‘Without Justice There Can Be No Order’ Discuss Essay

According to Rawls, ‘justice is the first virtue of social institutions.’1 However, many commentators in international politics, particularly those subscribing to the realist outlook, would instead argue that international society has not actively pursued either justice or virtue. Writers like Bull argue that actually order is the most important, if not overriding value in international society. Indeed, it was not until the early nineties that, following the end of the Cold War, the idea that international society both should and could seek to promote greater justice received substantial attention in both academia and public life.

Furthermore, increasingly powerful arguments suggested that in fact an enduring order depended on the realisation of claims for justice from the international community.2 By looking at ideas of order and justice and the degree to which either is, or has been, present in the international system, and finally comparing the relationship between the two, this essay seeks to judge the accuracy of the statement ‘without justice there can be no order.’

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Order is, according to Augustine, ‘a good disposition of discrepant parts, each in its fittest place.’3 Order has two parts. Firstly, order can be understood in the sense of certain regular, stable and predictable conduct. Secondly, social order requires that such conduct be deliberate and with a particular outcome in mind.4 Therefore, order can only be viewed in relation to such prescribed goals, whatever they may be. When considering social order, Bull takes three such goals to be primary in that ‘their fulfilment in some measure is a condition not merely of this or that sort of social life, but of social life as such.

‘ These goals are, firstly, that all societies seek to ensure that its citizens will be, in some way, free from the threat of physical harm or death. Secondly, agreements, once made should be kept. Thirdly, that there should be some stability in the possession of property, free from limitless and unending challenges.5 These goals are also universal as there exists no known society that does not provide for them. Having said that, the elemental importance of these goals does not presume that they are necessarily prior to other secondary goals. For instance, states often go to war, sometimes rightly, in pursuit of some secondary goal at the expense of these primary goals.

International order is the pattern of activity that sustains the primary goals of the society of states. A society of states, in a Bullian sense, is a group of states, conscious of certain common interests or values that conceive themselves to be bound by common rules and institutions in their relations with one another. This conception of order is based on the framework of rules and institutions that had developed within such an anarchical international society. The purpose of such institutions is to prescribe certain behaviour necessary to ensure the realisation of the three primary goals of international society; the preservation of international society itself, the maintenance of the independence of individual states within that society and the regulation of conflict between states. This order is both factual and normative.6

The international society talked about here, at the present time encompasses every state in the world – it embraces a whole range of societies, cultures and associated value systems. The structure of power and interests, the divergence of values, religion and ideas of morality and justice within this society make the resolution of conflict a demanding task, if possible at all. Therefore, the scope of such order is necessarily minimalist in order to overcome the ’empirical fact of pervasive human diversity.’7 This is not to say that order is not a value in itself but it is relevant at this stage to talk of order only as a fact (perhaps the greatest criticism of Bull’s The Anarchical Society is his treatment of order as a value without prescribing it any ethical explanation).

International order is also separate from what Bull terms World Order. World Order is the behavioural patterns that sustain the primary goals of social life among mankind as a whole. It is broader in scope than International Order because it must take into account order within states as well as order between them. Despite the increasing momentum of movements intended to protect mankind as a whole from such threats as environmental change and nuclear war, world order is not a going concern in world politics. Therefore, this study will take the idea of International Order as its primary focus.

So does such an order actually exist within international politics and in what form? The general point that order does indeed exist in social life in some form is hard to dispute, having both a theoretical and historical precedent. 8 Furthermore, the existence of an international society by definition indicates at least a basic level of order. On the existence of international society, Bull writes;

‘The element of international society has always been present in the modern international system because at no stage can it be said that the conception of common interests of states, of common rules accepted and common institutions worked by them, has ceased to exert influence. Most states at most times pay some respect to basic rules of coexistence in international society, such as mutual respect for sovereignty, the rule that agreements should be kept, and rules limiting the resort to violence.’9

In addition, there are several identifiable characteristics of modern international society. Firstly, as already discussed, it embodies every state and so does not rest on the principles of any specific culture (although Bull identifies a possible culture of modernity). There is also a move away from assertions that the state is the sole bearer of rights and duties in international society. States are now joined by inter-governmental organisations such as the UN and IAEA, and individuals, through instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Geneva Convention as bearers of rights and duties.

Thirdly, international society appears to be returning to natural law principles following the previous emphasis on legal positivism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This shift represents the renewal of the belief in just and unjust wars, coupled with emphasis in international institutions on how states should behave rather than how they actually do in reality. Modern emphasis on reforming or improving international society, separate from the practical and realistic workings of the society of states has led to the rejection of such institutions such as the balance of power and traditional diplomacy in favour of more universal administration by organisations such as the UN.

Arguments against the existence of an international society, and thus an international order stem from the existence of anarchy in the international system. This view is supported by what Bull terms the ‘domestic analogy.’ This projects the idea that states, like men, are capable of orderly life only if they exist in fear of a greater common power.

Hobbes wrote that states living outside the realm of any common government, in the same way as individuals, will exist in a perpetual state of war. Hobbes goes on to describe three characteristics of anarchy. Firstly, there are no refinements of living such as industry and trade as all the efforts of the actor go towards security. Secondly, there are no legal or moral rules, no justice or injustice, no right or wrong. Thirdly, the perpetual state of war does not necessarily involve violence but simply no guarantee of peace, ensuring that one’s gun is always loaded and pointed in the direction of one’s enemy.

There are three criticisms of such arguments that anarchy precludes order. Firstly, international anarchy is not a Hobbesian state of nature. There is very obviously extensive trade and cooperation between actors within the system and while perhaps not equally distributed, many enjoy certain refinements of living. In addition, there is a sense or right and wrong, of justice and injustice in international politics. Whilst there may be no absolute consensus or objective mechanisms for the administration of such justice, to say there is no concept of it would be false. The only one of Hobbes’ assertions about anarchy that could be true is that states to possess a disposition to go to war as a sovereign state in modern international society does indeed consider war as a policy option available to it.

Secondly, fear of a greater power is not the only reason for order in domestic social life. Other factors often come into play in a citizens loyalty to a certain society such as a sense of community, a realisation of self-interest and general will or habit. It is certainly true of states that there is a sense of self-interest in cooperating in an international society, especially in the context of problems of posed by globalisation and environmental change (if the two can be separated).

Thirdly, states do not act as individuals. They have different motivations, characteristics and interests and so cannot be considered as individuals. For a start, whilst it could be argued that states are in a perpetual state of war, their subjects certainly are not, at least for a significant majority of the time. In addition, states are considerably less vulnerable to attack. Prior to the advent of nuclear weapons, it was impossible to physical destroy a state in one move. The same is not true of the individual.

The analogy also overlooks the inequality of power distribution among states. While Hobbes noted that it was within the capability of the weakest man to kill the strongest, this is certainly not true of states, although a continued proliferation of nuclear weapons could possible make redundant this final claim. However, even with universal possession of nuclear weapons, it is unlikely that a state such as Mauritius would ever have the ability to pose a deadly threat to the USA.

While the existence of international society cannot be doubted, it is in competition with other factors in world politics, namely the Hobbesian state of war and Kantian idea of transnational solidarity or conflict. Order is certainly present in some form in international politics, through the influence of international society. However, the Order is imperfect and vulnerable and can certainly be improved.

Order in international society, in some sense, is a fact. It is also value but not the only value that dictates conduct in international society. Mazrui writes that Western nations, the principle authors of the UN Charter are primarily concerned with order whereas Third World states are primarily concerned with justice, even at the price of disorder. Furthermore, the Third World revolt against Western dominance of world politics has pushed justice higher up the international political agenda.10

Unlike order, there is no single, objective definition of justice. At best one can arrive at some private idea. A loose interpretation of justice would imply that just conduct be within a framework of rules, that the content of these rules is fair, each like cases are treated in a like fashion and that the rules are applied impartially.11 Thompson describes three principles of justice;

‘that individuals should be free to associate according to their goals, interests, attachments and needs; that communities determine for themselves their political and social arrangements; that communities develop and support mutually acceptable structures and institutions for the resolution of disputes. Being just means acting according to these principles so far as this is possible.’12

However, such theoretical interpretations are vague and give no guidance as to what, in practice constitute ‘fair rules’ or ‘like cases.’ In addition, very little is said about the possibility of clashes of interest and resolution of conflicting types of justice, of which there are many, for instance Aristotle’s ideas of arithmetical and proportionate justice. The former prescribes equal rights to everyone, regardless of context and the latter prescribes unequal rights, for instance the rich in society should pay higher taxes. To quote Aristotle ‘injustice arises when equals are treated unequally but also when unequals are treated equally.’13

There are further conflicts of justice when one considers to whom such justice applies. Interstate or international justice consists of the rights and duties of states and nations in the international system. The rights of the state may well contradict the rights of the nation. Further, and more importantly, interstate justice often conflicts, both in theory and practice, with individual justice, the rights of the individual (human rights). A final concept of justice is that known as cosmopolitan or world justice; that which is right or good for the society of mankind as a whole. World justice disregards both interstate and individual justice as it subordinates the interest of both the latter to the benefit of human society as a whole. Thus, in assessing whether order can be achieved in the absence of justice, one must specify which type of justice.

Having established the existence of at least minimal order in international politics, to what extend does justice exist? Of the three types of order mentioned, interstate, individual and world justice, the former is the most prevalent. The most obvious example of interstate justice is the idea that each state, no matter what size or power, has the right to sovereignty, both internally (it is the highest domestic authority) and externally (there is no higher authority than the state in international affairs). Despite some exceptions (Iraq, Lebanon, Congo for example), this claim is widely and consistently upheld, especially following the end of the Cold War. However, interstate justice cannot be said to be universal or indeed prevalent.

In conceiving the idea of a Third World revolt against Western dominance, Bull listed four calls for justice from the poorer states. These were firstly, the claim to equal rights of sovereignty or independence, a claim now largely satisfied. The second was a claim for the equal application for the spread of national self-determination. Such a claim often comes into conflict with the interests of certain states but has been dealt with largely by the doctrine of most states, even multi-national states, to call themselves nation-states.14 Obvious examples of failure of calls for self-determination today are the Palestinians, Basques and Kurds.

Thirdly, there are demands for cultural equality and freedom in matters of the spirit of the mind. Third World nations, and increasingly even non-English speaking developed countries (for example France) are fighting against Western and particularly American cultural ascendancy in order to protect traditional cultures and values. The extent to which such calls for justice have been realised varies globally but tends to depend on the wealth of any given state and the status of relations of that state with other Western states.

Almost universally though there is at least some element of Western culture, whether material, cultural or linguistic, emerging in non-Western states. Finally, and particularly relevant today, is the call for economic justice between states, for instance in the redistribution of wealth, the operation of trade rules and more broadly representative international financial institutions. Volumes could be written on global economic justice but suffice it say here that such justice cannot be considered to be universal or even prevalent. Thus, whilst there is some degree of interstate justice prevalent, to say that it is universal, total or even stable would be an magnificent overstatement.

Individual justice is even less widespread than interstate justice. Individual rights have increasingly become a proclaimed norm in international politics with nearly every state signalling its intent to uphold them through treaties, declarations such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and policy statements. Yet in the Amnesty International Annual Report 2004, out of the one hundred and fifty five countries surveyed, human rights concerns were present in every single one.

15 Whilst respect for human rights is much higher in developed countries and democracies even they do not escape accusations of abuses such as detention without trial and torture, particularly of prisoners of war. Furthermore, there is no doctrine of intervention on the behalf of abused individuals that is upheld effectively or consistently. Although some citizens of some states, such as those in the European Union or those affected by the actions of military forces of states signed up to the International Criminal Court have a formal right to appeal to actors other than the state to which they owe their allegiance, many do not. Thus, massive and systematic violations of individual rights and duties are often ignored and even supported, directly or indirectly, in international politics.

Finally world justice, according to Bull, plays a minimal role in international politics. Bull writes ‘the great mass of political mankind does not have the means of interest articulation and aggregation, of political socialisation and recruitment, which…are the hallmarks of political system.’16Issues that affect the society of humanity as a whole such as climate change and the threat of nuclear weapons are not the problems of individual states.

As humankind and international relations at the moment is dominated by the state system, such challenges will therefore not be met. However, this could change as human society gains the necessary mouthpieces, most notably the internet, to either force a realignment of international relations to reflect a global village or simply persuade individual states to cooperate. Such movement is in its infancy and so as yet, world justice is not prevalent.

Did this justice preclude the order in today’s international society? The answer has to be no. The order we see today has been typical of the whole of the twentieth century. However, what little justice seen in international politics, including interstate justice, has only started to become a powerful force in international politics in the last twenty years or so.

The order experienced today could in fact be undermined by calls for justice.

1 Rawls, A Theory of Justice, p.3

2 Hurrell, Order and Justice in International Relations, p.31

3 Augustine, in Bull, The Anarchical Society, p.4

4 Hurrell, opcit., p.24-5

5 Bull, opcit., p.4

6 Vincent, Order and Violence, p.45

7 Sen, in Hurrell, opcit, p.27

8 Harris, Order and Justice in ‘The Anarchical Society,’ p.727

9 Bull, opcit., p.40

10 Bull, Alderson and Hurrell (eds.), Hedley Bull on International Society, p.207

11 Ibid., p.208

12 Thompson, Justice and World Order, p.194

13 Bull, The Anarchical Society, p.77

14 Bull, The Anarchical Society, p.78

15 See http://web.amnesty.org/report2004/index-eng

16 Bull, The Anarchical Society, p.82

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