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Journal of World History 13.2 (2002) 529-532

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Book Review

Political Theories of International Relations

Political Theories of International Relations. By DAVID BOUCHER. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Pp. 443. $24.95 (paper).


For we're like small children, supervising the social universe as if it were a fish tank we could lean over to track tadpoles and minnows. (Sampson, 2000, 63)
Paralleling the violence it wreaks on other living things, there is a violence peculiar to humankind, wreaked by itself on itself. (Baudrillard, 2000, 18)

As I write this review I, like countless others, feel an overwhelming sense of shock at the terrible events in New York and Washington, DC. The newspapers in the U.K. describe what happened when the Twin Towers that housed the World Trade Center and then the Pentagon were "dive-bombed" by hijacked U.S. passenger planes as a declaration of war. President George W. Bush speaks of a steely determination to defend this attack on freedom; Prime Minister Tony Blair holds what is nothing less than a war cabinet, to decide how to respond to what appears to be internationally accepted as an act of global, devastating terrorism.

Russian President Vladimir Putin expresses his deep shock at the events; Palestinian Yassar Arafat sends his condolences to the American people and appears enormously shaken by what has happened (surely wondering what reprisals may result). Media pundits and political commentators try their best to describe what happened and attempt to make sense of it all. A leading international relations scholar in the U.K. (Professor Fred Halliday of the London School of Economics and Political Science), speaking on a television news program, chillingly reminds us of Stalin's (in)famous suggestion that "revenge is a dish best eaten cold," implying that U.S. retaliation may not be swift and surgical but delayed and deadly. Where are international relations scholars to turn for help in understanding this international tragedy? [End Page 529]

It would surely be unfair to expect David Boucher's book to satisfy the current insatiable demand for an understanding of the events that happened in New York and Washington, D.C. on 11 September 2000 or to provide answers to the wider questions raised by the attacks. No one text or person could hope to do this. In Political Theories of International Relations, Boucher's aim is to "retrieve the intellectual heritage of the political theory of international relations" (p. 11). His main reason for doing this is to remedy the mistake that international relations theorists have made by cutting themselves adrift from the mainstream of political theory in order to develop their own theories and concepts (p. 10). The worst consequence of this mistake, argues Boucher, is that international relations theorists have deprived themselves of access to and the benefit of the powerful background theories in which to embed their own thought.

In part, I think Boucher is right. The development of much of mainstream and neomainstream international relations theory has, in my view, been significantly characterized by a defensiveness borne out of a sense of inferiority in the shadow of the powerful canons of centuries of political and philosophical thought. What Boucher does to remedy this situation is to provide a masterful (as a feminist I use the word advisedly) tour-de-force of a number of the classic texts and theories which have defined and structured Western political thought over many centuries. Boucher cuts a fine thematic swathe through the works of no less than Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Aquinas, Vitoria, Gentili, Grotius, Pufendorf, Locke, Vattel, Kant, Rousseau, Burke, Hegel, and Marx.

The breadth of Boucher's knowledge of political thought and his erudite explication of classical philosophical themes in conundrums is indeed impressive. This is a fantastic source book on these classic texts and issues. Universalism versus particularism; communitarianism versus cosmopolitanism; the correct foundations of law; the basis and practice of rationality—especially in the context of state action; the consequences of wars; the justice and injustices of war; the power of religion; the power of human nature—these are some...


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