a northerly anarchist's ranting space

©2015 Herbert Snorrason

A Couple of Thoughts


2012-01-24

First thought: Probably best I stop thinking of this as a place to get more-or-less well-formed ideas into the open. It’s not like anyone reads it, so I should be safe throwing out half-formed nonsense. I think. The real problem is a psychological block I need to deal with.

Second thought: “International Relations” as a distinct discipline makes so little sense it’s not even funny. Or maybe that’s not entirely accurate. Let’s branch it out a bit: The study of international relations as a distinct subject affiliated with political science doesn’t really work. The chief reason is probably that the central dogma of political science is imported and laid down as the cornerstone of more or less all thinking on the subject: The State is assumed to be legitimate and placed at the centre of analysis. As a result, all you’re really allowed to think about is how multiple state entities interact. The significance of intra-state dynamics is almost completely denied, even in theories that don’t take the Hobbesian lie as their starting point. (There are some Marxists using class-based analysis, rather than state-based, but they usually wind up constructing a model of a class-divided society of states. An interesting model, but still not quite what I’m looking for.) It also means you’re somewhat stuck to analysing the current states system; in particular, states justifying themselves in terms of national self-determination are all but required. And those only developed somewhat gradually through the nineteenth century. Suzereinty, a basic feature of countless historical regimes, is not possible. And strangest of all, this inability to comprehend what existed before is claimed as a strength of contemporary theories. WTF?

I’m a historian, somewhat influenced by early sociological theories. The grand sweep of those theories is impressive, not least because they’re usually not left without a linkage between individual and social effects. They are, in essence, theories about emergent phenomena, long before that concept had developed. They also tend to integrate fields often treated as distinct. In particular, the basic structures of the economic and political systems are tightly intertwined with causal links in Oppenheimer’s account of The State. The issue, of course, is the question of empirical validity. How do you check whether a model like that conforms with either history or the present? How do you use it to make specific and falsifiable predictions? For most non-trivial models of society, these problems appear to be analytically intractable; that is, impossible to solve for general cases. Although the physical sciences learned a while ago that analytical solutions are not always possible, and have found alternative ways to solve many of those problems in the time since, that message seems to have passed most social scientists by. Instead, social science largely abandoned the analytically intractable models and replaced them with others that were easier to deal with.

I’d like to participate in reversing that trend…