Our project is intended to facilitate conversations about world order and promote frontier research on salient topics.
A twofold diversity characterizes the study of world order. There is, to begin with, an eclecticism of definitions and conceptualizations. By world order, we mean the basic foundations of world affairs – their rules, institutions, properties, and organizational principles. Some scholars define world order simply as the rules of the game in world politics. Others see it as the settled arrangements by which actors – states and otherwise – conduct their affairs. Some talk about world order as the constitutional structures of world politics. Some see it as an equilibrium condition, an artifact of the balance of power, while others see it as something that is built and managed by powerful states. Many talk about world order in more specific world-historical terms – the “Westphalian order,” the “Western imperial order,” the “Cold War bipolar order,” the “post-colonial order,” or the “liberal international order.” Some talk about international order as a system of power (e.g., the transition from unipolarity to multipolarity), others talk about international order as a political formation (e.g., the Chinese tribute system, the liberal hegemonic order) and others talk about it as a cluster of emergent properties (e.g., the globalizing world system, the networked world, liberal modernity). They are all seeking to identify the deep ordering logic of the global system.
There is, furthermore, a diversity of theoretical approaches. Narrowly defined, diplomatic historians, American political realists, and scholars working in the English School tradition have been perhaps most explicit in their thinking about international order. But the literatures and debates that touch on problems of international order are many – and cut across the disciplines of history, political science, sociology, philosophy, and the world of public intellectuals. While realists have perhaps offered the most explicit concepts and theories of international order, liberals, Marxists, and constructivists have advanced their own ideas. Most of these scholarly groupings talk past each other. Indeed, an exciting opportunity exists for deeper intellectual exchange between these disciplinary orientations, including between historians – diplomatic, global, and others – and international relations scholars. The new scholarship in global history makes these exchanges even more compelling. So too does the revival within international relations of work on systems theory, polarity, hegemony, liberalism and democracy, and nationalism. In the meantime, intellectual historians, social theorists, and historical sociologists have all joined debates about global order and world society. Philosophers and political theorists who speak to questions of global ethics and justice are also part of the debate. Scientists – in areas such as climate change, information systems, planetary systems, etc. – are also, at least indirectly, asking questions about the character and logic of world order.
A huge opportunity exists to focus these different academic groups and traditions on a common set of global-scale questions, and that is a primary purpose of our project.