You are on page 1of 8

Linklater, A. (1990a).

Beyond Realism and Marxism: Critical Theory and
International Relations. London: MacMillan Press.
Introduction
Horkheimer’s essay on traditional and critical theory anticipated the basic themes
in the most recent critique of realism. Horkheimer argued that traditional theory
(positivism) was distinguished from critical theory by its attempt to explain social
laws and regularities. The aim of critical theory was to understand how these
socially-created constraints upon the freedom of human subjects could be
reduced and, where possible, eliminated. (1)
Until recently, supporters of critical theory have rarely discussed international
relations. […] the realist tradition contains much that is clearly hostile to the idea
of critical international theory. Most accounts of the ascent of realism note that its
principles were shaped in response to the two perspectives which were the main
heirs of the Enlightenment: liberalism and Marxism.
The realist critique of the project of the Enlightenment effectively thwarted the
development of a critical tradition of international theory. However the recent
emergence of a critical voice in international theory suggests that this may be
about to change. (2)
The current challenge to realism began with the revival of the liberal tradition of
international political economy. [they] argued for a more comprehensive
theoretical approach which took account of the effects of industrialisation and
modernisation upon contemporary state structures had become essential in the
age of global interdependence. The growing importance of economic factors in
world politics made students of international relations more sensitive to the need
to analyse the phenomenon of change. It made them more aware of the
possibility that the state might become obliged to be responsive to an ethical
constituency which was broader than its own citizenry, and more cognisant of the
possibility that international cooperation would be strengthened by the need to
solve a number of emerging global problems. [from there Marxism came back
into discussion] (3)

rationalist and revolutionist perspectives. 1. In so doing. Power. these strands of thought have either analysed the repetitive and the recurrent dimensions of world politics or focused upon the language and culture of diplomatic interaction. it is necessary to ask whether the new critical paradigm ought to be post-Marxist by virtue of the necessity of retaining some of the themes of statecentric realism. It has been argued that the main strands of international theory resemble either positivism or hermeneutics. " If so. But they did not invalidate the Marxian claim that political theory ought to strive for the emancipation of the species. They successfully demonstrated that Marxism overestimated the importance of class and production and underestimated the impact of strategic competition and war on human history. In other words. What they have overlooked is the possibility of a critical theory of international relations which analyses the prospects for universal emancipation. realists undoubtedly exposed major weaknesses in the Marxist contention that the expansion of capitalism would revolutionise the nature of world politics. (5) 1. On these grounds. the classical distinction between realist and idealist approaches to international relations is a false dichotomy.In the 1980s this discussion has become relevant for the theory of international relations. order and emancipation are the primary concerns of the three main traditions of international theory . It is precisely this critical dimension of the Marxian project which has been turned against realism in recent international theory. . [important! Marxism was disproven in its analysis but not in its general orientation towards critique!] (4) From the perspective of critical social theory. Order and Emancipation in International Theory Power. What is novel about this line of argument is the point that the realist critique of Marxism has been too preoccupied with determining the relative influence of economic and political factors in international history. it has been suggested that the critical theory of world politics may prove to be the next stage in the development of international relations theory.the realist.

who first described the history of international thought in these terms. argued that the "mutual tension and conflict" between these three schools of thought would continue to shape the evolution of international theory. The former does not start from the philosophical contention that there are immutable and universal moral principles of international relations which other perspectives have overlooked. The contemporary argument for a critical theory of international relations differs from the earlier defence of revolutionism in one major respect.-' Habermas has argued that each of these traditions of inquiry is predicated upon a particular "knowledge-constitutive interest". By the terms of this argument. It would ensure that the tension between ethics and politics would remain important in the theory and practice of international relations.the perspective which most closely approximates the idea of a critical international theory . A critical approach to society aims to determine how far social relations are a superfluous constraint upon the freedom of human subjects.would therefore survive as a reminder of the moral imperfection of the system of states. Critical social theory is possible because subjects have an interest in transcending the limits upon their capacity . Positivism therefore resembles the physical sciences which produce knowledge that enables human beings to acquire mastery of nature. (8) The hermeneutic approach insists therefore on the distinction between the cultural and the natural sciences. The positivist strand of sociology is constituted by a technical interest in increasing the control of social behaviour. The crucial point is that the critical project is based on a method which avoids the epistemological and methodological limitations of other modes of inquiry. Critical social theory is distinguished from these perspectives by the supposition that human subjects possess a unique capacity to transform their social environment in the attempt to achieve a higher level of self-determination. The hermeneutic analysis of the values and meanings which structure human conduct reflects a practical interest in preserving social consensus. The revolutionist tradition .Martin Wight. and it seeks to understand how far the dominant culture is an impediment to human autonomy. the only adequate theory of international relations is one which is committed to the emancipation of the human species.

Critical theory surpasses both perspectives because its inquiry is oriented towards the realisation of truth and freedom.for self-determination. hermeneutics and critical sociology form a dialectical sequence of approaches to society. One of the main developments of this line of argument suggests that positivism.resembles hermeneutic sociology because it analyses the language and culture of diplomatic practice and the conventions which states obey as members of an international society. Richard Ashley has developed this argument in the following way. They are more concerned to take issue with the philosophical foundations of other approaches and to contest the social purposes which their observations tend to promote It has been argued that the idea of a dialectical sequence of approaches to sociology also applies to the three patterns of international theory. Positivism emerged because of a growing confidence that human beings could acquire a level of self-understanding which would equal the knowledge which science gave them of nature.resembles positivism because it analyses the recurrent and repetitive patterns of international relations. One branch of realism technical realism . The practical realist has a cognitive interest in strengthening the consensual foundations of international order. (9) Its proponents do not deny that those working within other traditions are capable of making perfectly valid observations about the nature of society.practical realism . Ashley argues that a third approach to international relations is present in Herz's argument that . A second kind of realism . The hermeneutic approach is a more advanced perspective because it stresses the cultural and linguistic dimensions of social behaviour. However it obscured the distinction between conscious action and unreflective behaviour which necessitates the division between the cultural and the natural sciences. Its main shortcoming is the failure to search the cultural realm for evidence of distorted thought and communication. The technical realist has a cognitive interest in understanding how far states can influence the constraints which most deeply affect their security and survival. It is constituted by an emancipatory cognitive interest in understanding the possibility of freeing social actors from unnecessary constraints and from institutionalised forms of distorted thought and communication.

rationalism and revolutionism. The remainder of this chapter defends this proposition by examining realism. In the first place. However they disagreed with revolutionism on two grounds. And an account of world politics which seeks to understand the prospects for extending the human capacity for self-determination is an even greater advance in this sequence of approaches. .a series of interlocked crises may bring about the transformation of the modern international system. the limited progress that is possible in international relations cannot occur unless mechanisms for limiting inter-state conflict are securely in place. A cognitive interest in freedom and universalism underlies both analyses The three dominant perspectives in international relations do not merely disagree about the empirical nature of world politics . and secondly. they argued that its moral absolutism was linked with violence and fanaticism. […] Wight and Bull. reminiscent of the method of critical social theory. If this is so. (10) Revolutionism and Critical Social Theory Wight argued that revolutionism was distinguished from other patterns of international thought by its commitment to the abolition of the international statessystem. The idea of a dialectical development of the three sociologies suggests one method of resolving the differences between realism. It suggests that realism. Ashley argues. In their view. accepted part of this moral critique of the states-system. they claimed that the notion of the primacy of horizontal conflict threatened to undermine the fragile diplomatic practices which made international order possible. Herz's claim that a radically different form of world order may already be immanent within the existing states-system is. rationalism and revolutionism (for which critical international theory will be substituted below) form a sequence of progressively more adequate approaches to world politics. who also characterized revolutionism in these terms. rationalism and the critical theory of international relations in greater detail. a theory which analyses the language and culture of diplomatic interaction in order to promote international consensus is an advance beyond a theory of recurrent forces constituted by an interest in manipulation and control.they possess radically different conceptions of the nature of international theory and contrasting notions of the right relationship between theory and practice.

By contrast.Kant’s revolutionist perspective recognized the force of this point. Jürgen Habermas. has sought not only to recover critical theory but to do so within the Marxist tradition. […] Habermas distinguishes between ‘labour’ and ‘interaction’ in order to draw attention to the part that language and culture have played in the formation and development of human society. For Habermas. This suggests one way in which social . […] the experience of the French revolution persuaded Kant that a politics of human emancipation should seek to release the universal potential that was latent in existing international institutions rather than destroy the achievements of the past. [critical theory] must diminish the part that capital accumulation played in classical Marxism. and more deeper still. (21) […] The Frankfurt School abandoned Marxism without establishing the basis for an alternative form of critical social theory. (25) […] The emancipatory project in this context must seek to extend the realm of social interaction which is governed by universalisable moral principles. Habermas has shown how a contemporary critical theory can overcome the impasse which led Horkheimer and Adorno to abandon the emancipatory project. it must correct Marx’s understanding of the nature of human development. a modern philosophical history must be as interested in the moral development of the species as Marx was in its progress towards the conquest of nature. the leading figure in the ‘second generation’ of the Frankfurt School. (26/27) It is interesting that Habermas’ method of recovering critical theory should focus upon the same global problems and crises which Bull cited in his argument for new principles of international legitimacy. (26) […] by identifying the conditions which may engender universalistic social movements. The Kantian political project took account of the way in which the struggle for power constrained the development of moral freedom.

Marxism foreshadowed a project which is superior to realism: a project which brings an emancipatory interest to the analysis of the factors which have been responsible for the expansion and contradiction of human community. The main question is how to reconstruct this project. idealist or critical modes of inquiry. the normative interest in defending the extension of moral community deserves rather more discussion than it has received within the Marxist tradition. As a result. The Critical Turn in International Theory […] the discovery of critical theory in the study of IR has been quite recent. and prospects for. But neither perspective contains a comprehensive analysis of the expansion and contraction of moral community. In the second place. this project requires a more complex sociology of how production. An inquiry into the widening of . the extension of moral and political community. In the first place. property relations and production cannot provide an adequate explanation of the constraints upon. The recent critical turn in international theory has been profoundly influenced by the Frankfurt School’s critique of mainstream sociology. much of the literature has been concerned with exposing the methodological limitations of classical approaches. state-building. […] realism and Marxism have an important place in the sociological project outlined above. (27) [discusses Cox] [A CT of IR] ought to supersede Marxist political economy too since its emphasis on class. it has been necessary to begin by breaking down the resistance to radical. more so than in sociology.theory and the study of international relations might be combined to produce a more comprehensive account of society and politics. In the latter field. (33) Conclusions Despite its assorted shortcomings. international relations and developments in the realm of culture and ideology have shaped and reshaped the moral frontier at different points in human history.

moral and political community in particular has to take account of two phenomena which realism and Marxism have ignored. (171) The means by which independent political communities have established the principles of their coexistence is the first of these phenomena. The second is the means by which moral principles have been universalized in the course of human history. The interplay between these four phenomena is the starting point for a critical theory of international relations. (172) .