International Relations Essay 1: Does international society exist? 

December 23 [Thu], 2010, 8:36

“In the prisoners' dock sit twenty-odd broken men.”―――declared one renowned American justice while fiercely pointing his fingers at the said individuals. Cautioning that “these prisoners represent sinister influences that will lurk in the world after their bodies have returned to dust”, the American went on to assert that “[c]ivilization can afford no compromise with the social forces which would gain renewed strength if we deal ambiguously or indecisively with the men in whom those forces now precariously survive.”[1] In closing his case, he left the following concluding remarks: “[a]s an International Military Tribunal, it rises above the provincial and transient and seeks guidance not only from international law but also from the basic principles of jurisprudence which are assumptions of civilization and which long have found embodiment in the codes of all nations.”[2] These are excerpts from the late Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson’s opening and closing statements at the International Military Tribunal, or Nuremberg Trial, an informal name better known among laymen. In this trial, the Allied Powers prosecuted the fallen leaders of the Third Reich in the name of civilization. Indeed, the very word, “civilization”, was repeatedly used in Jackson’s speeches throughout the trial. In a similar vein, the former US president, George Bush proudly announced the advent of a new world order after his country’s swift victory in the Middle East. A decade later, his son declared the war on terror a struggle to preserve civilisation.[3]

Yet, what exactly did these political figures mean with their references to such vague terms as “civilization” and “world order”? Underlying these words is the premise that there exists a club of countries that share common values, interests, and culture, as well as identities, thereby excluding those who do not belong to or oppose such criteria and qualities. Nonetheless, does such a supranational entity exist in this complex society? The English School of international relations seems to offer us an answer with the concept of “international society”. Hedly Bull and Adam Watson prescribe the following definition to the said idea:

a group of states (or, more generally, a group of independent political communities) which not merely form a system, in the sense that the behaviour of each is a necessary factor in the calculations of the others, but also have established by dialogue and consent common rules and institutions for the conduct of their relations, and recognise their common interest in maintaining these arrangements.[4]

Claiming to have studied history, those English School theorists ascribe the criteria contained in the above definition to their picture of the world in which the international society allegedly exists.

Nevertheless, does the above definition given by mere two individuals vindicate the existence of the international community? In other words, can sociology, to which the two academics belong, render a satisfactory explanation in response to the question we are concerned with? Sociology, according to Max Weber, is defined as “a science which attempts to understand social action through a causal explanation of its course and effects.”[5] This is premised upon the mythos that society is a product of human will and behavior. This implies that a mere academic discipline called sociology conceives of “an unrealistic model of society and attempts to alter the reality through the application of such a model.”[6] Such an endeavor is no less ill-founded than that of Hegel’s idealism, which Carl von Clausewitz justly criticised by emphasising that “[j]ust as some plants bear fruit only if they don’t shoot up too high, so in the practical arts the leaves and flowers of theory must be pruned and the plant kept close to its proper soil――― experience.”[7] Methodological problems notwithstanding, there lies even a more fundamental issue in our way. Do we possess the ability to reform our own society with our humble power? Moreover, at the more fundamental level, do we, whose intellect is limited only to the lessons gained from our own experience, even have the ability to learn everything about the society? Sociologists utterly fail to answer these fundamental questions and assume the existence of international society, which is merely the reflection of “spectacle[s]” occurring in “a wonderful, ill-balanced mind in which sensations, emotions and images are too powerful.”[8]

For this reason, in order to ascertain the existence of as complicated an entity as international society, we must resort to human experience, or history for an answer. Yet, we must also not lose sight of the impossibility of rendering a perfectly objective picture of history. Cautioning that hindsight is not always twenty/twenty, the historian Herbert Bix rightly points out, “[p]ast events, of course, are refracted through the mind of the person who records them, shaped by the values that person seeks to realize in the present and future. Inevitably, they are slippery and fogged.”[9] Our attempt, therefore, will be subject to due criticisms that diverge from our views. Nevertheless, we shall labour to prove the existence of international society in as objectively a manner as possible. For this purpose, we shall first probe into the essence of society and the role of law in history. Our analyses will then superimposed upon international society and international law.

We must first commence our inquiry by defining civilised society. Yet, this investigation is already ill founded from the beginning, as we do not possess the ability to fully appreciate the fundamental question of society itself. Consider the following remark made by Rene Descartes: “it is observable that the buildings which a single architect has planned and executed, are generally more elegant and commodious than those which several have attempted to improve, by making old walls serve for purposes for which they were not originally built.”[10] This thinking presupposes the perfectibility of human reason and the absoluteness of propositions deduced from facts. This way of thinking, or constructivist rationalism, utterly disregards history and certain functions of the society, such as the self-regulating mechanism of market economy. It is nothing more than a serious symptom of paranoia, and history is abundant in the instances of such delusions, such as Jacobean French Revolution and Marxist-Leninist Russian Revolution. Society, then, is not constructed by certain generation of the present. The following quote from Edmund Burke further aids our appreciation of this undeniable nature of society:

a [society] is not an idea only of local extent, and individual momentary aggregation; but it is an idea of continuity, which extends in time as well as in numbers and in space. And this is a choice not of one day, or one set of people, not a tumultuary and giddy choice; it is a deliberate election of the ages and of generations; it is a constitution made by what is ten thousand times better than choice, it is made by the peculiar circumstances, occasions, tempers, dispositions, and moral, civil and social habitudes of the people, which disclose themselves only in a long space of time[11]

Thus, a society is based upon the accumulation of past wisdom and is to be preserved by the present generation. Eventually, it is to be inherited by the future generations so as to defend the thousands of years of human aspirations for peace and harmony through countless trials and errors that have rendered incalculable amount of blood and toil.

Such mores and customs inherited from the past by no means have physical forms. Nitobe Inazo made the following insightful observations of the moral foundation of Japan, or what he called Bushido:

Chivalry is a flower no less indigenous to the soil of Japan than its emblem, the cherry blossom; nor is it a dried-up specimen of an antique virtue preserved in the herbarium of our history. It is still a living object of power and beauty among us; and if it assumes no tangible shape or form, it not the less scents the moral atmosphere, and makes us aware that we are still under its potent spell. The conditions of society which brought it forth and nourished it have long disappeared; but as those far-off stars which once were and are not, still continue to shed their rays upon us, so the light of chivalry, which was a child of feudalism, still illuminates our moral path, surviving its mother institution.[12]

Friedrich Hayek proposed the concept that governs a society, namely “spontaneous order” comprising traditions, customs and other elements that are never to be fully perceived with our limited capacity. Adam Smith, for example, was justified when he ascribed “invisible hand” to the social force that regulates the market. A civilised society, then, may be deemed to be governed by an invisible social force as represented by such concepts as spontaneous order, thereby guaranteeing perpetual law and order.

Having ascertained the essence of civilised society, we shall proceed to identify the enduring features of such a community. First, the fundamental object of a civilized society is to safeguard individual liberty from totalitarianism and anarchism. Yet, such liberty does not grant one absolute freedom; historically shaped customs always intervene to halt before one abuses his privilege to such an extent that it harms the community. Individual freedom, according to Hayek, is shielded by the two major characteristics of civilized society, namely rule of law and market economy.[13] It is the former with which we are concerned in the present inquest. We shall not dwell too much upon the details of rule of law; rather, we will inquire into the concept where it is relevant to civilised society.

Defining rule of law is no easy matter. Nevertheless, it originates in German tribes during the Middle Ages and was long considered an eternal truth that was neither created nor changed; rather, it was to be discovered as the civilisation advanced. In other words, it is not the type of law legislated by the legislative branch. Instead, it was used as a source of reference for the judicial branch and developed as new cases were reviewed, setting precedents.[14] Altes gutes Recht, or good old law is “timeless in quality: the good law residing in common conscience and tradition, innovation, in which, theoretically, could take the form only of restoration.”[15] In other words, the power of law is so far-reaching as to have “an existence of its own, independent of the will of man, even perhaps of the will of God.”[16] St. Thomas Aquinas argued that natural law[17] was “that part of the law of God which was discoverable by human reason, in contrast with the part which is directly revealed. Such an identification of natural with divine law necessarily gave the former an authority superior to that of any merely positive law of human ordinance, and some writers even held that positive law which conflicted with natural law could not claim any binding force.”[18] For this reason, rule of law is distinguished from rule by law, which considers any statutes legitimate because it places absoluteness upon the legislative branch, allowing “rule by men”. In the final analysis, this Anglo-American legal tradition aims to function as the custodian of the positive legacies of the past and the customs and mores that are well alive today, effectively transferring them from the past to the present, then to the future. In the case of the United Kingdom, for example, rule of law has long been successful in upholding not only the invisible legacies, such as common law, but also the visible legacies, particularly the constitutional monarchy.

In the international realm, in which the international society developed along with international law, similar principles of society, as hitherto discussed above, may be ascertained. Nevertheless, the international society clearly diverges from a domestic civilized society in that the former utterly lacks an absolute supranational institutional authority and thus values the sense of brotherhood as the sinews of their bondage. The origin of the international society dates before the Peace of Westphalia, a historic event commonly attributed to the birth of such a society and international law. J. L. Brierly argues that the genesis of the international society was found among “a few kindred nations of western Europe which, despite their frequent quarrels and even despite the religious schism of the sixteenth century, had all and were all conscious of having a common background in the Christian religion and the civilization of Greece and Rome.” In essence, such a community was a “society of nations” [19] that shared the same religious and cultural roots. It is undeniable that the events in 1648 undermined the power of the Church and led to the European countries to recognise one another on equal terms through international law. Nevertheless, the new bondage formed in that year was nothing more than interdependence in “material things” and “though material bonds are necessary, they are not enough without a common social consciousness.”[20] Such sentiment of common brotherhood is a prerequisite to form any viable society. In the case of civilised society as discussed above, shared feelings are formed through the respect for the past wisdom of the ancestors and the sense of responsibility to preserve not only for the present, but also for the future. In the international society, the bases of the fraternal relations among the countries are “sentiment of shared responsibility for the conduct of a common life” and the necessary force behind any system of law.”[21] Indeed, when the Revolutionary France threatened the foundation of the Occidental Civilisation, Edmund Burke defined the chaos as a war between the insurrectionist France and the European civilisation founded upon the mores and order inherited from the ancient days as well as Christianity.[22]

Burke’s above statement implies that the sense of Christian brotherhood was well alive even more than 150 years after the rise of first modern states. The Peace of Westphalia, then, may be understood as nothing more than an expedient measure to protect the Christian foundation. Europe today is united under the single fraternity known as the EU. Yet, its history is illustrated with anything but perpetual peace and harmony among those kindred nations. The tragedies in the two Great Wars in the 20th century alone must have convinced those who survived those two wars of the doomed future of Europe. Nevertheless, it was the two criteria proposed by Hayek for civilized society, namely rule of law and market economy, which enabled the international society in Europe to preserve the very foundation of its civilisation as it persevered through incalculable amount of blood, and later the society gave in to have a more diverse, secular appearance. In other words, the European experience is a vindication that there is only one international society in the world. Other societies of nations, such as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the East Asian Community[23], were nothing but farces as they utterly lacked the common foundation for shared values. One need not be reminded of their utter failure to fulfill Hayek’s two criteria for civilised society; in the USSR, for example, planned economy and lawlessness prevailed, and communism as a shared value was only to be forcibly imposed to have any viable appearance. In the next segment, just as we examined the legal aspect of a civilised society above, we shall only consider rule of law in international law here.

Just the domestic legal traditions, such as the Anglo-American common law, international law also functions as the custodian of the elements which constitute the foundation of the international society. Just as national laws had set the precedents, during the early stages of its developments, international law also sought natural law for inspiration. Medieval writers of natural law held that international relations were to be controlled by a higher law, “not the mere creation of the will of any sovereign, but part of the order of nature to which even sovereigns were subjugated.” In other words, law of nature denied European country’s “irresponsibility and the finality of their independence of one another.”[24] These principles continue to this day to remain unwritten, but, despite different interpretations, the whole society of nations was to be ruled by the Law, or Altes gutes Recht. This idea of imposing limits upon sovereign rights is a clear reflection of the natural law tradition, drawing the essence of international law increasingly closer to that of common law.

Thus, the natural law tradition drew a clear distinction between the good and the evil, most notably between bellum justum and bellum injustum. According to Grotius, all wars, “if they are to be legitimate, aim at peace and therefore must have just causes.”[25] He further expanded this interpretation in order to include the right “to punish excessive violations of the Natural Law, whether the injuries are perpetrated against themselves or others with whom they have no direct involvement.”[26] We are once again reminded of the lessons from the International Military Tribunal. At the time, although the Kellogg-Briand Pact ruled that all wars were to be outlawed as early as 1928, war was still considered legal if it was waged for the purpose of self-defence. Moreover, the purpose of war was to be determined by the belligerent himself. Because of this paradox, the Pact utterly failed to fulfil its ideal and became nothing more than a piece of paper by 1939. This is because Hitler’s repugnant wars throughout Europe could well be justified as they were waged in search for Lebensraum for the Germanic peoples, which could be little different from the exportation of democracy by the US in the pure sense of self-defense. Yet, the higher law alone interpreted it otherwise. After the fall of Berlin, the Allied Powers quickly gathered to hold a trial of the former Nazi leaders. In his opening statement, the Chief Prosecutor Jackson eloquently expressed the natural law tradition of international law as follows:

The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated… This Tribunal, while it is novel and experimental, is not the product of abstract speculations nor is it created to vindicate legalistic theories. This inquest represents the practical effort of four of the most mighty of nations, with the support of 17 more, to utilize international law to meet the greatest menace of our times-aggressive war. The common sense of mankind demands that law shall not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people. It must also reach men who possess themselves of great power and make deliberate and concerted use of it to set in motion evils which. leave no home in the world untouched. It is a cause of that magnitude that the United Nations will lay before Your Honors.[27]

The trial was perhaps the first attempt for the international society to materialise the will of the higher law in world history. Jackson’s objective in prosecuting the Nazi war criminals was clear: to preserve the conventions and traditions of the international society founded upon the Christian brotherhood. By setting a precedent, moreover, he also sought to prevent future wars. The same Christian fraternity of nations faced countless wars against one another in history. Nevertheless, based upon the principle of Altes gutes Recht, Jackson, a representative of civilisation, sought to discover new laws in complete accordance with the dictates of the Law. We have found that a civilised society is built upon the firm foundation comprising the wisdom of the past, such as mores and traditions, which are safeguarded by rule of law. Our examination of the essence of the international society, rule of law in that society, and Justice Jackson’s noble endeavour all vindicate the existence of such a community of nations.

As we have seen, despite the difficulties inherent in the theorisation of society per se, based upon the above philosophical and historical analyses, we may justly conclude that the international society exists. As Benedict Anderson argued, one may never actually experience the process by which people form bonds and create a viable society. Yet, this is far from a rebuttal of such concepts as society, country, nation, and community. A civilised society is composed of both visible institutions and invisible social forces. It is the latter which deserves greater attention due to their sheer importance. Mores, custom, and traditions may neither be written nor materialised. Therefore, they can only be safeguarded by rule of law, which ensures its functions with all its elasticity and acquaintance with changes. As we have seen, similar essences may be found in the international society. The grand failure of the League of Nations does not disprove the existence of the international community. It was merely one of many trials and errors in the course of human aspiration for peace and prosperity. Today, our civilisation is confronted once again by a major threat, namely global terrorism. Just as the Allied Powers rose from the ashes, the Almighty God shall always be on the side of peace-loving peoples of the international community.

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Brierly J. L.: The Law of Nations (Oxford UP: 1955).
Burke, Edmund: The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke: 9. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991).
Clausewitz, Carl von: On War trs by Peter Paret and Michael Howard (Princeton UP: 1976).
Friedman, Michael Jay: War on Terror a Struggle for Civilization , viewed on 3 Dec, 2010.
Hedley Bull and Adam Watson: Expansion of International Society, (Oxford Oxfordshire: Clarendon Press, 1984.).
Hogan, Michael J.: Hiroshima in History and Memory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).
Jackson, Robert H.: Closing Statement before the International Military Tribunal, ,viewed on 1 Dec, 2010.
Jackson, Robert H.: Opening Statement before the International Military Tribunal, , viewed on 1 Dec, 2010.
Kern, Fritz: Kingship and Law in the Middle Ages trs by S. B. Chrimes (New Jersey: the Law Book Exchange, Ltd., 2005).
Maitland, F. W.: The Constitutional History of England (New Jersey: the Law Book Exchange, Ltd., 2001).
Nakagawa, Yatsuhiro: Seito no kenpo Burke no tetsugaku (Tokyo: Chuokoron-shinsha, 2001).
Nakagawa, Yatsuhiro: Seito no tetsugaku, itan no tetsugaku (Tokyo: Tokuma shoten, 1999).
Nitobe, Inazō: Bushido (Tōkyō: Kōdansha Intānashonaru, 1998).
Sabine, G. H.: A History of Political Theory (London: Harrap & Co. Ltd., 1966).
Taine, Hippolyte. "The Ancient Regime." June 22, 2008. , viewed on January 5,2010.
Descartes, Rene: Discourse on Method (Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 1997).
Weber, Max: Basic Concepts of Sociology (Tokyo: Iwanami Bunko, 1972).
Yazaki, Mitsukuni: “rekishi hogaku ha”, hogaku semina (May 1957).

[1] Jackson, Robert H.: Opening Statement before the International Military Tribunal, , viewed on 1 Dec, 2010, Italics mine.
[2] Jackson, Robert H.: Closing Statement before the International Military Tribunal, ,viewed on 1 Dec, 2010, Italics mine.
[3] Friedman, Michael Jay: War on Terror a Struggle for Civilization , viewed on 3 Dec, 2010.
[4] Hedley Bull and Adam Watson: Expansion of International Society, (Oxford Oxfordshire: Clarendon Press, 1984.), p. 1.
[5] Weber, Max: Basic Concepts of Sociology (Tokyo: Iwanami Bunko, 1972), p. 8.
[6] Nakagawa, Yatsuhiro: Seito no kenpo Burke no tetsugaku (Tokyo: Chuokoron-shinsha, 2001), p. 228.
[7] Clausewitz, Carl von: On War trs by Peter Paret and Michael Howard (Princeton UP: 1976), p. 61, Italics mine. In this sense, we may draw a striking similarity between the Clausewitizian dialectic its Marxist counterpart.
[8] Taine, Hippolyte. "The Ancient Regime." June 22, 2008. , viewed on January 5,2010.
[9] Hogan, Michael J.: Hiroshima in History and Memory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 80.
[10] Descartes, Rene: Discourse on Method (Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 1997), p. 22.
[11] Quoted in Sabine, G. H.: A History of Political Theory (London: Harrap & Co. Ltd., 1966), p.608.
[12] Nitobe, Inazō: Bushido (Tōkyō: Kōdansha Intānashonaru, 1998), p. 1
[13] Nakagawa, Yatsuhiro: Seito no tetsugaku, itan no tetsugaku (Tokyo: Tokuma shoten, 1999), p. 65.
[14] Nakagawa, Yatsuhiro: Seito no kenpo Burke no tetsugaku, p. 62-3.
[15] Kern, Fritz: Kingship and Law in the Middle Ages trs by S. B. Chrimes (New Jersey: the Law Book Exchange, Ltd., 2005), p. xi.
[16] Maitland, F. W.: The Constitutional History of England (New Jersey: the Law Book Exchange, Ltd., 2001), p. 301.
[17] Friedrich Carl von Savigny proposed that there existed little distinction between natural law and customary law in essence. Moreover, English law still uses the term “natural justice.” For this reason, we shall not distinguish the two here. See Yazaki, Mitsukuni: “rekishi hogaku ha”, hogaku semina (May 1957), p. 8-9.
[18] Brierly J. L.: The Law of Nations (Oxford UP: 1955), p. 18.
[19] Ibid., p. 41, Italics mine.
[20] Ibid., p. 42.
[21] Ibid., p. 42.
[22] Burke, Edmund: The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke: 9. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), p. 240, 267.
[23] The concept of the East Asian Community has emerged at least twice in modern history. The first instance was recorded as early as the late 19 century when the Japanese ultranationalist launched a movement for Pan-Asianism in an attempt to exclude the Western imperialism from Asia. This, however, was limited only to ultranationalists until in the late 1930s when Pan-Asianism became the official foreign policy of Japan. The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, inter alia, was the most explicit expression of Pan-Asianism of the time.
The second momentum for such a vague community reared its ugly head sometime around 2002. In 2009, the former prime minister of Japan, Hatoyama Yukio, declared the ideal for the East Asian Community once again to be adopted to his country’s foreign policy.
[24] Brierly J. L.: The Law of Nations, p. 19.
[25] Boucher, David: Political Theories of International Relations: From Thucydides to the Present (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 214.
[26] Ibid., p. 215.
[27] Jackson, Robert H.: Opening Statement before the International Military Tribunal, , viewed on 1 Dec, 2010, Italics mine.