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“Anarchy is what states make of it”: true in a trivial sense; otherwise, wrong

Authors
  • Fiammenghi, Davide1
  • 1 Università di Bologna, Dipartimento di Scienze Politiche e Sociali, Strada Maggiore 45, Bologna, 40125, Italy , Bologna (Italy)
Type
Published Article
Journal
International Politics
Publisher
Palgrave Macmillan UK
Publication Date
May 03, 2018
Volume
56
Issue
1
Pages
17–32
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1057/s41311-018-0169-6
Source
Springer Nature
Keywords
License
Yellow

Abstract

The claim “Anarchy is what states make of it” is true in the trivial sense that states’ identities are not carved in stone, but can change, and that international affairs are “cultural” or “social,” not natural phenomena. In this sense, the claim is trivially true; only the common 1990s misinterpretation of Waltz’s writings as a crude form of materialism could make it sound like highly original. The claim may also refer to something more specific, namely that states are embedded in shared normative belief systems. In this second sense, the claim is wrong. Wendt makes the non-controversial point that states must recognize each other as the key actors with which they interact, and in so doing they form a primitive “cultural” system, but his larger claim is that states act on the basis of their “culture” in the more specific sense of common norms that shape states’ identities. Wendt is known for the second point, but as I demonstrate he never shows that states share such common norms, only that they share a “culture” in a broad, socio-cognitive sense. Wendt’s famous claim is taken to be representative of a more widespread malaise that plagues IR theory, and the implications are discussed.

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