The Powers of Anarchy: Theory, Sovereignty, and the Domestication of Global Life (1988)

  • Richard Ashley


The late Hedley Bull once observed that international anarchy, the absence of common government among states, may properly be regarded ‘as the central fact of international life and the starting-point of theorizing about it.’ ‘A great deal of the most fruitful reflection about international life,’ he wrote, ‘has been concerned with tracing the consequences in it of this absence of government.’1 Today, two decades after Bull offered this assessment, nearly every theorist addressing problems of global collaboration and international order would seem to agree.


Theoretical Discourse Modern Economy Domestic Society International Theory International Life 
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  1. 1.
    Hedley Bull, ‘Society and Anarchy in International Relations’, in H. Butterfield and M. Wight (eds.), Diplomatic Investigations (London: Allen and Unwin, 1966), p. 35. See chapter 5 in this volume.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The naming of names is perhaps a necessary gesture, if only to point broadly ‘over there,’ but it is also an arbitrary one. Equally arbitrary is the naming of typifying texts. I would point to the October 1985 Special Issue of World Politics, 38(1), Kenneth Oye (ed.); Robert Jervis, ‘Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma’, World Politics, 30 (January 1978)Google Scholar
  3. Oran Young, ‘Anarchy and Social Choice: Reflections on the International Polity’, World Politics, 30 (2) (January 1978)Google Scholar
  4. Robert Axelrod, The Evolution of Cooperation (New York: Basic Books, 1984)Google Scholar
  5. Robert O. Keohane, After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984); most, though not all, contributions to the volume International Regimes edited by Stephen Krasner (Ithaca, New York: Cornell Univeristy Press, 1983).Google Scholar
  6. 3.
    As I shall stress, theoretical discourse on the anarchy problematique is beholden to a neo-realist interpretation of Political Realism. For my analysis of this interpretation and its limits, see Richard K. Ashley, ‘The Poverty of Neorealism’, International Organization, 38 (2) (Spring 1984).Google Scholar
  7. 4.
    Robert O. Keohane, ‘Theory of World Politics: Structural Realism and Beyond’, in R. O. Keohane (ed.), Neorealism and Its Critics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), pp. 198–199.Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    Hedley Bull, ‘International Theory: The Case for a Classical Approach’, in Klaus Knorr and James N. Rosenau (eds.), Contending Approaches to International Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), p. 28.Google Scholar
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    Hedley Bull, ‘Martin Wight and the Theory of International Relations. The Second Martin Wight Memorial Lecture’, British Journal of International Studies, 2 (2) (1976).Google Scholar
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    Bull, ‘Society and Anarchy’ and The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977), pp. 46, 49–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    An important contribution of post-structuralist argument, most especially Foucault’s, is to put in question the dispositian to view power as essentially negative, that is, as a constraint on freedom. As I shall be stressing, power must be viewed as productive, and among the things that knowledgeable practices of power produce are subjects of social action and the conditions of their autonomy. See especially Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Random House, 1978).Google Scholar
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    The notion of heroic practice presented here derives primarily from a reading of Foucault’s notion of ‘disciplinary practices’ as presented in his Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Pantheon, 1977). As will become evident in a moment, I use the name ‘heroic’ practice in order to stress the centering of this modern practice on the modern sovereign: the figure of reasoning man who would assume the powers that had been ascribed to God in the Classical Age. On the notion of ‘dialogized’ or ‘double-voiced’ practices, see Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, trans. R. W. Rotsel (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1973), p. 153, and The Dialogic Imagination, trans. by Michael Holquist and Caryl Etnerson (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1975).Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    Here three points need to be made. First, as will soon become obvious, on this and subsequent points relating to the modern construct of sovereignty, my analysis leans heavily upon Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Random House, 1973), especially Foucault’s treatment of Kant as one who formulates a way of breaking with Classical epistemology, thus to inaugurate a philosophical discourse in which man first appears as the sovereign center of historical meaning.Google Scholar
  14. Third, here and throughout the argument to follow I shall continue to refer to ‘man’ as the modern sovereign, and in doing so I am keenly aware that this is indubitably a sexist locution. I hope that it will be understood that I persist in this locution, not out of any insensitivity, but as a way of sensitizing my analysis to the distinctly gender-marked quality of heroic practices in a modern economy of power. Although the point will not be developed here, I would be prepared to argue that the male/female dichotomy, as it recurs in modernist discourse, is derivative of the sovereignty/anarchy opposition on which heroic practices turn. The ‘masculine,’ on this account, is associated with the historically productive heroic practices that, with their back to an already completed domestic space, aspire to penetrate the anarchic voids of history, thus to assert mastery and render just there the sovereign truths they lack. The ‘feminine,’ on this same account, is associated with the reproduction of a domain of domesticity whose very existence is dependent upon heroic practices to supply, protect, and guarantee the sovereign truth and meaning of the space it inhabits. This in turn implies what I take to be an important political consequence: just as peace movements are disabled to the extent that they recapitulate the sovereignty/anarchy opposition in their own heroic practices — including their attempts to speak the voice of sovereign ‘universal community’ of humankind — so also are feminist movements disabled to the extent that they invoke the absolute sovereignty of any idealized ‘voice.’ The success of both movements may well depend upon putting just this sovereignty/ anarchy dichotomy into question. For relevant arguments see Julia Kristeva, ‘Women’s Time’, trans Alice Jardine and Harry Blake, Signs, 7 (1) (1981), pp. 13–35, and Richard K. Ashley, ‘Marginalia: Poststructuralism/International Theory,’ paper delivered at the German-American Workshop on International Relations Theory, Bad Homburg, Federal Republic of Germany (31 May-3 June 1987)Google Scholar
  15. 17.
    Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, 2nd edn. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983).Google Scholar
  16. 23.
    On the notion of ‘conductorless orchestration,’ see Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 25.
    On Dewey, see, e.g., Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979).Google Scholar
  18. 26.
    Michel Foucault, The Use of Pleasure: History of Sexuality Volume Two (New York: Random House, 1985), pp. 10–11Google Scholar
  19. 28.
    On the construct of hyperrealism, see Umberto Eco, Travels in Hyperreality (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986), esp. Chapter 1Google Scholar
  20. Jean Baudrillard, Simulations (New York: Semiotext (e), 1983).Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1995

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  • Richard Ashley

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