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The transformation of political community: E. H. Carr, critical theory and international relations

    • Published online: 04 April 2001

The obsolescence of war in the relations between the leading industrial powers, and the declining significance of national sovereignty in the context of globalization are frequently cited as key indicators of the steady decline of the Westphalian era.For an insightful overview, see J. Richardson, ‘The End of Geopolitics?’, in R. Leaver and J. Richardson (eds.), Charting the Post-Cold War (Boulder, CO, 1993). The transformation of world politics has encouraged the formations of new linkages between the study of change in international relations and the normative consideration of alternative principles of world politics. Imagining new forms of political community has emerged as a major enterprise in the contemporary theory of the state and international relations.W. Connolly, ‘Democracy and Territoriality’, in M. Ringrose and A. J. Lerner (eds.), Reimagining the Nation (Buckingham, 1993); D. Held, Democracy and the Global Order: From the Modern State to Global Governance(Cambridge, 1995); W. Kymlicka, Liberalism, Community and the Culture (Oxford, 1989); A. Linklater, ‘Community’, in A. Danchev (ed.), Fin de Siècle: The Meaning of the Twentieth Century (London, 1995); and R. B. J. Walker, Inside/Outside: International Relations as Political Theory (Cambridge, 1993). In this context, E. H. Carr’s writings on the crisis of world politics in the first part of the twentieth century acquire a relevance for contemporary debates which his reputation for Realism has served to distort. His writings contain a striking analysis of the changing nature of the modern state and the possibility of new forms of political association. Carr’s observations about these subjects are as profound as they are inspiring, and they are rich in their significance for the contemporary theory and practice of international relations. They make significant contributions in three areas: the empirical analysis of the transformation of the modern state, especially but not only in Europe; the embryonic but increasingly sophisticated normative analysis of how the nation-state ought to evolve, and what it ought to become; and the evolving discussion of how the study of internation relations might be reformed to tackle the dominant moral and political questions of the epoch. These questions are concerned above all else with the metamorphosis of political community.

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This essay is based on the eleventh E. H. Carr Memorial Lecture delivered at the University of Wales, Aberwystwyth, on 15 May 1996. E. H. Carr was Woodrow Wilson Professor of International Politics there from 1936 to 1947. Many years ago in a seminar at the Australian National University in Canberra, Professor Coral Bell gently castigated me for portraying Carr as an unadulterated Realist. She was right to do so. This paper is a confession; an exercise in delayed repentance; a belated effort to expel ancient ghosts. In addition to thanking Coral Bell for her comment almost fifteen years ago, I would like to express my gratitude to my colleague, Alex Danchev, for his characteristically astute observations about an earlier draft of this paper. I am grateful to Chris Brewin, David Campbell, Tim Dunne, Hidemi Suganami and Moorhead Wright for their helpful comments.
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Review of International Studies
  • ISSN: 0260-2105
  • EISSN: 1469-9044
  • URL: /core/journals/review-of-international-studies
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