By Roger D Spegele *
Although international relations theory is witnessing a veritable explosion of theoretical works in the general area of what I call, for reasons that will become clearer below, Emancipatory International Relations (EIR), a full length critical study of this genre of theorizing has not yet been written, so far as I am aware. My project is to fill the lacuna. This will involve describing, analyzing and criticizing a group of theories whose central assumptions and presuppositions have been shaped by continental philosophy, especially those derived from the work of Kant, Marx and Nietzsche. In my study I will examine certain common features of theories or discourses loosely divided into four groups: Kantian cosmopolitan; international critical theory; poststructuralist and postmodernist theories; and feminist international relations theories. My goal is in this paper is to describe these forms of emancipatory international relations and to examine why they count as emancipatory and how they differ from other kinds of theory.
I see no reason why we should not be business like about the nebulous
Although the demise of positivism as the epistemological foundation of international relations has led to all manner of revisions of the subject, opportunities to develop a distinctively different conception of international relations have not been adequately explored. There is one
* Professor of International Relations at Monash University (Melbourne), Visiting scholar at Princeton University.
area in particular which contains within it the possibility of a radically different understanding
of international relations which has not, given its potential importance, received anywhere near the attention it deserves from theorists. I am referring to the possibility of developing what I have called elsewhere an “emancipatory conception of international relations”. In this paper I shall partially fill this lacuna by indicating some of the advantages to widening the gyre of our fundamental thoughts about the subject and will suggest some of the problems to which doing so give rise. I will argue that, notwithstanding the possibility of conflating understandings of international relations that proponents understandably hold to be distinctively different, the advantages of thinking of these theory-offerings in terms of their common elements outweigh the obvious disadvantages.
To be sure, there will always be proponents of special theories who will complain that a procrustean bed has been used to squeeze their favored theories into a pre-established mold and as a result bowdlerizes it; but to this complaint the appropriate response comes from John Dewey’s maxim that one should not hinder inquiry. At a time when international relations is an invitation to the privilege of saying what it consists of and in which a Balkanizing fragmentation presages a new Tower of Babel, there is urgency in the task of generalizing, clarifying, and analyzing this exciting genre of international relations.
Now, Emancipatory international relations has an interesting history which stretches back to Kant and German idealism, moves forward passing through Hegel to Marx; is seemingly roundly rejected by Nietzsche but in fact actually takes on a different counter-Enlightenment form that continues to shape postmodernist international relations in our time; it was carried forward by the critical theory of the Frankfort School for Social Research and, in particular, by Jurgen Habermas. In international relations it is being shaped as we speak by the work of Andrew Linklater and Richard Cox, advocated in a poststructuralist version by Richard Ashley, David Campbell and William Connolly and has subsequently played an important role in feminist international relations theory through the work of V. Spike Peterson, Christine Sylvester and Cynthia Weber. Its influence is being felt in certain perspectives on security and even in ecology. But despite this veritable explosion of theoretical works in the general area of emancipatory international relations, and despite the attractiveness of theories which hold out the promise of widespread political and moral transformation, and the indisputable fact that they are extremely attractive to a large number of academics and students, there is still widespread confusion about the nature, scope, and value of this sort of theorizing.
This article has three goals. First, it characterizes emancipatory international relations in a capacious way intended to bring out the variety of transformative projects in recent international relations theory. In effect this means problematizing the alleged link between emancipation and the Project of the Enlightenment in relation to theories of international relations, a maneuver which might be regarded as quite perverse on the part of theorists who associate emancipatory theory with Kant and Marx. Nonetheless, if this maneuver succeeds, it will have the beneficial consequence of expanding the category of what will count as emancipatory international relations in order to include, among other outré discourses, postmodernist international relations and postmodernist feminist theories of international relations. Second, in locating the source of emancipatory international relations in the political theories of Kant, Marx and Nietzsche, I will be showing, once again, the indispensability of traditional political theory to recent theorizing in international relations. And, third, I will show why we should both admire what emancipatory theories try to accomplish and, at the same time, maintain a certain healthy skepticism about the validity, though not the value, of this way of thinking of international relations.
2. Capacious Emancipatory Theory?
While for a large number of theorists, “an emancipatory conception of international relations” refers to all those modernistic Enlightenment theories and approaches which promote universal commitments to peace and justice, on my analysis the term refers to any theory, discourse or approach to international relations which claims that the principal grounds for studying international relations is not to obtain scientific knowledge or understanding of international relations, as in positivist and realist conceptions of the subject respectively, but rather to transform the political communities in which we live; that is, that our interest in international relations lies in its potential for liberating individuals, groups and peoples from structures or conditions which hinder them from achieving radical freedom, whether that freedom is understood as freedom from: self-incurred immaturity; division of labor); the systems world; the states-system; patriarchy; platonized Christianity; sovereignty; identity; nationalism; or whatever. Understanding an emancipatory conception in this way rather than, say, as a conception that is automatically bound up with a world-directed view of history is important because it opens up the possibility of considering poststructuralist, postmodernist and postmodernist feminist views of international relations as emancipatory since, notwithstanding their decisive rejection of certain forms of universalism, they involve anticipating and furthering radical change in the way we have thought and acted in international relations in the past; and they also involve a decisive rejection of all those orthodox belief structures about the subject which stand over against the actual achievement of genuine freedom: realism, liberalism, idealism, rationalism and all the “neo” variants of these profoundly mistaken conceptions of international relations.
The sting of this sweeping rejection of the status quo is sometimes attenuated by appealing to historicism and the idea that these beliefs had a certain role to play in the past (not necessarily progressive) but they should now be regarded as anachronisms incapable of coming to grips with a world in which international politics is about identifying the subjects to be liberated, the conditions which stand in the way of that liberation and the route to the actualization of the emancipatory goal. Understood thus, the goal of the study of international relations is not to explain or predict phenomena in world politics nor is it to be understood as only describing the way things are in the world; it has, on this view, the monumentally ambitious but necessary task of providing a conception of the subject which, potentially if not actually, brings genuine freedom into the frame of realizability.
But whatever the particular form emancipatory international relations takes it promotes radical change not only in the way in which we are supposed to conceive central concepts and issues in international relations, but in the way we practice it as well, e.g. our participation (or lack of it) in class, gender, race, religion, ecological and other struggles. Thus understood, emancipatory international relations has profound implications for the theory and practice of such subjects as: the state, nation and state-system; security; human rights; the international political economy; international organizations; distributive justice and global ecology. But there is more, much more; for, emancipatory international relations rests upon a different metaphysics which puts it at odds with its two main rivals, positivism and realism. Whereas the former takes up a naturalistic metaphysics and the latter reverberates between traditionalism and rationalism, an emancipatory conception of the world rests upon idealism, either in form of a philosophy of consciousness or in the more recent version of linguistic idealism presupposed by postmodernism. Insofar as they draw on different metaphysical traditions, it is not surprising to find that emancipatory international relations would make assumptions and presuppositions that alternative conceptions of international relations often regard as thoroughly unacceptable and, indeed, in some cases just plain outrageous.
The antidote to outrage is clarification, notwithstanding the great risk of distortion. What, after all, is an emancipatory conception of international relations?
3. Coming to Grips with Emancipatory International Relations
For the purposes of analysis and as a way to begin clarifying this conception of international relations, it is useful to ask whether emancipatory theories have a common logical form. In giving an affirmative answer to that rhetorical question, we can set out this form in the following way. Let us say that for any theory to be emancipatory, it has to identify an X, Y and Z in a certain argumentative form. In answer to the anodyne question: “why study international relations”? an emancipatory theorist should provide (or be ready to provide) an answer along the following lines: “I study international relations to emancipate [ X ] from structure or condition [ Y ] in order to achieve [ Z ]. X is to be filled in with whatever subject the theory picks out as oppressed, dominated, exploited, disempowered, i.e. requiring emancipation. Thus, for example, X might refer to the working classes, the exploited poor, women, nations, ethnic groups, the marginalized, religious groups, minorities, climate, forests, modernist philosophy and so forth. Quite clearly, we are dealing with a large class of theory here, both actually and potentially. Y, on the other hand, could be filled in with: class structures; patriarchy; sovereignty; nationalism; colonialism; liberalism and neorealism; the state-system; militarism; global capitalism; Christianity; liberalism; modernism; greenhouse gas emissions; deforestation, etc. etc. Z would be filled in with ideas concerning the goals of liberation: a Kantian kingdom of ends, communmism, a world state, global citizenship, anarchy, Otherness, a nongendered world, a maternal world, and so on. However, this initial formula does not tell us enough about the content of these conceptions and which conception articulates which kind of emancipatory theory. We need some way of classifying theories in order to tease out similarities and differences, keeping well to the fore the inadequacies of any classificatory scheme.
It is important to note that although the theories derived from an emancipatory conception of international relations are cut from one piece of cloth, the theories are interestingly different. For our purposes, we need to distinguish four types: Kantian Cosmopolitan Theory; Critical International Theory, Postmodernist International Theory (including Poststructuralism); and Feminist International Theory. This schema is neither comprehensive nor are the categories within it self-contained. Thus, for example, religious-based theories of international relations such as Islam could, in certain of its forms, certainly count as emancipatory but it will not be included here for any other reason than authorial ignorance. My concern will be parochially directed to theories formulated by Western thinkers. Also, there is no single set of criteria which provide necessary and sufficient conditions for belonging in one category rather than another: the categories and what is in them are interweaving, overlapping and intertwined one with the other. This is as it should be since the ideas from which the categories are constructed are themselves features of many different categories. Thus, for example, certain feminist theorists of international relations – Feminist Standpoint Theorists – draw an analogy between the Marxian idea of a privileged proletarian knower and a privileged woman knower and certain other feminist theorists – Feminist Postmodern Theorists – draw deeply from the postmodernist well of insights and ideas. Since ideas are not well construed as self-contained bits of data programmed for the information superhighway, we need not worry over much about the lack of sharp criteria and a certain degree of vagueness. The obsession with sharp categories and definitions is another form of the “scientism” that pervades and distorts thinking about international relations. Let us briefly mark out some of the main emancipatory alternatives relevant to
4. Kinds of Emancipatory International Relations
Kantian Cosmopolitan Theory
According to Kantian Cosmopolitan Theory, international relations should be guided by the idea of a global ethical community. No matter how much we seem to be in the clutches of states and the systems which princes create, the idea of a world ethical community towards which human beings are directed is presupposed by a conception of human beings as autonomous rational agents. Although Kant’s discussion of international relations in Perpetual Peace and the Metaphysics of Morals seems to lead to the conclusion that a juridical solution to the conflict of states is the only feasible one available, Kant never gave up his view, expressed in particular in Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason and elsewhere that genuine liberation is possible only by living a virtuous life with everyone in an ethical community. The final good of individuals cannot be achieved merely by the exertions of individuals concerned only with their own moral progress. It is not enough for individuals to live in a merely “accidental” agreement with others who also are striving to live virtuously. There is a “moral need” for a union of the entire human species “held together by cosmopolitan bonds”  The ethical society which Kant envisages, notwithstanding his “pragmatic” recommendations, is a visible global community whose members are committed to going beyond the requirements of mere legality to obey the moral law because it is the moral law and to respect all persons because they are worthy of respect. Kant consequently stresses the positive, voluntary, systematic harmony of purposes within such an ethical community can come into being. To justify this view Kant develops a powerful triadic set of ideas: a theory of moral obligation, a conception of the relation of theory and practice and a teleological theory of history. It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of these materials in shaping both the modernist version of the emancipatory conception of international relations and the postmodernist reaction to it.
In following its philosophically most important founder, recent emancipatory theories of international relations in the Kantian tradition manifest a passionate insistence on the self-sufficiency of human reason and a belief that reason can determine the ground of political theory and practice, including the political theory and practice of international relations. The various theoretical alternatives falling under this rubric – notwithstanding their great differences in other respects – share some version of the liberationist goal, i.e. the goal which says that international relations can (and in some versions just will) free itself from structures which prevent individuals and human communities from actual flourishing.
According to recent Kantian Cosmopolitan Theory (including neo-Kantian alternatives), international relations should be guided by a set of universal and cosmopolitan moral principles whether these are construed in terms of a theory of obligation, a theory of justice, a theory of peace, or in some other way more or less tightly bound up with Kant’s general project to develop the theory and practice for moving to a world ethical community of some sort. These theories may be deemed to be Kantian insofar as they retain Kant’s Idea of a world ethical community grounded in human agency; but they may not follow Kant’s conception in every respect. Many recent thinkers in the Kantian style are prepared to hive off certain features of Kant’s thought such as his rigorism, his fatally flawed two-world metaphysical distinction between noumena and phenomena, his moral absolutism, and his tendency to rely on a teleologically suspect view of history. What one ends up with is a strong version of universalism, a theory of human agency ground in autonomy and moral reason and a belief, not in particular institutional or juridical envelop (the state or world community) but in the Idea of a world ethical community.
It is, of course, no secret that both positivists and realists have generally dismissed Kant’s views. For positivists, though many admire his efforts to save science from Humean skepticism, Kant’s ideas about international relations are regarded as at best normative where the term normative is supposed to resonate with a pejorative idea of non-knowledge in a space where only knowledge homologous with natural knowledge of causes can count as genuine knowledge. For realists in general, Kant’s views of international relations are redolent with utopianism and idealist metaphysics, neither of which is coherent. Although there may be something in these claims, they are not relevant to the initial claim here that whatever their ultimate value such theories are distinctively different from positivist and realist alternatives, a claim which will be established in the next section.
Critical International Theory
Critical International Theory, another set of special theories under the rubric of the emancipatory conception of international relations, has many thoughtful, incisive and determined advocates. Among these we may list Robert W. Cox, Andrew Linklater, Anthony Giddens, and Ken Booth to name just a few of the more renowned participants in the modernist expression of emancipatory international relations. Although there is some considerable disagreement among these theorists about what critical theory is, the main fault line concerns how to interpret historical materialism. For whereas Cox is prepared to accept some modest Gramsican revisions of historical materialism, Linklater, Giddens and Booth are evidently prepared to follow Jurgen Habermas in accepting massive revisions in the orthodox Marxist conception of historical materialism. Cox follows Marx and Engels in regarding capitalism primarily in economic terms, while Linklater et follows the Frankfort School of Social Research – Horkheimer, Adorno and Habermas – in seeing capitalism in cultural terms for which the appropriate response is a revised conception of historical materialism. Horkheimer and Adorno, however, believed that the possibilities of rational action to overturn the essentially irrational system of capitalism were extremely limited, that the proletariat was no longer capable of revolutionary action and that intervention against the system was rendered impossible: all resistance was capable either of co-optation within the parameters of capitalism or would quite simply be marginalized. The Frankfort School of Critical Theory saw the capitalist project as victorious; there is no outside to capitalism, at least no effective outside and so no real possibility of transforming it.
This is where Habermas comes into the picture. For Habermas, the central question was whether it was possible to find within the structure of reason a means of resistance to co-optation. Such a means would have to include two crucial aspects. First, it must escape the co-optation of bourgeois reason. Second, it must be capable of grounding itself rationally. If it could not fulfill the second role, then it would be subject to the same marginalization that Horkheimer and Adorno had already analyzed as the expression of cultural capitalism protecting economic capitalism. In other words, resistance itself still had to be a reason, a reason that could account for itself. It was not required of this reason that it be transcendental or ahistorical. It did not have to be able to ground itself for all time or to present a critique valid for all forms of society. Rather, it had to be relevant and self-grounding only within the current context of advanced capitalist culture.
Habermas’s choice for this reason was the linguistic structure of communicative action. This introduces into linguistic practice the possibility of communication free from the distortions of bourgeois culture and thus capable of providing a resource for critique of that culture that is both within the context of reason and not already co-opted by the object of critique. As Habermas sees it, the decline of traditional culture and its myths brought about the possibility of discourse free from traditional taboos: that is, the possibility of unfettered rational consensus. The way we use language (the pragmatics of language) provides the clearest picture of the structure of interaction or communication and reveals the fundamental values on which communication is based. Since communication between subjects is an unavoidable condition of human society, these values must have universal validity. It is crucial to Habermas’s argument that his account is valid in every society.
By a series of steps from this starting point we end up with Critical International Theory, the main features of which are well-summarized by Richard Devetak in holding that “the distinctive contribution of critical international theory relates to three broad areas: (1) the historical-sociological analysis of structures of modern world politics; (2) the philosophical critique of particularism and exclusion, and (3) the philosophical enquiry into the conditions under which emancipation in world politics is possible. The theme common to all three areas is the sovereign state. The sovereign state is a central actor on the world stage, which must be accounted for in social and historical terms; it is the foremost example of a particularistic or exclusionary political institution; and, as a result, it is an example of a formidable obstacle to emancipation. Critical international theory’s aim of achieving an alternative theory and practice of international relations centers on the possibility of overcoming the sovereign state and inaugurating post-sovereign world politics”.
The main difficulty with this is school of thought is that it conveys a far too limiting understanding of Critical Theory that entails far more than commonplace anti-sovereignty, anti-state theses. Critical International Theory also contains as an inherent part of itself and as Linklater makes clear the transcendental idealist belief in the possibility of a humanist international relations.
Postmodernist International Theory
In moving to Postmodernist International theory we are immediately faced with the problem, as already indicated, of the extent to which it can legitimately claim to be emancipatory and a lot of heat, but not much light, has been generated by controversies reverberating between these two perspectives. Clearly, if one insists that no theory can be emancipatory that does not involve a commitment to a progressivist view of history and to universalism, then Postmodernist International Theory would not count as “emancipatory”. Nevertheless, there are three things to be said about any such argument. First, one has to take note of the indisputable fact that there are great difficulties in justifying any progressivist understanding of history and a certain intuitive sense in replacing it with a discontinuous conception of history a la postmodernism. Second, although modernism makes universalistic claims, these may turn out to be either sham smokescreens for dominance by self-interested groups and/or result in further marginalization of groups already forced to the periphery of political society as a consequence of modernist practice. Postmodernist views on genealogy, deconstruction, the logic of identity and difference and textuality are all put into play in order to open spaces for rethinking international relations. Indeed, they are doubly emancipatory: they emancipate us from the pious fakery of modernist claims to emancipation and second they turn our attention to the only kind of emancipation that matters: local emancipation. This includes, in particular, emancipation from the boundaries of the sovereign state. Although postmodernists in international relations have had difficulty in spelling out what emancipation is emancipation to (about which more below), this problem should not deter us from seeing Postmodernist International Relations as directed to emancipating the margins or peripheries in world politics from the perspective of the margins themselves. To be on the margins is the only place, given a commitment to radical historicism, to open up possibilities of insight or critique. But it does more: it also establishes the political task for anyone whose special concern is international relations, namely, as Jean-Francois Lyotard puts it, “to carry forward the resistance that writing offers to established thought, to what has already been done, to what everyone thinks, to what is well-known, to what is widely recognized, to what is ‘readable’, to everything which can change its form and make itself acceptable to opinion in general”.
In coming to grips with Postmodernist International Theory we should begin with appreciating difference deconstruction which, when given a political gloss, is about teasing out otherness, that which has been surpressed, that which lies concealed, that which has been discriminated against in ways that are not necessarily evident and to give voice to that otherness, to unfold what has been folded over by and in the tradition. In international relations this might take the form, for example, of representing international politics in the language of sports; of giving a semiotic interpretation of national security discourse; of showing how speed shapes diplomacy and war; of reinterpreting the Prisoner’s Dilemma as social drama; and so on and so forth.
Postmodernist International Theory is against tradition and convservatism but this does not mean that it falls into a kind of anarchistic relativism in which “anything goes”. It is “deeply and profoundly affirmative”.  According to Caputo, this affirmation of what is to come is not “something that will eventually roll around if we are patient, but rather as something that is structurally and necessarily to come. Everything in deconstruction is turned toward a “democracy to come”. For even if the existing democracies are the best we can do at present, it is the least bad way to organize ourselves. Still, the present democratic structures are deeply undemocratic. They are corrupted by the money that blatantly buys votes, by corporate contributions to politicians and political parties, by cowardly politicians who believe in nothing, who change their views with each new poll, who perpetuate themselves with demagogic promises, and so on and so forth.
In international politics the same politicians, deploying realism as “onto-theology” (an essentialist metaphysics), propose policies to harm immigrants, refugees and disempowered women, fight unnecessary wars generated by “the ecstasy of communication” (and throw the weakest and most defenseless people in the international community on their own under the cloak of reform and freedom. So the main idea of deconstrution of present forms of democracy is not to level democratic institutions to the ground but to open them up to a democracy to come, to turn them around from what they are at present and to open democracy to its own promise, to what it promises to become: to provide a chance for the in-coming of the other. Deconstruction then may be considered, on this view, as preparing for the incoming of the other, to saying yes to the other, to the neighbour, to the stranger. Postmodernist International Theory is deeply emancipatory.
The leading postmodern thinkers (feminist postmodernists, who are treated separately for expository purposes, excluded) in international relations include William Connolly, Richard Ashley, R. B. J. Walker, James Der Derian, Michael Shapiro, David Campbell, Bradley Klein, Michael Dillon and Jim George. Now, some (perhaps all) might reject the appellation “emancipatory” for what they do as not only misleading but positively perverse since – at least some of them- have explicitly dissociated their work from any emancipatory problematic. On the contrary, on this view, emancipation is associated with a totalizing framework of domination anathema to any postmodernist understanding of international relations. When postmodernists reject emancipation in this sense, they are, quite rightly from their point of view, rejecting the notion of emancipation adopted by Critical International Theory but, as their own views of language and metaphysics suggest, there is no good reason to accept the language-game of Critical International Theory. For this would be to put emancipatory international relations in an exceedingly narrow frame which effectively blocks coming to terms with the way language needs to be understood to talk about the world. Postmodern International Theory denies that language is founded on something prior to it which serves as its ground; rather, it holds that language refers only to itself and any appeal to a foundation that would serve as its ground, origin, or measure is an appeal to ontotheology. For the Postmodernist International Theorist, the ground on which we stand and on which we build structures of thought in international relations is a shifting ground: it is not eternal and immutable. It is a moveable feast in which radical changes in time and space are expected to occur. Since we are always inside the house of language, there is no outside of language. Language itself is constituted by a string of signifiers and there is no signifier that is not itself within the chain of signifiers. On this view there is no possibility of passing beyond the immanent sphere of language to a transcendent (i.e. extralinguistic) reality. For Postmodernist International Theory to grasp this idea is to achieve genuine emancipation, the emancipation that comes about when the scales are ripped away from our eyes and we see things as they are for the first time. Postmodern International Theory is emancipatory because its project is to free us, i.e. human speakers, from the phenomenal world altogether, replacing it with a discursive world which has no foundation or ground whatever.
Emancipatory international theory discussed here is quite a capacious category and not necessarily constrained either by Kantian or Marxian projects of the Enlightenment or by Habermas’s effort to recover from the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School emancipatory potential via enlightenment thought. Notwithstanding Kant’s and Habermas’s important contributions to shaping our ideas on this subject, our current conception of emancipatory international relations is intended to move beyond their particular articulations of them to a formulation of emancipatory international relations which, while it draws very sharp contrasts with positivists or realists, rejects any essentialist connection between emancipation and progressivism and universalism.
Feminist International Theory
Feminist International Theory is another emancipatory modality in international relations. To be sure, although we have no reason to suppose that all feminist theories of international relations are emancipatory, there has been, as one would expect, a strong tendency towards liberationist modes of thinking in feminist international relations thinking. Notwithstanding great differences in feminist perspectives, there is general agreement that their unproblematic aim is radical improvement in the lives of women and that the route to that improvement is partially contained in hooking up certain theoretical structures with certain social practices. Still, a distinction needs to be made between feminist theories which call for radical improvement in the condition of women and theories which attempt to bring theory and practice into unison. In terms of our characterization of emancipatory international relations, only the later sort of theory counts as emancipatory.
To see how this shapes our understanding of the state of play within Feminist International Theory, let us categorize the main stances in recent feminist international relations as consisting of the following three categories: Feminist Empiricism, Feminist Standpoint Theory and Feminist Postmodern Theory. Given this schema, it seems interpretively correct to say that although all three perspectives embody commitments to overcoming patriarchal power, only Feminist Standpoint Theory and Feminist Postmodern Theory (this later one in a somewhat qualified sense) can be said to count as emancipatory. That is, Feminist Empiricism, as a genre of status quo oriented theory, presupposes the possibility that one can take-up a God’s-eye view of the world and grasp properties in it objectively and impartially. When such a position is presupposed, it would seem quite natural to make the hardly novel judgement that women in western culture have been denied many possibilities and opportunities because men have exercised power over them. But there is no claim in Feminist Empiricism that once this is understood, something will be done to eliminate it. Theory is value-neutral and nonpartisan on this view.
The same cannot be said for either Feminist Standpoint Theory (FST) or Feminist Postmodern Theory: each in its own way is an emancipatory theory of international relations. Feminist Standpoint Theory (FST) reflects the view that women occupy a social location that affords them privileged epistemic access to social phenomena but also enables them to produce practical knowledge of how to decisively change their conditions. Just as Marx held that the proletariat knew more than the bourgeoisie about society because of the proletariat’s special experiences with it, so Feminist Standpoint Theorists hold that the female gender takes on an epistemically privileged standpoint by virtue of its special location within a social formation constituted by patriarchal forms of rule. This standpoint is distinctively available to women because of their constant involvement with the everyday social relationships in which their task is to provide the functional glue which holds together the patriarchal society and the ruling apparatus of which it is an ineluctable part.
In Maternal Thinking Sara Ruddick applies Feminist Standpoint Theory to reconceptualising peace. She attempts to articulate maternal struggles in a way which will create the conditions for motivating women (and their males allies) to make the world more peaceful by taking up values of caring, nurturing and assisting the frail elderly.
Ruddick advances a women’s politics of resistance envisaging groups of women who take on the responsibility of performing tasks of caring labor and who then find themselves confronted with policies or actions that interfere with their right or capacity to do their work. She says that while some people fear that feminine resistance is inevitably limited, she places her hopes in its unique potential effectiveness, namely, women’s social position makes them inherently disloyal to the civilization that depends on them.
Women’s politics of resistance are as various as the cultures from which they arise. She looks at the resistance of Argentinean and Chilean women to military dictatorship, specifically to the policy of kidnapping, imprisoning, torture, and murder of the “disappeared”. The resistance of the Madres (mothers) of Argentina to the brutal military regime and the similar resistance of Chilean women to the Pinochet dictatorship politically exemplify central maternal concepts such as the primacy of bodily life and connectedness of self and other. There are many other FSTers in recent feminist international relations and they occupy a space which takes up some version of the Marxist claim of a privileged standpoint in terms of which women subjects come to grasp what’s going on in international relations and how women can get to the point of changing political systems in a radical way.
By contrast, Feminist Postmodern Theory focuses on an epistemology which reveals the futility of any attempt to define an essential female nature or to replace masculinist epistemology with feminist epistemology. It denies that any totalizing framework, including Marx’s, will result in emancipation. For Feminist Postmodern Theory, we (men included) must reject all subject/object dichotomies including the dichotomy, redolent in FST, which says that men and women are fundamentally different and women are superior. Feminist Postmodern Theory aims to emancipate women not by seeking a unitary absolute or transcendent truth but by subverting, displacing, disrupting and transgressing all dichotomies, normalizings, unities and totalities. According to Christine Slyvester, one of its most incisive proponents in international relations, postmodern feminism “looks for differences in voices and standpoints and marks the connections that may exist across the differences. It looks for new forms and mobilities of subjectivity that can replace single-subject categories…”  In her more recent work, Feminist Theory and International Relations in a Postmodern Era, Slyvester becomes more explicit in her commitment to a postmodern feminism which “exposes the smokescreens, and the histories of the screens and the smoke, in brilliant, eye-opening ways”. The path to emancipation lies neither in assimilation nor in the overthrow of male dominance and its replacement by female (or feminist) dominance. Emancipation comes about through looking at “other identity allegiances within ourselves and our context of knowledge with an empathetic-critical gaze”. It comes from “listening to and engaging canon-excluding and canon-including subjectivities”. Rejecting postmodern feminist doctrine, Slyvester deploys and develops the concept of homesteading to articulate what women require in the face of their homeless condition. According to Slyvester, homesteading leads to emancipation “through a radically empathetic conversational politics that helps us to learn the strengths and limitations of our inherited identity categories and to decide our identities, theories, politics, and daily concerns rather than continue to derive them out of hand because they come from established authority sources”. In Slyvester’s view, homesteading is always a politics of disturbance that unsettles and ploughs up inherited turfs without planting the same old seeds in the field…” It emancipates, we are told, through “an unraveling-reworking process” such as the one that took place at Greenham Common. Emancipation is a matter, on this view, “of shaking up foundations and always maintaining ambiguity and a Janus-faced politics of disturbance”.
So far, I have only provided some ideas that do not do justice to the complexity of these four theoretical offerings. Nor was that the intention. The point was to show that these theory-offerings present radically different views of what international relations consists of than that to be found in more traditional approaches to the subject. Attempts to squeeze these into the confines of these more traditional conceptions of the subject fail to do justice to the wholly different epistemologies, ontologies, theories of language and history, views of human nature and ethics that go into emancipatory international relations. We need sensitizing and a great deal less dogmatism about a conception of international relations that is radically different from the dominant naturalistic perspectives before we can even attempt a nonquestion begging criticism of the emancipatory conception of international relations.
I turn now to the task of identifying the criteria in terms of which we are to grasp how these theories are to be understood; this amounts to putting some flesh on the barebones of the formal schema discussed above and in showing that the criteria describes the content of various theory-offerings in international relations. Since this might seem to be a question-begging maneuver which, in adopting a positivist form of judgment, gets no real grip on schools of thought germane to the four kinds of theory which are effectively derived from German Idealism and post-Kantian Continental philosophy. There is merit in this contention but an initial defense of the next section should suffice to provide a basis for an introductory analysis that claims only a modest effort to set up some categories of evaluation and judgement. These criteria are only being offered up as “possible” criteria for discussion, revision or elimination. Nonetheless, I am committed, it is true, to a form of analysis that is not internal to the theories they are about and it is worth saying why.
One of the central difficulties of the recent shape of IR theory lies in its disposition to de facto relativism; that is, the disposition not to engage with theories, approaches and conceptions that are not one’s own which leads to the automatic replication of theoretical structures that would not pass epistemological muster on a reasonable close scrutiny. This leads to a tacit understanding, possibly for sociological and psychological reasons, to the kind of fragmentation and non-dialogue that spur great debates in the discipline that do not resolve anything or get anywhere but are occasions for self-agrandizement via the pages of certain well-known journals. Since I have guilty of precisely this practice but look forward to partial redemption, I now believe that such debates will commit the error of dogmatism about which Kant warns us in the Critique of Pure Reason. Dogmatism Kant says is “the presumption that it is possible to make progress with pure knowledge, according to principles, from concepts alone… He goes on to warn, in ways that are crucial to rethinking the way we international relationists do our theorizing that in warding off dogmatism we must not fall into the “loquacious shallowness, which assumes for itself the name of popularity, nor yet to scepticism, which makes short work with all metaphysics”.  In my rendering of this wise advice for this different context, I claim that if we are to avoid dogmatism and its twin alter-disease skepticism in international relations theory we – all of us and not just those of us who take up at least a partially external perspective to the theory – will need to make judgements and to do so in a way which is as transparent as possible, i.e. which deploys an accessible vocabulary and as much clarity as the complexity of the subject matter permits. Without that we will not only fall into dogmatism, hardly something to write home about, but will produce skepticism when the dogmatic claims are found to be indefensible. Those familiar with the history of the debates in international relations since the debate between idealism and realism in the 1950s will understand how deflationary it was to discover that this or that approach – behavioralism, systems theory, cybernetics, simulation theory, bureaucratic politics theory, democratic zone theory, etc., etc. – could not fulfill its promissory note of bringing international relations into science, at least as this is understood in the natural sciences. It may be that the criteria suggested below – and they are no more than suggestions – beg important questions. Nonetheless, we have to begin somewhere and these seem relevant to any initial analysis no matter what epistemic standards, rules or principles one might want to bring into play later on. The alternative to dogmatism is open criticism and conscientious efforts to disprove one’s favored theories about how the world is. But the situation is even worse than the, as it is, valid point about dogmatism implies.
For if we fail to say how our beliefs or judgements are answerable to the world, are world-guided, then not only may we fall into a dogmatism that leads to skepticism and indifference – a devastating drawback in a discipline where “actors” can do such enormous harm – but we may also fail to be doing anything which could count as “thinking”. If one refused to say of an offered empirical concept from one’s own theory or whatever that none of its implications are answerable to the tribunal of experience, could one still say that there was something in this putative concept which would enable one to capture the indispensable property of thought’s directedness to the world? One could surely have legitmate doubts about this. So, although the evaluations below are too crude and rudimentary to do much work, they still do some work and, given the dearth of self-criticism that counts for a great deal. Perhaps, perhaps not.
5. Criteria of Analysis
To be emancipatory, a theory (paradigm, approach, schema, set of beliefs, etc) has to satisfy four conditions as full as possible.
Pick Out a Privileged Subject
To be emancipatory means that there has to be a privileged subject to be liberated, whether a humanity which has inflicted on itself immaturity (Kant); man-as-worker (Marx), true philosophers (Nietzsche); marginalized people(post-structuralism); selves(postmodernism); gender (feminist international relations)and so on ad indefinitium. The key point here though is simply that its relatively easy to state the rudiments of the theory but changing patriarchal practices is far more difficult to nail down. As for theory construction, not just any theory which criticizes how the world is and how we must face up to the inevitable in the future would count as emancipatory, nor could any theory which involved no more than the status quo or moderate reform in the social condition of people generally. For a theory to count as emancipatory there needs to be a particular group which is suffering, which has been effectively enslaved by the conditions in which they have been forced to live but for which, as a result of a decisive change in those conditions, there exists the possibility of freedom. By contrast, if a theory is noncritical, if it accepts the status quo as a given or, more likely, as a constraint which our theories must accommodate, it can involve no liberation from the present structures and conditions and so, whatever value it may have, it cannot claim to be emancipatory. Thus, for example, any theory of international relations which argues that the end of history is to be found in democratic capitalism, that improvements in the conditions of women should always be referred to the principles of liberalism or pragmatism, or that changes in international relations should be conceived as resulting from increased norm-adherence, for the stability of state systems grounded in the balance of power, or for greater regional integration would not count as emancipatory. Emancipatory theory has to advance robust claims to liberate us from some evil, condition, or structure which precedes the liberating act such as delivering us from human selfishness, international capitalism, the state system, modernity, patriarchy, religion, or whatever. It needs to make strong claims in favor of change.
b. Involve a theory that connects up with practice
Another feature of an emancipatory conception of international relations is that any theory under this rubric has to have a certain relation to practice, i.e. a relationship in which the theory has to give some indication of how the radical change required by the critique is to be achieved. If emancipatory international theory is to go beyond merely endorsing progress and recommending reforms – which it must do if it is to make good on its claim to embody a distinctively radical understanding of international relations – it will have to show how the theory it proposes provides a basis for thinking that radical change is not just notionally possible but actually possible, that there is not simply an adventitious relationship between accepting the theory and something’s happening which would help make the theory come out true. If it fails to provide such a basis, the theory would be in grave danger of slipping into the very positivism it roundly rejects, i.e. into the idea that we study international relations to gain scientific understanding and doing so is logically unrelated to change. Retreating to a voluntaristic view of change, to some vague, speculative hope for the future, would so weaken its internal coherence that emancipatory international relations would be hardpressed to sustain its liberationist modality or provide a basis for radically opposing the status quo. An emancipatory theory in this sense must show how the theory becomes accessible to the subjects so that they will be motivated, or perhaps self-compelled, to change the structures and conditions which serve as obstacles to political transformation. On this view, a theory must not only describe the world but indicate how it can (or will) be changed for the better. It is along this dimension, in particular, that there are to be found large differences in emancipatory theories in international relations. For certain theoretical structures will relate theory to practice only in a oblique or marginal way, e.g. postmodernist theories and postmodernist feminist theories, while others will relate to theory to practice in a robust way, e.g. Kantian cosmopolitan theory and international critical theory. Nonetheless, all emanciaptory theories will have understandings, however attenuated, of how theory and practice are bound up with one another in such a way that if the theory is true, correct or warrantedly assertible, the current practices in international relations will (or will probably) radically change for the better. Thus, if the theory is Kantian the connection between theory and practice will be such that if the theory is true, then it will yield access to the motivations of the agents and agencies which the theory addresses in such a way that the agents and agencies will be inclined to change their present policies. For example, Onora O’Neill’s theory of obligation claims to be accessible to agents and agencies in this sense . On the other hand, if the theorist is a postmodernist feminist, theory’s task might be construed, for example, as moving men and women from their present power struggles via “empathetic concern” to a world in which relations between men and women will be thoroughly new.
Postmodernist International Theory brings a number of different mechanisms into play. For example, Ashley and Walker suggest that the link between theory and practice will be forged via “the relay function”; Connolly relies on a revised Hegelian notion of history; and Jameson counts on the possibility of a collective subject moving dialectically forward through certain “forms of storytelling that can be found in Third World literature, in testimonial literature, in gossip and rumors, and in things of this kind”.  Other Postmodernist International Theorists may ignore the issue but they do so at great risk to the coherence of their project. For what would be the point of creating opportunities for new political spaces if no thought is given to how in the last analysis it would be at least conceptually possible of getting there. So, however strong or weak the connection, any emancipatory theory of international relations will be self-compelled to provide an account of how theory and practice are related to one another so that we have some ground for believing in radical change.
Some may challenge this claim on the grounds
that a theory need not be practical (in the sense of “realizable”); many good theories are just that “theories” and there is a good deal to be learned, say, from utopian theory. Emancipatory theory need not deny that utopian theory has value. What it does say is that for a theory to result in the required radical changes to the privileged subjects who are suffering by virtue of whatever system is in place, they must show why those same subjects are sufficiently motivated to change those conditions and bring better ones. A sufficiently large number of people must not only be able to agree to a theory’s correctness but they must also be persuaded that the moral attractiveness of the transformed state is such that the sacrifices that have to be made to bring it about are “worth it”. They must, for example, be persuaded that the transformation will not result in so much violence and cruelty that the game of eliminating the current conditions is not worth the candle. For example, if the goal is world democratic government, one should at least be able to say how the system can be brought into being without imposing so much violence on others as to undermine its moral authority in advance. Or, if the goal involves a large degree of public ownership of the means of production, then one should be able to show that the system will not degenerate into nepotism and political oppression. In the face of what little we know about human nature, we must at least show that the goal to be reached will not be blocked by a recalcitrant human nature or be psychologically impossible. The key point is that for a theory to count as emancipatory, it would not be sufficient simply to show that the goal is morally attractive; people must actually be able to live in the institutions which they find psychologically morally compelling. We must, it seems, take cognizance of the psychological tension that exists between someone finding something morally attractive and their actually being able to live in the institutions once they are established. These two things are often conflated in social theory.
c To rethink the institutional envelope.
For emancipatory international relations, nation-states, and the state-systems of which they form the essential parts, are either anachronistic institutions which have no legitimacy and which we should replace with something else (although there is no consensus on what that something might be) or they have always involved repression, lacked legitimacy and marginalized the powerless. In any case, there is no place for nation-states or state-systems in any emancipatory conception of international relations. For emancipatory international relations, the state and the state-system need to be replaced with other institutional structures, the kind and character of the substitute depending on the particular emancipatory theory in question. World socialism (Wallerstein); dialogic communities (Linklater); alternative world orders (Cox); international human rights regime (Booth); nongendered societies; global society (Albrow); maternalist society (Ruddick); homesteads (Slyvester 1994); anarchy (Ashley and George)would be just some of the things that give content to what Kant called the Kingdom of Ends. Whatever the value of thinking in terms of radical goals that may not be realizable, one part of the emancipatory international relationist’s claim seems to be solidly based; for, there is considerable support for the empirical claim that the authority, capacity and power of nation-states are rapidly diminishing in the face of globalization, interdependence and a just environmental order. Clearly much more content would have to be given to the institutional envelopes that would be morally and practically superior to the nation-state. It will not do, for example, to talk in some vague way about the rise of the post-modern state.
d. be robustly philosophical.
Any emancipatory conception of international relations will, sometimes against the grain of the theory it officially endorses, place a great deal of reliance on philosophy and philosophical categories in attempts to sustain its positions. Whether this takes the form of modernist espousal of revolutionary progress (the view, I argue, to be found in Kant’s The Idea of a Universal History ) or the postmodernist claim that we “create” the world we inhabit by employing mind-dependent linguistic and social categories, emancipatory international relations requires robust assistance from philosophy to succeed. Whatever its explicit position on philosophy – whether the emancipatory theory in question sees philosophy as an instrument of the bourgeoisie or patriarchy or modernity – it will nonetheless require, paradoxically enough, a robust conception of philosophy to make its emancipatory project intelligible. Attempts may be made by postmodernists to draw a distinction between theorizing (good) and philosophizing (anachronistic) but these distinctions will break down as soon as interlocutors attempt to defend their theoretical stances against opposing positions, theories, discourses, rhetorics, etc. To be sure, there are determined postmodernists who insist that philosophy is dead but they will not, I think, have much to say about emancipatory international relations.
Contrary to a certain popular belief, there is something new under the sun, and it consists of something I, among others, call emancipatory international relations. It is, when appropriate account is taken of its Kantian and Marxian sources, dramatically different from any naturalistic, positivist or positivist-empiricist conception of international relations. One can elide those differences for sociological, psychological or epsitemological reasons but it is not at all clear that we international relationists would gain greater perspicuity about the nature of this new kid on the block under the sun. Moreover, refusing, whether explicitly or implicitly in the way one hands out entry cards at the heavenly gate to the new debate rushing to Jerusalem to be born as the only debate in town pace Katzenstein et al. But, in a countermove derived from Kant, such gambits fall into a dogmatism that leads to skepticism and indifference. And this in turn leads to the well-known “do your own thing” de facto relativism which disease should not be conflated with a healthy skepticism or even healthier pluralism. At the same time and by a somewhat similar token, we would fall into a similar trap of dogmatism if we accepted, as we should not, the unacceptable face of arguments by certain emancipatory international relations scholars, alluded to above, who in rejecting all forms of empiricism are evidently led to reject the very notion that thoughts about the empirical world are answerable to world’s tribunal of experience, falling which one has every right to wonder about whether the thought counts as one. But if we cannot eliminate that sort of dogmatism, then has our spade been turned? Not quite, for there is a tertium quid which I mean to foreshadow here as a propadeutic to the sequel. To get this into our picture requires making, surprisingly perhaps, certain concessions to positivist style thinking, to the idea in fact that there is a difference between naturwissenschaft and sozialwissenschaft and that one advantage of the former over the latter is that one can take up some approximation of the view from nowhere, that is a view which finds no place for the qualitative aspects of things or, more to the point, to the internal character of events such as President Clinton’s decision to intervene against Kosovo in the way that he did or the Argentinian generals decision to “disappear” their political opponents and for all practical purposes live in a context in which they are not required to account for their moral culpability and moral negligence. To get at these events we cannot follow a rigorous form of naturalism (masquerading as Rationalism) which has no space for the first-person perspective, the internal, the subjective, the ethical on the false grounds that these matters cannot be understood objectively because they cannot be understood from the third-person perspective. But at the same time, we cannot give up our external perspective either since it is this perspective that moves us, and the scientific world (which is our world), to treat others not in terms of their attributive characteristics but as rational intelligent animals. But that is another paper altogether.
*Professor International Relations, USA, Australia
 See my Political Realism in International Relations(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996) chapter ch. 3 for an earlier effort to capture this new conception of international relations.
 Andrew Linklater, The Transformation of Political Community (Cambridge UK: Polity 1998)
 Immanuel Kant, Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, trans and ed by Alan Wood and George Di Giovanni (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1998),p. 97 .
 Jurgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, vol 1: Reason and the Rationalization of Society trans. Thomas McCarthy (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984.
 Richard Devatak, ”Critical Theory” in Scott Burchill and Andrew Linklater Theories of International Relations (London:
Macmillan 1996) p. 173.
 Andrew Linklater, Men and Citizens in the Theory of International Relations (London: Macmillan 1982).
 Jean-Francois Lyotard “Interview”, Theory, Culture and Society vol 5(2-3): 277-309, at p. 302.
 John Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida (New York: Fordham University Press
1997), p 37.
 Caputo, Deconstruction, p. 42.
 Jean Baudrillard, “The Ecstasy of Communication” in H. Foster (ed). Postmodern Culture, (London: Pluto 1985), pp. 126-34.
 Jim George, Discourses of Global Politics: A Critical (Re)introduction to Internationals Relations (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1994), p. 155 and Ch. 9.
 William E. Connolly, Identity\Difference: Democratic Negotiations of Political Paradox (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), pp. 29-32.
. Robert Keohane, “International Relations Theory: Contributions of a Feminist Standpoint”, Millennium vol 18 (1989): 245-54. Christine Sylvester also uses the distinction, with certain modifications, in Feminist Theory and International Relations in a Postmodern Era (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994). The distinction seems to be due to Sandra Harding, The Science Question in Feminism (Ithaca: Cornell University, 1986).
 “The Feminist Standpoint: Developing the Ground for a specifically Feminist Historical Materialism”. In Discovering Reality, ed. by Sandra Harding and Merrill Hintikka (London: D. Reidl, 1983).
 Sara Ruddick, Maternal Thinking: Towards a Politics of Peace (Boston: Beacon 1990)
. Christine Sylvester, Feminist Theory and International Relations in a Postmodern Era (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 59.
. Slyvester, Feminist Theory, p. 213.
. Slyvester, Feminist Theory, p. 213.
. Slyvester, Feminist Theory, p. 213.
. Slyvester, Feminist Theory, p. 14.
. Slyvester, Feminist Theory, p. 216.
. Slyvester, Feminist Theory, p. 216.
 Critique of Pure Reason (ist ed. 1781, 2d ed. 1787), trans. Norman Kemp Smith (New York: Macmillan, St. Martin’s Press, 1965), Bxxxv.
 This reminds us of the wisdom of poets and in particular of W.H. Auden who famously prayed (though to whom it is not clear) that he “not commit a social science”.
 Onora O’Neill, Faces of Hunger: An Essay on Poverty, Justice and Development (London: G. Allen & Unwin 1986)
 Christine Sylvester, “Empathetic Cooperation: A Feminist Method For IR”, Millennium vol 23(1994): 315-334
 Frederick Jameson, “Regarding Postmodernism – A Conversation with A. Stephanson” in A. Ross ed. Universal Abandon? The Politics of Postmodernism. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1994), p 21
 John Gray, Enlightenment’s Wake: Politics and Culture at the Close of the Modern Age (London: Routledge, 1995), ch, 10.
 Immanuel Kant, “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose” in Political Writings ed. Hans Reiss (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1991), pp. 41-53
 David Campbell and Michael Dillon “The End of Philosophy and the End of International Relations” in The Political Subject of Violence (Manchester: Manchester U P 1993)
 There is after all a literature on the subject the tip of which is a joy to electronic data-bank-buff chercheurs since the word “emancipation”, or one of its cognates appears in the title of articles written by self-identified international relationists. These include: Ken Booth, “Security and Emancipation”, Review of International Studies, vol 17 (1991): 318-326; Andrew Linklater, “Dialogue, Dialectic and Emancipation”, Millennium vol 23(1994): 119-131; Eric Laferrière, “Emancipating International Relations Theory: An Ecological Perspective”, Millennium vol 25, No. 1 (1996): 53-75. But since I’m not one of those sorts of chercheur, there may for all I know be heaps of others. Allons: To the data-banks!
 See chs. two and three of Political Realism in International Theory.
 See Katzenstein, Peter J, Keohane, Robert O., and Stephen D. Krasner, “International Organization and the Study of World Politics” International Organization Vol 52, 4 Autumn 1998, pp. 645-685. The authors make a plea for rationalism. Rationalists (so-called)seem to be positivists who know statistics and game theory, though not much about their philosophical sources. I leave it to the readers to determine whether this genre of analysis fits into the category of “dogmatism, skepticism and indifference”.