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A Critical Analysis of the Expansion of International Society: Eliding the Violent and Oppressive Hi

Sanitising the History of Colonialism

What the above accounts all offer is a rather sanitised version of ‘expansion’. Watson’s analysis, for instance, is one in which the violent and bloody conquest of the Americas appears as an orderly and regulated affair because it avoided colonial wars (between Europeans, that is); one in which Europeans subordinated and ruled over other peoples because they desired profit, but also because they sought to civilise non-Europeans and bring progress to them; an account in which non-Europeans could not help but be impressed, such that they sought admission to the exclusive club of European powers; how their importuning fell on deaf ears, until eventually Europe and the US relented and decided that they should be admitted as equal members; and, the happy dénouement, one that saw a new international order come into being, but which was an extension or expansion, rather than a departure from or repudiation of, the originally European society of states. An account of a period that includes the bloody conquest of the Americas, the transatlantic slave trade, the expropriation and sometimes genocide of indigenous peoples, wars of conquest, land grabs, exploitation and oppression, somehow manages to elide much of this history. It also elides the many mass struggles, violent and less violent, that constitute the history of decolonisation – a history that here has only one powerful actor, the white man, who eventually comes to see that the very principles of his club mandate inclusion rather than exclusion.

But let us not dismiss Watson’s account, or other similar if less egregious accounts of the ‘expansion of international society’, on ‘polemical’ grounds, for there are other grounds for doing so. This narrative of the expansion of political forms is modelled on e conventional account of the expansion of economic and social forms

What is an insuperable problem for ‘domestic’ political theory is no less so for IR theory. Jackson is aware, of course, that the procedural rules he refers to do, in fact, arise from a particular historical and socio-cultural setting. International law, he writes, ‘although European in origin, has been adopted around the world’; and similarly the norms and practices of diplomacy are ‘originally European but now universal’.30 We have every reason, however, to doubt the ‘universality’ of international law, and to doubt that, although originally European, it was cleansed of any cultural particularities and became a neutral resource available to all. Antony Anghie finds instead that: ‘Over the centuries, international law developed a sophisticated series of technologies, doctrines, and disciplines that borrowed in important ways from the broader justifications of colonialism to address the problem of the governance of non-European peoples.

What statespeople also seem to possess is a common ability to recognize the limits imposed by the circumstances under which they must operate in their conduct of foreign policy.… Statespeople can reasonably be expected to act with circumspection and prudence.… Prudence is not a European or Western virtue; it is a virtue of men and women everywhere.

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