According to the English School of International Theory, led by academics such as Hedley Bull, the international community of independent sovereign states is able to maintain a peaceful settlement through the generational reproduction of power equilibrium – a balance between the nations which constitute global society through their own security networks and defence mechanisms. The implication of this, they argue, is that there is universal acknowledgement of the rights and liberties of other sovereign nations, and it is this which enables the prevention of international conflict and dispute.
On the one hand, it can be argued that the validity of this theory derives from its emphasis on particularism – the view that each country is a unique entity, and that it is this recognition of individuality which ought to prohibit the thought, let alone the creation of, super-national organisations. Indeed, one of the arguments that many have attacked the economically integrating philosophy of the Eurozone with is the need to acknowledge the individual economic development and capabilities of specific nations over time. For example, whilst the real growth rate for France in 2015 was 1.10% according to the CIA, this figure more than doubled for the United Kingdom.
On the other hand, the implementation of this theory into practice would technically prohibit subscription to intermediate bodies, such as NATO, the UN, and the EU. The problem with supranational bodies, it is argued, is that their conceptions of ideas such as democracy, justice, and liberty can differ radically from those thought of by countries to which they apply. For example, whereas Germany’s democratic political system tends to operate on a more federalised pattern, Britain’s tends to be much more centralised.
The result of this, it is argued, is that the international community will be thrust into a state of anomie, where there is no common legal code that outlines the political and economic capacities and limits of individual nation states. With such a fragile global system, it would also be susceptible to subversion and monopolisation due to the lack of adjudicating bodies. As such, global superpowers would be able to capitalise power and impose a ruling hegemony over which nations have legitimate value systems, and which are in need of humanitarian and political intervention.
Inherent in these theoretical matters is a challenge to today’s global leaders, which at best contains an intrinsic tension between laissez-faire politics and the scope for global superpowers, and at best, is incredibly contradictory, and open to misuse. Simultaneously, it also serves to reinforce the narrative that there is no one theoretical perspective which triumphs all others – each theory has its own purposes, and it is perhaps the nature of these purposes, as well as their implementation, which should guide our assessment of them. Practical examples of this would include the United Nation’s Universal Periodic Review, which regularly examines the human rights performance of all 193 member states. Whilst one of the aims of this mechanism is to promote the “universality, interdependence, indivisibility and interrelatedness of all human rights”, nations are only included if they volunteer to join.
The tension between claims of particularism and universalism are arguably more prevalent within today’s global environment than at any other time, perhaps apart from during times of international war and conflict. With an alarmingly intensified rate of terrorist threat within the European continent and more wider, this is also a challenge which ought to confront many policy makers and political leaders. Particularly, careful consideration about the theological nature of the Islamic State’s activity ought to be balanced by a humanitarian approach challenging the detrimental, and sometimes even deathly, operations that it conducts as compatible with its universalist philosophy. Indeed, the very fact that a number of terrorist attacks in France – one of the globe’s traditionally most secular and liberal national societies – that Daesh have later claimed as an extension of their universalist theological narrative ought to be thought about in an incredibly contemplative manner.
The question, nonetheless, which is inevitably asked by the global community when acts of suspected terrorism take place is ‘what can we do?’ Indeed, JF Kennedy’s eternally memorable request, “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”, is immensely entrenched within public psychology. Although there are undeniably no simple solutions to an issue of such depravity and gravitas, the growth of widespread social integration and positive opportunities for the disenfranchised and marginalised are two suggestions that could form part of an effective strategy of enabling individuals to become more involved in their local communities. As such, the growth of civil society in all of its forms would occupy individuals who would otherwise resort to other activities, and would additionally have a ‘cohesive’ effect of increasing social awareness and mutual understanding of the individual needs, concerns, and aspirations that people have.
Put simply, a movement to equip individuals with the opportunities, experiences, and skills to become active and informed global citizens would be a good starting place. More elaborately, a consideration of individuals as unique beings with their own needs and aspirations rather than the outcome of structural influences over which they have no choice can unleash an individual’s social characteristics to build more resilient and cohesive communities.
As Todd Lindberg has been keen to emphasis, political intervention should be focused on the development of the individual through enabling individuals to develop virtues – that which Bernard Williams referred to as “internalised dispositions of action.”
For this writer at least, tackling terrorism is a campaign for social justice, built on the values of inclusion, engagement, and community service, which lay the foundations for civil society; through increasing positive opportunities, individuals can be steered away from undertaking negative actions.