9-11 and the Re-focusing of International Society

international societyBy Ian Howarth

The terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 (9-11) represented a shift in the nature of international society from one based largely on economic interests to one based on notions of international security. As such 9-11 represented the most significant shake up in international relations since the end of the Cold War, acting as a massive catalyst for change in how international society is perceived by the developed world.

What do we mean by international society?  One simple definition of the concept given by Hedley Bull is that ‘a society of states exists when a group of states, conscious of certain common interests and common values, form a society in the sense that they conceive themselves to be bound by a common set of rules in their relations with one another and share in the working of common institutions’ (Evans, & Newnham, 1998: 276).  Furthermore, international society is founded according to English school theorists such as Bull and Manning on ‘four key pillars international law, diplomacy, international organisations and the balance of power’ (Evans, & Newnham: 276), these four key pillars determine all the relationships between nations, and form modern international society, with the United Nations (UN), NATO and financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) representing common values and goals, and the security council representing the balance of power and implementing international law.

I do not believe international society was ever irrelevant, but that the events of 9-11 dramatically changed the nature of international society in the world, from the economic institutionally based form of international society of the 1990’s based largely around the common goals of the developed world in furthering globalisation, to a form of international society that is based on the need for global action against international terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Therefore in order to demonstrate this change in the nature and focus of the international community, I am going to explore the nature of international society before and after 9-11, and use the above definition to determine whether the ‘war against terror’ represents unilateralist actions by the world’s only superpower.  Or is it a combined effort by a majority of the world’s nations to combat a serious issue that threatens the security of all nations, and therefore the express will of international society.

The 1990’s were a decade of contrasts; they began full of hope and ended in many respects on 9-11 with terror and destruction in New York, Washington and a cornfield in Pensylvannia.  The hope that the decade began with was premised on the end of the cold war.  The collapse of the USSR was proceeded with the emancipation of Eastern Europe, the unification of Germany, and followed by the end of apartheid in South Africa, the liberation of Kuwait and George Bush (the elders) declaration of a ‘New World Order’ (Calvocoressi 2001: 67) with the three policemen the United Kingdom, France and primarily the United States ensuring freedom, prosperity and an end to tyranny and fear, all under the umbrella of the UN, IMF and other major international institutions, it seemed to represent a new era of more conciliatory international politics, based more on transnational interests compared to the old confrontational style of the cold war or the gunboat diplomacy of the age of empires.

To a certain extent this is what happened, but only for us fortunate few that lived in the developed world.  While the list of troubles facing the ‘west’ were shortened everyday with remarkable speed and twists in the course of history, the developing world where 80% of the human race lived failed to benefit from these geopolitical shifts in any significant way.  The proxy wars continued in Angola, and Algeria, only without their sponsors they were pretty much forgotten by the west.  Famine was still a continuing threat throughout sub-Saharan Africa, western corporate exploitation rose to new levels in South East Asia, and Islamic extremism let loose from its cold war bonds spread rapidly and brought down governments in Somalia and Afghanistan.

Within a short three years of George Bush’s declaration of the ‘New World Order’, there was a new order but it wasn’t what many had hoped for, the new order was not one based on international law, and human rights, but on economic imperatives and globalisation.  The new nature of international society was economics, profit and free trade.  Therefore when war broke out in the Balkans and there was genocide in Rwanda and Burundi, where were the policemen? The truth is that the west was more interested in economic interventions that could reap rewards, than costly military adventures in the Balkans.

Politicians and diplomats were more concerned with globalisation than genocide; the cry of the time was, emerging economies, Asian tigers, free markets, free movement of our people, and unlimited access to their resources, and was followed by, the digital revolution, dot-com millionaires, mobile phones, soaring stock markets, and budget airlines, the developed world had never had it so good.

In short two international societies emerged after the Cold War, a western developed international society based on the ideals of commerce and free trade, and an international society of the undeveloped world seeking aid and access to the global market, with World Trade Organization membership becoming the golden ticket, the way to move from one world to the other.  International society we began to believe was globalisation, the creation of a world market is for the benefit of all humanity.  The truth is that throughout the 1990’s we in the developed world where the money’s made and the decisions taken ignored 80% of our fellow man who continued to live in poverty, we pretended not to see the ‘1.3 billion human beings that live on less than a dollar a day’ (Australian Agency for International Development 13/11/2002), we ignored the fact that most of these Asian tigers were ruled by maniac dictators, and we ignored the fact that Saddam Hussein continued his rule and persecution in Iraq, and that India and Pakistan had gone nuclear without a blink from us, we comforted ourselves with talk of peace in northern Ireland and Israel, and of the debt limitation talks being held with western client country’s such as Morocco, and Indonesia.

My argument has been that the 1990’s despite their talk of a Global Village were a period where many of the real issues within international society were ignored, at the expense of a rich man’s club of wealthy nations and their wealthy citizens, it was a smoke screen, an illusion that we all believed and for a while it worked.  It was occasionally threatened by reality, the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania carried out by Al’ Queda for example, but after we’d blown up a deserted camp in Afghanistan and a Medicine factory in the Sudan we all felt better and carried on regardless.  However what 9-11 did was smash the screen and gate crash the party, we suddenly became aware of the rest of the world and the sorry state it was in.  We all watched our televisions stunned as the greatest nation on earth was sent into turmoil by four hijacked commercial airliners, and every one of us felt a cold shiver run down our spines, because we knew then what it all meant, the world was about to change, the good times were over.

Immediately after 9-11 George W. Bush declared a War against Terrorism, an international effort to eradicate Al’ Queda and international terrorism in general, that soon spread to focusing on the ‘axis of evil’ and WMD, in short the focus of the developed world shifted from the primarily economic drives of the 1990’s and moved to issues of international security.  Therefore, I reiterate my argument international society was relevant before 9-11 and still is, it has simply re-focused its attention and changed its priorities after a decade of neglecting the world outside it’s privileged borders.

At the time of this change the then British prime minister Tony Blair stated his belief in the importance of international society during a speech given at the Lord mayors banquet in London, he stated that “The interdependence of the modern world has never been clearer; the need for a common response never greater; the values of freedom, justice and tolerance of our diversity never more relevant; and the need to apply them fairly across the world never more urgent.” (Blair, Tony 2002).  This was a clear statement of the relevance of international society, from one of the early leaders of that new world order.

Initially this new approach saw the formation of what George W. Bush called a ‘coalition of the willing’ outside international organisations such as the UN or the IMF. However,  this coalition soon created its own legitimacy through its sheer size, and representation within international organizations, incorporating the war against terror into the agendas of organisations such as the UN (peacekeepers in Afghanistan) and the IMF, World Bank and the European Union.  Through such initiatives as tracking down bank accounts and freezing the financial assets of terrorists and their sponsors, and increasing pressure on other sources of income for terrorist organisations, such as human, and drug trafficking. In fact the irony here is that the process of globalisation that had so occupied the actions of the developed world for the past decade, proved useful in that as Thomas Biersteker states ‘the ease with which transnational actors can move funds across borders in the wake of financial market globalisation also has contradictory aspects, for the same technology that enables rapid movements of funds also enables enhanced surveillance and the possibility of tracking those funds…. global terrorism is a networked threat that invites a networked response, and the technology….is available’ (Booth & Dunne 2002: 76)

The actions of the United States since 9-11 were within the definitions of international society, for example in its campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan it organised a multi-national coalition of nations from the developed and developing world, including Islamic states, all with a common goal the destruction of Al’Qaeda and the Taliban.  It also took part in the formation of a post-Taliban government for Afghanistan with an international conference in Bonn and then the formation of an international stabilisation force for Kabul under the auspices of the UN and later NATO.  Since Afghanistan the USA and its allies within this new international society have used the instruments of this society to continue their war on terror and the battle against the ‘axis of evil’.

9-11 was a terrible event, 3056 (BBC News 2003) innocent people were killed by a band of religious fanatics, but on a daily basis more than that die from hunger, and curable disease, there is an Aids pandemic in Africa that threatens to bring anarchy to the continent, as it’s young are wiped out and its healthy population dwindles.  These are the underlying causes of 9-11, poverty, lack of hope, lack of a voice; only hopeless desperate people blow themselves up or fly into buildings.

The War on Terror, and the subsequent attack on the ‘axis of evil’ has in many ways created a new false illusion of security by ignoring the major underlying causes of 9-11.  Despite the progress in the war on terror, and the attempts to confront WMD and particularly nuclear proliferation, issues that were neglected throughout the 1990’s.  There is a lot that the international community is not doing, it is not confronting and dealing with the continuing and increasing bloodshed in Palestine, nor with global poverty, or with bad governance in the developing world.  In short we have begun to tackle some of the world’s major problems, but mostly we are attacking the symptoms and not dealing with the causes.  Corrupt oppressive regimes such as those in Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan and Cambodia continue to gain western support despite their unquestionable involvements with international terrorism and the oppression of their own people.  The recent coup and collapse of the experiment in Islamic democracy in Egypt and the failure of the USA and other powers to truly condemn the military takeover is further evidence of the wests lack of dedication to the eradication of the root causes of international security concerns. Instead the west favours dealing in expediency and easy answers through the further oppression of an entire people.

International Society like our domestic societies contain the have and the have not’s, and in order to tackle the issues of international security in this new world order what the developed world really needs to do is spend a little money, for example at the start of the war on terror the ‘combined budgets of the Pentagon in 2001 was $1.6 trillion’ (Moore 2001: 170), that was an enormous amount money, yet every penny of it went on bombs, aircraft carriers and the biggest military machine the world had ever seen..  A fraction of that money could bring clean water and decent health care to the whole of the developing world, in fact it could have made the Marshall Plan look like a drop in the ocean if we had wanted it too. Imagine just for a moment what the whole of the developed world could do if it put its mind and wallet into it, a worldwide action plan to eradicate starvation, or bring decent education and health facilities to the majority of the world’s people.

The relevance of International Society has never been clearer; the problems that effect one nation and people soon spill over in an endless cycle of unforeseen consequences that can impact every one of us.  The failure of a government to provide for its citizens should be of the upmost concern to every other government.  The helplessness and despair that failed corrupt and/or autocratic regimes fosters only leads to violent unpredictable reactions.  This is the root of terrorism, and tackling this above all else is the sole true solution to creating a stable and secure international society for all humanity.


Australian Agency for International Development accessed through the World Bank Group’s PovertyNet – Webguide – Bilateral Development Agencies: http://poverty.worldbank.org/webguide/category/3

BBC News Website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/september11

Blair, Tony; Speech to the Lord Mayors Banquet, 11th November 2002 http://www.pm.gov.uk/output/Page6534.asp

Booth, Ken and Dunne, Tim (2002) ‘Worlds in Collision Terror and the Future of Global Order’ Palgrave, Basingstoke, England, p76

Calvocoressi, Peter (2001) ‘World Politics 1945 – 2000’ Longman, Harlow, England p67

Evans, Graham, and Newnham, Jeffrey (1998) ‘The Penguin Dictionary of International Relations’ Penguin Books, London p276-277

Moore, Michael (2001) ‘Stupid White Men’ Penguin Books, London p168, 170

Stern, Geoffrey (2000)‘The Structure of International Society’ 2nd Edition, Pinter, London


Cosmopolitanism in a World Without Borders

By Ian Howarth

The UN Charter is the central document of international law, its basic principles are that states should be ‘good citizens of international society; recognise that states have equal rights…and legitimate interests which deserve respect even if they may conflict with the interests of your own state; act in good faith; observe international law; punish aggressors; observe the laws of war; [and] be magnanimous in victory…’  (Booth & Smith 1995: 116)  The lack of moral prescriptions on the legitimate actions of states within their own borders means that gross violations of human rights conducted within states do not violate international law.  Political cosmopolitanism argues that these violations should be deemed illegal by international law, with international structures responsible for their enforcement.un_gen_assembly

The view taken in this essay is best described as cosmopolitan utilitarian realism.  This is based on the principles of moral cosmopolitanism with a utilitarian attitude to the costs of action or inaction in the current international system.  There is no argument for a world government, or United Nations Army both of which are unrealistic and undesirable.  The argument is based on moral principles enshrined within a reformed United Nations, that are enforced through the Security Council by nations who themselves embody these principles.  The view is realist due to its recognition of the state system, and the primacy of the state as the sole actor capable of enforcing, and upholding cosmopolitan values.


Cosmopolitanism is not a single coherent doctrine addressing the injustices of the current systems of global governance; it can be divided into two branches the first moral cosmopolitanism and the second political cosmopolitanism.  Despite the substantive differences between each approach, they share three central principles.  That all human beings have a common moral identity, that there are universal standards of normative judgment derived from this common morality, and that a cosmopolitan political order needs to be established to enforce and protect these principles.

Moral cosmopolitanism is concerned with the first two principles, common human morality, and universal normative judgments made on the basis of this morality.  Moral cosmopolitans largely accept the current state system and attempt to import moral cosmopolitan certainties in to this existing order.  The acceptance of the overall structure of the state system is not in question here; the argument facing moral prescriptive war is by what standards states should be held accountable.  Currently the standards are based on bi-lateral relations and strategic interests that maintain state borders as representing a separation between international and domestic politics.

A World without Borders:

Political cosmopolitanism places the rights of the individual above the rights of the state, whereas international law places rights in the hands of states.  In order to bring about a cosmopolitan political order it is therefore necessary for this current dispensation to be reversed or at least significantly re-distributed.  However, practically states are not about to relinquish their monopoly on legitimacy in international relations; besides the state is the only and best guarantor of human rights and democracy.  This is not always the case.  In many parts of the world states abuse or neglect their role as guarantors of individual rights, or have disintegrated so no central sovereignty is in control of the state apparatus.

The validity of borders in the modern world is questioned by Robert Kaplan in his book ‘The Coming Anarchy’ where he points to state structures in West Africa.  Arguing that ‘Disease, over-population, unprovoked crime, scarcity of resources, refugee migrations [are causing] the increasing erosion of nation states and international borders.’  (Kaplan 2000: 7)  The reality of the political structure of West Africa as in many other parts of the world, like South East Asia, and the Caucasus’s, is far removed from the confident defined depictions of states found on maps.  The neo-realist approach taken by Kaplan argues for the American domination of international institutions to bring order to the international system.  He sees the world’s problems being remedied by strong government and free market economics, with the failures of the later lying in the lack of stable strong governments.  Kaplan does not question the nature of government, believing that its purpose is to secure its territory and provide a stable environment for economic activity.

The need for the reform of institutions like the UN is not disputed here, but the nature of the reform is.  The argument here is for placing moral cosmopolitan norms at the centre of international law, with particular emphasis on human rights, and does not accept the pretence that globalisation alone can bring about an end to international terrorism, disease and poverty.  Cosmopolitanism argues that solutions to these problems are as much political as economic, and that the preservation of individual rights should come before economic considerations.

Kaplan’s argues for American economic hegemony.  However, the current structure of the international political economy is unjust, creating many of the problems that Kaplan highlights.  Poverty and corruption in West Africa is as much the result of unfair trading practices, through the exploitation of the developing world by the developed west.  Johan Galtung argues in ‘A Structural Theory of Imperialism’ (1971), that developed, and developing world elites (centres) share common interests in their economic relationships, while the relative poor (periphery) of each society share few common interests.  This prevents the common distillation of global opposition from this majority against the injustices of elite relations.  ‘It is a sophisticated type of dominance relation which cuts across nations, basing itself on a bridgehead which the centre in the Centre nation establishes in the centre of the periphery nation, for the joint benefit of both.’  (Galtung, 1971: 81)  This neo-Marxist argument highlights the effects of first world economic practices on political stability in the developing world.  They undermine the bedrock on which stable political institutions can be built, which, as Kaplan admits, is the creation of a middle class, a process inhibited by these practices.

The issue of economics and political stability are bound together in a ruthless cycle.  World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules on intellectual property and agriculture, disproportionately favour the developed west.  Regional policies like the European Unions (EU) common agricultural policy (CAP) provide vast subsidies for farmers to grow more food than is needed, which floods international markets and drives prices down.  If one thing could be done economically to readdress the problems facing the developing world, that contribute to the ‘anarchy’ that Kaplan points to, it is the removal of these unfair trade subsidies, and the establishment of genuine free trade in agricultural goods.  It is only in these areas of economic activity that the largely pre-industrial economies of the developing world can achieve significant growth, to the benefit of western taxpayers, and the wealth of the developing world.

Kaplan’s postmodernist view that the international system, with its reliance on operating entirely through state vs. state relations, is not capable of adapting to the ‘coming anarchy’ is convincing.  Kaplan’s portrayal of a disintegrating third world causing mass population movements across borders, and fuelling the development of Victorian like urban zones on the coastal edges of war torn and disease infested interiors, highlights the scope and urgency of the problems facing the developing world.  His judgment that they will only breed greater resentment towards the developed world, creating new opportunities for radical doctrines, and terrorist groups, is also credible in the light of the war on terror.  It is the economic prescription he provides as a solution, which fails to understand the role of western economic policies in creating instability in the developing world that is less so.

The solution to Kaplan’s anarchy were ‘a minority of the population will be, as Francis Fukuyama would put it, sufficiently sheltered so as to enter a “post-historical” realm, living in cities and suburbs in which the environment has been mastered and ethnic animosities have been quelled by bourgeois prosperity, [while] an increasingly large number of people will be stuck in history, living in shanty towns where attempts to rise above poverty, cultural dysfunction, and ethnic strife will be doomed by lack of water to drink, soil to till and space to survive in.’ (Kaplan 2000: 22) Is the establishment of a new system of state relations that goes beyond the realms of state interests and economics, and recognises our common intrinsic humanity.

This recognition of our common humanity would require Kantian principles on human rights to be established in the actions of statesmen, and the recognition of the cosmopolitan argument that statesmen are in the best position to effect change in international relations.  Kantianism argues that statesmen should ‘…always remember that people in other countries are human beings just like yourself; observe common morality; respect human rights; assist those who are in need of material aid which you can supply at no sacrifice to yourself; in waging war spare non-combatants…. these normative considerations are characteristic of a world society in which responsibility is defined by ones membership in the human race, and thus by common morality’ (Booth & Smith 1995: 117) Kantian arguments on statesmen as members of the international community focus on changing behaviour within current systems to meet the demands of human rights, and highlights the influencing role states can play in promoting this agenda.

Kaplan’s view of the coming anarchy is widely dismissed by cosmopolitans due to its neo-realist economic prescriptions, however valid the underlying symptoms of instability he points to are.  The collapse of states in Africa is at a developed stage, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast, Sudan, Somalia and Angola are figments of western imaginations; where state structures exist they are largely weak and ineffective.  In reality, these states are divided by civil conflict and/or ruled by warlords.  In the coming decades the effects of HIV/Aids on the productivity of these states will only reinforce, and accelerate the process.  The true political map of Africa, as in parts of South East Asia (Indonesia, Philippines) and South America (Colombia, Peru, Venezuela) is increasingly fragmented, with territory under the control of powers not recognised by the international community, but in every meaningful way to the people who live there as potent as any state.

The coming anarchy is no longer theory; it is a reality that can be seen in international terrorism (New York, Bali, Madrid, London, Iraq, Boston), failed states (Sierra Leone, DR. Congo, Afghanistan), nuclear, biological and chemical weapons proliferation (Iran, North Korea) and the growing consequences of our civilisation on the environment (Global Warming).  The failure of cosmopolitan theory to recognise these realities limits the effectiveness of its prescriptions.  Cosmopolitan approaches to the international system like all other liberal arguments must adapt to present threats, this means acting pragmatically and recognising that many of the solutions to these problems lie in coercion (economic/diplomatic), and the use of force against dangerous regimes, and ideologies.

Liberal Internationalism:

Liberal Internationalism argues for the establishment of strong international institutions that can ‘…transform…international relations from a ‘jungle’ of chaotic power politics to a zoo of peaceful intercourse.’  (Jackson & Sorensen 1999: 119)  Liberal internationalism aims to create global regimes that regulate the behaviour of states within specific areas.  The regimes would operate at three levels in the international system; intergovernmental, transnational and supranational, all three types can exist at either international or regional levels of state interaction.  The system relies on the cooperation of states, with the system itself promoting cooperation by ‘…[alleviating] the lack of trust between states and the states’ fear of each other which are considered to be the traditional problems associated with international anarchy.’  (Jackson & Sorensen 1999: 122)

Liberal internationalism is a classical political cosmopolitan approach, with a Wilsonian vision of international relations.  The aim of liberal internationalist theory is a ‘world of self-determining peoples whose relations with each other are regulated, on a consensual basis, through international institutions.’  (Hutchings 1999: 157)  This institutionalised system was envisaged in the foundation of the League of Nations and the United Nations.  The consensual nature of liberal institutionalism presents a bar on the valid use of force in the international system on moral grounds.  It is unlikely that institutions built on consensus would have the ability to take action against transgressors of moral cosmopolitan values in a system that credited all states with equal legitimacy.

Contemporary liberal internationalism is represented in the works of theorists such as Francis Fukuyama who in ‘The End of History and the Last Man’ argues ‘that liberal democracy and free market capitalism satisfy between them the human desires which form the motor of historical development…’  (Cited in Hutchings 1999: 158)  Fukuyama’s view of the future sees the world divided in a way similar to Robert Kaplan, with a post historical western minority insulated in a technological bubble removed from the majority whose existence continues to deteriorate.  However, Fukuyama unlike Kaplan believes that this post historical world will see the triumph of liberal democracy over other political structures for the reasons stressed above, and that the problems of the developing world will be solved through this evolution from anarchy to democracy.  However, the argument of gradual progress through cooperation or isolation does not offer a solution to genocide, or rogue states acquiring nuclear, biological or chemical weapons (NBCW).  The entrusting of human rights into international institutions that treat states equally by liberal internationalism fails to create a system in which the enforcement of cosmopolitan norms can be achieved.

Cosmopolitan Democracy:

Cosmopolitan Democracy and liberal internationalism argue that the ‘fundamental principle of democracy is a principle of autonomy…a principle of individual self-determination under constitutional law which protects the encroachment on those fundamental human rights which are a condition of individual self-determination in the first place.’  (Hutchings 1999: 158,160)  However, cosmopolitan democracy doesn’t seek state consensus, arguing that this principle of autonomy can be achieved through the global development of democracy.

Daniele Archibugi argues that ‘Cosmopolitan democracy is based on the assumption that important objectives – control of the use of force, respect for human rights, self-determination – will be obtained only through the extension and development of democracy…[and]…. attempts to apply the principles of democracy internationally.’  (Archibugi 2003: 7)  Cosmopolitan democracies approach to bringing universal recognition of human rights is based on the establishment of global democracy.  This does not necessarily mean the creation of a world government, Archibugi argues that to democratise the world needs ‘…institutions, which enable the voice of individuals to be heard in global affairs, irrespective of their resonance at home.’  (Archibugi 2003: 8)

Cosmopolitan Democratic arguments for cosmopolitan norms within the international system unlike those for international liberalism fail to provide practical structures through which to meet their objectives.  In contrast international liberalism operates inside the state system, proposing a structure which arguably exists in part today through the web of international and regional regimes that operate in the international system.  Cosmopolitan democrats like Daniele Archibugi, seek to establish a system of global democracy through nothing more than a powerful argument.  This view is unrealistic, however laudable the attempts of cosmopolitan democrats to create organisations that encourage the free exchange of ideas and views across borders, interaction between intellectuals will never lead to global democracy.

Governments might no longer be in a position to control information and prevent interaction between people across the globe, but communication alone will not bring about a democratic revolution.  The aversion to what cosmopolitan democrats regard as liberal fundamentalism, as argued by Fukuyama and Samuel Huntington (The Clash of Civilisations), in the enforcement of a position in a coercive or robust manner is self-defeating.  Beginning a big conversation is fine, but to expect that the nattering of intellectuals will lead to utopia is ridiculous.

Mary Kaldor’s cosmopolitan democratic approach in ‘New and Old Wars’ to the failure of humanitarian interventions argues that, ’[a]…political response…a strategy of capturing ‘hearts and minds’ needs to be counterposed to the strategy of sowing ‘fear and hate’.  A politics of inclusion needs to be counterposed against a politics of exclusion; respect for international principles and legal norms needs to be counterposed against the criminality of the warlords.  In short, what is needed is a new form of cosmopolitan political mobilization, which embraces both…. the international community and local populations, and which is capable of countering the submission of various forms of particularism.’  (Kaldor 2001: 114)  This argument for an inclusive strategy of political mobilisation that focuses on the individual, and does not resort to the coercion of states or groups into compliance with cosmopolitan norms is an argument for inaction.

Cosmopolitan political mobilization requires a politically literate and responsive population; conditions that do not exist in the developing world outside universities or political elites.  The political mobilisation that occurs in the wider population is based on ignorance and indoctrination, demonstrable in the spread of extreme Islamic nationalism.  The average citizen of an autocracy is illiterate, hungry and scared; the proposition that they would have the time yet alone the inclination and understanding to absorb cosmopolitan critique of their situation is unlikely.  The positive work done through organisations such as the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, and other academic and humanitarian organisations in attempting to create a global cosmopolitan discourse is undoubted; to educate and promulgate the concept of universal human rights, and promote democracy can only help to further the goals of cosmopolitanism.  However, it does not deal with the need for an immediate solution to human rights abuses, terrorism and state disintegration.

Other cosmopolitan democrats like David Held have provided a more realistic argument for achieving political cosmopolitan goals in the international system.  Held convincingly argues that the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) ‘…mark(s) …[a]…significant step away from the classic regime of state sovereignty – sovereignty, that is, as effective power – toward the firm entrenchment of the ‘liberal regime of international sovereignty’…sovereignty shaped and delimited by new broader frameworks of governance and law.’  (Held, 2003: 187)  He goes on to argue that ‘…the containment of armed aggression can only be achieved through both the control of warfare and the prevention of the abuse of human rights.’  (Held 2003: 187)  Held’s cosmopolitan democratic arguments for a regime of ‘liberal international sovereignty’ go far in reaching the prescriptions of utilitarian cosmopolitanism.

Held argues that this regime would ‘entrench powers and constraints, and rights and duties in international law which – albeit ultimately formulated by states – go beyond the traditional conception of the proper scope and boundaries of states, and can come into conflict, and sometimes contradiction, with national laws.  Within this framework, states may forfeit claims to sovereignty, and individuals to sovereign protection, if they violate the standards and vales embedded in the international liberal order… violations…[would] no longer be a matter of morality alone…but breaches of…legal code…that may call forth the means to prosecute and rectify it.’  (Held, 2003: 189)  This liberal regime represents a robust implementation of cosmopolitan norms at an international level, overturning sovereignty when violations occur and enforcing its legal codes.  However, Held, like Archibugi, is attempting to democratise the international system, and the earlier criticism of this approach with regard to destabilising countries with no middle classes, or traditions to support this process apply.

Held provides a structure that would place human rights and self-determination at the heart of the international system, but in a state based structure; failed states without true political cohesion and suffering from internal conflict would not fit any better into this liberal international order than they do today, this requires a doctrine allowing intervention and nation building.  Held also ignores the wider problems of NBCW proliferation, terrorism, and political radicalisation (Islamic fundamentalism, nationalism, and neo-fascism) these involve issues that are not directly human rights based, requiring intervention by the developed west for international peace and security and based on political and strategic determinations.

Although Held’s construct is convincing and wholly acceptable in the round, its failure to meet issues of international peace and stability based on the actions of states or terrorist groups, would leave the world more just, but not more stable.  Furthermore, his determination to make democracy as integral a part of his prescription as human rights means that it lacks pragmatic realism; in the sense that to enforce a liberal democracy on the international system would require such overwhelming coercion that it would effectively be the declaration of a world war by liberal democracy.

This goal of democratisation is laudable, but unrealistic, the aim of cosmopolitanism should be the international acceptance of a relationship of respect between citizens and states, based on the recognition of human rights.  The acceptance of human rights first and foremost would have the effect of promoting liberal democracy without destabilising the international system through a perpetual conflict against un-democratic regimes, a significant proportion of which are largely benign, e.g. Pakistan, Cuba, & Iran.  It is the requirement for global democracy, with Archibugi’s refusal to accept the need for coercion on one hand, and Held’s coercion in defence self-determination on the other, that makes cosmopolitan democracy an idealistic approach, and incapable of establishing legitimate prescriptions for war in the pursuit of human rights and international stability.  The argument below for military action in the defence of human rights, the control of NBCW proliferation, and against terrorism is premised on a proportionate response, and not a declaration of war against autocracy; its prime concern being the achievement of a humane strategic stability in the international system.

Utilitarian Cosmopolitanism; An Argument for Action:

Utilitarianism in the context of military force in international relations is a reference to the ‘greater good argument’, this is to say that ‘since all individuals seek pleasure and the avoidance of pain, a universal franchise [is] the only way of promoting ‘the greatest happiness for the greatest number’ (Heywood 1997: 71).  Jeremy Bentham conceived the universal franchise to be suffrage.  However, this applied universally as discussed within cosmopolitan democracy is impractical.  The universal franchise that is argued for here is human rights, a universal recognition of basic rights of humanity enforced through a credible deterrent.  The greatest good, for the greatest number of people could be most effectively achieved through the following mechanism.  Cosmopolitan utilitarianism is a pragmatic application of moral utilitarianism within the political ambitions of cosmopolitanism that recognises the current structure of the international system.

Utilitarianism is applied to this argument because the ‘greater good argument’ lies at the heart of the prescriptions of utilitarian cosmopolitanism, the greater good of providing recognition of human rights for the widest number of people through the maximization of the resources available to international society.  This requires the limitation of military action to the support of human rights or the preservation of peace to the most extreme cases; an absence of democracy would not be a sufficient premise for intervention.  The utility of this approach is in its acceptance of consequentiality.  The final consequences of action or inaction in a specific circumstance would be the central question when taking military action that will undoubtedly result in the death of innocents.

Within utilitarian cosmopolitanism, this choice is based on the risk to individuals from gross human rights violations, or the threat to international peace and security from unstable or unscrupulous states attempting to acquire NBCW.  ‘If a trade-off is to be made, it should favour whatever is more important to the living of a satisfactory human life, and since the protection of vital interests is plausibly taken to be a necessary condition for such a life, such protection takes priority.’  (Jones 1999: 41)  Within utilitarian cosmopolitanism, the vital interests are basic principles of human rights and the maintenance of peace and stability in the international system.  The legitimacy of state sovereignty would be judged against cosmopolitan criteria with the aim of introducing credible justice in to the international system.  These criteria would not require states to be free from all human rights abuses, but would prohibit genocide, the forced moving of populations, and the use of military or para-military forces against civilian populations, the sponsorship of international terrorism, and the proliferation of NBCW’s.

The criteria would not be enforced through a consensual institutionalised system of equal states, but through the advancement of liberal democratic norms in the international system.  It would require the core democratic states (e.g. France, Britain, USA, Germany, India) to cooperate in enforcing these criteria upon the rest of the international community through a reformed United Nations and Security Council given this moral purpose.  This system would not de-legitimise autocratic regimes, on the contrary, states that are stable internally and externally, at peace with the international system and not committing gross violations of the criteria stated above would be accepted within the system as members of the Rim of states.  Outside the Core due to their lack of democracy but associated with the Core through the global economy, as full members of the international community as long as they continue to operate within the norms of the system.

States outside this sphere of international stability (the Core and the Rim) will be classed as part of the Periphery which can be characterised as unstable or failed states such as Somalia and Liberia or states which are responsible for gross violations of human rights (Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge), or that threaten peace and stability through the sponsorship of terrorism (Libya), or the development of NBCW (North Korea).  States that are classed as peripheral will be in clear breach of the utilitarian cosmopolitan criteria stated above.  The international community will class states that violate these criteria as illegitimate authorities, their claims to the protections of sovereignty will be void, and they will face legitimate intervention by the Core to bring them back into compliance with the norms of the system.

This argument could be associated with Mark Duffield’s ‘Liberal Peace Theory’, which ‘combines and conflates ‘liberal’ (as in contemporary liberal economic and political tenets) with ‘peace’ (the present policy predilection towards conflict resolution and societal reconstruction).  It reflects the existing consensus that conflict in the South is best approached through a number of connected, ameliorative, harmonising, and, especially, transformational measures.  While this can include the provision of immediate relief and rehabilitation assistance, liberal peace embodies a new or political humanitarianism that lays emphasis on such things as conflict resolution and prevention, reconstructing social networks, strengthening civil and representative institutions, promoting the rule of law, and security sector reform in the context of a functioning market economy’ (Duffield, 2002: 11)

The pursuit of international peace and stability that both Duffield’s ‘Liberal Peace’ and Utilitarian Cosmopolitanism seeks is a shared objective.  However, the means of reaching this goal are very different.  Duffield’s neo-Liberal argument is more concerned with securing stability on the borders between liberal developed society, and the developing world, with the aim of stabilising unstable regions of the developing world to protect the Liberal world from violence emanating from these regions, while also allowing for their participation in the global economy, providing growth opportunities for western economies.  Duffield rejects the utilitarian cosmopolitan argument for extending human rights universally as a step towards the creation of greater freedoms and stability in the developing world.  Duffield seeks stability in the global south for the benefit of the developed west, and not the extension of the Liberal zone of stability through the effective use of military force, and economic structural change.  Duffield effectively argues for the construction of walls around liberal societies, with channels of economic activity extending beyond the walls to the developing world, channels maintained by liberal peacekeeping missions ensuring the stability required for economic activity.

Utilitarian Cosmopolitanism is not a neo-Liberal argument concerned only with the protection of western interests, although it rejects the extension of democracy, on pragmatic grounds, as a goal, it stills argues for the cosmopolitan principles of universal human rights, and the creation of civil societies to support these rights.  It differs from traditional cosmopolitan approaches (cosmopolitan democrats, liberal internationalism) in that it prescribes the use of military force against violators of these principles, and in the defence of the liberal democratic world from tyrannical regimes threatening international peace through developing NBCW.  This approach argues that before stable and lasting civil societies can be constructed military force may need to be used against the dominant tendencies toward extremism, violence and corruption that currently prevail in these societies and cause instability, the repression of human rights, and continued poverty.

This could be mistaken for moral imperialism.  However, the distinction between imperialism and cosmopolitanism is clear; the latter is an economic imperative that seeks domination over other states, with their assimilation and subordination to the colonial power.  Cosmopolitan prescriptions do not tolerate this, excepting diverse cultures as essential in the development of vibrant and just societies.  Moves towards moral imperialism would be unlikely to gain popular support amongst the core democracies as it would represent a retrograde step, inevitably leading to international instability and great power rivalry, both contrary to the aims of utilitarian cosmopolitanism.

An example of this kind of action can be found in the UN mission to Somalia in which due to the lack of a host government from which to gain prior approval the UN Security Council under resolution 794 ‘….  [Explicitly authorized] the establishment of a force on humanitarian grounds…’  (Brown 2002: 147)  The Unified Task Force (UNITAF) spearheaded by the United States effectively invaded Somalia and established a humanitarian government over the territory.  The initial premise, and the action taken by UNITAF, is entirely within the prescriptions of utilitarian cosmopolitanism in relation to failed states.  However, the short-term commitment of UNITAF, and the failure to continue its robust intervention through to a concerted disarmament of the militia groups, led to the failure of the intervention.  Despite this, it does provide evidence that interventions of this kind are practical, but that they require the binding of the Core nations to a legal structure.  The lack of this in the international system meant that the UN withdrawal was able to go ahead despite the obvious failure of its mission and the chaos that would follow in its wake.

This approach to implementing moral cosmopolitan norms into the international system represents a utilitarian view on how to achieve the greatest impact within the current system, and bring about the best possible outcome for the greatest number of people.  It both respects notions of sovereignty and removes them as the prime concern of international relations.  The implementation of this conditional sovereignty would lead to the self-regulation of autocratic regimes who would balance their policies so as not to violate the conditions of their legitimacy, therefore lessening the negative impacts of their rule to limited human rights violations and political restrictions.  Although this is unsavoury, benign autocracies such as Pakistan, and China, provide stability to regions that forced into democracy without an educated population base to support it, would probably descend into chaos and civil conflict.  The pragmatism of the greater good argument means that this is a necessary evil of peace in the international system.

Arguments against Utilitarian Cosmopolitanism:

Ethical relativism as presented by Michael Waltzer argues that liberal democracies cannot use universal judgments about the nature of humanity to judge other societies who do not subscribe to these judgements.  Walzer argues that universal judgments cannot be made using the criteria of one culture against another, that only within cultures can norms be established.  For example, Walzer argues ‘…that a commitment to universal human rights constitutes a central feature of the shared understanding of a contemporary Western society like the United States, then it follows that, from a Walzerian particularist perspective, we have reason to accept that commitment to universal human rights [within western society].’  (Jones 1999: 183)  We can accept this within western society, but are prohibited from holding human rights as a bar to other cultures, unless they arrive at the same consensus on the universality of human rights independently.

This position makes the practices of different cultures morally equivalent; this is to say that the autocratic practices of Saudi Arabia are morally equivalent with those of the plural democracies of the European Union, due to the fact that each position was attained through community consensus.  This is a dangerous means of justifying norms as acceptable, as it could sanction almost anything as long as it attained consensus within its political sphere.  As Charles Jones argues ‘It is no moral refutation of a moral claim to say that there is no consensus in its favour in every culture in the world, nor is a moral claim plausibly defended by citing only its widespread appeal…Moral views are properly judged not by determining how many people (or cultures) subscribe to them, but the plausibility of the reasons adduced in their favour’ (Jones 1999: 184) The reasons adduced in the favour of the universality of human rights are that humans are a common species and that one person’s determination that torture, or genocide is immoral, is a plausible view to associate with humanity as a whole.

Neo-Hegelian arguments attempt to preserve the ethical value of the state while maintaining the moral importance of the individual.  This view appears to be close to utilitarian cosmopolitanism, however neo-Hegelians and cosmopolitans disagree ‘…on the question of the necessity of separate sovereign states for the living of individual worthwhile lives.’  (Jones 1999: 207)  Within utilitarian cosmopolitanism, sovereignty is only respected as long as the sovereign state protects human rights, and respects non-proliferation of NBCW; failing this sovereignty ceases to be recognised and is open to intervention to restore international law.  The neo-Hegelian respect for the abstract notion of state sovereignty in conditions that would violate cosmopolitan norms, and wouldn’t sanction military action to rectify the situation, means that although neo-Hegelian theory raises the hope of mediating the differences between communitarians and cosmopolitans in encompassing the demands of the community with those of the individual, it fails by placing the requirements of the community of states over the rights of the individual.


This essay has examined political cosmopolitan approaches to the implementation of moral cosmopolitan norms, and shown that practically they fail to offer a basis from which action can be taken in the defence of these norms.  The requirement for democracy held by democratic cosmopolitans and the equality of states within liberal internationalism, present idealistic and unrealistic conditions respectively.  Liberal internationalism holds the sovereignty of states as the basis of its argument, at a time, when in parts of the world the integrity of states is being undermined.  Cosmopolitan democrats wish to export democracy to an illiterate and unresponsive world, which could lead to greater instability and war.

Democracy cannot be transplanted anywhere, it requires certain conditions to flourish.  Critical of these is the existence of two circumstances that do not prevail in the developing regions of the world, ‘both a middle class and civil institutions are required for successful democracy, democratic Russia, which inherited neither from the Soviet regime, remains violent, unstable, and miserably poor despite its 99 percent literacy rate…[while]…under its authoritarian system China has dramatically improved the quality of life for hundreds of millions of people…Russia may be failing because it is a democracy and China may be succeeding in part because it is not…’  (Kaplan 2000: 64)  The argument that Kaplan is presenting here is not that authoritarianism is good and democracy bad, but that ‘…democracy emerges successfully only as the capstone to other social and economic achievements.’  (Kaplan 2000: 66)

Utilitarian cosmopolitanism is a rational, pragmatic approach to the central issues in the international system today, which counteracts neo-conservative and realist agendas that dismiss universal concepts of human rights, and continue to argue that states and their interests are the only basis for action within the international system.  These realist perspectives resist the establishment of international norms on the basis that it limits a state’s ability to protect itself in an anarchic international environment.  Utilitarian cosmopolitanism refutes this argument, presenting a system that seeks international and personal security but within the context of international norms; arguing that this is necessary due to the destabilising effect of human rights violations, and the threat of NBCW in the hands of extremist regimes and terrorist groups, on the international system.


Archibugi, Daniele (2003) Cosmopolitical Democracy, Ed. Daniele Archibugi, Debating Cosmopolitics, Verso, London, pp.7, pp.8,

Booth, Ken, Smith, Steve (1995) International Relations Theory Today, Polity Press, Cambridge pp.117

Brown, Chris (2002) Sovereignty, Rights and Justice; International Political Theory Today, Polity Press, Cambridge, pp.147

Duffield, Mark (2002) Global Governance and the New Wars, Zed Books, London, pp.11

Galtung, Johan (1971) A Structural Theory of Imperialism, Journal of Peace Research, Vol.13, No.2, University of Tsforlageg pp.81

Held, David (2003) Violence, Law and Justice in a Global Age, Ed. Daniele Archibugi, Debating Cosmopolitics, Verso, London, pp.187, pp.189, pp.194, pp.195

Heywood, Andrew (1997) Politics, Palgrave, Basingstoke, Hampshire, Great Britain, pp.71

Hutchings, Kimberley (1999) International Political Theory, Sage Publications, London, pp.157, pp.158, pp.160

Jackson, Robert & Sorensen, Georg (1999) Introduction to International Relations, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp.119, pp.122

Jones, Charles (1999) Global Justice; Defending Cosmopolitanism, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp.41, pp.183, pp.184, pp.207

Kaldor, Mary (2001) New & Old Wars; Organized Violence in a Global Era, Polity Press, Cambridge, pp.114

Kaplan, Robert D. (2000) The Coming Anarchy; Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War, Vintage Books, New York, pp.7, pp.22

The Relationship between Political Socialisation, Political Culture and Political Systems

By Ian Howarth

None of us are born a Conservative, or a Socialist.  We acquire our political values from ‘learning and social experience’ Heywood (1997 p186). This process is political socialisation and whether we turn out to be a Socialist or a Conservative depends largely on our early social experiences. That is to say our family life, and experiences at school. These are the primary agents of early political socialisation as they are our main points of contact and interaction with the world and consequently with political concepts and values.  The family is particularly seen as the ‘agent that accomplishes ‘primary’ socialisation, providing individuals, in late childhood and adolescence in particular, with a framework of political sympathies and leanings that adult experience may modify or deepen, but not radically transform.’  (Heywood (1997 p187) This process of socialisation forms the basis of our individual values and ideals, deeply rooted in our own unique and personal life experiences.political

Political culture is the term used to describe the range of predominant values/ideologies which exist in society.  Political culture is a consequence of political socialisation as the outcomes of political socialisation vary between each individual to the fact that we all experience different socialisation patterns. This produces a vast reservoir of values and ideologies within society and it is the combination of these different values and ideologies that forms a nations political cultures. It is from this broad political culture that the political system is drawn; the political system is the Government and associated elements e.g. NGO’s, International Organisations, UN, NATO.  The political system in simple terms is the structure, which takes the values, and ideologies that have come to prominence within the political culture and turns them into social policy.

The political system operates within the confines of its political culture as the values and ideologies that the political system employ come from that political culture.  Therefore change in the political system can only come after change has occurred in its supporting political culture.  An example of this can be seen in the feminist movement of the early 1960’s.  It began as a minority movement, which over time gathered wider support from the public.  This increasing support with the political culture saw the ideals become more widely accepted and the strength of the movement became a more significant force within the political culture.   Eventually feminist ideals found their way, through its acceptance within political culture, to lawmakers and pressure groups which adopted there values and promulgated them amongst the political class.  This process of change finally saw the basic values of feminism i.e. the equality of women with men becoming widely accepted amongst the entire political system and embodied in legislation and accepted norms of behaviour.  This example clearly demonstrates the dependent relationship of political culture and the political system on one another.  Underlying a nation’s political culture is the processes of political socialisation and reinforcing political socialisation is the political system, as a primary socialisation agent is government.  It is a self-supporting and reinforcing system which takes ideas from the bottom of society and delivers them to the top, which then passes them back down to the bottom were they become part of another generation’s political socialisation.

Marxist’s argue that the political system is used to restrain the socialisation process; Karl Marx argued that in capitalist societies the state and economics control the patterns of socialisation.  This perspective argues that the capitalist economic system structures socialisation, and consequently brainwashes people into agreeing with it and happily being bankers, pilots, servants and so on.  It maintains this system of brainwashing due to the self-interest it encourages, e.g. the worst thing that can happen to a bank clerk is for the bank to close.  Therefore, the clerk is not going to do anything which jeopardizes the bank and consequently his job.  Marx argued that this is a static system as there is no change, the economic system just reinforces itself generation to next through the continued implication of capitalist economic policy by successive governments, Marx argues that the means of replacing this static system is through revolution, which they [Marxists] argue must bring about a ‘fundamental social change’ (Heywood (1997 p198) that is to say replace one economic system (capitalist) with another (communist). Marxists see the 1917 winter revolution in Russia as a positive thing but reject the French Revolution of 1789 as it did not result in a fundamental economic change that would result in an altering of the socialisation processes of a capitalist society.

Traditionalists in contrast to Marxists see the system of socialisation as dynamic. It is viewed as organic due to the varying role each socialising agent plays in our respective lives and the nature of our own unique experiences within society.   This leads too many different values existing within society some of which gain wider support and become ideologies while those that don’t become significant minority views.  This creates a dynamic system which constantly introduces new values/ideologies which can influence and change the political system.

It seems that while viewing the scope of history that the socialisation processes of communist Russia were far less adept at adapting to and managing change within the political system than within capitalist countries.  The example of the change within socialisation, culture and system around issues of female equality can be seen as a prime example of the dynamic system postulated by traditionalist in action.  Similar process of change can be seen around issues of Gay Rights, and Race Equality.  The arguments that capitalists systems only offer static, non-changing systems seem weak in the light of this.   However, the rise and longevity of a communist political system in the Soviet Union and its satellites does in my opinion present evidence that it is possible for a political system to grow independently of its culture and then impose itself upon first the political culture and consequently the socialisation process.  This can be further seen in Nazi Germany and Communist China.

In all but the latter case the underlying dormant vibrancy of the dynamic traditionalist system remained and eventually overthrew the imposed political system.  However, in both cases it took considerable forces to bring this about and shows that the existence of a broad political culture cannot alone guarantee a corresponding political system.  In short tyranny’s can emerge from dynamic systems, and in doing so bring about their suppression.

Rational Choice Theory: The Common Good and Human Nature

By Ian Howarth

Rational choice theories attempt to predict the course of actions that either individuals or groups will take in specific situations.  The utility of this is apparent in international relations, and during the Cold War governments on all sides spent considerable time and money developing this field.  Each side trying to work out what State A would do if State B did X.  The policy of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) emerged out of this theoretical approach to human behaviour and international relations.  It could be in no-one’s interests either individually or collectively to launch a nuclear war in the knowledge of their own assured destruction.  Unless of course they were mad!rationality

The prisoner’s dilemma is the classic example from rational choice theory in its examination of the clash between individual and collective rationality.  The dilemma is as follows, two partners in crime are in police custody and in separate cells. There are three potential courses of action that could follow from police questioning. The first is that they will both say nothing, the second that one will implicate the other or thirdly that they will both implicate each other.  In the first instance if both say nothing they will receive a short sentence, in the second instance the one who implicated there partner will be acquitted, while their partner will receive a long sentence; while finally if both have implicated each other, then each will receive a medium sentence.

The individual rational choice is to implicate your partner and therefore go free.  However, when in this situation we assume that our partner will come to the same conclusion and so if we have both implicated each other then we will not go free but serve a medium sentence.  Therefore, the collectively rational choice for both criminals is to say nothing and serve a short sentence. However, in the real world each criminal will be overcome by doubt and uncertainty as to their partner’s actions and so both will probably implicate each and end up behind bars for far longer than if they had both kept their mouths shut.  The prisoner’s dilemma highlights the trouble with rational choice models that tell us that individuals acting in their own best interests will always emerge as the dominant strategy.

An example of the problems that arise out of the assumption of the dominant strategy can be illustrated by the ‘tragedy of the commons’ (Shepsle & Bonchek 1997: 292-295).  In this tragedy we see how a common pool resource such as fish stocks is used and distributed between a number of interested individuals (e.g. fishermen).   All the fishermen know that over fishing will in the long run deplete their common pool resource (fish) and drive them out of business.  However, at the same time they are equally aware that the more fish they catch the more money they can make, and most importantly of all that the other fishermen are probably thinking the same thing.  If all the fishermen follow the dominant strategy fish stocks and the price at market will collapse and they will eventually all be out of a job.

This human instinct to follow the dominant strategy and the often different needs of collective decision-making represent a clash of interests.  The nature of this clash is two-fold.  Firstly the collective rational decision may not be in our own individual best interests.  In this case it is in our interests to subvert any attempted collective decision making despite its overall positive outcomes for the majority.  Secondly our lack of knowledge as to what the other individuals in the group are thinking means in situations where communication between members in the group is limited we are forced to rely on instinct and trust in order to judge what the other members of the group will do.  We would all like to believe that our friends colleagues, or even our governments are acting in our collective interests.  That if, as in the prisoners dilemma we are pushed into a situation where in order to achieve the optimal outcome for ourselves we rely on the cooperation of another individual, that the individual will think along the same lines and opt for the collective rational choice.   However this is the underlying problem with collective rational choice, we as individuals rationally assume that everyone is out for themselves.  That we will all in the end take the individualistic approach to situations, and often ignore the rationality of collective approaches.  This means that in short we don’t trust one another, and it is this lack of trust, in itself a deeply irrational thing that produces the problems of the ‘prisoners dilemma’ and to a certain extent the ‘tragedy of the commons’.

The key to overcoming both the tragedy of the commons is communication.  If prisoner one knows what prisoner two is going to say and do in a given situation then the dilemma is neutralised.  This is similarly the case in problems arising from the distribution of common pool resources, such as oil, fish, coal etc.

The EU’s common fisheries policy (CFP) is the perfect example of how communication, compromise and collective enforcement have overcome the clashes between the fishing fleets of Europe over a dwindling common resource.  Through the continuing meetings of ministers, and civil servants from various government departments from all over the EU the various nations are kept up to speed on what each other is thinking and doing. This ensures that the dominant strategy is not pursued and that collective rationality in the use of this common pool resource is maintained.

Other examples of this include the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and the harmonization of legal systems across the EU to tackle international terrorism, and their financial networks.  On a more global scale the Uruguay Round and the consequent World Trade Organisation frameworks are designed to bring a level of communication and reassurance into the international economy. It ensures that nations that pursue free trade policies don’t end up being penalised or restricted by tariffs and long running trade wars.

The clash between the rationality of the individual’s interests and the overriding interests of collective rationality can on the most part be accommodated through the construction of national and international institutions and regulations on the freedoms of the individual and the responsibilities of the collective.  It may be for example in a homeless man’s individual rational interests to steal another man’s wallet in order to buy food.  However this is not in the collective rational interests of society, as this would create anarchy.  It is for this reason that we have legal systems, legislators and police forces.

However there are cases such as the ‘prisoners dilemma’ that are not so easy to overcome in this way, or where the will of one individual is in stark contrast to the rationality of the collective.  One such example can be seen in the British system of Cabinet Government, where the will of the prime minister will always prevail against the collective opinion of the cabinet as a whole.  It is simply the case that we do not always make rational decisions either as individuals or groups.

Therefore in conclusion the underlying paradox that lies in the clash between individual rationality and collective rationality is human nature.  The application of purely rational scientific criteria to human nature will always prove problematic.  Trust, emotion, gut instinct and pure chance are things that cannot be measured and are beyond the explanation of rational choice theory.


Birch, Anthony H, (1998) ‘The British System of Government’ Tenth Edition, Routledge, London, p157-159

Evans, Graham, & Newnham, Jeffrey (1998) ‘The Penguin Dictionary of International Relations’ Penguin, London, p189-191

Heywood, Andrew, (1997) ‘Politics’ First Edition, Palgrave, Basingstoke, Hampshire, Great Britain, p16-17

Shepsle, Kenneth A, & Boncheck, Mark S, (1997) ‘Analysing Politics Rationality, Behaviour and Institutions’ Norton, New York, p292-296

Citizenship Education and Political Literacy in the United Kingdom

britishBy Ian Howarth

I am by professional training a Citizenship teacher.  I was Head of Citizenship/PSHE and Politics at the Arnold Hill Academy in Nottingham England for five years.  Here I set out my views on the vital importance of Citizenship education in the National Curriculum for the future of British democracy from both an academic and professional prospective.

 “Education is one of the most important predictors – usually, in fact, the most important predictor – of many forms of social participation – from voting to associational membership, to chairing a local committee to hosting a dinner party to giving blood…Education is an especially powerful predictor of participation in public, formally organized activities.”  (Putnam 2000: 186).

How can citizenship education raise levels of political literacy, and re-engage people with community politics?  In order to answer this first question we must ask a number of others.  Firstly what is political literacy in citizenship education and why is it needed?  What is the best means of delivering it in schools, and what are the potential pitfalls in the citizenship curriculum focusing too much on group politics?  Finally how will increased political literacy help to restore communities as a focus for participation in public life?

Citizenship and Cricks third strand: Why?

The 1998 final report of the Advisory Group on Citizenship (AGC) ‘Education for citizenship and the teaching of democracy in schools’ (the Crick Report) agreed with Robert Putnam’s argument that education is the most important factor in determining ‘social participation’ (Putnam 2000: 186) and recommended the introduction of Citizenship in to the National Curriculum as a statutory subject.  The subject was defined as containing ‘…three strands: social and moral responsibility, community involvement and political literacy.’  (Crick 1998: 8)

The stated aim of the report; was “…. no less than a change in the political culture of this country both nationally and locally: for people to think of themselves as active citizens, willing, able and equipped to have an influence in public life and with the capabilities to weigh evidence before speaking and acting…’  (Crick 1998: 7)  The report went onto highlight ‘…worrying levels of apathy, ignorance and cynicism about public life…  [arguing that]…unless tackled at every level, it could well diminish the hoped-for benefits both of constitutional reform and of the changing nature of the welfare state.’  (Crick 1998: 8) In this vane the report quoted ‘…the Lord Chancellor: [Lord Irvine of Lairg who stated that] ’we should not, must not, dare not, be complacent about the health and future of British democracy.  Unless we become a nation of engaged citizens, our democracy is not secure.’  (Crick 1998: 8)

This need for an approach to addressing low levels of political literacy, and increasing apathy with the political process in Britain rooted in education has been established against the background of a 20-year decline in voter turnout.  Despite some recovery in turnout between 2005/2010 at 65.1% it remains well below the historic average, with the 2009 European Parliamentary elections recording a turnout of 33.52%. Blame for the public’s withdrawal from participation in the democratic process in Britain is levelled widely at public and media cynicism, a distrust of politicians, the over emphasis on ‘spin’, and a general lack of political literacy.

A number of studies have been conducted into the level of political literacy amongst the general population, the ‘2001 Home Office Citizenship Survey: People, Families and Communities’ with 10,014 respondents, found that when asked what rights they thought they had as UK citizens; 35% of the sample responded with the right to freedom of expression, 13% to fair, equal and respectful treatment, 8% to free elections, and only 6% believed they had the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religious expression. (Attwood, Singh, Prime & Creasy et al 2003: 10)  This survey gave an insight into the public’s perception of its rights and responsibilities, and the role individuals play as citizens in maintaining them.  With only 8% of the population believing they have a right to free elections, Lord Irvine of Lairg’s statement of concern that British democracy may not be secure is given some weight.

Even more recently an ICM survey of 110 pupils aged 14 – 16 on national identity and political awareness found that ‘Only one in four could identify Labour as the party of government….  4 per cent thought the Conservatives were in power, while 2 per cent thought the Liberal Democrats were the government of the day.  Two-thirds admitted they had no idea.  Nearly half said they did not think it was important to know what any of today’s political parties stand for.’  (Garner 2005)  Personal teaching experience backs up these findings.  Having taught A’ level Politics myself for a number of years I can personally testify to the high levels of ignorance of the British electoral and political system amongst even those students sufficiently motivated to seek to complete and A’ level in the subject.

Therefore, the increasing lack of understanding and knowledge of how government works is clear to see, and must be a prime cause in the decline of participation in traditional politics.  The analysis of the root causes of political apathy driven by surveys like those cited above has led to a focus on using education to re-engage the population with the political process to create future generations of more active citizens.  This idea of the engaged, or ‘good citizen; is one of the aims behind the concept of citizenship education.  David Blunkett argues that the role of the state should be one of empowering people to become good citizens through education (Blunkett 2001), while Sir Bernard Crick talked about developing a citizenship culture ‘…where people are concerned with and actively involved in public affairs’ (Cited; Attwood, Singh, Prime & Creasy et al 2003: 9).  Both views focus on education as the key, and upon citizenship education as the means of delivery.

But what is meant when talking about political literacy in the terms of citizenship education?  The Crick Report defines it as more than simple political knowledge, as including an understanding of public life which ‘…encompasses realistic knowledge of and preparation for conflict resolution and decision-making related to the main economic and social problems of the day, including each individuals expectations of and preparations for the world of employment and discussion of the allocation of public resources and the rationale of taxation.  Such preparations are needed whether these problems occur in locally, nationally or internationally concerned organisations or at any level of society from formal political institutions to informal groups, both at a local or national level.’  (Crick 1998: 15)  This definition recognises the importance of political knowledge, but also highlights that political literacy is a wider concept, which encompasses a view of the numerous influences on societal development, such as the economy, and community involvement.  Tony Breslin sees it as ‘…a full range of literacies that, in common parlance at least, go significantly beyond the political: to the social, economic and legal and then beyond.’  (Breslin 2004:13)

Political Literacy through a Cross Curricular Approach:

Political literacy as seen above requires a much broader interpretation within the national curriculum than that which could be offered by a stand-alone citizenship curriculum, it gives political literacy scope across the curriculum, penetrating into other areas like English, and Geography.  It questions how you can convey the importance of voting or the value of parliament without providing an awareness of the historical narrative that underpins these processes, or gain a true understanding of multiculturalism without examining human geography, and patterns of migration.

The current Citizenship curriculum recognises its cross-disciplinary nature in modules like Key Stage 3 ‘Unit 12: Citizenship and History: Why did women and some men have to struggle for the vote in Britain?  What is the point of voting today?’  (QCA 2004: Key Stage 3)  However despite this formal recognition are schools in practice coordinating their Citizenship and History schemes of work so as to provide each other mutual support.  The answer in the majority of cases is almost certainly no.  Unit 12 if it is being taught is probably being delivered at a different time and maybe even stage of a pupils education than ‘Unit 6: Government, Elections and Voting’ (QCA 2004: Key Stage 3).  The result of this practice in this case would be to reduce the understanding and appreciation of pupils for the electoral process, a result that is true across many areas of the Citizenship curriculum.  If citizenship is to deliver politically literate individuals schools must adopt it as a cross-curricular subject that requires the support of all subject areas.

The politically literate citizen is someone with a broader appreciation, and understanding than that simply offered by the current citizenship curriculum alone.  The national curriculum, like many aspects of government must learn to develop a joined up approach, which mutually supports the content of each subject.  History can provide an overview of the 19th century Reform Acts and the extension of the franchise, along with an understanding of the role of prejudice and discrimination in war, and Britain’s imperial past.  This kind of approach is critical if citizenship education is going to have the society changing impact that the Crick Report argues for.  Citizenship may appear on timetables, and its curriculum may very well be ardently adhered to, but to have an effect on the level of political literacy in this country it requires across the board support.  A politically literate person is more than just an individual endowed with a textbook understanding of the workings of the first past the post electoral system; they are critically thinking, informed individuals able to make decisions, and access services without outside interference.

The cross curricular approach to citizenship is already considered best practice, Tony Breslan states that the best provision of citizenship ‘…is likely to be characterised by a combination of: Discrete provision: Citizenship ‘lessons’, identified as such on the timetable and within any broader framework such as the one that PSHE might provide; Cross-Curricular support: Themed and clearly identified work within other subjects of the curriculum which complements that undertaken in the discrete sessions…’ (Breslan 2004: 15)  How widespread practice like this is will determine how successfully political literacy is delivered in schools.

Citizenship and ‘Group politics’:

It is arguable that the British education system has been delivering a certain type of politically literate individual for some time.  Although we may not be voting in huge numbers, or becoming involved in party politics, the rise of single-issue politics has been substantial in the last 20 years.  Arguably a politically illiterate society does not witness 2 million people marching through Whitehall against an unpopular war, or a nation gripped by fuel shortages brought on by protesters demanding tax cuts.  Equally organisations like Greenpeace, Oxfam, and media campaigns like Comic Relief, and Children in Need have year upon year raised more money as people donate their time and effort to fundraising.

However, despite the attractiveness of this view of political literacy, single-issue politics is not real engagement with the political process.  It is group politics.  Politics which does ‘…benefit the political system by strengthening representation, promoting debate and discussion, broadening political participation, and acting as a check on government power…. [but also]…poses a threat in that they entrench political inequality…are socially and politically divisive, exercise non-legitimate and unaccountable power, and make the policy process more closed and secretive.’  (Heywood 1997: 268)  Therefore despite the apparent safety of using a group issue in lessons, you have to consider the structure of the organisation, its funding and membership, and question whether the group is an exemplary example of democracy in action.  The truth is that interest groups are elitist, and promote specific agendas that may be contrary to the principals of democratic governance, and one of the roles of citizenship is to promote democracy.

In the majority of schools citizenship is not being taught by subject specialists, this means that historians, geographers, and religious studies teachers have been given the responsibility of introducing citizenship into the timetable.  This has meant that many of the narrow basic content on how parliament and pressure groups work has become the main source of teaching, coupled with looking at the media, and human rights often through single-issue case studies.  It is here that citizenship education faces a real challenge it must overcome the single issue bias of group politics, and attempt to engage pupils with broader ideas, like why vote, and what are the differences between right, and left wing views of society.  Broader subject content on the economy, global citizenship, and electoral systems has been pushed inadequately into careers talks, or interpreting active citizenship as a fundraising opportunity for non-governmental organisations (NGO’s).  NGO’s are probably to date the largest beneficiaries of citizenship education, as teachers and inspectors avoid more sensitive ‘political’ issues by repeatedly returning to group politics as the focus of pupil’s engagement with politics.

Pupils could be protesting about a proposed bypass, or the construction of housing on their playing fields, but instead their energies are being directed outside their community which is likely to reinforce current political trends towards group political engagement, rather than affect the levels of turnout at future elections, or improve their own environment.  If our children only experience political engagement through saving pandas, or protecting water reserves in Palestine then is it any wonder that they fail to engage with things closer to home.

There is a danger in allowing a society to increasingly seek change through protest, rather than through its established political process, as fewer and fewer people vote the representative nature of democracy can become undermined as whole sections of the community fail to engage, and therefore lose their voice in the political debates of the day.  Citizenship education must therefore through a combination of discrete and cross-curricular support from related subjects bring across to pupils that change and influence over politics can be achieved through action within the political system.  Make pupils aware that MP’s hold surgeries, and encourage letter writing, petitions, and convey that the ballot box is an effective way of bringing change.  This is not to say that NGO’s can’t play a role, they certainly must, but not at the expense of building civic pride and concern for issues that directly affect pupils quality of life.

Political Literacy and building ‘Social Capital’:

Citizenships approach to teaching political literacy must also break free from the confines of the school timetable, and reach out into the community.  Research that reveals ‘…growing levels of apathy and political distrust, concentrated among the young…’  (Richards & Smith 2002: 195) has also highlighted the decline in the membership of voluntary organisations, and political parties.  ‘Although the membership in environmental groups has grown rapidly in recent years, the membership of political parties has been in decline since the war.  The Conservatives had 2,800,000 members in 1952, but this figure had fallen to 400,000 [1995] and is still dropping.’ (Richards & Smith 2002: 195) Membership stood at 177,000 in a 2012 House of Commons Library study (McGuinness & Clements 2012).  This is symptomatic of a wider problem within not only British, but also western society as a whole.  Theorists such as Robert Putnam have classed this disengagement with civic life as a collapse in social capital.

‘Whereas physical capital refers to physical objects and human capital refers to the properties of individuals, social capital refers to connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them.  In that sense social capital is closely related to what some have called “civic virtue.” The difference is that “social capital” calls attention to the fact that civic virtue is most powerful when embedded in a sense network of reciprocal social relations.  A society of many virtuous but isolated individuals is not necessarily rich in social capital.’ (Putnam 2000: 19)   This concept offers a clear analysis of the nature of political engagement amongst the young today, ‘virtuous individuals’ engaged in single issue movements, yet totally isolated from the community around them, in other words many little ships each with different concerns passing in the night.

In taking this concept and applying it to Citizenship education the emphasis must be on trying to anchor some of these ships in their own communities.  This should not develop into a campaign against NGO’s, but it must mean that when approaching the active citizenship element of the Key Stage 4 curriculum (Unit 7) the aim should be a project grounded in the schools, and/or pupils community that will enrich relations between young people and their surrounding environment, and between the school and its supporting community.

Disengagement with the political process (meaning more than party politics) cannot continue at the current pace, if turnout continues to decline at elections and communities maintain their isolation then the social fabric of the country will be at jeopardy.  Constructing social capital through citizenship is based on the view that‘…the more people join together in face-to-face meetings either as neighbours or through clubs and societies (which may have nothing to with politics); the more likely they are to work together in an attempt to solve the problems that affect their community.  Contact produces trust that enables people to work together without state compulsion to solve problems.’ (Richards & Smith 2002: 195-196)

Fortunately the opportunities for civic engagement offered by citizenship education are being embraced (QTS: 2.1); the then Home Secretaries publication  ‘Civic Renewal: A New Agenda’ in June 2003 advocated participatory democracy, and supports the idea that civic engagement involves encouraging people to become involved in taking responsibility for improving their communities.  Unit 7 of the Key Stage 4 Citizenship curriculum ‘Taking part – planning a community event’ allows pupils to ‘…take responsibility for planning and implementing a community event…. work[ing] as part of a team, taking on a variety of roles and responsibilities, including aspects of leadership. They learn to respect and value others’ opinions and contributions.  They consider how the event can make a difference in their school and local community and can provide opportunities for individuals and groups to contribute to social change’ (QCA Unit 7: 2004).

I have experienced this unit in practice as part of a GCSE Citizenship Short Course; however, the environmentally grounded project was very much focused within the school, which was far from the spirit the curriculum intended, and what I fear is common.  An example of this unit being implemented in line with its community focused aspirations can be seen at the Hinchingbrooke School which ‘…. entered into an effective partnership with Huntingdonshire District Council who had begun to explore how to engage young people and were keen to form partnerships with schools.  A group of 10 students volunteered to consult other young people in order to inform the development of the Community Action Plan, setting up the interviews in the form of a Big Brother diary room and interviewing 40 pupils.  They collated the findings, identifying key recommendations, and a PowerPoint presentation was given to the Leader of the District Council.  He and the Deputy Head of the school were also asked by the young people to respond to questions that had arisen from the project.  The project group of young people concluded that “young people do have opinions about community issues, that they need to be encouraged to express them, and that they raised some very sensible solutions.” (Stenton 2004: 61)

Community involvement like that highlighted above, working along with a whole school approach to citizenship teaching shows the potential for creating politically literate individuals.  Only through the recognition of political literacy as more than party politics, pressure groups or institutions along with its incorporation into the teaching and learning of pupils throughout primary, and secondary education can the goal of creating a ‘…nation of engaged citizens…’  (Crick 1998: 8) be achieved.


The role of citizenship in raising the standards of political literacy is central to its whole purpose in the national curriculum, through providing interesting and expansive content supported across the curriculum to give students an encompassing appreciation that politics is more than David Cameron, and Parliament, but something that is part of their daily lives.  In re-engaging young people with politics, developing community links and encouraging young people to stand up for issues of concern in their own communities as well as global, and national questions citizenship can achieve the goal of changing British society and strengthening the roots of our democracy.

The agenda for citizenship set out here is ambitious, and if it is to succeed it will require commitment, money, and effort on the part of government, Ofstead, teachers, parents, and pupils.  However, it is my belief that unless political literacy is taught in the round, meaning a broad general understanding of institutions, rights and responsibilities coupled with an appreciation of the historical, and social context of these institutions that encourages engagement with the local community; citizenship, at least in the aims set out in the Crick Reports third strand of political literacy will fail to achieve all it could have.

The process of writing this essay has caused me to consider a number of issues I had previously not thought needed much consideration.  The cross curricular requirement for the effective provision of political literacy in schools had not occurred to me when I set out to write, and the expansive nature of the subject was only partially appreciated.  Consequently in seeking to remain relatively brief and focused I have ignored issues such as the role of social class on civic engagement and political literacy, and the wider issues of potential government interference in the curriculum content if we are to pursue such a radical agenda in teaching.  Despite this I hope that the ideas, and opinions expressed here have shed some light on the potential for citizenship education, and the role for it in widening political participation and increasing pupils understanding of how society works.

This is a tall order, and maybe beyond the capabilities of an overstretched timetable, and overworked teaching profession, but if only two thirds of its potential is realised then the introduction of Citizenship into the National Curriculum could well be the most significant development in British education since the introduction of the National Curriculum itself.  Ultimately the goal of increasing political literacy is one aimed at building a sense of belonging between citizens, communities, and government.  It is a positive agenda for change that could result in the radical reinterpretation of the role of schools in society as pivotal centres of community support and investment in social capital.


Attwood, Chris. Singh, Gurchand. Prime, Duncan. & Creasy, Rebecca et al. (2003) ‘2001 Home Office Citizenship Survey: People, Families, and Communities’ Home Office Research Study 270, Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate, London pp.9 -10

Breslin, Tony (2004) Think Different!  Citizenship Education and the School of the Future, Eds. Linsley, Benjamin, & Rayment, Elisabeth ‘Beyond the Classroom; Exploring Active Citizenship in 11-16 Education’ New Politics Network, London, pp.13

Blunkett, David (2001) ‘Politics & Progress – Renewing Democracy in a Civil Society’ Methuen Publishing, London

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Putnam. Robert D. (2000) ‘Bowling Alone: The collapse and revival of American community’ Simon and Schuster, New York, pp.19. pp.186

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Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (2004) ‘Citizenship National Curriculum Scheme of Work Key Stage 4, Unit 7: Taking part –

Richards, David & Smith, Martin J. (2002) ‘Governance and Public Policy in the UK’ Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp.195-196

Stenton, Sally (2004) ‘Community Action and Young Person Led Participation’, Eds. Linsley, Benjamin, & Rayment, Elisabeth ‘Beyond the Classroom; Exploring Active Citizenship in 11-16 Education’ New Politics Network, London, pp.61

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McGuinness, Fergal & Clements, Rob (2012) ‘Membership of UK political parties – Commons Library Standard Note’ http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN05125 (accessed 08/06/2013)