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KAZMI, Zaheer. " ’Classical’ Anarchist Thought and International Society"

Tuesday 12 February 2008, by ps

Conference Papers — International Studies Association; 2004 Annual Meeting, Montreal, Canada


The idea of anarchy in contemporary international thought is fundamental and all-pervasive yet conceptually under-developed. Anarchy is normally approached as a background theoretical assumption or as a sociological condition from which divergent theories flow. This limits it to a one dimensional negative conception which connotes a state of absence or a state of chaos upon which some semblance of order needs to be imprinted: the international is thus often assumed to "lack" the requisite institutional presence of the domestic arena. Consequently, international political theory, which is often itself parasitic upon political theory, can become limited in tending towards a focus on ˜globalizing" domestic arrangements without the concomitant presence of a "world state" which leads to theoretical disengagement with empirical reality: theories of global democracy and global distributive justice are two examples. As a point of departure for international theory, anarchy is seldom, if ever, considered to be a positive enabling condition. This paper will argue for an alternative "positive" approach to anarchy in theorising international society and in so doing will uncover a neglected body of literature for contemporary thinking on the international ? the ˜classical" anarchist writers, most notably William Godwin, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Michael Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin. In envisioning a ˜society without a stateâ", these writers were grappling head-on with the problem of reconciling individual autonomy with sociability outside the framework of an overarching authority. Their theoretical insights do not, therefore, suffer from a reliance on prevailing centralising domestic institutions. By deploying the domestic analogy, I shall argue that anarchism, commonly perceived as being either utopian or nihilistic, can paradoxically be employed in the service of a more empirically grounded international theory by pointing to principles and forms of cooperation and association in an anarchic milieu. Two substantive aspects of anarchist thought in particular will be addressed: the alternative conception of social contract elaborated in Proudhon’s ’mutualism’ as a way of addressing the tendency towards factions or ’coalitions of the willing’ in international society; and the wider influence of ’republican’ ideals of civic virtue on anarchist thinking leading to a ’republican anarchist’ conception of the society of states - an inchoate international republicanism without the state - where state autonomy is integrated with active participation in issues concerning the ’common good’.