'The fear of universal monarchy': balance of power as an ordering practice of liberty

Devetak, Richard (2013). 'The fear of universal monarchy': balance of power as an ordering practice of liberty. In Tim Dunne and Trine Flockhart (Ed.), Liberal World Orders (pp. 121-137) Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.

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Name Description MIMEType Size Downloads
Author Devetak, Richard
Title of chapter 'The fear of universal monarchy': balance of power as an ordering practice of liberty
Title of book Liberal World Orders
Place of Publication Oxford, United Kingdom
Publisher Oxford University Press
Publication Year 2013
Sub-type Research book chapter (original research)
Open Access Status
Series Proceedings of the British Academy
ISBN 9780197265529
ISSN 0068-1202
Editor Tim Dunne
Trine Flockhart
Volume number 190
Chapter number 6
Start page 121
End page 137
Total pages 17
Total chapters 14
Collection year 2014
Language eng
Formatted Abstract/Summary
Liberal internationalist theory and practice has built its reputation against realism's apologia for power politics. By contrast with realists' acceptance of the international as a tragic realm of 'recurrence and repetition', liberals have held on to hopes of progressive international reform; against realists' indifference to the struggle for power among states, liberals have laboured to establish legal and political institutions designed to regulate and restrain power in relations amongstates, so as to safeguard the principle of liberty. At the heart of liberal concerns about politics and international relations lies a deep anxiety about power as a corrosive force that threatens to undermine moral, legal, and political ties. This is most forcefully expressed in liberal internationalism's refusal to accept the Thucydidean proposition that 'might makes right' or to be satisfied with world orders where the balance of power functions as a chief ordering practice. It is liberalism's deep dissatisfaction with the balance of power as a dominant international ordering practice that I wish to emphaize because, as I shall argue, it is at odds with a rival conception of international ordering practices that held sway in English and then British political discourse in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, but one that nonetheless claimed liberty as its principal political value.

The first part of the chapter outlines the modern liberal rejection, or at least deep suspicion, of the balance of power; the second returns to English debates in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries to excavate at least one intellectual context within which the balance of power became recognized as an indispensable ordering practice in maintaining liberty and fighting tyranny. The chapter thus shares with Daniel Deudney (2007) a concern to recover arguments about security and the balance of power that antedate both realist and liberal theories of international relations. It also shares with Quentin Skinner (1998) the argument that dominant strains of liberalism have functioned to obscure conceptions of 'liberty before liberalism'.
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Created: Fri, 04 Oct 2013, 09:26:33 EST by Jon Swabey on behalf of School of Political Science & Internat'l Studies