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Before Hegemony: Generalized Trust and the Creation and Design of International Security Organizations


  • Rathbun, Brian C.


Rationalist accounts of international cooperation maintain that states create international institutions to solve problems of distrust. They rest on a particular notion of trust, a strategic variety in which states trust based on information about others' interests. I seek to overturn this conventional wisdom. Drawing on social psychology, I point to the importance of generalized trust, an ideological belief about the trustworthiness of others in general. Generalized trust precedes institution-building and serves as a form of anarchical social capital, facilitating diffuse reciprocity and allowing state leaders to commit to multilateralism even in cases that rationalists deem inhospitable to cooperation and without the institutional protections that rationalists expect. In case studies of U.S. policy on the creation of the League of Nations and the United Nations, I demonstrate that generalized trust is necessary for explaining the origins of American multilateralism and the design of these organizations.

Suggested Citation

  • Rathbun, Brian C., 2011. "Before Hegemony: Generalized Trust and the Creation and Design of International Security Organizations," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, vol. 65(02), pages 243-273, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:intorg:v:65:y:2011:i:02:p:243-273_00

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    Cited by:

    1. Dreher, Axel & Minasyan, Anna & Nunnenkamp, Peter, 2015. "Government ideology in donor and recipient countries: Does ideological proximity matter for the effectiveness of aid?," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 79(C), pages 80-92.

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