Peter Gowan on Richard Tuck, Rights of War and Peace: Political Thought and the International Order from Grotius to Kant. The origins of 'liberal' interventionism by the NATO powers today in the doctrines of colonial retribution and expropriation of the seventeenth century.
THE ORIGINS OF ATLANTIC LIBERALISM
The past decade has witnessed an unprecedented ascendancy of rights-based liberal individualism as the legitimating ideology of the capitalist world. No longer just the theme song of the American way of life, it has become the official creed of the European Union and the mobilizing doctrine of Western military intervention around the world, from the Middle East to the Balkans, from sub-Saharan Africa to the Caribbean. This is a discourse that links institutional and cultural features internal to the Atlantic states to postulated universal interests of humanity as a whole. All human beings, it argues, are individuals entitled to certain rights, and while the advanced polities of the West may respect a far richer and deeper range of these than anywhere else, liberals have a duty to the rest of humanity to advance and promote minimal human rights everywhere and to strike down those who would deny them. What are the historical sources of this outlook? It has long been believed that this strand of political thought derives from theories of Natural Law and associated conceptions of social contract dating back to the seventeenth century, above all in England—a tradition that combined, within a single framework, a universalist notion of the nature and entitlements of humanity with a specific normative theory of what might constitute a civilized polity for the advanced countries. Out of ideas of the individual moral agent, possessed of attributes common to all mankind, there developed—according to a standard schema—notions of government by consent and, eventually, agreed rules of international conduct.
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By the same author:
The Ways of the World
In an interview recorded earlier this year, Peter Gowan recalls his political and intellectual trajectory, from the end of empires to Marxist militancy, from Eastern Bloc shipyards to the rise of the Dollar–Wall Street Regime.
Crisis in the Heartland
Against mainstream accounts, Peter Gowan argues that the origins of the global financial crisis lie in the dynamics of the New Wall Street System that has emerged since the 1980s. Contours of the Atlantic model, and implications—geopolitical, ideological, economic—of its blow-out.
Twilight of the NPT?
Responding to Dombey, Peter Gowan asks why such an unequal treaty has attracted so many adherents—and why its superpower beneficiary has sought to undermine it. Do impasses around the NPT signal failures for US dominance?
A Radical Realist
Peter Gowan on Christopher Layne, Peace of Illusions. A maverick mole inside realist international-relations theory, overturning orthodox accounts of US global strategy.
Peter Gowan on Mark Leonard, Why Europe will Run the 21st Century. Panglossian manifesto for a Blairite Europeanism as model for the new Atlanticist world order.
Peter Gowan on Neil Smith, American Empire: Roosevelt’s Geographer and the Prelude to Globalization. The neglected career of a key thinker of American expansionism, and his scenarios for a world order after the age of European imperial dominance.
US : UN
The American origins of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945, and the duality of US usages and conceptions of it ever since: from the Cold War through the collapse of the USSR to today’s war on terror and occupation of Mesopotamia.
Instruments of Empire
Peter Gowan on Andrew Bacevich, American Empire. A clear-eyed colonel examines the swords and deeds of the us state in the post-Cold War world.
A Calculus of Power
John Mearsheimer’s Tragedy of Great Power Politics disdains liberal-imperial rhetoric for a tough-minded theory of ‘offensive realism’. Peter Gowan argues that, whatever its merits, the behaviour of states in the international system cannot be dissociated from the internal dynamics of the political orders they protect.
Peter Gowan on Giovanni Arrighi and Beverly Silver: Chaos and World Governance. Plotting the different axes of any international hegemony, and the prospects for American supremacy in the new century.