Equality, Authority, and the Locus of International Order
The puzzle of international society has long occupied International Relations (IR) theory, but it lends itself to a clearer articulation in legal positivist theory. On strict legal positivist terms, international society is defined as a compact of legal equals, states. However if states claim to belong to a social order they ought to recognise a common authority. Authority is a form of hierarchy—‘authoritative’ means ‘one that cannot be overridden’, ‘one of a higher standing’. The paradox of international society then is this: state relations are organised horizontally and each state is seen as independent from other states, but at the same time these relations seem to be organised hierarchically because each state is dependent on an authority other than its own. As I argue, the crux of the matter depends on clarifying where authority resides, not who holds it. After discussing authority in political theory (Jean Bodin, Thomas Hobbes, Carl Schmitt, Giorgio Agamben), the essay goes on to articulate a concept of international authority compatible with an equality-of-states principle. Crucially, this concept rests on what I call ‘rule-based legal positivism’ traceable to the writings of H.L.A. Hart. The question of international authority thus invites us to attend to the conversation of three traditions: IR theory, political theory, and legal theory.
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