Journal of Cold War Studies 2.2 (2000) 113-115
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Political Theory and International Relations, 2nd edition
Charles R. Beitz, Political Theory and International Relations, 2nd edition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999. 248 pp. US$14.95.
This is a reissue of a modern classic with a new afterword by the author. The main text is unchanged, but in the afterword, Charles Beitz responds to his critics and describes how his thinking has evolved since the book was first published in 1979. This format will have its greatest appeal among readers who are familiar with the original. The new material can all be found in the final 34 pages, which draw on and tie together four essays published elsewhere. Those encountering the book for the first time may wish that Beitz had integrated this discussion into the text, where it would have enhanced the clarity and cogency of his argument.
Beitz divides both the original text and the afterword into three parts. The first part of the main text challenges the strand of Realism that is skeptical about the feasibility of treating international relations as a subject of normative political theory. The corresponding section of the afterword rescues Realism as a casuistic doctrine with heuristic [End Page 113] value, but it gives no aid and comfort to the moral skeptic. The second part of the text challenges the prevalent "morality of states" doctrine, which posits that states qua states have valid moral claims against intervention. Beitz maintains that this view derives from a faulty analogy between states in the international system and individuals in domestic society and argues that any immunities enjoyed by states are entirely derivative of, and contingent on, the justice of their domestic political arrangements. The corresponding section of the afterword articulates the communitarian case against outside intervention. Beitz concedes that this view has some merit, but he suggests that it is unlikely to justify nonintervention in plausible real-world cases, since the empirical circumstances in which communitarian claims are most compelling are precisely those in which demands for intervention are least likely. In any case, Beitz argues, communitarianism can at best provide reasons against specific interventions; it cannot justify a general immunity against all interventions. The third part of the text puts forward a cosmopolitan defense of international distributive justice, arguing that John Rawls's justification of the "difference principle" in A Theory of Justice applies mutatis mutandis to the international realm. In the afterword, Beitz seeks to distinguish a "weak thesis"--the argument that we have redistributive obligations of justice for which we must articulate some determinate set of principles--from the "strong thesis" that Rawlsian principles in particular apply. Beitz now wishes to emphasize the "weak" redistributive argument. However, he has not changed his view that citizens of rich countries have redistributive obligations to citizens of poor countries, and he is deeply skeptical that those obligations should be seen as weaker than obligations to address the less urgent needs of compatriots. Beitz's afterword provides helpful clarifications and qualifications of his original work, but does not alter any of its essentials.
In a short review, it is impossible to engage Beitz's subtle, sophisticated, and meticulously detailed argument with the care it deserves. The book's eminent position in the field is well deserved, as is the author's reputation as a leading normative international relations theorist. Nonetheless, four brief criticisms are worth noting here. These apply solely to Beitz's arguments in Parts 2 and 3 of the book. (I find Beitz's argument against skepticism in Part 1 compelling. Indeed, the case against skepticism can be pushed even further than he takes it.)
First, the book is mistitled: It should be called Liberal Political Theory and International Relations. Throughout the book, Beitz presumes a liberal view of moral theory that gives primacy to individual autonomy. "Speaking very roughly," Beitz writes,
the moral point of view requires us to regard the world from the perspective of one person among many rather than from that of a particular self with particular...