Debating IR

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


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Objective Critical Theorists

Jennifer Sterling-Folkers says in her article "Postmodern and Critical Theory Approaches" that postmodern and critical theory reject notions of objectivity. In Marc Lynch's "Critical Thoery: Dialogue, Legitimacy, and Justifications of War" I fail to see evidence of this claim. In my mind, critical theory wants to be based on subjectivity, but it isn't. It is based on idealist notions of universal morality. The subjective part of their beliefs comes in the fact that they accuse all other theories of abusing objectivity as a tool for state or IO interests. The ironic thing about critical theory is that it could easily be based on subjectivity. To do so would only require being critical of itself.

In his article, Marc Lynch latches onto two objective notions that completely destroyed his credibility for me. The first was that the UN is the sole arbiter of legitimacy. Lynch continuously attacked NATO for abusing power and bypassing the UN. He repeatedly asserted that only a UN mandate could provide legitimacy to the invasion. It is clear that Lynch objectively accepts the UN as the supreme world judge of right and wrong. It is the voice of the people. The only place where a true dialogue can be found. (The idea of a true dialogue where all people have an equal voice is equally idealistic and nonsensical, since it basically asserts that the people are never wrong and that their decisions are objectively true.) What Lynch should be asking then is "Where does the UN get its power? How did the UN become the sole source of legitimacy?" I contend that the establishment of the UN and certainly the Security Council was a power play by the victors of WWII. But I digress.

Lynch's second objective notion is universal morality. He assumes that the moral standards of the world today, which are certainly Western influenced and not a result of a true world discourse, are objective truth. Oscar Wilde comments on the absurdity of this notion in A Picture of Dorian Gray, "Modern morality consists in accepting the standard of one's age. I consider that for any man of culture to accept the standard of his age is a form of the grossest immorality." If critical theory is based on subjectivity then it must attack current moral standards, not as right or wrong but as imposed by a power, for instance the UN or Western nations. Moral standards generally reflect the interests of those in power in some way or another and Lynch's acceptance of these standards as objective is absurd.

To me, this mix of objectivity and subjectivity destroys the credibility of the approach. It is fine to mix the two, but not if you claim one as wrong. It just doesn't work. Critical theory seems to be important insofar as it raises interesting questions, but if fails to provide usable answers to those questions and is therefore lacking as a theory of international relations.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


What is it with girls fighting?


9:14 PM  

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