Ethics & International Affairs Volume 23.2 (Summer 2009): Book Reviews: "On Global Order: Power Values and the Constitution of International Society" by Andrew Hurrell [Full Text]

Jun 24, 2009

On Global Order: Power, Values, and the Constitution of International Society, Andrew Hurrell (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 336 pp., $45 paper.

Samuel M. Makinda (Reviewer)

This is one of the finest books on the normative dimension of global governance published in the past decade. Utilizing insights from the English School, liberal institutionalism, and constructivism, the author addresses some of the most profound questions on the nature, limitations, and possibilities of global order in the twenty-first century. Andrew Hurrell, a former student of Hedley Bull, goes beyond the traditional concept of an anarchical society based on minimalist conditions of coexistence and suggests a fresh approach to understanding what kinds of political organizations we need in the future. To do so, he explores three major challenges in global society: the need to capture shared and common interests, the imperative to manage unequal power, and the need to mediate cultural diversity and value conflict.

On Global Order is divided into four parts. The first, which focuses on conceptual frameworks, comprises three chapters that revisit the idea of the anarchical society, explore global liberalism, and analyze the complex system of global governance. Hurrell regards the anarchical society identified by Bull and others in the English School—which rested on the preservation of international society, the maintenance of the independence of sovereign states, and the regulation of war and conflict among states—as a thin and fragile one. He provides evidence to demonstrate that international society has changed substantially, and that there are many challenges that cannot be addressed satisfactorily within the framework of state-based pluralism. While acknowledging the continuing importance of the state in global governance, Hurrell points to various developments in the management of the global economy, the global environment, and the global security architecture that call for innovative thinking. The traditional analytical frameworks have been weighed down further by growing regionalism around the world. These new realities are partly why Hurrell designed this book to explore the ability of the anarchical society of sovereign states "to provide a practically viable and normatively acceptable framework for global political order in an era of globalization" (pp. 1–2).

In contrast with some of the earlier theorists of international society who argued that international order was predicated on the level of consensus among sovereign states, Hurrell's conceptual framework leads him to raise questions that go beyond the issue of consensus. He contends that contemporary international society "is characterized by a plurality of ideas, views and values" that need to be taken into account in devising strategies to address future global problems. However, he points to the persisting limitations of some groups of states and other global actors to have adequate input in the global governance debates because of their lack of power. It is partly through this line of argument, and his emphasis on the ethical and normative dimensions of global order, that Hurrell distinguishes himself from some of his English School predecessors.

The second part of the book focuses on five sets of issues: nationalism and the politics of identity; human rights and democracy; war, violence, and collective security; economic globalization and global inequality; and the ecological challenge. The five chapters that address these challenges are detailed, nuanced, and well-researched. Hurrell persuasively explains why these five sets of issues are crucial to the effective management of global order: they underpin the debates about order within and among states, and the relationship between citizenship and humankind; they influence decisions about international political arrangements, and have the potential to generate new sources of insecurity and undermine global order; and they have increasingly come to play important roles in determining the legitimacy of sovereign states and the reinterpretation of sovereignty.

The third part of this book explores alternative approaches to global order, focusing particularly on the contrast between globalization and regionalism, and the relationship between empire and political pluralism. The convergence of public policies among some states, as well as shared interests and values among the people of these countries, have given rise to claims that sovereign states are losing their relevance and that the world is increasingly becoming a global village. In contrast, Hurrell distinguishes on the one hand "the one world of globalizing capitalism, of global security dynamics, of a global political system that, for many, revolves around a single hegemonic power, of global institutions and global governance, and of the drive to develop and embed a global cosmopolitan ethic"; and on the other hand "the extent to which regions and the regional level of practice and of analysis have become more firmly established as important elements of the architecture of global political order" (p. 239).

In his discussion of empire and global order, Hurrell focuses on the inequality of power and the place of the United States as the hegemonic actor. Having pointed out the distinctions between empire and hegemony, Hurrell argues that "U.S. hegemony is complicated by a number of historical and structural forces which have pushed the United States toward deeper and more intrusive involvement and that are likely to continue to complicate the exercise of U.S. power" (p. 262). He suggests that those concerned with the stability of the "one world" need to pay greater attention to the needs, aspirations, views, and voices of those who have been historically disadvantaged. This suggestion partly stems from the observation that inequality of power and access makes it difficult to talk of one world, and that globalization does not imply unanimity of interests and values. Moreover, he observes that the language of international order or global governance often reflects the preferences of the dominant actors and is not politically neutral.

The final section re-examines the changing nature of international society and the pursuit of justice. Hurrell explores the courses of action favored by pluralists within the English School and dismisses them, arguing that "there is no acceptable or viable way of reasserting a pluralist view of international society" (p. 292). As to addressing the three main challenges of capturing common interest, managing unequal power, and mediating cultural diversity and conflicting values, Hurrell suggests an approach based on moral accessibility, institutional authority, and political agency. He posits, for instance, that institutions are crucial because they can provide a framework for mutually intelligible moral debate, help implement shared rules, and facilitate the development of a global moral community.

On Global Order should serve as a resource for a wide range of readers, including scholars and students of international relations and international law, international civil servants, diplomats, and journalists.

—SAMUEL M. MAKINDA The reviewer is Professor of Politics and International Studies at Murdoch University, Perth, Australia, and the author most recently, with F. Wafula Okumu, of The African Union: Challenges of Globalization, Security, and Governance (2008). He also writes a weekly column in the Nairobi-based newspaper, Business Daily.

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