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What Fukuyama got right.

Antonios Vitalis

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 “An end has been put to the ‘Cold War,’ … The threat of a world war is no more” highlighted the end of a bipolar world in place since 1945. In this context, international relations experts sought to explain how the transformation of the post-Cold War world. The claims represented by Mearsheimer in ‘Back To The Future’ (BTTF), Huntington in ‘the Clash of Civilisations’ (CoC) and Fukuyama in the ‘End of History’ (EoH)  attempted to frame that new world order. The following argues that Fukuyama came closest to capturing the essence of post-Cold War world politics. Fukuyama accurately predicted the significance and impact liberalism would have on a post-Cold War era, though his conclusions were in the end overdrawn. In contrast, Mearsheimer and Huntington grounded their approaches in realist theory, thus unable to persuasively account for the interdependent nature of the emerging post-cold war era, not least the impact of globalisation. However, several important elements of their arguments remain valid and can inform international relations theory.


To cross evaluate these three approaches, reference is made to the theories of realism and liberalism. Liberalism is narrowed to neo-liberalism (reflecting Fukuyama), while two incarnations of realism are emphasised –  classical and offensive realism. Neo-liberalism revises classical liberalism’s claim the global spread of democracy prevents conflict among states. This is due to the shared values that shape the inter-relationship between economic liberalism underpinned by free trade and open markets. Alternatively, classical realism identifies human nature as the primary source of conflict in world politics. Conflict occurs through state actors –  flawed by their human nature – who behave as self-serving power maximisers in an anarchic world. Finally, offensive realism (a variant of neorealism) suggests that for a state to sustain its security in an anarchic international system, it must maximise its comparative power, by establishing regional hegemony per offensive means at the expense of neighbouring states.


Section I -Back To the Future (BTTF)

In his 1990 BTTF essay, Mearsheimer asserts a neorealist assumption about the nature of post Cold War world politics, due to his arguing that global stability would decline with the fragmentation of the bipolar structure of the Cold War. Mearsheimer believed the ensuing multipolar world would increase instability internationally in a way not seen since 1945. The collapse of the Soviet Union facilitated a dispersion of global power among a range of state actors, reducing certainty, increasing instability and tension and thus the likelihood of conflict in a fundamentally anarchic world. The interest of state actors would necessarily, per offensive realism, be to defend themselves by maximising their personal security capabilities to deter existential threats.


Mearsheimer concludes “the stability of the last 45 years is not likely to be seen again in the coming decades.”. Military conflicts and political tensions have continued since Mearsheimer published BTTF in 1990. The notion, however, these conflicts have disrupted the stability of world politics to the extent Mearsheimer was expecting is less obvious. The annexation of Crimea in 2014 by Russia, its presence in Syria, along with China’s actions in the South China Sea and beyond (both militarily and economically), have certainly proved concerning to the US and its NATO allies as well as other countries, like Australia and New Zealand. Yet, these instances of political disputes and sporadic tensions – challenging though they are – have not resulted in the level of instability that Mearsheimer predicted.


The somewhat Panglossian notion of stability during the bipolarisation of world politics of the Cold War is disputed. There were times when nuclear war between the US and USSR appeared imminent (Cuban Missile Crisis(1961) and the Missile Crisis (1981)). The proxy wars in Vietnam, Korea and Afghanistan were certainly destabilising for those countries, and indeed the wider Asia-Pacific regions, further undermining Mearsheimer’s assumption of stability.

In the absence of bipolarity, it was neoliberalism which has helped sustain a level of stability in the post-Cold War era, further emphasising the relevance of Fukuyama’s identification of neoliberalism’s significant role in contemporary world politics. The conclusion of the Uruguay Round (1994), the establishment of the World Trade Organisation/WTO (1995) and the accession of China to the WTO in 2004 allowed for an interdependent structure that tied together, via economic links, countries regardless of their geographical position. The explosion of trade driven by globalisation cemented the inter-dependence of state actors who understood conflict would impose unacceptable economic costs on their populations. In addition, the emergence of institutions which were conceived with strong trade and economic focus such as the European Union (EU) and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), were all not foreseen by Mearsheimer.


These inter-linkages created through trading relationships stabilised the international system in ways that Mearsheimer’s neo-realist paradigm failed to account for. The development of enforceable international rules (eg through the WTO), provided even greater certainty and stability to frame state relations, furthering the relevance and significance of neoliberalism in contemporary world politics. Thus BTTF failed to acknowledge the relevance and significant role neoliberalism would have in linking countries in a way that deterred them from engaging in conflict, something Fukuyama accurately discussed in EoH.


Section II -Clash of Civilisations (CoC)

Huntington’s analysis as described in CoC reflects a classical realist approach claiming that contemporary world politics in the aftermath of the Cold War would see conflicts transform from occurring between states to ones occurring between competing cultural, historical, and religious identities;  ‘civilisations’, rather than between individual states. Huntington suggests globalisation serves only to exacerbate and highlight ‘civilisational’ differences between these competing entities, thereby enhancing the risk of further tensions and inevitable conflicts. Huntington identifies a range of competing civilizations, such as Western Christian, Islamic, Eastern Slavic-Orthodox, Confucian, and so on.


CoC is underpinned by an assumption about the civilisational and trans-boundary instincts that inform cultural and religious communities in world politics, which in itself is expected to drive tension and conflict, and thus instability. Taken together, a central element of Huntington’s thesis is that clashes between the West and Islamic civilizations will increase, causing instability and that this will characterise the post-cold War era. It is empirically true that conflicts between Western states and Islamic extremists have occurred, though it is far from clear that these are ‘civilisational’ struggles, as envisaged by Huntington. The US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were in many cases supported by other Islamic nations (Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States) and the struggles between Ukraine and Russia are not necessarily conflicts deriving from civilisational tension, not least because parts of Crimea and the surrounding eastern part of Ukraine share the same (Eastern Orthodox) religion as Russia.  Moreover, these conflicts have been unconventional, with actors and non-state actors playing major roles – none of which neither Mearsheimer’s nor Huntington’s analyses were able to account for. Whether Huntington indicated in CoC that conflicts would remain conventional, or become increasingly unconventional, is unclear.


Like Mearsheimer, CoC believes that a multi-polar world will be inherently more unstable. With reference to the impact of globalisation, Steger’s (2009) analysis undermines Huntington’s sweeping assumptions. He makes the point that “Bin Laden may have denounced the international ‘crusaders’ … but … his organization was … dependent on information and communication technology [via Globalisation]”. The interdependencies created by globalisation are transboundary and invalidate the notion that cultural entities will be free of opposing cultural practices. This proves problematic for the CoC thesis, which assumes that cultures are exclusive, ultimately leading to conflict due to competing cultural norms etc. CoC is unable to persuasively account for the significance and role of neoliberalism and its accompanying forces of globalisation in contemporary world politics. Therefore inadequate evidence fails to support CoC prediction – conflicts in the post-Cold War era have been more contained than expected and there has generally been limited destabilisation. CoC’s neglect of the role of neoliberalism driving greater inter-dependence and eroding cultural difference, enabling stability, is due to its reliance on realist theory, which Fukuyama comfortably dismisses as relevant in EoH.


Section III – End of History (EoH)
Fukuyama distinguishes himself from Mearsheimer and Huntington by asserting a neoliberal model of international relations in End of History (EoH).  Fukuyama asserts that the fall of the USSR signalled an ideological victory which was so significant that humanity had reached its peak in ideological evolutionary terms with the triumph of liberal democracies over communism. Fukuyama believed that capitalism underpinned by liberal democracy had won the contest of ideas and would shortly achieve global dominance, ultimately becoming and humanity’s final and overriding form of governing ideology . Fukuyama further clarifies, however, that his is less of an empirical assertion and rather a normative prescription “of liberal democratic political institutions” . While for a time Fukuyama’s argument appeared prescient –the emergence of China via its accession to the WTO (binding it into a set of enforceable international rules) and the apparent democratisation of the former members of the Soviet Union, not least Russia suggested the inevitable victory of liberal democracy. More recent developments suggest that his conclusions in 1989 and 1995 are no less contentious than his peers.


In order to consider whether EoH captures the essence of world politics following the end of the Cold war, neorealism is used to frame a theoretical critique of Fukuyama’s assertions. Fukuyama believed that the US would lead the West to drive and facilitate capitalism on a global scale. Robert Kagan (2009) counters this analysis with reference to neorealism highlighting how the rise of China economically, and Russia both politically and militarily, have not been characterised by any tendency towards liberal democracy. Both now threaten US global supremacy and are forceful counters to the ideological victory asserted by Fukuyama. The Global Financial Crisis in 2008 further undermined confidence in the ‘end of history’ with the liberal economic structure badly damaged by the excesses of capitalism across the US and the EU. These points of consideration are shaped by neorealism and realism in general, and stand in contrast to the normative assertion of Fukuyama’s emphasis; how neoliberalism championed by the remaining superpower would conquer all representing the final point “of mankind’s ideological evolution”. Azar Gat extends Kagan’s analysis emphasising how the rise of Russia and China may well establish an alternative model to liberal democracy, thereby jeopardising the inexorable drive to a unipolar world which Fukuyama assumes will manifest. In response, Fukuyama suggests that even in China and Russia there is still a recognition of the need to “conform” to pro-liberal democratic rhetoric. As China and Russia across both positing their own systems, they become rivals to Fukuyama’s liberal democracies, thus the competition to drive the new world order is yet complete.


Recent developments further underline this point. Brexit saw a democratic rejection of a neoliberal institution in the form of the European Union; while the election of Trump was in part informed by a democratic rejection of globalisation. Even though Fukuyama concedes that illiberal movements will persist, particularly in developing countries, his abiding assumption remains that ultimately these same countries will return to a pro-neoliberal position. It is no longer obvious that this is plausible. Brexit has galvanised anti-EU and anti-globalisation movements, while the election of President Trump, Duterte and President-elect Jair Bolsonaro combined with the ‘leaders for life’ in Moscow and Beijing highlight a resurgence of anti-liberal and anti-globalisation populism.  Taken together, these elections undermine the central tenets of EoH. That said, Fukuyama did accurately capture the essential Zeitgeist of World Politics in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War. Indeed, his analysis correctly predicted the significant and influential role of neoliberalism in driving globalisation and economic interdependence. This in and of itself, however, has not been sufficient to allow for ‘an end of history’ as the rise of China and the re-emergence of Russia has underlined.


With the end of the Cold War, a range of paradigms were developed to try and explain the essence of the post-Cold War era. Notable among these were those developed through BTTF,  CoC and EoH. Both Mearsheimer and Huntington’s approaches were founded on realist theory, albeit in different ways, while Fukuyama’s reliance on liberalism allowed him to somewhat more persuasively suggest that – for a time at least – the apparent triumph of liberal democracy in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War had occurred. Events since then have undermined Mearsheimer’s contention in BTTF that the collapse of bipolarity would cause instability. While conflicts continue, these have been contained in much the same way as similar engagements during the Cold War, ie by developing modus operandi to manage and mitigate the risk of any expansion of conflict.


Huntington in CoC appeared to have identified an important new strand in international relations theory, particularly following the apparent conflict between the US and Islam. Over time, however, these conflicts have become more of a tradition – even if they are still as serious, if not as destabilising, as expected. Both Mearsheimer and Huntington also failed to account for the important role neoliberal interdependence and globalisation would have in a trans-boundary, cross-cultural sense, imposing a measure of risk mitigation across the post-cold war order. While Fukuyama at first appeared the most prescient with his provocative suggestion that mankind had found its ultimate ideology in a free market liberal democracy, this did not prove sustainable over time. At present, the dominance of neoliberalism is under threat. While none of the proposed frameworks has been able to effectively explain the post-cold war period, all three have offered useful insights’ most particularly Fukuyama. Yet unfortunately, such frameworks appear static when confronted by the dynamic and rapidly evolving nature of world politics.



The above could not have been accomplished without the following sources:


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Impact of Globalisation on State Sovereignty

Antonios Vitalis

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Introduction

The impact of Globalisation on state sovereignty has been transformative rather than corrosive. This transformative nature of state sovereignty is influenced by a state’s communicative practice, which reflects the significant relationship and role that structure, and agency play. A social constructivist analysis with key reference to the work of German philosopher Jurgen Habermas (1989), can help illustrate how and why this transformation occurs. To demonstrate this a specific case study, the 2015 Greek Bail Out Crisis, is considered. 


For the purposes of this essay specific terms are both defined and specified. Globalisation refers to “economic globalisation”, defined by Cohen as the “increase in trade… [flow of capital and] …. in goods and services” (Cohen & Derrick, 2006). I refer to the third wave of globalisation (1960 – present day) enabling me to refer to my contemporary case study. State sovereignty is defined under the terms of the 1648 Westphalian treaty; a state’s right to exercise its own political and legal authority, within the constraints of its territory/borders irrespective of external influences (Croxton, 1999). Transformation will refer to the capacity for a state to adapt parallel to the structural changes driven by globalisation in International Relations (IR). To measure globalisation’s impact on state sovereignty I intend to analyse the transformative process state sovereignty undergoes through social constructivism. Social constructivism will link this transformation process to the communicative practice of a state’s agents in the public sphere. This will reflect the state’s continually active role in engaging, managing/attempting to manage globalisation, and how as a result state sovereignty has transformed, rather than receded.


Social constructivism is rooted in social ontology, unlike the positivist approaches of alternative theories, such as Realism, this distinction proves beneficial in illustrating globalisation’s transformative impact on state sovereignty. Social constructivism sees knowledge acquisition determined via interpretations and subjective analysis, instead of it being provided per objective reality  (Brown, et al., 2018). These interpretations, therefore, influence our normative, political understanding and behaviour  (Brown, et al., 2018). Rather than emphasise on the structural nature of international politics, which alternative IR theories normally do, social constructivism focuses on the role of agents and their relationships with their “social environments”, and how this relationship constitutes the course of action taken by said agents (Risse, 2007, pg. 127). Instead of focusing on the empirical impact globalisation has had on state sovereignty, it is more fruitful to recognise the role human agency has played in globalisation’s flourishment. Thus, globalisation should be viewed as a process that has continuously developed due to changing agency ever since its inception during the industrial revolution(O'Rourke, et al., 2010;  Risse, 2007). 


 A Habermasian perspective of globalisation through social constructivism further demonstrates the transformation of state sovereignty. As previously asserted, constructivism distinguishes itself from other IR theories; focusing instead on the relationship of structure and agency. Aristotle captures this reasoning when asserting how the state is a platform shaped by the discourse undertaken by agents (Aristotle, 2015, pp. 14-15). Habermas delved deeper into this theory by emphasising the role the public sphere of a state dictates state action.  (Habermas, 1989, p. 28). The public sphere consists of a discursive process among agents on their perception of their social environment. To Habermas the public sphere, can act as an area whereby “state authority [is] publicly monitored through informed and critical discourse by … [agents]" (Habermas, 1989,  p. xi). Incorporating this Habermasian perspective with social constructivism narrows the focus of my assessment on globalisation’s transformative impact on state sovereignty.


Case Study


The Greek referendum of 2015 demonstrates the transformation of Greek state sovereignty and the influential role of the public sphere, in determining a state’s response to globalisation. Following the financial crisis in 2008, the neoliberal transnational class advocated for the implementation of “Austerity measures” – cuts in public expenditure and deregulation of financial infrastructure (Mason, 2016). The Greek state was assured a bailout agreement so long as it implemented the Austerity policies demanded by the transnational class, specifically that of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Commission (EC), and European Central Bank (ECB) (Commission, 2015). However, the state challenged these transnational demands through agency reflecting the role of its public sphere. In the Greek public sphere, a Yes-No referendum was held after Greek Prime Minister Tsipras galvanised Greek agency on “whether [Greeks] should accept the extortionate ultimatum that calls for strict and humiliating austerity…” end to these austerity measures were accepted (Anon., 2015; BBC, 2015). The result was a majority rejection of 61%, as Greek agency overwhelmingly rejected the transnational class. Despite this, the Greek state failed to acquire a better deal as the transnational class not only ignored the referendum result but imposed greater austerity measures  (Commission, 2015). 


The Greek state’s response to the demands of the transnational class underscores two points. First it emphasises the pivotal role of agency in the discursive process which ultimately determines state action. Second, it shows the transformation of state sovereignty because unlike under the Westphalian state sovereignty model, Greece was unable to dictate its financial situation without sharing authority with the transnational class. Returning to the Aristotelian perspective; the structure and nature of the state is determined by the attitudes of its agents we are reminded again of the role of agents (Aristotle, 2015, p. 21). The Habermasian perspective underlines the role of agents influencing the communicative practice occurring in the public sphere (Habermas, 1989, p. 14;  Risse, 2007, p. 142). Greece reflects these perspectives as the state acted upon the prominent discourse, in this case the result of the referendum, of its agency by challenging the globalist entities of the transnational class (Commission, 2015; Weiss,  1997; Fairless, 2015). This counters the notion that state sovereignty has eroded because an erosion of state sovereignty would mean a state is simply an observer, and, due to Greece actively engaging with dimensions of globalisation, reinforces the argument that state sovereignty has transformed and not declined. 


To further argue the transformative, rather than erosive, nature of Greek state sovereignty regarding globalisation, a social constructivist perspective on the definition of sovereignty is made. Social constructivism, argues how the definition of state sovereignty outlined in the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia is simply an outdated regulatory norm (Croxton, 1999; Risse, 2007). The interconnected structure of IR has dramatically changed the dimension of the relationship states, agency and institutions share (Kratochwil, 1989,  p. 56; Haynes, et al., 2013, p. 119). In addition, the nature of a state’s transformative capacity in determining the nature and degree of globalisation’s impact, has also evolved (Risse, 2007, p. 142; Kratochwil, 1989, p. 32). According to, Weiss’; a state’s transformative capacity allows them to maintain management over their international and domestic linkages due to their “great adaptability” (Weiss, 1997, p.  26). This transformative capacity is directly influenced by agency within a public sphere, which is also transformed over time (Cohen & Derrick, 2006; Risse, 2007, p. 132). This is further underlined  when recognising how a state is shaped by its history, physical geography and continually evolving nature of its agency (Agnew, 1990, p. 71; Risse, 2007, p. 147) Thus, when considering the changing nature of IR both in terms of structure and agency behaviour, the definition of state sovereignty ought to also transform in order to better regulate and explain the nature of the state in a globalised world  (Risse, 2007; McGrew, 1999). 


Furthermore, this case study accurately captures how significant the public sphere plays in determining the role of agency in forming the nature of state action and highlights a transformative state sovereignty. The Greek state recognised the increasing economic burdens of neoliberal globalisation. The recognition only became conclusively apparent once a discursive process occurred in the public sphere, when agency engaged and debated the prominent and counter discourses (Risse, 2007, p. 141). The rejection of austerity following the referendum, reflected a counter discourse in opposition to the transnational class and more specifically globalisation, the transnational class. However, even though the Greek state was forced to bitterly adhere to the demands of the IMF, EC and ECB, a transformation of state sovereignty rather than an erosion can be noted.  Additionally, anti-globalist sentiment has emerged transnationally highlighting the impact of globalisation on communicative practices on states and transformed state sovereignty.


Globalisation has impacted the communicative discourse on a transnational level including at state level, as counter discourse/anti-Globalist movements demonstrate. Both the Netherlands and the United Kingdom (UK) with Brexit in 2016, and a possible “Nexit”, evoking counter discursive processes against neoliberal globalisation (Hunt &  Wheeler, 2019; Risse, 2007, p. 138). Put simply by a certain a British Member of the European Parliament “…want[ing]…the EU to end…” (BBC, 2016). It is evident that with Brexit the popular discourse saw agency challenge the transnational class significantly compared to the Netherlands and Greece which did not attempt or reflect a tangible desire to leave the EU (Mason, 2016; BBC, 2016). 


A Habermasian view of social constructivism, would argue how the transnational anti-Globalist movement has emerged due to a global public sphere, yet although reflects transformed state sovereignty, appears invalid. The Greek state’s counter discourse sentiment challenged Austerity measures, while the UK, ultimately, rejected the European-single-market via Brexit (BBC, 2016). Even if agency has trans-nationalised it has yet to deter a state from being free from the influence of the discursive processes occurring in a state’s public sphere. Evidently this counter discourse on a transnational level could not have occurred without the continuous expansion of globalisation. The increasing advancements in information and communication technology and influence of transnational bodies have played vital roles in transforming state sovereignty and impact a state’s communicative practice  (Mason, 2016; Risse, 2007) An increase in interconnectivity within a globalised network can be inferred from the above state’s counter discursive processes, their respective agents determined in their public sphere. Although this public sphere has gradually transcended borders the nature of the discourse is still determined at the state level rather than at a transnational level. Further, the counter discursive practice of states in rejecting or challenging globalisation’s seemingly inevitable expansion, not only reflects transformed state sovereignty but also emphasises the significance of state agency, via the public sphere, in determining state action regarding globalisation (Weiss, 1997, p.  21; Cohen & Derrick, 2006, p. 231).


The following has demonstrated how the effects of globalisation has led to the transformation of state sovereignty rather than its decline. Reference to the Greek Bailout Crisis in 2015 illustrates a transformed state sovereignty rather than an erosion. An erosion of state sovereignty would confine the state as an observer rather than an actor, which throughout this work has proven false, and thus strengthens the idea of a transformation not a decline of state sovereignty. Social constructivism and a Habermasian perspective helped explain transformative state sovereignty further, while also underline the relationship between structure and agency specifically in the public sphere in determining state action. Although the Greek state failed to challenge the transnational class, it still reflected transformed sovereignty due to it being unable to autonomously dictate its economic decisions without consulting the transnational class. In addition, reference to the emergence of a transnational anti-Globalist movement that, in some cases has proven successful (Brexit), helps to emphasise the transformative nature of state sovereignty further. This transition from the Westphalian model of state sovereignty to a more contemporary understanding has not only been impacted by globalisation, but also by the communicative practices of a state’s public sphere. Aristotle asserted how the “state is a body of citizens sufficing for the purpose of life”, and if this is the case a Habermasian perspective on the discourse taken by citizens gives that state life and purpose, which has seen its transformation rather than its decline  as a result of globalisation (Sharma &  Sharma, 2006, p. 176).


Bibliography:

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Cohen, S. &   Derrick, J., 2006. The Resilience of the State. London: Hurst &   Company.

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Fairless, T.,   2015. Greece Requests Three-Year Bailout in First Step Toward Meeting   Creditor's Demand. [Online] Available at: http://www.ekathimerini.com/198993/article/ekathimerini/news/greek-conservative-opposition-chief-samaras-resigns [Accessed 13 March 2019].

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Mason, P., 2016. Postcapitalism   A Guide to Our Future. Second ed. London: Penguin Books.

McGrew, A., 1999.   Globalisation and Global Politics. In: Global Transformations: Politics,   Economics and Culture. Stanford: Stanford University Press, pp. 16-29.

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A word on Nuclear Peace.

Antonios Vitalis

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 Citing Hindu scripture, Robert Oppenheimer, the head of the nuclear “Manhattan Project”, upon viewing the first Nuclear weapon test,  lamented that “..the world would not be the same … a few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent.” The following asserts the theory of Nuclear Peace but concludes it is flawed regarding its ability to foster international peace and stability. To develop this argument, the theory of Nuclear Peace will be explained and evaluated alongside the stability-instability paradox.


The theory of Nuclear Peace has its origins in the development of nuclear weapons. Determined to force a Japanese surrender the United States of America (U.S), deployed and detonated two nuclear bombs over the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August 1945. The bombings caused an estimated 130,000 – 230,000 casualties and within days the Japanese army surrendered. The event, although demonstrably reflective of the U.S military supremacy over Japan – as well as a warning to the Soviet Union (U.S.S.R) – symbolised a revolutionary change in how warfare could be conducted. When the U.S.S.R responded by successfully creating its own nuclear weapon in 1949, the threat of a nuclear war endured during the Cold War (1945-1989). Despite the perceived escalation of risk, it became clear to both the U.S and U.S.S.R that a nuclear war was unrealistic due to the destructive consequences it would cause. It is during this period where the theory of Nuclear Peace became ubiquitously relevant.


Nuclear Peace is framed by the school of thought deriving from the theory of realism. Realism in International Relations sees the nature of the international system as anarchical. The anarchical perception of the international arena designates states as the ultimate actors in international politics, with state survival being their primary objective.  Consequentially, states are inherently rational in their behaviour and decision making because the incentive to survive drives them to focus on increasing their security militarily. 


Nuclear Peace compliments realist theory by asserting that nuclear weapons induce international order and peace. The theory states that nuclear-armed states are less likely to engage in conflict as the outcome of any nuclear war becomes mutually unacceptable. This theory appears to be borne out by history particularly during the Cold War. During that time, significant advancements in the nuclear capabilities of the U.S.S.R and U.S provided both with second strike capabilities. If either was attacked with nuclear weapons, they could respond with their nuclear weapons guaranteeing mutually assured destruction for both sides. This dilemma is typically cited as justification for the Nuclear Peace theory because nuclear weapons during the latter era ultimately induced peace and stability.


When viewed in conjunction with the stability-instability paradox the Nuclear Peace theory contains several limitations regarding its perceived assertion of fostering international peace and stability. Nuclear Peace focuses on the role nuclear weapons play in promoting peace and stability, however, the theory can be misleading. Already it has been noted how the U.S used nuclear weapons to accelerate Japan’s surrender and to warn the U.S.S.R of U.S capabilities. Out of insecurity and fear of the U.S possession, and future use, of nuclear weapons, the U.S.S.R created its own nuclear arsenal to counter the nuclear monopoly of the U.S. Both states were clearly building their nuclear stockpiles to deter the opposing side militarily.


The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 is considered to be an instance of the Nuclear Peace theory at work, as well as the closest the U.S.S.R and the U.S got to a nuclear war. The crisis occurred during a tense 13-day standoff between the superpowers, regarding their deployment of nuclear missiles within close proximity of each other. The U.S.A’s missile installations in Turkey and Italy prompted the U.S.S.R, to deploy their missiles to Cuba as a retaliation. It can be argued that the deployment of nuclear weapons from both sides was to deter each other from any potential attack. However, it is possible to argue that a peaceful outcome was not the motivator behind the deployments. Only when the situation escalated to the threat of ‘mutually assured destruction’ did “President John F. Kennedy (U.S.A) and Premier Nikita Khrushchev (U.S.S.R)… [talk to] prevent..” nuclear war. Had Khrushchev and Kennedy been intent on using military force, they would not have engaged in communications. Thus, a peaceful outcome would have been impossible.  The aftermath of the crisis saw both states establish the Moscow-Washington nuclear hotline, improving mutual communication.  Before the crisis, neither side appeared willing to communicate with the other on issues like nuclear missile deployments. Only when it became clear that neither side could emerge victoriously did a desire for peace emerge. Hence, it appears that a crisis and consequent communications between leaders was needed to avert a nuclear war, as opposed to the fact of the existence of nuclear weapons. Therefore, the suggestion peace is guaranteed because nuclear weapons promote stability and peace is undermined.


Through the stability-instability paradox, the Nuclear Peace theory can be found similarly lacking in credibility. The stability-instability paradox theory largely focuses on the significance of nuclear weapons and mutually assured destruction theory (M.A.D) have on international relations. It argues that nuclear states are unlikely to engage in major conflicts only minor ones, such as proxy wars, as the consequences of a nuclear war are too severe. It thus appears crisis and the consequent communication between leaders was needed to avert a nuclear war, as opposed to the simple fact of the existence of nuclear weapons. Since the Second World War, there have been over 200 military conflicts resulting in millions of civilian and military casualties. The stability-instability paradox refines the Nuclear Peace theory because nuclear states recognise the need to avoid nuclear wars and the importance of preventing minor conflicts from escalating into major ones. A quantitative evaluation of this paradox concluded how “Nuclear Weapons do not affect the frequency of conflict … [only its] timing, intensity and outcome”. This statement is supported by evidence provided by Cold War era ‘proxy wars’.


Proxy wars during the Cold War, like the Vietnam War (1959-1975), and the Korean War (1950-1953), highlight the limitations of the Nuclear Peace theory. Officially a war between the Communist North and anti-Communist South Vietnamese, the war also indirectly pitted the U.S.S.R, supporting the North Vietnamese, against the U.S.A who supported the  South Vietnamese. This was indeed a proxy war due to the enduring and active relationship the U.S and U.S.S.R had with their respective allies. Although the Vietnam War did not lead to a direct conflict between the two superpowers or indeed escalate into nuclear war, casualties for both sides have been estimated at just over a million. The earlier Korean War of 1950-1953 also saw the U.S support the anti-Communist south with the Communist North supported by the U.S.S.R. Casualties for this conflict have also been estimated at over a million. Judging by these two hot wars’ non-nuclear war can result in serious casualties. With reference to the stability-instability paradox, however, Nuclear Peace theory cannot be easily dismissed.


Referring to the Korean and Vietnam wars specifically, it is clear nuclear weapons were not used even when the U.S.S.R and the U.S were involved. However, as Rauchhaus asserts, the chances two nuclear states will engage in a major nuclear conflict are low. Although the existence of two nuclear states may not prevent non-nuclear conflicts, it appears that nuclear weapons to prevent the conflict from escalating into a nuclear one. The paradox theory provides a more sophisticated understanding of the role nuclear states have in fostering stability and peace in the international system. It also highlights, however, that as demonstrated by the Vietnam and Korean Wars, that non-nuclear conflicts, are still capable of occurring. There are also limitations with the stability-instability paradox which allow for further critiques of the Nuclear Peace theory.


Rather than act as a justification for nuclear weapons facilitating international peace and stability, Sagan suggests one should celebrate how a nuclear war between the U.S and U.S.S.R was avoided. Nuclear Peace theory and the stability-instability paradox reveal flawed dependencies on key assumptions. Already noted is the core foundation of the Nuclear Peace theory; that, nuclear opponents mutually agree to avoid nuclear conflict because of M.A.D theory. This assumes nuclear state actors always act rationally and recognise the threat and consequences M.A.D would incur. In the context of the Cold War, however, are various examples where these assumptions appear naive. For instance, the context and acceleration of tension, with regard to the deployment of both sides’ nuclear missiles, in both the lead up to and during, the Cuban Crisis surprised both states. Even though the crisis centred around each side’s handling of their nuclear weapons, the actions both leaders took suggest an unstable and risky scenario which could have easily resulted in an irrational or accidental decision from either leader, leading to disastrous consequences. The limitations of Nuclear Peace theory are also undermined with reference to the ‘madman theory’.


In a bid to underline U.S authority and power, the Nixon administration applied the “madman theory” in alarming fashion. Nixon proposed this approach to his colleagues, stating how “I want the North Vietnamese to believe … I might do anything to stop the [Vietnam W]ar… hand on the nuclear button … [forcing them to come to]  Paris …. begging for peace.” By projecting an irrationally unstable character in President Nixon, the theory was that Vietnam’s Communist leaders would commit to peace talks with the U.S over the Vietnam War. Although Nixon was intentionally extrapolating a volatile and irrational caricature of himself as a way to bring an end to an already disastrous U.S military effort in Indochina, the theory has been criticised. Sagan argues that the strategy was misleading and dangerous because it could have been easily misunderstood by the U.S.S.R. and its allies.  In addition, the theory increased the risk of potential accidents regarding the U.S military’s deployment of nuclear-armed aircraft above Vietnam. A human error due to a lack of clarity about the madman theory would have lead to a nuclear war.


There is an argument that Nixon’s madman theory neither succeeded nor failed because no nuclear conflict ensued, but equally, peace was not attained. In the present context, distinguishing calculated madman theory practitioners from actual unstable state actors becomes harder to discern. This is particularly the case regarding current U.S  President Donald J. Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. In addition, Russell rejects Waltz’s argument that stability in the Middle East is secured by granting Iran access to nuclear weapons. Russell claims M.A.D is highly plausible in the post-Cold War era, as a theocracy like Iran could view nuclear weapons as a means for war rather than deterrence. Emphasising these concerns further is the potential for nuclear weapons to fall into the hands of non-state actors or terrorist groups, which almost certainly would destabilise the international system and hinder the spread of international peace. The arbitrary behaviour non-nuclear states espouse, compared to the more cautious approach nuclear states take with regard to international affairs, should also be considered when evaluating whether nuclear weapons promote stability and peace. Either way, Nuclear Peace in a post-Cold War era is evidently far from guaranteed. Thakur summarises the main flaw in MAD theory as “for nuclear peace to hold, deterrence and fail-safe mechanisms must work every single time. For nuclear Armageddon … [these] mechanisms need to break down … once”. Nuclear Peace theory, therefore, highlights key limitations regarding its dependency on M.A.D theory which may occasionally detach itself from reality.


Since the “Manhattan Project”, nuclear weapons have certainly shaped international relations. The rivalry between the nuclear states of the U.S and U.S.S.R saw a transformation in nuclear strategy culminating in the Nuclear Peace theory. Initial nuclear deployments by both powers were done to deter each other from attack. However, the Cuban Missile Crisis showed how a peaceful resolution was far from guaranteed. Per, the stability-instability paradox, the theory appears misleading as it appears nuclear weapons only prevents nuclear conflicts, rather than all conflicts. Furthermore, Nuclear Peace theory relies heavily on a rational nuclear state. Regarding the risks of potentially nuclear-armed theocracies or non-state actors, in the post-Cold War era, this is far from certain. Thankfully no nuclear conflict has occurred, and to a certain extent, Nuclear Peace theory can be warranted. However, an over-reliance on nuclear proliferation to achieve stability and peace in the international system should be avoided.


The above could not have been possible without the following:

Carr, E. H. The Twenty Years’ Crisis, 1919–1939: An Introduction to the Study of International Relations, 3rd ed. New York, USA: Harper Perennial, 1965.


Coll, Steve. “The Madman Theory of North Korea.” The New Yorker. Last modified October 2, 2017. Accessed May 17, 2018. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/10/02/the-madman-theory-of-north-korea.


Donnelly, Jack. “Ethics of Realism.” In The Oxford Handbook of International Relations, edited by 


Christian Reus-Smit and Duncan Snidel, 150-65. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2008.


Haldeman, Harry R., and Joseph DiMona. The Ends of Power. New York City, USA: Times Books, 1978.


Haynes, Jeffrey, Peter Hough, Shahin Malik, and Lloyd Pettiford. World Politics. New York, USA: Routledge, 2013.


Hughes, Geraint. My Enemy’s Enemy: Proxy Warfare in International Politics. Brighton, United Kingdom: Sussex Academic Press, 2012.


Jervis, Robert. “The Cuban Missile Crisis: What Can We Know, Why Did It Start, and How Did It End?” In The Cuban Missile Crisis: A Critical Reappraisal, edited by Len Scott and R. Gerald 


Hughes, 1-19. New York, USA: Routledge, 2015.


Lacina, Bethany, and Nils Petter Gleditsch. “Monitoring Trends in Global Combat: A New Dataset of Battle Deaths.” European Journal of Population, o.s., 21 (June 22, 2004): 145-66.


Lewis, Julian. Nuclear Disarmament versus Peace in the Twenty-First Century.” International Affairs 824 (2006): 667-73.


Lind, Michael. Vietnam: The Necessary War: A Reinterpretation of America’s Most Disastrous Military Conflict. New York, USA: Touchstone, 2002.


Miner, Jane Claypool. Turning Points of World War II: Hiroshima and Nagasaki. London, England: Franklin Watts, 1984.


Narangoa, Li, and Robert Cribb. Historical Atlas of Northeast Asia, 1590–2010: Korea, Manchuria, Mongolia, Eastern Siberia. New York, USA: Columbia University Press, 2014.


Peace Pledge. “War and Peace: What’s It All About?” Peace Pledge Union. Last modified August 7, 2012. Accessed May 16, 2018. http://www.ppu.org.uk/learn/infodocs/st_war_peace.html.


Pentagon Papers. “Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1960.’” In Pentagon Papers, by The Pentagon Papers, 314-46. Gravel ed. Vol. 1. Boston, USA: Boston Beacon Press, 1971.


Rauchhaus, Robert. “Evaluating the Nuclear Peace Hypothesis.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 53, no. 2 (April 2009): 258-77.


Russell, Richard L. “The Nuclear Peace Fallacy: How Deterrence Can Fail.” The Journal of Strategic Studies 26, no. 1 (March 2003): 136-55.


Sagan, Scott, and Kenneth Waltz. The Spread of Nuclear Weapons. New York, USA: Norton, 2003.


Spector, Ronald H. “Vietnam War.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Last modified January 11, 2018. Accessed May 16, 2018. https://www.britannica.com/event/Vietnam-War.


Stone, Webster. “Moscow’s Still Holding.” New York Times (New York, USA), September 18, 1988, national edition.


Taylor, A.J.P, and J.M. Roberts, eds. Purnell’s History of the 20th Century. Vol. 5. London, England: Purnell, 1974.


Temperton, James. “’Now I Am Become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds’. The Story of 

Oppenheimer’s Infamous Quote.” Wired. Last modified August 9, 2017. Accessed May 10, 2018. http://www.wired.co.uk/article/manhattan-project-robert-oppenheimer.


Thakur, Ramesh. “The Ethical Imperatives and Means to Nuclear Peace.” Peace Review 28, no. 3 (July 2, 2016): 288-95.


Waltz, Kenneth N. “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb.” Foreign Affairs 91, no. 5 (October 13, 2012): 157-6

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Standards of the Time

Antonios Vitalis

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Events and outcomes in any field are often solely judged per the standards of their times. While this is a valid analytical approach, it is only a partial one. To obtain a more complete assessment it is necessary to combine this approach with a consideration of what current standards can tell us about prior conclusions. Such a dialectical approach provides a more comprehensive judgement that becomes beneficial over time. To prove this assumption allow me to analyse three distinct groups along this line of thinking. In addition, I will supplement this analysis with reference to, in no particular order,  specific methods of knowledge we have used for knowledge acquisition:


  • sense perception,
  • memory,
  • reason,
  • faith
  • emotion


These will allow for more informed, and comprehensive, judgements of said event in a given area that go beyond the standards of their time.


In the case of art, judgements about its quality can change per the standards of the time particularly as attitudes evolve. Vincent Van Gogh, Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso are examples of artists whose work has been judged by different standards at various points resulting in different judgements. Emotion and sense perception can help inform our assessment.


When judged by the standards of his time, Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings were not widely appreciated. His art was judged as ugly, uninspiring and uninteresting. In fact, Van Gogh died in poverty. The emotional response to his art has, however, changed over time. More recent critics have admired his post-impressionist approach and his work is widely acclaimed. This evolution has significantly altered judgements of his art which today is considered to have been ahead of its time, with some pictures selling for millions of dollars. Van Gogh is regarded as one of the world’s great painters, despite being shunned by his contemporaries.


Unlike Van Gogh, during his lifetime Andy Warhol was celebrated for his art, even if at times it could be controversial.  His exhibit “Campbell’s Soup Cans” in New York, for instance, was very well received at the time. This was seen as avant-garde and a critique of mass consumerism and the bland “sameness” of modern society. Warhol was one of the first to use a form of pop-art to highlight socio-political issues. Conversely, by today’s standards, Warhol’s art-pieces appear to be less revolutionary. They do not significantly affect our senses or appeal to our emotions in the way that they once did. While Warhol continues to be seen as an artist who broke new ground, his reputation has declined. Warhol’s work is now simply one of many forms of art that criticizes consumerism and it therefore no longer provokes the kind of strong emotional response it once did.


The art of Pablo Picasso also generated a controversy when it first appeared. Paintings like ‘Guernica’ underlined the polarising emotions Picasso’s art could generate. Knowledge of this controversial aspect in his work influences how audiences react and judge Picasso’s work today. When I first saw ‘Dog’ by Picasso, my judgement was informed by an assumption about its controversial nature, as well as an appreciation of this minimalistic sketch of a dog. This was informed both by my emotional reasoning and my awareness of Picasso’s reputation for pushing the limits. This led me to interpret the picture in unintended ways, including as a contrast between the simplicity of pets and the complexity of humans. In fact, this judgment was wrong. Picasso had sketched the dog for an admirer as a favour. It had no controversial artistic meaning. Nevertheless, I judged this picture by the standards of its time. By taking this assessment and combining it with my sensory perception of a minimalistic sketch, a more complete judgement could be made.  


History is often judged by modern standards, especially through emotion, memory and reason. Historical events like the Cold War are, however, judged in different ways depending on the time when such assessments are made. A good example of this is historiography – the study of historical writing based on the critical analysis of sources. The Cold War was a period of heightened tension between the United States (US) and the Soviet Union (USSR). Three perspectives have been used to identify the origins of this period: The Orthodox, Revisionist and Post-Revisionist.


Orthodox historians develop their judgements regarding available evidence in a historical context. They utilise emotional reasoning and memory to shape their judgement. Arthur Schlesinger, for instance, argues the Soviet Union started the Cold War because its focus on expansionism undermined the status quo in post-war Europe.  His judgement made during the Cold War was influenced by emotion, not least his role in developing US foreign policy.


Revisionist historians reinterpret the same evidence but rely less on memory or emotion because they were less likely to have lived through the Cold War, let alone its commencement. Such assessments produce judgements that are framed by modern standards, rather than those of the period under consideration. Many Revisionist historians contradict Orthodox historians, arguing that the United States rather than the USSR caused the Cold War through unnecessarily aggressive policies. Alternatively, Post-Revisionists combine the evidence of Orthodox historians that relied on emotion and memory with that of the Revisionists who drew on new reasoning and information to make their own judgements. Such an approach is both dialectical and more complete since it concludes both sides played a role in the origins of the Cold War.  


Natural sciences can be considered a branch of science dealing with the physical world that can be judged differently depending on when a judgement is being made. In this regard,  reason and faith can be utilised to assess whether key events in the historical development of Radium and Heliocentric theory should always be judged by the standards of their time.


The chemist Marie Curie discovered and worked closely with Radium. At the time, this element was not understood to have dangerous implications for health. Its properties were appreciated for their benefits – in which great faith was placed. The standards of today, however, judge Radium to be both radioactive and dangerous. The application of scientific reason, allowed scientists to mitigate the health risks from Radium while deploying Radium’s gamma rays in support of enhanced health outcomes. If Radium had been judged by modern standards in Curie’s time, she would have been more cautious when working with it. This would have retarded the development of modern knowledge about radioactivity and how to handle Radium safely. This example forces us to ask ourselves “how reliable is knowledge in science at the present time? Can we rely on our faith in scientists or do we need to retain some scepticism in our judgements?”


Thomas Kuhn suggests scientific knowledge progresses through a non-linear cycle – “paradigm shifts” – providing new approaches in scientific methods. Kuhn claims scientific rules are based on a subjective universal agreement which purports to create an objective approach to understanding science. He claims, therefore that an objective reason-based approach in science is insufficient. Instead, judgements should bring together subjective and objective reasoning.


The value of such a dialectical approach can be seen in the development of Copernicus’ Heliocentric Theory. This posited that the sun was the centre of the solar system and challenged the religiously based Geocentric theory that the Earth was the centre of the universe. Copernicus developed this through a combination of reason and faith. Had the standards of this period relied on faith alone, Heliocentrism would have been rejected altogether. By utilising faith as the foundation for his theory, but expanding this to argue for something at odds with the prevailing standard Copernicus produced a new field of natural science, one that modern science now hinges.


Developments like the use of Radium, or Heliocentrism, therefore, require a combination of approaches – both faith and reason in these cases. As Kuhn suggests, it is essential to combine subjective with objective reasoning to judge the reliability of scientific claims.


In conclusion, there is value in judging key events in the historical development of art, history and the natural sciences by the standards of their time. Such an approach allows us to learn from errors in the past and can assist in informing re-evaluations of an event. This is insufficient and may provoke more ambiguity resulting in an incomplete picture of the issue at hand. There can be other perspectives to reflect on when considering judgements about the historical development of a given area. When considering the application of sense perception, emotion, memory, reason and faith – to the given areas – the art of Van Gogh, Warhol and Picasso, the origins of the Cold War and the development of Radium and Heliocentrism, it was possible to demonstrate the need for a comprehensive dialectical approach. This brought together the standards of the time, and modern assessments to better understand those events. This underlines the difficulty in definitively judging a key event in a field’s historical development by its contemporary standards. Dialectical and more comprehensive judgements can only be made by merging modern and past interpretations of standards at a given time.


The above could not have been accomplished without reference to the following sources:

Bourdon, David. Warhol. 1989. Reprint, New York, United States: Abrams Books, 1995.

Froman, Nanny. “Marie and Pierre Curie and the Discovery of Polonium and Radium.” Nobel Prize. Last modified December 1, 1996. Accessed November 18, 2016. https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/themes/physics/curie/.

Gaddis, John Lewis. The Cold War: A New History. London, England: Penguin Press, 2005.

Gaddis, John Lewis. The United States and Origins of the Cold War 1941-1947. Columbia, United States: Columbia University Press, 1972.

Henry, John. Moving Heaven and Earth: Copernicus and the Solar System. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Icon Books, 1997.

Howard, Craig. Theory of Knowledge. Edinburgh, United Kingdom: Pearson Education Limited, 2008.

Iatrides, John O., and Nicholas X. Rizopoulos. “The International Dimension of the Greek Civil War.” World Policy Journal, April 13, 2000, 87-103.

McQuillan, Melissa. Van Gogh (World of Art). London, England: Thames and Hudson, 1989.

Schlesinger, Arthur M. Origins of the Cold War to Foreign Affairs, by Arthur  M. Schlesinger, Jr, 49-50. 46th ed. The New American Realism 1. New York City, NY: Council on Foreign Relations, 1967.

Theory Of Knowledge. “The Natural Sciences.” Theory of Knowledge. Last modified March 7, 2014. Accessed November 18, 2016. http://www.theoryofknowledge.net/areas-of-knowledge/the-natural-sciences/.

Thompson, Ewa M. The Search for Self-definition in Russian Literature. Amsterdam, Holland: John Benjamin’s Publishing Company, 1991.

Tropical Sun. “Picasso’s Napkin the Reality.” Tropical Sun Design. Last modified March 1, 2012. Accessed November 17, 2016. http://tropicalsundesign.com/picassos-napkin-the-reality/.

Vann, Richard. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Oxford Publishing, 2012. Last modified January 3, 2014. Accessed November 17, 2016. https://www.britannica.com/topic/historiography.

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My Thoughts On Peter Singer in “Famine Affluence and Morali

Antonios Vitalis

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The following critically evaluates Peter Singer’s essay “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” by considering three of Singer’s fundamental but inter-related assumptions. Two of these – geographic location; and the role of the individual versus that of the group in moral terms – are critically evaluated, noting that these are not as clear-cut in moral terms as Singer implies. The third relates to enforcing supererogatory obligation and the failure of Singer’s core analogy to keep pace with the evolution of social mores.  Framing this assessment is the ‘demandingness objection’ (DOb) which sets itself against utilitarianism – a form of which Singer advocates. This evaluation suggests that Singer’s focus on utilitarianism to deliver the most good is important in terms of making the moral case for charity and international development assistance, but a range of flaws emerge weakening Singer’s argument.


Singer’s essay is framed by a set of inter-related working assumptions. At their heart is a primary assumption, that “suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad” (Singer 1972). This can be self-evidently justified and is therefore not the focus of this evaluation. Singer’s second assumption, however, is more questionable, “if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it.” This is a core element of his argument supporting his advocacy for development assistance and donations that may help mitigate or prevent famine, deaths and so in impoverished countries (Singer, 1972). To support this assertion, Singer offers the analogy of a child drowning in a shallow pond. Singer believes that anyone passing by would save the child, even if the trade-off is dirty/wet clothes. 


In short, Singer shows that saving the child does not entail a sacrifice of anything of comparable moral importance. Under these conditions, Singer argues how helping the impoverished is both morally necessary and justifiable (Singer, 1972). This simplified example frames several of Singer’s core assumptions, including geographic location and the notion of entitlements which are considered below.

Singer believes geographic location is irrelevant to the moral issue of using one’s affluence to mitigate or prevent famines in distant countries. The assumption is that our moral obligation exists regardless of location. Singer concedes that, in practice, the likelihood of assisting someone closer to us in geographic terms is greater than our propensity to help someone further away (Singer, 1972). That concession by Singer goes to the heart of a recurring argument against international development assistance; one should help the poor in one’s own country before seeking to assist others further away. Singer questions this implicitly by noting that technological advances have made geography irrelevant, such that the world is a “global[ised] village”. Thus, geographical discrimination regarding aid is not only immoral but unjustifiable in practice, he argues (Singer, 1972). Singer suggests therefore that one should, regardless of location – for moral reasons – help strangers, rather than necessarily one’s disadvantaged compatriots. The converse also applies, something he concedes but downplays thereby weakening the power of his argument, i.e. those that are ‘close’ should also be helped, for similarly moral reasons. Even in affluent societies, there are pockets of need and this is of equal moral significance as addressing similar needs, albeit farther from home.


Arthur’s (1981) elaboration of two forms of entitlements provides a DOb to Singer’s assumption (Arthur, 1981). According to Arthur, our moral code demands we act to help a friend or a stranger. That said, according to Arthur, humans have both rights and, what is known as ‘desert’. Rights can be either natural or positive – or done by agreement with another party. Desert, however, refers to entitlements that are ‘deserved’. An individual’s entitlements are provided based on their past behaviour or actions which can be identified. Yet considering the moral obligation to assist a ‘stranger’ like one in another country, a desert is unable to be established rendering such action morally unjustifiable. Why help when we do not know enough about them (Arthur, 1981). This conceptualization dismantles the egalitarian assumption underpinning Singer’s analysis. His assertion of the modern world’s interdependent nature to argue all starving peoples deserve equal help on moral grounds does not address Arthur’s argument. Furthermore, the notion one has a moral obligation to those hundreds of kilometres away “is psychologically” demanding –  a point underlined by Corbett who argues Singer’s moral obligation to assist is diminished by such ‘taxing’ requirements (Corbett, 1995). 


The second implication of Singer’s assumption the lack of distinction between an individual acting alone, and a group working together. Singer believes that inaction – whether by a single individual or by a group – is morally unjustified. Returning to his drowning child analogy, Singer suggests how one may feel less guilty if one was in a group situation when the child was drowning, and no one acted to save the child. Nevertheless, such inaction morally unjustifiable simply because the group did not save the child (Singer, 1972). Singer asserts how a moral obligation to help exists and does not change in a group or when one is alone (Singer, 1972). Although persuasive, this point appears vague. No definitive elaboration on what Singer refers to as ‘bad’ is established, nor what form of help the group, as opposed to the individual, might provide. Is it for instance, morally unjustifiable for a member of the group to leave the child and run to seek assistance, rather than wading into the pond? Counterintuitively, therefore, group inaction regarding an immediate problem (a drowning child) to the greater good over time. Securing broader international assistance that delivers seeds and fertilisers better prevent future famines rather than sending food aid to solve the immediate problem. Singer’s inability to consider the moral value of different forms of action regarding individual/s is underscored by Pettit. 


Unlike Singer, Pettit claims a distinction between actions that ensure maximum utility and actions which avoids condemnation can be made (Phillip Pettit, 1997). So long as Person A and B did their best to help the child, even if the child drowns, they may avoid criticism. Conversely, if only Person A did his best while person B stood by or failed to seek assistance, the latter merits condemnation because Person A ensured their maximum utility was fulfilled (Phillip Pettit, 1997). Thus, Person A and B have only limited, indeed, reduced obligations to Person C, because the obligation is shared between them (Phillip Pettit, 1997).  Singer is unable to recognize this distinction between relative capabilities when asserting the moral obligation for charitable action. Pettit would argue that although, one may not know CPR, so long as help is given at maximum utility, that person will avoid condemnation. Singer fails to account for the difference between the agronomist aiding famine-stock acres and the lawyer – both with very different skills and thus it is possible to argue with differing moral obligations. Pettit would claim the agronomist is morally obliged to do more than a group of lawyers because s/he has particularly relevant skills, yet Singer is unclear on whether this is the case.


A significant theme of Singer’s essay is his criticism of the current conceptualisation of charity. In this regard, the following helpfully frames the matter: x can be either “obligatory, permissible, forbidden and supererogatory” (Brown, et al., 2018). Under supererogatory, x is not obligatory yet condemnable if done. The provision of charity is thus supererogatory. Singer claims such actions merge with obligatory action (Singer, 1972). He believes charitable donations from those in positions of relative wealth should not be praised or be praised less than those of more limited. (Singer, 1972). In this sense, Bill Gates should not be applauded for his charitable work because of his billionaire status, such financial assistance is rather less admirable in a moral sense than the contribution made by a solo parent who donates modestly to her local charity. This is an intriguing perspective. On the one hand, the multi-million-dollar contributions made by the Gates’ Foundation to addressing famine, malaria and so on risk being underplayed in moral terms when set against the $15.00 monthly contribution by the solo parent to assist in providing a well for a small village in Eritrea. In this regard, Garret Hardin demonstrates how enforcing supererogatory action is impractical regarding resource distribution. 


Hardin criticizes the “Spaceship Earth” model commonly used to demonstrate the moral obligation all individuals of relative affluence have in helping the impoverished, a concept compatible with Singer (Hardin, 1974). The model presumes the ‘Spaceship’ has a captain, capable of directing when needed (Hardin, 1974). That is clearly not the reality. Instead, Hardin refers to a lifeboat metaphor, where it has room for only ten passengers but is surrounded by hundreds of individuals at risk of drowning. Hardin considers applying a morally just action akin to that espoused by Singer, i.e. that the morally correct response is to save all individuals and, in this case, all those drowning should be allowed into the lifeboat – which promptly sinks, and everyone perishes. A morally just action is therefore identified as impractical. Instead, the moral response is for those onboard to simply let those in the water drown, rather than risk drowning everyone (Hardin, 1974). This challenges Singer’s thesis of charitable assistance, because the risk of helping others may undermine one’s own life prospects, highlighting the practical limitations of Singer’s position.


Finally, John Keke’s challenges Singer’s view that failure to do “volunteer work” or anything charitable means we are morally responsible for those that die because of our inaction (Kekes, 2002). Charity, however, by its very nature is optional – one volunteer to do charitable work or provide charitable assistance. Singer implies, however, that charity is as an essential – and thus compulsory-  mechanism to help those in “developing nations”, – our inaction implies a responsibility for the death of those less fortunate (Singer, 1972). Further, with reference to the drowning child in the pond, Kekes asserts that in fact, Singer is guilty of paternalism implying that those suffering from famine are the ‘children’ drowning in the pond. This, he suggests, “is a … the paternalistic insult” (Kekes, 2002). Singer’s analogy implies a child-like status for aid recipients and an all-knowing wide parental status for those engaged in delivering charitable assistance (Kekes, 2002; Ami, 2015). It is worth acknowledging here that Singer’s 1972 analogy was presumably not intended to be a ‘paternalistic insult’, but social mores since that time have evolved and it is important that the philosophical underpinning of the case for charitable aid can better reflect that evolution.


This essay has considered the three major implications of Singer’s assumptions that underpin his essay “Famine, Affluence and Morality”.  The first implication – that geographic location is irrelevant to moral obligation – has been shown to be questionable, including with reference to Arthur and Corbett who have highlighted that there is a distinction to be drawn in moral terms, noting for instance that desert cannot be established in the case of strangers and that assistance to such individuals can be psychologically challenging – neither of which Singer’s argument accounts for. The second implication underpinning Singer’s argument is how morally irrelevant it is whether the individual or the group acts. In fact, there are crucial differences between individual and group actions, including in terms of medium to long term effectiveness both for saving a drowning child and for delivering practical development assistance. Finally, with reference to Hardin and Keke’s, flaws enforcing supererogatory action through DOb were established, thus highlighting the questionable nature of Singer’s analogy of the drowning child when applied to international charity and development assistance. However, Singer’s essay was a ground-breaking one as it made the moral case for helping ‘distant strangers’ and provides much of the philosophical underpinning for contemporary international development assistance delivery. 


Nevertheless, several of the core assumptions within Singer’s essay is questionable and ambiguous and while they may not obviate the need for international development assistance or charitable action, they underline the need to ensure that the frame of reference that underpins this moral assertion withstands critical evaluation and evolve over time.

The above could not have been accomplished without the help of the following sources: 


Ami, D. B., 2015. Financial Times. [Online] Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/a56c91e8-8eb7-11e5-8be4-3506bf20cc2b [Accessed 3 January 2019].Arthur, J., 1981. Famine Relief and the Ideal Morale Code. In: V. Barry, ed. Applying Ethics. Belmont: Waldsworth, pp. 142-146.Brown, G. W., Iain, M. & Alistair, M., 2018. Oxford Concise Dictionary of Politics & International Relations. 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Corbett, B., 1995. Moral Obligations to Distant Others. [Online] Available at: http://faculty.webster.edu/corbetre/philosophy/moral/others/distant.html [Accessed 27 December 2018].Hardin, G., 1974. Living on a Lifeboat. BioScience, 24(10), pp. 1-18.Kekes, J., 2002. On the Supposed Obligation to Relieve Famine. The Royal Institute of Philosophy, 77(302), pp. 503-517.Mulgan, T., 2001. The Demands of Consequentialism. New York: Oxford University Press.Phillip Pettit, 1997. The Consequentialist Perspective in Three Methods of Ethics. In: Three Methods of Ethics. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 163-169.Singer, P., 1972. Famine, Affluence, and Morality. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 1(3), pp. 229-243.