The modern theories of international relations - old thoughts or innovative ideas? Investigation of Constructivism and Critical Theory by the three Traditions of Martin Wight
Term Paper 2005 18 Pages
Martin Wight, a lecturer of international business relations, member of the “British Committee”, as well as founder of the English School, first mentioned in his lectures the three traditions of the international theories which have been edited in a book with the title “Martin Wright, International theory: the three traditions” by his former students after his death. In his reflections about the international politics and the leading theories he tries to classify the three leading schools and to show the continuity of those. In this connection, the two basic facts of the international relations are formulated. Firstly that there is no “body” in the international theory , but the individual schools of theory influence and cross each other, and secondly that the new theoreticians learn from the old ideas, so that the new theories are simply shift of the stress in the old kind of thinking, but do not represent a new and independent theory, or to say it with Wights words: “ (the) leading premiss is that political ideas do not change much, and the range of ideas is limited.”
Based on this assumption I will analyse in the following the Constructivism of Alexander Wendt und the Critical Theory according to Andrew Linklater which belong to the post-positivistic group of the international theories. In this connection I will use Wight’s traditions to check, whether his claims will be acknowledged or whether these modern theories establish a new and independent line.
Starting with a short introduction in the main characteristics and main statements of the several schools I will assign the modern theoreticians to the corresponding traditions of Martin Wight using the statements concerning the human nature, the international society, the national state as well as the foreign policy and the international law. Furthermore I will check whether and where they are similar in order to discuss an conclusion where there are differences and similarities between the ancient and the new „thinkers“ and to what extent the statement of Wight is justified or not.
2. Key-attributes and main-representatives of the separate theories
2.1 The English School and Martin Wight
As already mentioned above, Martin Wight, as a founder of this English school, divided in his thoughts between three main traditions in the theoretical thinking of the international politics.
The realists, also called Machiavellian, represent the international anarchy, the war of all against all according to Hobbes, as well as power and self-help as the formative principles of international politics. The rationalists, also called Grotian represent the international society, in which the states maintain their sovereignty, but act rational in their own interest and try to solve problems, as far as possible, in a peaceful way. The main principles of this tradition are mutual considerateness, diplomacy and cooperation. The revolutionists also called Kantian are cosmopolitans who make it to their business to free the human beings from their chains of exclusively governmental monopoles and to found a world-community where anyone has the same rights and the same lifestyle.
The „British Committee on the Theory of international Politics“, in whose foundation Wight was importantly involved, was a forum for scientists of politics and historians in order to discuss existing theories of international relations and to share their own ideas. The members were convinced traditionalists, represented the interpretative basis to solve the processes in the international milieu and turned against the szientistic influenced theoreticians who wanted to explain the sociologically stamped processes between the states by using scientific methods and measurements.
Wight’s criticism towards the existing theories of international relations aims against the to strong concentration on a certain occasion or object which causes that the theories become to specific , are not adaptive to other fields and will be
abolished by next occasions. That’s why he prefers the connection of the three traditions.
2.2 The Constuctivism and Alexander Wendt
“Constructivists bring (…) a systematic communtarian ontology in which intersubjective knowledge constitutes identities and interests.” (Wendt)
The Constructivism, whose most important representative is Alexander Wendt outlines the intersubjectivity of the human world, the mutual constructively of the actors as well as the development of interests and the identity and explains it with the method of interpretation and comprehendation.
Basing on his criticism on the leading theories about international relations, which either prefer the actor or the structure of the international system in its details, he points out the mutual relativity of it and centres both of them in his considerations. Structures are made of actors and therefore they get their own social reality. Structures are made actors, and therefore receive a social reality and enable a social acting of the persons by creating a frame of action. In this connection, however, it is important to emphasise that the action of the actor is basing on the wide frame of action but chosen by the actor himself and therefore not directly determined by the structure.
Basing on this assumption, he furthermore argues that the governmental action has its origin in material and ideal interests which are influenced by the governmental identity, created by the interaction with other states. Therefore states create the international policy and their foreign relations themselves as actors. They are also able to change it by a choosing a new identity and are not depending on the structure like for instance the Neoralism.
As a result of this Alexander Wendt states three possibilities for states to act as
actors of the international politics with each other using the self-created identities.
This can be either as opponents, rivals or friends whereas the roles are similar to the traditions of Wight and the transitions are smooth.
2.3 The critical theory and Andrew Linklater
“By becoming citizens of separate states, individuals became enemies of the rest of humankind”(Rousseau) The Critical Theory and its most famous representative Andrew Linklater criticise, as the name already says the existing structures on the national and international level. Based on Marx’s political economy the basis of analysing is widened from the economic to the moral and juridical system of the modern, world which is situated in the process of globalization.
The highest criticism is aimed towards the dominant system of governmental sovereignty as wells towards the new created regions systems. They are blamed to create an entity in the interior but to lead to a demarcation to the foreign countries. The result is that a big part of the humans are exclude from important decisions and processes, which concern the whole world, what only encourages the rising riots a crisis’s outsides.
Although Linklater matches the Critical Theory to the Revolutionists tradition of Martin Wight, he sees real chances to free the international society from the norms which have been created by elder generations and to creat a moral world-community. This happens under the circumstances of the globalization and the new system will not support the old one, but will optimize it by a better law, more democrat and equality.
, Gabriele/Porter, Brian (publ.), Martin Wight. International theory. The three traditions, London 1991, p. 5.
 Add. ibid., p. 7-24.
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