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Hedley Bull's The Anarchical Society. London, Macmillan, 1977

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  1. Introduction
  2. International society as the idea-force
  3. Bull: Realist or Universalist - A discussion
  4. Fitting of anarchy
  5. First critique: A link between international system and international society
  6. Second critique: The importance of diplomacy
  7. The impact of globalization
  8. The enduring relevance of Bull's ideas
  9. Conclusion

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very much in the wake of the universalist values an modus vivendi of the late 1960s, Bull's ideas might seem a little outdated at first sight.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. [...]


[...] Bull sums up the argument this way: essential attributes of the states system, as they have been defined here, are first a plurality of sovereign states; second, a degree of interaction among them, in respect of which they form a system; and third, a degree of acceptance of common rules and institutions, in respect of which they form a society' (p. 233). International society is then a mere element ?neither the sole nor the dominant' one (p. 49) of the states system. [...]

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