A Hegelian realist constructivist account of war, identity, and state formation

  • Joseph MacKay
  • Jamie Levin
Original Article


This article offers a realist constructivist account of armed conflict, based on the work of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Hegel has received relatively little attention in mainstream IR theory. When he has been read, four readings have predominated: realist, liberal, critical, and normative. Instead, we link his thought to both realism and constructivism. For Hegel, a persistent struggle for recognition and identity between individuals and groups drives much of human interaction. In his account of the causes of war in Philosophy of Right, Hegel relates international violence not only to realist international-structural pressures, but also to nationalism, and to the internal socioeconomic imperfections of the modern state. The result is broadly realist constructivist, linking a major international phenomenon — armed conflict — to interactions between power and ideas. Previous readings of Hegel in IR have deemphasised some or all of these features. Recovering them furnishes realist constructivism with theoretical tools for explaining the processes linking ideas and power politics — tools it has lacked thus far — in the context of a substantive phenomenon: armed conflict.


causes of war Hegel identity realist constructivism state formation 



The authors would like to thank Ryan Balot, Kiran Banerjee, Nancy Bertoldi, Alan Brudner, Jarrod Hayes, Rebecca Kingston, Jeffrey Kopstein, Christopher LaRoche, Mark Neufeld, Jonas Schwab Pflug, Simon Pratt, Janice Stein, the journal’s editors, and three anonymous reviewers.


  1. Abizadeh, Arash (2005) ‘Does Collective Identity Presuppose an Other? On the Alleged Incoherence of Global Solidarity’, American Political Science Review 99(1): 45–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ashley, Richard (1987) ‘The Geopolitics of Geopolitical Space: Toward a Critical Social Theory of International Politics’, Alternatives 12(4): 403–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Avineri, Shlomo (1972) Hegel’s Theory of the Modern State, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baker, William D. and John Oneal (2001) ‘Patriotism or Opinion Leadership? The Nature and Origins of the ‘Rally ’Round the Flag’ Effect’, Journal of Conflict Resolution 45(5): 661–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barkawi, Tarak and Mark Laffey (2006) ‘The Postcolonial Moment in Security Studies’, Review of International Studies 32(2): 329–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Barkin, J. Samuel (2003) ‘Realist Constructivism’, International Studies Review 5(3): 325–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Barkin, J. Samuel (2010) Realist Constructivism: Rethinking International Relations Theory, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Baum, Matthew A. (2002) ‘The Constituent Foundations of the Rally-Round-the-Flag Phenomenon’, International Studies Quarterly 46(2): 263–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bially Mattern, Janice (2004) ‘Power in Realist-Constructivist Research’, International Studies Review 6(2): 343–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Boucher, David (1998) Political Theories of International Relations, Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Brooks, Thom (2004) ‘Hegel’s Theory of International Politics: A Reply to Jaeger’, Review of International Studies 30(1): 149–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Brooks, Thom (2007) Hegel’s Political Philosophy, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Brown, Chris (1991) ‘Hegel and International Ethics’, Ethics & International Affairs 5(1): 73–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Brown, Chris (1993) New Normative Approaches, New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Brudner, Alan (2012) ‘Hegel on the Relation between Law and Justice’, in Thom Brooks ed., Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, 180–208, Malden, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  16. Buchwalter, Andrew (1991) ‘Hegel, Marx, and the Concept of Immanent Critique’, Journal of the History of Philosophy 29(2): 253–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Bull, Hedley (1976) ‘Martin Wight and the Theory of International Relations’, British Journal of International Studies 2(1): 101–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Bull, Hedley (1977) The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics, New York: Columbia University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Carr, Edward Hallett (1946) The Twenty Years’ Crisis, New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
  20. Cox, Robert W. (1986) ‘Social Forces, States, and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory’, in Robert O. Keohane ed., Neorealism and Its Critics, 204–54, New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Der Derian, James (1992) Anti-Diplomacy: Spies, Terror, Speed, and War, London: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  22. Doyle, Michael W. (1983) ‘Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 12(3): 205–35.Google Scholar
  23. Engelhardt Jr. H. Tristram and Terry Pinkard, eds, (1994) Hegel Reconsidered: Beyond Metaphysics and the Authoritarian State, Dordrecht: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Fanon, Frantz (1967) Black Skin, White Masks trans. Charles Lam Markmann New York: Grove Press.Google Scholar
  25. Feuerbach, Ludwig (1966) Principle of the Philosophy of the Future trans. Manfred Vogel Indianapolis: Hackett.Google Scholar
  26. Frost, Mervyn (1986) Towards a Normative Theory of International Relations, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Frost, Mervyn (1996) Ethics in International Relations: A Constitutive Theory, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Fukuyama, Francis (1993) The End of History and the Last Man, New York: Avon.Google Scholar
  29. Glenn, John (2009) ‘Realism versus Strategic Culture: Competition and Collaboration?’ International Studies Review 11(3): 523–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Gordon, Rupert H. (2000) ‘Modernity, Freedom, and the State: Hegel’s Concept of Patriotism’, Review of Politics 62(2): 295–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Haddock, Bruce (1994) ‘Hegel’s Critique of the Theory of the Social Contract’, in David Boucher and Paul Kelly eds., The Social Contract form Hobbes to Rawls, 149–64, London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  32. Harris, Errol E. (1993) ‘Hegel’s Theory of Sovereignty, International Relations, and War’, in Lawrence S. Stepelevich ed., Selected Essays on G.W.F. Hegel, 104–15, New Jersey: Humanities Press International.Google Scholar
  33. Hayes, Jarrod (2009) ‘Identity and Securitization in the Democratic Peace: The United States and the Divergence of Response to India and Iran’s Nuclear Programs’, International Studies Quarterly 53(4): 977–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich (1956) The Philosophy of History trans. J. Sibree New York: Dover.Google Scholar
  35. Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich (1967) Phenomenology of Mind trans. J. B. Baillie New York: Harper Torchbooks.Google Scholar
  36. Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich (1967) Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, trans T. M. Knox London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Herbst, Jeffrey (1990) ‘War and the State in Africa’, International Security 14(4): 117–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hobbes, Thomas (1994) in Edwin Curley ed., Leviathan, Indianapolis: Hackett.Google Scholar
  39. Hobson, John A. (2010) Imperialism: A Study, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Honneth, Axel (1996) The Struggle for Recognition: The Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts trans. Joel Anderson Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  41. Houlgate, Stephen (2005) An Introduction to Hegel, Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  42. Houlgate, Stephen (2011) ‘G.W.F. Hegel: An Introduction to his Life and Thought’, in Stephen Houlgate and Michael Baur eds., A Companion to Hegel, 1–19, London: Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Hutchings, Kimberly (2003) Hegel and Feminist Philosophy, Oxford: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  44. Hutchings, Kimberly (2005) ‘Speaking and Hearing: Habermasian Discourse Ethics, Feminism, and IR’, Review of International Studies 31(1): 155–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Inayatullah, Naeem and David L. Blaney (1997) ‘Economic Anxiety: Reification, De-Reification, and the Politics of IPE’, in Kurt Burch and Robert A. Denemark eds., Constituting International Political Economy, 59–77, Boulder, CO: Lynne Reinner.Google Scholar
  46. Inayatullah, Naeem and David L. Blaney (2003) International Relations and the Problem of Difference, London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  47. Jackson, Robert H. (1990) Quasi-States: Sovereignty, International Relations, and the Third World, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Jackson, Patrick Thaddeus (2004) ‘Hegel’s House, or ‘People Are States, Too’’, Review of International Studies 30(2): 281–87.Google Scholar
  49. Jackson, Patrick Thaddeus and Daniel H. Nexon (2004) ‘Constructivist Realism or Realist Constructivism?’ International Studies Review 6(2): 337–41.Google Scholar
  50. Jaeger, Hans-Martin (2002) ‘Hegel’s Reluctant Realism and the Transnationalisation if Civil Society’, Review of International Studies 28(3): 497–517.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Kahl, Colin H. (1998) ‘Constructing a Separate Peace: Constructivism, Collective Liberal Identity, and Democratic Peace’, Security Studies 8(2–3): 94–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Kant, Immanuel (2008) Political Writings trans. H. B. Nisbet Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Knutsen, Torbjørn L. (1992) A History of International Relations Theory: An Introduction, Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  54. Kojève, Alexandre (1969) trans. James H. Nichols, Jr. in Allan Bloom ed., Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Lenin, Vladimir I (1948) Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, London: Lawrence & Wishart.Google Scholar
  56. Levine, Daniel (2012) Recovering International Relations: The Promise of Sustainable Critique, Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Lian, Bradley and John R. Oneal (1993) ‘Presidents, the Use of Force, and Public Opinion’, Journal of Conflict Resolution 37(2): 277–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Linklater, Andrew (1996) ‘Hegel, the State and International Relations’, in Ian Clark and Iver Neumann eds., Classical Theories of International Relations, 193–203, London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  59. Locke, John (1963) ‘Second Treatise’, in Peter Laslett, ed.,, Two Treatises of Government, 299–477, New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  60. Marx, Karl (1988) Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 trans. Martin Milligan Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.Google Scholar
  61. Meernik, James and Peter Waterman (1996) ‘The Myth of the Diversionary Use of Force by American Presidents’, Political Research Quarterly 49(3): 573–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Mercer, Jonathan (1995) ‘Anarchy and Identity’, International Organization 49(2): 229–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Mertens, Thomas (1995) ‘Hegel’s Homage to Kant’s Perpetual Peace: An Analysis of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, §§ 321–340’, Review of Politics 57(4): 665–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Mitzen, Jennifer (2006) ‘Ontological Security in World Politics: State Identity and the Security Dilemma’, European Journal of International Relations 12(3): 341–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Moravcsik, Andrew (2002) ‘Reassessing Legitimacy in the European Union’, Journal of Common Market Studies 40(4): 603–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Neumann, Iver (1996) ‘Self and Other in International Relations’, European Journal of International Relations 2(2): 139–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Odysseos, Louisa and Fabio Petito, eds (2007) The International Political Thought of Carl Schmitt: Terror, Liberal War, and the Crisis of the Global Order, London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  68. Oneal, John R. and Bruce M. Russett (1999) ‘The Kantian Peace: Rearguard Action or Cracks in the Wall?’ World Politics 52(1): 1–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Owen, John M. (1994) ‘How Liberalism Produces the Democratic Peace’, International Security 19(2): 87–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Peperzak, Adrian (1994) ‘Hegel contra Hegel in His Philosophy of Right: The Contradictions of International Politics’, Journal of the History of Philosophy 32(2): 241–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Pinker, Steven (2011) The Better Angels of Our Nature, New York: Viking.Google Scholar
  72. Popper, Karl (1945) The Open Society and its Enemies, London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  73. Risse-Kappen, Thomas (1994) ‘Ideas Do Not Float Freely: Transnational Coalitions, Domestic Politics, and the End of the Cold War’, International Organization 48(2): 185–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Schmitt, Carl (1996) The Concept of the Political trans. George Schwab Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  75. Shilliam, Robbie (2009) German Thought and International Relations, London: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Smith, Alistair (1996) ‘Diversionary Foreign Policy in Democratic Systems’, International Studies Quarterly 40(1): 133–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Smith, Steven B. (1983) ‘Hegel’s Views on War, the State, and International Relations’, American Political Science Review 77(3): 624–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Smith, Steven B. (1989) Hegel’s Critique of Liberalism, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  79. Snyder, Jack (1991) Myths of Empire: Domestic Politics and International Ambition, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  80. Solomon, Ty (2012) ‘Human Nature and the Limits of the Self: Hans Morgenthau on Love and Power’, International Studies Review 14(2): 201–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Steele, Brent J. (2007) ‘Liberal-Idealism: A Constructivist Critique’, International Studies Review 9(1): 23–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Sterling-Folker, Jennifer (2004) ‘Realist Constructivism and Power’, International Studies Review 6(2): 341–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Sylvest, Casper (2010) ‘Realism and International Law: The Challenge of John H. Herz’, International Theory 2(3): 410–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Tajfel, Henri (1974) ‘Social Identity and Intergroup Behavior’, Social Science Information 13(2): 65–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Tarar, Ahmer (2006) ‘Diversionary Incentives and the Bargaining Approach to War’, International Studies Quarterly 50(1): 169–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Thucydides (1978) The Peloponnesian War trans. by Rex Warner Harmondsworth: Penguin.Google Scholar
  87. Tilly, Charles (1985) ‘War Making and State Making as Organized Crime’, in Peter B. Evans, Dietrich Rueschemeyer and Theda Skocpol eds., Bringing the State Back In, 169–91, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Tyler, Colin (2004) ‘Hegel, War, and the Tragedy of Imperialism’, History of European Ideas 30(4): 403–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Verene, Donald P. (1971) ‘Hegel’s Account of War’, in Z. A. Pelczynski ed., Hegel’s Political Philosophy, 168–80, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  90. Vincent, Andrew (1983) ‘The Hegelian State and International Politics’, Review of International Studies 9(3): 191–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Wallerstein, Immanuel (1979) The Capitalist World Economy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  92. Walt, Steven (1989) ‘Hegel on War: Another Look’, History of Political Thought 10(1): 112–23.Google Scholar
  93. Waltz, Kenneth (1979) Theory of International Politics, New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  94. Wendt, Alexander (1992) ‘Anarchy is what States Make of It: The Social Construction of Power Politics’, International Organization 46(2): 391–425.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Wendt, Alexander (1999) Social Theory of International Politics, Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Wendt, Alexander (2003) ‘Why a World State in Inevitable’, European Journal of International Relations 9(4): 491–542.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  97. Wight, Martin (1960) ‘Why is there no International Theory?’ International Relations 2(1): 35–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. Williams, Michael C. (2001) ‘The Discipline of the Democratic Peace: Kant, Liberalism and the Social Construction of Security Communities’, European Journal of International Relations 7(4): 525–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. Williams, Michael C. (2005) The Realist Tradition and the Limits of International Relations, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  100. Wood, Allen W. (2011) ‘Hegel’s Political Philosophy’, in Stephen Houlgate and Michael Baur eds., A Companion to Hegel, 297–311, London: Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joseph MacKay
    • 1
  • Jamie Levin
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Political Science, University of TorontoTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations