitely new, and at the same time, it remains somewhat unclear: in particular, the link both logical and practical between the international system and international society appear a bit weak, as Bull never quite tells us how to make the two interact. [...]
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