Zaheer Kazmi, Polite Anarchy in International Relations.

Author:Prichard, Alex
Position:Book review

Zaheer Kazmi, Polite Anarchy in International Relations

Houndmills: Palgrave, 2012, 288pp; ISBN: 978-1137028-11-2.

This is the first English-language monograph to present an explicitly anarchistic theory of international politics. Zaheer Kazmi completed a PhD in politics at Cambridge; then spent some years at the Foreign Office, before recently taking up a fellowship in history at Oxford. In this book he develops a contextualist account of William Godwin's mature, sceptical, and anti-authoritarian theory of politeness and deploys it to theorise a positive, but conservative defence of inter-state anarchy, and diplomatic practices more specifically. Kazmi reaches his conclusions via some deft, some might say cynical, moves. He begins with the observation that while international and political theorists are busy resurrecting a tradition of anarchist thought, historians of political thinking are questioning whether such traditions are useful either heuristically, methodologically or politically. If traditions are porous and morphological, Kazmi argues, then there is no reason why an 'anarchism without adjectives' cannot be state-centric, ontologically and normatively. Kazmi follows English School realists and constructivists in International Relations (IR) in assuming that states are rational unitary actors. Recognising no superior, states pursue their visions of the good in what Hedley Bull called an 'anarchical society'. Kazmi characterises this society in terms of an 'anarchist culture', where specific groups of states constitute 'anarchist sub-cultures' (pp 64-76). The hallmark of anarchist sub-cultures is that they work to sustain a wider anarchist culture through prefigurative direct action. Kazmi then turns to William Godwin's political theory of politeness as a way of theorising how states and diplomats should justify the pursuit of the good in anarchy and what the most substantive good might be. Three central chapters provide a contextualist account of Godwin's anti-authoritarianism. The claim is that the mature Godwin recoiled from the 'totalitarian' (p 204) implications of his earlier...

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