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Conservatism and American decline

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17 March 2011 08:55

Cross-posted from James Fallows' blog at The Atlantic, where I am guest blogging this week. Andrew Sullivan has some comments on this post over at his blog.

At the end of my first post I promised to say more about the contemporary international scene and why I think it's important, as the age of US unipolarity ends, for American conservatives to see the world in terms of an international society and not just a Hobbesian, dog-eat-dog system.

The term 'international society,' rarely heard in American discussions about international relations, originates with a group of scholars associated mostly with the London School of Economics in the 1950s and '60s, and to this day it is largely absent from American universities, which tend to focus on realism and idealism, with little discussion of what is also called the 'English School' tradition.

One of the most influential books to come out of the English School was in fact written by an Australian, Hedley Bull (pictured: an interior shot of the Hedley Bull Centre for World Politics at the Australian National University, Canberra). Bull not only wrote a memorable and genuinely important book, but he also achieved a kind of perfection through his choice of title, which is dramatic (for a textbook, anyway) and in three words summarises expertly his own theme and that of an entire intellectual movement: The Anarchical Society.

That title captures what the English School shares with realism (the reference to anarchy acknowledges the 'self-help' nature of international security — there is no global cop) and what sets it apart from realism (the word 'society' indicates that the interactions of states are more than merely the workings of a system; countries are not just billiard balls bouncing off one another).

The reason it is especially important now for Americans to recognise the societal dimension of international life is that America is in decline...Read the rest of the post here.

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