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Reading Habermas in Anarchy: Multilateral Diplomacy and Global Public Spheres

  • JENNIFER MITZEN (a1)
Abstract

States routinely justify their policies in interstate forums, and this reason-giving seems to serve a legitimating function. But how could this be? For Habermas and other global public sphere theorists, the exchange of reasons oriented toward understanding—communicative action—is central to public sphere governance, where political power is held accountable to those affected. But most global public sphere theory considers communicative action only among nonstate actors. Indeed, anarchy is a hard case for public spheres. The normative potential of communicative action rests on its instability: only where consensus can be undone by better reasons, through argument, can we say speakers are holding one another accountable to reason. But argument means disagreement, and especially in anarchy disagreement can mean violence. Domestically, the state backstops argument to prevent violence. Internationally, I propose that international society and publicity function similarly. Public talk can mitigate the security dilemma and enable interstate communicative action. Viewing multilateral diplomacy as a legitimation process makes sense of the intuition that interstate talk matters, while tempering a potentially aggressive cosmopolitanism.

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Corresponding author
Jennifer Mitzen, Assistant Professor, Ohio State University, 2140 Derby Hall, 154 North Oval Mall, Columbus, OH 43210-1373, mitzen.1@osu.edu.
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