Between Vision and Fantasy - Essay on Andrew Linklater's "The Transformation of Political Community"

Essay, 2007

17 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents


1. The post-westphalian political community

2. The need to draw a distinction

3. The test of applicability

4. Conclusion

Reference List


Writing an essay about Andrew Linklater’s[1] „The Transformation of Political Community“ is, in light of the pre-eminent praise it received in the academic sphere, a distinct challenge. Is it actually possible to make critical statements about a book, which others have called “one of the most important books in international theory published in this decade”, or even “the most impressive work of international theory to have been produced in Britain since Bull’s Anarchical Society”?[2] The mere quantity of laud is as impressive as its quality. One easily tends to follow this blandishment, and ignores that it is not more than base flattery.

Beyond doubt, Linklater has produced a sound book, which has – after his preliminary publications “The Problem of Community in International Relations” in 1990 and “The Question of the Next Stage in International Relations: A Critical-Theoretical Point of View” in 1992 – made him one of the strongest voices in contemporary international relations theory.[3] I hypothesize that “The Transformation of Political Community” has already today, only nine years after its first publication, become a classic of international relations.

What defines a classic? Two factors are decisive, and they are the same for a classic in international relations than they are for a classic car: It is cherished by people, and it has a unique selling point, something that differs from everything that has been produced before. Using this definition, an Aston Martin DB 5 is a classic as well as Kenneth Waltz’s “Man, the State, and War”. A classic, as complete and coherent it might be, is not necessarily without problems. Several times, Aston Martin went bankrupt (and was reborn again), and for Waltz’s neorealism the sudden and peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union meant the end of its universal validity.

Concerning Linklater’s latest work, it is otiose to prove the appreciation it has received. Some of it has been cited above. It is more gainful to concentrate on the second factor that defines a classic: To analyse the “unique selling point” in his work, the contribution that it makes to international relation theory, and reveal some of the problems that it includes. Therefore the central research question of my paper is: Is Linklater’s concept of the post-westphalian political community an applicable contribution to international relations theory?

The question is elaborated in three sections, each of them dealing with a specific sub-question. The first section is of a descriptive nature and has two purposes: It is an introduction into the topic for those who have not read the book, and it defines one major element of the central research question, i. e. the post-westphalian political community. Hence, the first sub-question is: What are the main characteristics of Linklater’s post-westphalian political community? The second section is of a comparative nature, and dedicated to the term “contribution” in the central research question. It is necessary to show that Linklater’s concept provides new insights into the topic, otherwise it is not a true contribution, but at most a summary or replication of existing thought. The sub-question behind this elaboration is: Does Linklater’s concept draw a distinction to existing works? The third section deals with the last missing term in the central research question: Are Linklater’s ideas applicable to the real world? This is a central assay of every theoretic book, since theory stands never for itself but tries to explain or predict actual incidents. In the conclusion the main findings are summed up in order to answer the central research question.

The nature of my research is qualitative and based on literature review. Great parts of the argumentation are built on secondary literature (book reviews), and Linklater’s book as a primary source.

1. The post-westphalian political community

The basis for Linklater’s elaboration is his rejection of the recent interstate order and the units that define it, i. e. nation states. He claims that globalization and social fragmentation offer the opportunity to build a “universal communication community”, in which dialogue and consent replace domination and force.[4]

Todays’s communities are considered as systems of inclusion and exclusion. Two groups are affected by exclusion: Aliens that do not live within a territory of a state, and subaltern groups within the state, such as criminals and insane people. Linklater states: “The problematic aspects of the social bonds which unite and separate, associate and disassociate, are its principal concern.”[5] Those bonds are the characteristic of an imperfect state, and cause “moral deficits” between the members of a society. Examples for these deficits are the oppression of minorities, the disrespect of cultural differences and, in more general terms, the occupation of social resources by dominant groups.

Therefore, the purpose of the book is “to reaffirm the cosmopolitan critique of the sovereign states-system and to defend the widening of the moral boundaries of political communities.”[6] Linklater believes that communities are constantly being remade, and he uses sociological as well as constructivist arguments to show that present structures are not natural, “but have a history and are likely to be succeeded by different arrangements in the future.”[7] Those arrangements he calls the post-westphalian political community.

To facilitate the emergence of this kind of community, he advocates “the triple transformation of political community”, that consists of three elements: Greater respect for cultural differences, stronger commitments to the reduction of material inequalities and an advancement in universality.[8] Universality includes that difference is respected, and class, ethnicity, gender, race and alien status become unimportant with regard to citizens duties and rights. Such a transformation is supposed to emerge “peacefully by the normative commitment to extending the moral and political boundaries of community.”[9] The backbone of this concept is build by ideas of Kant an Marx: While Kant stated that the extension of legal rights not only to the rising bourgeoisie, but to members of other societies as well was inherent in liberal societies, Marx added that the above mentioned moral deficits could be eradicated by “enlarging the sphere in which human beings treat one another as equals.”[10]

The way to achieve this new political community is by making dialogue central to social life and external relations. The most effective means, according to Linklater, is to create institutional frameworks. Due to the different characteristics of nation-states, he acknowledges the need for multiple frameworks. Thus he distinguishes between a “pluralist international society”, which has the objective of “preserving elementary principles of order and coexistence between sovereign states”, and a “solidarist international order, in which states cooperate to protect agreed moral principles such as basic human rights.” States may even decide to start collaborative projects in which the sovereign principle, which has been the central element to international relations since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, is breached completely.[11]

2. The need to draw a distinction

Having outlined the main characteristics of Linklater’s post-wesphalian political community, I will now start to analyse this concept in terms of the added value it provides for international relations theory. His ideas may only be entitled to be contributive, if they draw a distinction to existing works. Whether they fulfil this requirement is the sub-question of this section.

The idea of a post-westphalian political community is not new, and Linklater does not claim to be the innovator. Other author may have found different names, but the origin remains obvious: Kant, Hegel, Marx, Carr, Habermas and the rational school provide the theoretic influence of Linklater’s work. Out of this pool of thought he creates his own mix, “preserving the strengths of the perspectives of Kant or Marx and cancelling their profound weaknesses.”[12] I want to outline in short which basic ideas he inherits, and which he challenges.

The key principle that is taken from Habermas’ work is the application of emancipation in the field of international relations, understood as a process in which states lose their ethical and moral significance. In showing up tendencies that point to this direction, Linklater uses the technique of immanent critique. In contrary to the pessimism of the Frankfurt School, his optimism concerning the realisation of emancipation is striking.[13]

Kant’s impetus is the connection of a normative defence of the concept of perpetual peace with sociological remarks concerning its realisation. For him, the way towards freedom and equality is paved with the extension of legal rights to members of other societies. Marx thought in a similar way about liberty and equality, but mentioned the relation between capitalists and working class as the basis of violence and struggle. Linklater connects both ideas when he is talking about communities as systems of inclusion and exclusion in general. For him it does not matter whether exclusion concerns aliens, oppressed workers or the disabled. His idea of abandoning war is inspired by Hegel, who believed that “warfare was essential for the ethical health of political communities.”[14] In short, Linklater states that warfare becomes unnecessary as soon as political communities stop being exclusive. This argument is in line with Carr, who claims that “the general lifting of discrimination” is essential for the survival of a community.[15]


[1] Andrew Linklater holds an MA from Aberdeen University, a BPhil from Oxford and a PhD from the London School of Economics. Until 1999, he was Professor of International Relations at Keele University, and Dean of Postgraduate Affairs. In 2000 he joined the Department of International Politics at the University of Wales. His research interests are the idea of harm in international relations and critical theories of international relations. His book “The Transformation of Political Community” was published in 1998.

[2] Quotes from Steve Smith and Chris Brown, cited in: Toderean, Olivia: Utopia and International Relations Today. Reviewing Andrew Linklater’s ‘The Transformation of Political Community’.

[3] Rengger, N. J.: The Transformation of Political Community (Book Review). In: International Affairs, Vol. 74, No. 3, pp. 631-632

[4] Linklater, Andrew: The Transformation of Political Community. Polity Press, 1998, p. 8

[5] ibid, p. 2

[6] ibid

[7] ibid, p. 3

[8] ibid

[9] ibid, p. 9

[10] ibid, p. 4

[11] ibid, p. 7-8

[12] ibid, p. 5

[13] Hobden, Stephen and Jones, Richard Wyn: Marxist theories of international relations. In: Baylis, John and Smith, Steve: The Globalization of World Politics. Oxford 2006, p. 241

[14] Linklater, Andrew: The Transformation of Political Community. Polity Press, 1998, p. 1

[15] ibid, p. 2

Excerpt out of 17 pages


Between Vision and Fantasy - Essay on Andrew Linklater's "The Transformation of Political Community"
University of Twente  (School of Management and Governance)
International Relations Theory
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Between, Vision, Fantasy, Essay, Andrew, Linklater, Transformation, Political, Community, International, Relations, Theory
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Daniel Neugebauer (Author), 2007, Between Vision and Fantasy - Essay on Andrew Linklater's "The Transformation of Political Community", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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