International Relations and Geopolitics. Lecture 1 - Theories, Paradigms, Concepts, Schools, Debates

This lecture will include all knowledge of International Relations. It is dedicated to the discipline, the science, that is called International Relations. The general course will have four lectures. The first lecture is dedicated to International Relations as a discipline. The second, to geopolitics. The third, to the theory of the multipolar world. The fourth will be dedicated to China in all these fields of theoretical and academic thought. 

But we cannot follow the logic of this course without knowing the basis of International Relations, geopolitics, and multipolarity. We need to understand that International Relations is a Western discipline. What does “Western discipline” or “Western science” mean? Now, in the present situation, we should be very careful, because knowing what post-modern is, modern critiques, and modern anthropology, we should carefully distinguish what is “Western.” The Western science and Western approach often tries to impose itself as the universal one. This is the imperialist aspect of the Western mind. It is racism that is implicitly present in any kind of Western thought. Western thought is ethnocentric and, more than ethnocentric, it does not recognize itself as ethnocentric. This kind of implicit racism is worse than explicit racism. Western liberals say “we are defining universal values”, but when you ask them what they mean by “universal values”, they begin to explain Western values as universal - individualism, libertarianism, progress, materialism. There is no place for metaphysics, the spirit, no belief in the soul or afterlife. This is a product of Western civilization, an historical product, that pretends to be universal. 

When we forget that International Relations, and many other, indeed, almost all sciences which we study at university, are Western, then we are losing a very important aspect. We fall into the trap of regarding this discipline, theory, and science as something universal. We need to always remember that we are dealing with the Western vision - in International Relations more than elsewhere. Because that is the Western vision of how things are. 

Above all, in China or in Russia today, if we consider ourselves to be subjects of history, not simple objects of history made by others, then we need to always remember this distinction. This does not mean that we should refuse Western science, resist against Western science, or ignore Western science. It means that we must always remember that it is a Western ethnocentric vision. We need a kind of theoretical Chinese wall in the epistemological field.


When you stop some internet connections at the border of your country, you are trying to make a distinction between what is wrong and what is possible for Chinese culture. We need to establish the same wall in the epistemological field. 


International Relations deals with the State as such. This is very important. In the very name of this science, this discipline, there is the concept of “nation.” In the Western understanding, the nation is a political value. The West thinks of politics in terms of the “national State” that is normative since the Westphalian peace, and is the normative attitude. The Nation is the national State (Etat-Nation), it is not the people or an ethnic group. International Relations are relations between these States. What kind of State? Modern, Western States. This is the first, very important principle. When we are dealing with the concept of the State, we are dealing with historically Western concepts about how political reality should be organized and studied. 


This is a modern paradigm. “Modern paradigm” means Western, but not in all the history of the “West”, but only in modernity. Modernity has transformed the Western mentality and has taken only part of the traditional Western mentality of the middle ages or antiquity and transformed it into a new kind, a new version. International Relations was born as a discipline in the beginning of the 20th century. It is Western and modern. Western modernity is different from Western pre-modernity. This is very important from an historical point of view. 


The next point is that there is always an implicit hierarchy in International Relations. We can say that this is a “hidden” hierarchy. The Western concept of International Relations is based on the idea that there are examples of a “normal” State and “normal” relations, and that is precisely the Western world. All the rest are thought to be un- or underdeveloped and under-Western, but striving and tending to become Western. This is a kind of hierarchy. 


These are the four principles which we should always remember in studying International Relations, and, I would suggest, other sciences as well. International Relations is a Western and modern discipline. The science is not universal, but is historically, geographically, and ethnically defined. It reflects Western ethnocentrism or “Eurocentrism.”


International Relations is not universal, but reflects the standpoint of the Western part of humanity. This remark opens up the possibility or question of how non-Western International Relations theory should look. Are they possible? Are they desirable? 


International Relations is essentially a modern discipline which deals with the modern State and international system created under the Westphalian treaty, when there was a very important shift from pre-modernity in the international political system to modernity, when national, sovereign States were accepted as normative actors in global politics. This was not the case before, when religion and dynasties played an essential part. There was no concept of purely rational calculation of national interests or the sovereign body as the State. Instead, the State had a mission, a religious mission, a religious dimension - such as with Catholic politics in Europe. With the end of the Thirty Years War, a new political system was established that was accepted as universal, normative, progressive, and necessary for everybody else. 

IR was born in the beginning of the 20th century in England and Switzerland as “tentation” to conceptualize international political science, and now it is established as an acknowledged academic science and discipline in the West, and in imitation of the West elsewhere. When I was teaching International Relations in Russia, it was exactly as it was represented in the rest of the world. 

So, International Relations studies the relations and interactions of States. The fundamental subject is State-to-State relations, not people-to-people or culture-to-culture. The State is considered as the modern Western State - sovereign and secular. Secular means that there is no religious aspect or mission recognized in the State, so it is purely rational. Sovereign means that there is no higher government above the State. The State is the highest point. There is no god above the State, and the State is the prophet of itself. This is a kind of absolutization of the liberty of the State to do anything and everything. There is no other authority. That is the basic concept of sovereignty. Sovereign is he who has no other ruler or legitimate instance above himself. That is Jean Bodin’s definition of sovereignty. It was applied first in the Protestant concept of politics, and directed against the authority of the Catholic Church, which pretended to be a supranational authority above the State, and after that it was recognized as normative. Sovereignty is modern in its essence, and it is anti-empire.


For example, in Chinese history, according to Professor Zhao Tingyang [1] (赵汀), badao (霸道) and wangdao (王道). Badao (霸道) is power based on the force of hegemony, which does not recognize any other authority. Wangdao (王道)is a kind of moral and spiritual or mystical power of the emperor. This is not only the biggest, but is completely different, a qualitative change. This is not sovereignty. It is a mission. Wangdao (王道) is a mission. Sovereignty is modern and is badao (霸道). 


The State is conceived as separate from religion, ethnic traditions, culture, and civilization. The State is national. But what does national mean in the modern political sense? The State is based on individual citizenship. The concept of the normative State considers the individual to be the subject of the State, and all individuals, united in the nation-State, are citizens. He who is not a citizen is outside of the State. All citizens are politically equal. The concept of nation-State is bourgeois and modern. It is not traditional. It does not recognize classes or other forms of professions or different layers of society - they have no political meaning in the modern national State. Nationality is based on individual citizenship. 


The modern State, as the subject of International Relations, without a mission, is rational, egoist, and has clearly calculable national interests. It is a rational body. The nation is a rational creation [which exists] in order to organize individuals and to propose to them some kind of order and structure. If individuals are not happy with that, they can change it. Hence the concept of “social-public treaty” (contract). Because the State has nothing transcendental, nothing above it, no mission, it can be reshaped, recreated, destroyed, and created anew, if individuals or citizens decide to do so. It is based on a public treaty or agreement, that is the contractual nature of the modern State. It is almost like a contract agreement between, for example, economic groups. They can decide to put together their capital, and they can decide to stop and to create a new firm. So the State is conceived or is thought to be a kind of commercial firm. This is bourgeois in its roots. 


This modern State is believed to be sovereign, so there is no higher authority above it. And the modern State is opposite to empire. It is opposite to the religious State, to the archaic community. It is based on the concept of progress. It is regarded as something that comes historically “after” empire, religious States, and archaic communities, all of which are considered to be pre-modern,  while the modern State is “new” and the “more progressive” form of political organization. So the modern State, as a bourgeois concept, obtains or acquires a sense of meaning only in the context of “progress.” If we challenge the concept of progress, everything will fall apart. No modern State has any sense outside of progress. Progress, modernity, and the modern State always go together. The concept of progress is embedded implicitly in the concept of the modern State. 


The implicit hierarchy in International Relations conceives all States as being “Western” or “similar to the West”, “modern”, and “equal”, and deals with them as such. Reality is different, because States, as they are, not as they are thought to be, are not equal. There are big States, huge States, and small States - all of them are “sovereign”, and all of them have a place in the United Nations organization, but Monaco and small Luxembourg - sovereign States - and China, for example, are incomparable, like the huge sun and a small grain of sand. They are not equal. 

But, interestingly enough, the hierarchy of International Relations contradicts the basic concept that every sovereign State is equal to one another [2]. Nevertheless, it exists, and there are debates in International Relations on how to explain and represent this hierarchy. The old Western racism comes into play here[3]. Racism was formed during colonial times and, little by little, step by step, acquired three layers. Normative racism consists of the first class of humanity - “white” humanity, a second, “yellow” class of humanity, and the third class, the lowest of all, is “black” humanity. This was reflected in the so-called “anthropology” of the 19th century, in Morgan, for example, with some explanations for these terms. “White” means “civilization”; “yellow” means “barbarity” or “quasi-civilization”, something like “civilization”, but not “civilized”, and “black” means “savagery”, or “savages” with no image of civilization, living in wild forests as gatherers, small farmers, and hunters. 


Now we can see the exact same in International Relations - although formally without racism, because it was discredited by Nazi Germany - where we have an implicit, unofficial hierarchy that divides all countries into three groups: the First World, or the center in Wallerstein’s system[4], which is the Rich North. This is precisely the Western, white, European, American civilization. This is an old racist concept, in which the “whites” are the First World because they are “more progressive”, richer, more “developed”, have more “human rights”, are more liberal, freer, and happier. This is the old, normative ethnocentric history of the imperialist, hegemonic, colonial system. Although now it is not linked to “racism”, the First World is a purely racist concept. It is a transposition of the old racism onto the new, liberal political plane. The Second World in Wallerstein’s system is called the “semi-periphery”, represented by China, Russia, Latin America, India, and some eastern States, presented as “barbarity.” The West says that they are “corrupt”, “authoritarian”, “totalitarian”, and do not have proper “human rights.” They have dictatorships and corrupt Caesarist regimes, but they are like “us” - that is the First World - “in delay”, and we will “help them” to develop human rights, liberal values, transparency so that they will, one day, maybe, catch up with us and will be “white.”


Then there is the Third World. This is the “periphery” and, as Thomas Berger and Huntington said, this is the “rest” of the “West and the rest.” It is undeveloped and under the influence of the hegemonies of the second and first. 


This is a more or less implicit hierarchy. We cannot understand anything in International Relations if we ignore this implicit hierarchy. The most sincere authors, such as Krasner[5], Hobson[6], and others, recognize this. But this is a little bit of an awkward moment, because to recognize the implicit hierarchy of International Relations is the same as to recognize the “racist” nature of the liberal way of thinking. This is a problem for “political correctness”, so they try to avoid this aspect. But it is implicitly, always, in any case present.


Now we will see the content of the science of International Relations.

International Relations as a discipline has different schools. They are different in many senses. The first, fully established, “classical” school is the positivist school. What does “positivist” mean? Positivism means that this school recognizes that there is an “external” or “material” reality that is the subject of International Relations. There are States, interactions between States, nations, and economies, and these exist somehow independently of how we describe them. There is the “positivist” fact that can be regarded, studied, and explored without our subjective relation to it. This is a pre-quantum-mechanical vision. It is “good old materialism” that regards that everything goes by itself, and the human presence is here to describe or deal with the positive reality that is always there outside of and independent of our interpretation. Our interpretation depends on reality, which is not dependent on our interpretation, but is as such. 

There is also the post-positivist school, which has been gaining more and more ground in the science of International Relations. It is based on post-modernism, such as Michel Foucault’s epistemology, which challenged the existence of the positive fact and described the positive fact as an epistemological struggle. The will to knowledge is the will to power, according to Michel Foucault. This is the basis of post-modernist, hyper-critical ontology, that does not believe in the existence of anything outside of our explanation. This is a quantum-mechanical attitude. In quantum mechanics, the position of the observer is linked to the process itself. Processes with and without observers are different. This is a concept introduced into post-modern philosophy based on the deconstruction of discourse. According to post-positivists, there are no International Relations. There is only discourse on International Relations. There are no States without explanations, documents, and texts. Everything is written, everything is in speech and discourses, and by changing discourse, we change reality. This is very important. I suggest Chinese students to study post-modernism very carefully. It is a growing field of research, and without understanding the basic principles of post-modernism, we cannot understand anything in the present West. Because the present West affects us, we would not be able to understand ourselves without understanding post-modernity. The semi-periphery does not pay sufficient attention to post-modernity. We need to study it because, otherwise, we will be easily tricked in many aspects. 

The post-positivist school does not believe in the existence of independent material reality. They think that material reality is created in the process of speaking, thinking, and discussing this “material reality.” This is the late concept of Wittgenstein that there is no positive fact, because the positive fact is always embedded in the interpretation. This is the so-called “language game” that creates meaning. Without meaning, there is no thing. The thing is born in the process of the language game. This is the basic principle of post-modernity. 


The post-positivist school challenged the status quo in modern science generally, and in International Relations. Post-positivists attack the positivist school as “idiots” affirming things that belong to the past. Post-modernists are progressivists as well, but critical progressivists. The majority of them are from the left, such as from Cultural Marxism, from Trotskyism, from nihilism, and different forms of the leftist, socialist, and pro-communist schools. That is why post-positivist challenges exist in the world order. This is a little revolutionary, because it tries to transform the epistemology of International Relations and, thus by this means, transforms the reality, which is the same as the discourse about reality. This is the test in Derrida’s version. There is nothing but the text. If we change the text, we change reality. This is the revolutionary aspect of post-modernism and the post-positivist school.


The positivist school is fully established with a hundred years of debates, schools, different conferences, and hundreds and thousands of books and manuals written in favor of one or another theory. And there is controversy. 


But post-positivism in International Relations is new, is gaining more and more ground, and needs to be taken into consideration. At any conference dedicated to International Relations, there will normally be a representative of this school. They create scandals and may look marginal, but now they are part of an established attitude. In modern manuals dedicated to International Relations, a part is always reserved for expositing post-positivist doctrines. It is not an innovation anymore. Now it is already a part of the discipline, developing and growing,  remaining controversial and scandalous, but as a part of the discipline. 


There is a third kind of school of International Relations that does not exist in the form of a academic accepted theory in the proper sense yet. But it is has been born and is beginning to expand. Only the first steps are being made. I call it the multipolar school that is in the process of creation. It does not exist as an established school, but this approach is making its first steps. It is precisely to this concept that I will dedicate the third lecture, explaining it in more detail, but in order to have a general vision of International Relations, we must introduce it. 

The multipolar school challenges Eurocentrism, modernity, universalism, and the global hegemony of the West. It forms a kind of parallel to some post-positivist structures. It is based on the presumption that there is a multitude of civilizations, which is not the case for post-modernists. Post-modernists are universalists, progressivists, and believe in liberation, democracy, and enlightenment, but they try to “enlighten enlightenment”, to “develop development”, and to “make modernity more modern.” They think that modernity is not modern enough. They try to liberate and bring to its end the process of liberation. Post-modernity is a kind of futuristic modernism. 


The multipolar school does not accept linear progress nor the normative status of the West. The multipolar system deals with different civilizations, with no hierarchy at all. It is based on the complete incomparability of different civilizations, which we need to study without regard for any normative status for the West. That is the new aspect of multipolarity. It is based on anthropological pluralism and a positive evaluation of diversity. Here the concept of the Other is decided completely differently than in the traditional Western approach. We can say that the multipolar approach is not Western, and is an anti-Western school of International Relations. That explains why it is not so much developed and why it is not present in manuals, and why it is not mentioned during discussions and debates. It stands outside of globally “understood” Western-centrism. It is not Eurocentrism. So it is not by chance that this theory has been developed in the semi-periphery. Based on the new anthropology of Eduardo Viveiros de Castro and of Eduardo Kohn, which affirms that archaic traditions have their own ontology and gnoseology and that we need to accept them as human and not as sub-human, as in progressivist, racist, Western-centrist epistemology.

But as for the main, positivist school of International Relations, there are two main schools: Realism, represented and founded by Morgenthau and Carr, and Liberalism, represented by Angel, US President Woodrow Wilson, and Zimmerman. At any normal university, you can pass exams if you understand realism and liberalism, because these are the main approaches which they teach about International Relations in conventional, normative, Western (and non-Western) institutions. 


What is realism in International Relations? Realism is the idea that there should not and cannot be supranational organizations. Realists believe in sovereignty in the sense as I have explained it. Because realists believe in sovereignty, they think that there is chaos in International Relations. Chaos in International Relations is something other than “chaos” in normal language. It is not disorder, but is the absence of a higher level of authority which could legally oblige the State to do anything. States are absolutely free, and if you cannot oblige them to do one thing or prevent them from doing another or punish them legally, then you can only punish and oblige illegally. So International Relations as a field is always based on this chaos, because sovereignty is sovereign, and by recognizing sovereignty as an absolute principle, there can be only relations of power. If you are more powerful, you can oblige another, but not by law, legally, but by force. That this is possible and normal - that is realism. You measure forces. For example, how can survive countries and States survive? Either there is something that is “bigger” or “biggest” that is against the other “bigger.” For example, there is small Ukraine and big Russia. Russia attacks Ukraine, and Ukraine calls Washington and says “please, come here, we are attacked by Russians”, and the Russians don’t come. There is always an open situation. But when Ukrainians repress Russians living in Ukraine, they call Russia: “Moscow, please, come here, we want to go back to the motherland.” Everything here is not “legal” or “equal” - these are relations of power. If you can do it, just do it. Take Crimea, take Taiwan, take Hong Kong, if you can do it. You cannot wait when you will be strong enough. That is the realist attitude. You can accept that you will be disappointed with some position, and you can be a loser, or you could gain; you could deplore or you could start a war, and you can conclude a peace. War is not destiny in that situation, but it is possible, and it is real during all of history. 

That is realism - the idea that everything will be like this forever, as in history, as now, and as forever. The greater part of American experts are realists. When we speak about the West, and above all the United States or Great Britain, at least half, maybe more of them, are openly realists. That is not nationalism, not fascism, but is called realism in International Relations, which represents a school of thought which is implicitly Eurocentric, and was created in Europe based on the normative concept of the State and sovereignty.


The other “half” are liberals. What is liberalism in International Relations? It is different from liberalism in arts, politics, and the economy. Liberalism has a very special and precise meaning in International Relations. It is not a liberal, funny hipster guy who is open and friendly, while realists are hawkish, evil, and aggressive. In International Relations, the term liberalism has a concrete and precise meaning. What does it mean? It means that there is progress in International Relations, which proceeds from State systems, or from a realist system, towards a new world system with a world government. The idea of liberalism in International Relations recognizes the necessity of creating a supranational level of decision-making that should be legally applied to every State. This is the creation of another type of State - a State above a State. In this sense, when the global government is established, everyone should follow the order of the global government just as citizens should follow the orders of nation-State governments. It is the same system, but established on a global, planetary level. This is explained with the concept of progress. Both realists and liberals accept progress, but realists accept it in some relative sense, while globalists believe in progress more than anything else. There is pacifism as well in liberalism, because they might consider war to be the worst and try to avoid war by means of manipulation and destruction of those who think otherwise than they themselves. War for them is to kill those who don’t accept global government. 

This idea, as well as human rights theory, is based on liberalism in International Relations. It tries to make citizens and humans equal, which is possible only on a supranational level if we recognize the same rights of a citizen, as part of the nation-State, and man as a human being with no concrete connection to political status, in a cosmopolitan version. If you recognize both as legally equal, then you need a global government in order to empower and force this. You need a kind of level of authority that should oblige different nation-States to treat human beings as the global government of liberals thinks they should - legally. Liberalism tries to weaken nation-States, to reduce their sovereignty, and to install an international order instead of chaos. That is precisely the other half of Western scholarship of International Relations. 


Liberalism in International Relations is globalization, cosmopolitanism, individualism, human rights ideology, progress, and the idea of destroying nation-States and destroying any form of citizenship in order to create “citizens of the world.” In order to do so, you should dissolve nation-States, because they pretend to be sovereign. 


The debate between these two schools represents the history of the twentieth century. The creation of the League of Nations after the First World War, the creation of the United Nations, the Hague Tribunal, the European Union, and the European Court of Human Rights - all of these moments were forms of implementing the theory of liberalism in International Relations. This is not by chance, by agreement between States, but is an idea of liberalism in International Relations. It is a theory based on progress and the affirmation that the Nation-State is not the best thing, as realists affirm, but a stage in human social, political, and cultural development.

Globalism and globalization are first of all a theory, a thought, not a fact. They are a discourse represented by liberals. Liberalism in International Relations openly advocates the creation of a world government and the deconstruction of Nation-States. This is not a conspiracy theory. It is part of manuals, which you can see if you carefully read any existing manual on International Relations in any country. Perhaps with astonishment, you will discover that the concept of global governance is not a conspiracy theory or the idea of some small elite trying to impose it, but is an openly recognized theory - one of the two main theories of International Relations. 

There are two other schools, which are also positivist. One is the English school, which is a kind of “middle way.” Representatives of the English school say that there should be the sovereignty of States, and no world government, but more progressive States should create a “club” that will not punish, but exclude or put pressure on others - such as when the G8 was transformed into the G7. Russia was punished by the “club” in the English school. It was illegal. There is no such institution - it is a club. They can accept some and exclude others. This is a constant of the English school - there can be order, but based on agreements and the rules of the club - not law, not global government, but a global club. Hedley Bull, John Burton, and Barry Buzan, who is one of the brilliant scholars of the English school - I like him very much - and who explains the transformation of the international system through history, in an historical sociology of International Relations.


There is the Marxist school in International Relations. But it is not so familiar to you or to us because it is not Stalinist, Maoist, or Soviet. It is rather Trotskyist. Our Chinese and Russia politics and traditions in China and Russia were based on realism, with some special “details” about progress, socialism, and social systems, but they were more or less openly Russia-centric or China-centric. But the Marxist school in International Relations is something different. It affirms that there has been a global world from the beginning: capitalism. Capitalism is global, and the divisions between nation-States are a kind of formality that does not represent reality. Capitalism was born in the West, and it should expand to all the earth. And only when everybody will be capitalist and will be liberal, there will be no more nations, peoples, or races, but only classes - two of them: capitalists on top, international in nature, and proletarians below, also international. Marxists in International Relations are against the Russian and Chinese examples because they are a kind of “national version” of communism. They insist that International Relations - everything - should be absolutely international - no nationality, no tradition, no languages, only class relations between the international bourgeois and the international proletarian. And when they say international, they mean that capitalism should win. And after that will come revolution. But first of all, it should be global. So they are very close to the liberals: they say “let them win, and after that we will come.” This is Negri and Hardt’s concept of the multitudes and Empire [7]

These are more or less the two main schools, representing the majority of discourse in International Relations. In the United States, for example, everybody is either liberal or realist. That is the normal position, even if they debate. Trump is a realist, and Hillary Clinton is a liberal. So there can be good realists, bad realists, crazy liberals - this does not mean anything. We are speaking of ideas.

But the post-positivist schools are much more interesting in my opinion. There is the normativist theory that affirms that if we create a norm, then it does not reflect reality, but creates the reality, and everybody will follow the norm. If you try to punish people who violate some rule on the street, little by little this norm, which does not reflect anything, creates people who very carefully behave “correctly” because of these norms. By changing norms, we change reality - that is the modest version of post-positivism.

Critical theory, such as that of Cox[8], Gill[9], and Linklater[10], tries to criticize the ideas of the liberals and realists which are inconsistent from the post-modern point of view, showing that they defend the status quo and are biased - politically, intellectually, structurally. Critical theory shows how discourse in International Relations is biased. That is their main purpose. Post-modern theory, such as that of Ashley[11]and Der Derian[12], says that International Relations consists of texts and only texts. This is an application of Derrida to International Relations. If you deconstruct texts, you will see that there is nothing behind them. Everything is based on corrupted information currents. If you change the information currents and rearrange the “facts”, you immediately receive a completely different image and reality. This is the “tail wearing the dog.” Soft power is an applied part of this idea. Post-modern theory is based on the deconstruction of the discourses of International Relations. 


Next is the feminist theory of Enloe [13, Tickner[14], and Donna Haraway[15]. Feminists in International Relations affirm that all International Relations have been made, conceived, described, proposed, and promoted by males in what is a kind of hierarchy…If we put a female instead of male, she presumably will create peace, prosperity, friendship, and good relations between countries. There will be no State, no patriarchy, no hierarchy, no verticality in International Relations. There will be a completely different description of reality. If a woman will not pretend to be a man in dealing with International Relations, and if the woman tries to wrest “the woman” and describe reality from a woman’s point of view, then there will be a completely different construction of International Relations. This is a relativization of male dominance in International Relations. This is a growing theory, and I suggest that feminism should be taken seriously. It is not a joke; it is part of modern civilization.


In the historical sociology of International Relations, Hobden and Hobson[16]try to put the discourse of International Relations in historical contexts. They criticize the Western-centric, Eurocentric point of view. 


And there is the constructivist theory of Onuff[17], Katzenstein [18], and Wendt[19]. They affirm more or less the same as the others. They say that we need to construct, and not only deconstruct, International Relations. Onuff’s main thesis is the “world of our making.” We live in a world which we make. There is no world. The only world that exists is the world we are making. This is the main idea. We are dealing with a fixed, frozen hallucination or imagination. There is no positive reality, so let us construct the world we dream of, the world we want. This is possible because we are living in an imaginational order. 

The multipolar school, which I will only evoke some aspects of, includes Eurasianism and the Theory of the Multipolar World and Fourth Political Theory, which is precisely what I am working on. There are many texts which are more or less accepted as the position of the Russian strategy in International Relations and the Russian tradition of realism. This is gaining popularity in Russia. You can see how Putin has introduced the Eurasian Union. Multipolarity is very important and has been approached by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lavrov. That is something I am working on. 


There is the Chinese school, including Zhao Tingyang[20](赵汀阳), Qin Yaqing[21](秦亚青), Yan Xuetong[22](阎学通), and Zhang Weiwei[23](张维为). The concept or approach of these authors is not only realism, but Yan Xuetong is mostly a realist. Nevertheless, all of them try to establish the particularity of Chinese civilization, and I like above all the concept of Tianxia Tixi (天下体系), which regards the historical relations of China and other people not as a pure hegemony, not as an order of force or imposition. For example, Vietnam is a very interesting case. It accepted all of Chinese culture up to the details, but never recognized the direct right of physical, brutal rule, fighting against Chinese attempts to submit, at the same time being part of the Chinese universe, as opposed to the case of the Japanese who subjugated Korea. The empire of Tianxia (天下) is not only China as such as a State, but China as a pole of civilization with multiple layers. The idea of defending it in the present situation is a revolutionary idea, because it challenges all other discourses, just as Eurasianism challenged Western-centrism. There are many similarities between them. 


There is also the European New Right of Alain de Benoist, the French GRECE and French New Right. They are not liberal, but are right anti-liberal, not nationalists, but Europeanists, not Catholic or Christian, but pagans, with the very interesting idea to recreate European civilization by returning to pre-modernity. Because they are living inside of globalization and modern Western civilization their remarks and theories are very important for the countries and cultures outside of the West. 


La Teoría de la Insubordinación Fundante is a very interesting theory of Marcelo Gullo Omodeo from Argentina which represents the idea that, basically, Latin America should not submit to North America and global world order. This is an idea that is very famous and developed in Latin America. It is growing in importance. Marcelo Gullo Omodeo is part of this multipolar discourse which is completely new in International Relations. 


And there is the Brazilian author, Andre Martin, with his O Meridinalismo, which is the important idea that the South should be a united alternative to the North, not following or trying to catch up with the North, but creating different links between Latin America and, for example, Africa, and South Asian countries. This is a very interesting concept based on multipolarity. 


What is important in all of these is that they challenge Eurocentrism. They consider International Relations to be provincial in its present State, a provincial Western concept with hegemonic, universalist, colonialist, imperialist pretenses. They try to reduce Western theory of International Relations in a much broader context, defending the rights of peoples and civilizations instead of modern States or global government. They are liberals and realists and post-modernists. 


We can also consider the debates in International Relation, such as that of Realism against Liberalism in International Relations. That is a major part of the science. The discipline of International Relations is dedicated to this question: how liberals think that universal peace is possible if we reduce the sovereignty of the State, and how realists respond that such is not the case, because everyone will try to use this international institutions in their favor. The realists say that the United Nations fails, while the liberals say that it is better than the absence of international institutions. There are thousands of books on this. Precisely what is going on in International Relations on the practical level in the West is only about that. The Americans speak honestly about this and call things by their names. They have no shyness and speak about hegemony, realism, chaos, internationalism, confronting arguments, and attacking each other. But they are honest in that, and only they are. When they come to Europe, there is pure political correctness. There is no realism in Europe. In Europe it is impossible. In Europe realists in International Relations are “fascists”, with whom there can be no good relations. There is an overwhelming liberalism in International Relations in Europe. In manuals, certainly, you will read the debates of realism and Morgenthau, Carr, and chaos in International Relations, but in official debates in European diplomacy, there prevails exclusively liberalism in International Relations. And the realization of it is the European Union, which is a supranational structure that shows how to turn liberalism in International Relations in reality. They are not joking. They are liberals. Before there were different points, such Gaullism of Charles de Gaulle, for example. There was realism in the history of Europe, and all of its modern history were struggles, wars, and fights between Nations, but now liberalism is absolutely and overwhelmingly prevailing. Realists don’t recognize that. That is hypocrisy. They are promoting human rights always and everywhere, including when they simply destroy some countries in order to rob them, as with Libya, for example, but that was all about “human rights.” You can kill in favor of human rights, invade, destroy, and support radical Islam if it corresponds to “human rights.” Americans can say “it’s our business, business like business, nothing personal” and close our eyes to Saudi Arabia in some situations because they are our allies, and open our eyes when something is happening in Russia, and when nothing is going in Russia, we will just imagine and create a story.


In that sense, I suggest America as an example of a normal and honest field of debate between realists, who are recognized as an absolutely normal part of this society - half of American politicians are realists - and the other half are liberals, who try to demonize the realists now, and this is the European case, as in Trump’s election. He is a realist, he is honest, they are allies, America First, and the liberals go “no no, that is nationalism.” And they, the liberals, have lost. That is a sign that realism is half of the population of the political spectrum of the political elite of the United States, and they recognize that - “nothing personal.” There is a pure and honest International Relations school in the United States of America. In Europe, there is now no such clear possibility. Liberals try to demonize the realists, call them “fascists”, “extremists”, “Putin’s agents”, “Russian hackers”, and so on. But now, for example, in Italy, Hungary, and so on there are realist governments. There are left and right realists. Realism exists in Europe in spite of the European rules of political correctness and globalism. 


The other debate - more interesting and charged with irony and humor - is that between positivism versus post-positivism, which is philosophical, but which in International Relations acquires a special dimension. I suggest philosophers, and Chinese philosophers, to pay attention to post-modernism in International Relations as broader than post-modernity. It is not only abstract philosophy and playing with concepts as in Deleuze’s plateau or Lacan, but in the everyday life of International Relations you will see how post-modernity works.


The next terms of debate are universalism and Eurocentrism versus the plurality of civilizations. This is precisely the multipolar theory that is only in its first stage of development. The main principles of realism are: 


  • absolute sovereignty
  • chaos in International Relations, 
  • national interests which discount everything based on rational calculation, 
  • mercantilism in foreign trade, which means that the State should control foreign trade by taxes, 
  • no supranational legitimacy,
  • anthropological pessimism


It is interesting how realists explain that the State should be because men are “evil”, and in order to put them order, we should have a State - otherwise they will behave in an unpredictable way and destroy everything. So they are pessimists and try to put humans in their place based on mutual agreement. They do not believe that human nature can be changed in progress. Humans are more or less the same. 


The main principles of liberalism are:


  • relative sovereignty
  • from chaos to order in International Relations creating a supranational legal system, international interests should prevail - which is something incomprehensible to realists, for whom there are no international interests as there can be no international interests 
  • liberalism in foreign trade, direct seller-buyer links with no State monopoly on foreign trade, no taxes, and no regulation in foreign economic policy
  • and universal peace is an imperative. War is worst of all, if it is not a ‘holy war’ against the enemies of the open society 
  • world government, political globalization, and internationalism (and sometimes “pacifism”)
  • anthropological optimism, or the idea of progress, that humans can be better, more peaceful, more friendly, more hipster, more equal 
  • education and progress should be political means destroy Nation-States using epistemology in order to promote their vision
  • human rights and the individual are the universal norm. There is no concept of the citizen as in realism, but the individual is a global concept. 


If we put these together, we can see quite a symmetric opposition - term against term, affirmations against negations. What realists affirm and accept, liberals in International Relations challenge and deny. We see a symmetry in this debate and, to say the truth, we can find some intellectual bases in both. It is not a case of “stupid” against “wise.” This is one form of mentality against another form of mentality. You can choose your position. 


For the English school or “middle way”:


  • States are sovereign
  • there is no legitimate supranational organization, but chaos in International Relations should be organized somehow nevertheless. This can be done through the concept of the club of the most powerful. The club of the less powerful has no influence. 
  • States form the International system, and this system can be reflected, corrected, and indirectly controlled by the club. 
  • Potestas indirecta (in Latin), a concept developed by Carl Schmitt


For Marxism in International Relations: 


  • the capitalist system is global
  • Nation-States are fictions, 
  • the differences between realists and liberals are useless and misleading, and the division between the capitalist States are lesser than vertical antagonism between the bourgeois and proletarian. 
  • Capitalism, globalization, cosmopolitanism, and the reduction of society to the individual status are necessary. This creates real internationalism. 
  • Contradictions in the capitalist system will grow - this is the difference with liberals, for whom contradictions will decline. 
  • The growth of the middle class is a lie according to Marxists, and pauperization will become total. 
  • All peoples and cultures of the world are obliged to repeat the economic development of the West. In that sense, they are racists. 
  • In the globalist future, the proletarians will also become global, will rise from the global revolution and will overcome the bourgeoisie. This is the difference in the far future. 


The main principles of post-positivism are: 


  • the theoretical fields of International Relations are an artificial construction. 
  • There is no independent reality, and the subjects of International Relations are not States, peoples, and civilizations, but are created in the process of discourse. By speaking of International Relations, we are creating the subject of International Relations. 
  • All discourses are necessarily biased - you cannot have neutral or scientific, objective discourse, because you serve one or another power. International Relations reflect not the State but the will of their creators. 
  • International Relations is the fight for domination and hegemony, and nothing else. This is pure political propaganda. All International Relations, according to the post-positivists, is nothing but direct political propaganda in order to submit all of humanity and install their operational system instead of others. 
  • There is a need to create a new critical theory against discourses of power in International Relations. There is hard criticism of of all positivist theories as varieties of dominant, authoritative discourse - this is a post-modern concept.
  • There are a variety of proposals that should be based on post-positivist version of IR. It is very diverse, not united.


Fudan University, Shanghai, China


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