Debating IR

Probing the philosophical underpinnings of the international system and anything else of interest.

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Saturday, February 04, 2006

Limits of Anarchy

On Thursday, the class discussed anarchy and what conditions it required to exist. It was a hard definition to nail down, because anarchy has always meant "being able to do what you want without fear of punishment" to me. However, applying this to the international system made me think more seriously about anarchy, as did Matt and Nate's comments about whether anarchy could ever disappear as long as humans had free will.

I was interested in the idea that anarchy always exists, as long as we have the ability to do anything that conflicts with the established law. I would have argued (did argue, I think) that as long as there was the promise of retribution/punishment, this state still couldn't be defined as anarchy. But retribution does not have to necessarily come from the government -- it could come from the victim or the victim's family. In my opinion, what separates enforcement from vengeance is the way in which it is administered: by a government-controlled organization, impartially, as opposed to by people personally touched by crime. This is a little idealistic, though; police, as was pointed out, can't catch everyone, and many crimes go unreported, let alone unsolved. Realistically, your odds of committing crime and getting away with it are pretty good -- and in areas with poor enforcement, it could be said that anarchy exists.

Applied to the international system, this begs the question: even if a supranational organization with the power to enforce its laws could be formed, could it be expected to enforce them well? Justice requires impartiality, and (perhaps too cynically) I can't believe that the judges of international crime would be able to separate themselves from the biases of their own cultures enough to arbitrate it properly, and creating some kind of international jury system would be difficult if not impossible to do. Personally, I don't think it's possible for the international system to move beyond a state of anarchy; I'd like to continue this discussion in a later class to hear opinions on how it could be done.

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