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Martin Wight, Realism, and the Good Life

  • Robert Jackson
Part of the Palgrave Macmillan History of International Thought Series book series (PMHIT)

Abstract

Martin Wight argues, in a celebrated essay, that political theory is a fully developed “theory of the good life,” whereas international theory is merely a residual “theory of survival.”1 Wight’s simplifying distinction may be inviting because it eliminates thorny normative issues and it confines theoretical reflection on international relations to instrumental questions. I shall argue, however, that it cannot be sustained and should be rejected.2 Furthermore, he fails to observe the distinction in his own writings on states systems, which disclose the unity of political theory and international theory.3 International theory and political theory diverge at certain points but they are branches of one overall theory of the modern state and states system. States are janus-faced: they simultaneously look inward at their subjects and outward at other states. Although each facet can of course be distinguished analytically and theorized separately, neither is ontologically independent of the other. There is not on the one hand “the state” and on the other hand “the states system”; there are only “states” whose actions, arrangements, and entanglements can be studied from either the internal or the external angle, or both. Survival may be threatened by internal war. The good life may be fostered by external aid. International theory, understood in Wight’s own terms of “realism,” “rationalism,” and “revolutionism,” proves on examination to be a theory of the good life and therefore a branch of political theory in its own right.

Keywords

Good Life International Relation Political Theory Modern State International Politics 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Martin Wight, “Why is there No International Theory?” in H. Butterfield and M. Wight (eds.), Diplomatic Investigations (London: Allen & Unwin, 1966), p. 33. Wight is referring to classical political thought and so am I.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For criticisms of Wight along not dissimilar lines, see Roy Jones, “The English School of International Relations: A Case for Closure,” Review of International Studies, vol. 7 (January 1981), pp. 1–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. and N.J. Rengger, “Serpents and Doves in Classical International Theory,” Millennium: Journal of International Studies vol. 17, no. 2 (Summer 1988), pp. 215–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 3.
    See, e.g., Wight’s various essays in Systems of States, ed. H. Bull (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1977).Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    Anarchism or a completely stateless condition is a very rare topic of political theory. See. H. Read, The Philosophy of Anarchism (London: Freedom Press, 1940).Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Michael Oakeshott (Oxford: Blackwell, 1946), p. 82.Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    Arnold Wolfers, Discord and Collaboration (London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1965), p. 238.Google Scholar
  8. 17.
    See Hedley Bull, “Martin Wight and the Theory of International Relations: The Second Martin Wight Memorial Lecture,” British Journal of International Studies vol. 2 (1976), pp. 101–16. Wight’s meanings of these terms are used throughout this essay.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 18.
    Cardinal Richelieu, as quoted by H. Butterfield. “Raison d’État: the Relations Between Morality and Government” (The First Martin Wight Memorial Lecture. University of Sussex, 1975).Google Scholar
  10. 19.
    J. Bodin, Six Books of the Commonwealth tr. M.J. Tooley (Oxford: Blackwell, 1955), book One, pp. 1–6.Google Scholar
  11. 20.
    Gerhard Ritter, Frederick the Great, tr. Peter Paret (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1968), p. 70.Google Scholar
  12. 21.
    J.H. Herz, “Rise and Demise of the Territorial State,” World Politics, vol. 9 (1957), pp. 473–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 24.
    R.J. Vincent, Human Rights and International Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), pp. 123–25.Google Scholar
  14. 26.
    M. Wight, “An Anatomy of International Thought,” Review of International Studies, vol. 13 (1987), pp. 225–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 28.
    Immanuel Kant, “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose” and “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch,” both reprinted in Hans Reiss (ed.), Kant Political Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), pp. 47, 104.Google Scholar

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© Robert Jackson 2005

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  • Robert Jackson

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