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Concepts of World Politics

All the “Social Sciences” have certain “concepts” that identify, clarify, or define their social/political boundaries and separate them from their competitors. The world of sociology, for example, will use concepts such as race, tribe, nation, etc. that dominate its own field; economics and political science do the same, etc.

This doesn’t mean that the various concepts belong exclusively within their respective boundaries, only that they are more characteristic in one field than another. Sociology studies “group” behavior which can include “ideology,” a subject important to all other social studies as well. Psychology studies individual behavior, a field totally distinct from Sociology.

Concepts are important, as they are meant to separate the several social sciences from each other and give definition and meaning to each. “Government” is critical to Political Science, “Capitalism” to Economics, and “nation” to Sociology, but what is critical to “World Politics” alone?

Obviously, all three concepts above affect World Politics, but not in ways that are “critical” or define its essential reality. If there is a singular quality to World Politics it must be “war,” a reality that affects all the others but is hardly “critical” for each.

But if “war” is the essential component of World Politics, what, may we ask, separates this field from all the others? Governments, for example, can experience war, but this is rare and hardly defines the subject. Most countries experience “civil” war but, as in the U.S., this event occurs usually only once and by no means defines the Government. Contrary to Marxist theory, Capitalism and Socialism have never gone to war, while in Political Science, the word “war” almost always means “debate” or a “floor fight.” “Nations” and “races” in Sociology are rarely on a “war footing,” but when “ism” is attached, they become “ideologies” and can belong to World Politics. Nationalism or Racism within a country can be adjusted peaceably but, as history has shown, among countries (world politics), it almost invariably leads to war.

So, while the several concepts can cross boundaries, the concept of “war” belongs (almost exclusively) to world politics. Then, as a follow-up question, what concept separates “world” politics from domestic? Asked in another way, the word “campaign” at home means a televised debate; overseas (usually) it means a forced march by men with guns.

What’s the difference?

“Anarchy,” since the “state system” began, has always defined relations between political units (country, nation, state). The word literally is defined as “absence of authority,” which is the chief component (“concept”) in World Politics and, again literally, defines the field.

This is a critical distinction and is shared by practically nothing else in the Social Studies. There is no such thing as a country without a government, just as there is no “world politics” with one. In the vernacular, anarchy connotes, in alphabetical order, disarray, disorder, disruption, chaos, mutiny, mayhem, riot, strife, turmoil, and tumult (to name a few).

While these expressions are rarely used in Foreign Office memos, they can be applied to distinguish politics between units and those within the same. Should any of these expressions occur within political units, a “state of war” would automatically exist. In other words: call the Police!

While “anarchy” prevails as we speak (or write), it hasn’t always been the case. Prior to the Peace of Westphalia (1648), the political globe was dominated by imperial structures (“Empires”) that stretched through both time and space, from all continents and from all history. While the slogan “Rome wasn’t built in a day” symbolized this world, it also gave credence to imperial domination of political life, a reality for Rome as well as everywhere else.

The “state system” was conceived at Westphalia, Germany (end of the Thirty Years War) and has since defined the nation-state as central to world political life. From tiny units (Luxembourg) to small ones (Ecuador) to mid-size (Italy) to big (Germany) to huge (US, Russia), they all share in political anarchy as well as several concepts that keep them separate and distinct. These are, at minimum, four in number: legal (sovereignty), political (national interest), geographic (location, size), and social (ambition, unity).

Mankind, ever since, has seldom accepted the concept of international life as “anarchy.” While the political world has lived since in a perpetual “state of war,” and no matter how the event is glorified by film and verse, a Declaration of War is literally the last speech a Mother wants to hear. While “Johnny comes marching home again,” while the “Yanks” may win “Over There,” and while Memorial Day annually gives tribute, the concept “War” remains, by far, the absolute worst event in humanity’s long march through time.

There is also a long record from philosophy to politics to transform the system. From Kant’s world government, Wilson’s “war to make the world safe for democracy,” to Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, to Kennedy’s Inaugural, to Reagan’s speech in Britain’s Parliament, they have all, no exception, failed to end anarchy as a “way of life.”

There is currently still another war ongoing, and the U.S. has a huge “investment” in the outcome. What are the chances that this is the last one?

Are you a gambler?