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State Freedom and International Relations

Friday December 11, 2015, from 14:00 to 16:00
Room 24.120 - Mercè Rodoreda Building (1st Floor)
Research seminar

Much of both the academic and practical discourse about international relations suggests that states are, in one way or another, free or unfree. For example, we talk about state autonomy, suggesting that states have the capacity to deliberate and determine their own destiny. We also discuss the ways in which states are constrained and coerced, debating the legitimacy of inter-state interference. Indeed, conceptions of state freedom are identifiable in the deep analytical and normative presumptions of much IR theory but remain, for the large part, implicit. In this paper, Patrick addresses the absence of sustained, explicit consideration of the concept of state freedom in IR. He also shows that in international political discourse we can identify both a strong normative preference for the freedom of states and sharp disagreement about what constitutes that freedom. Patrick further suggests that such contestation about state freedom has played an important role in shaping international politics by structuring legitimate relations of control between states.

Herron supports that argument with a historical analysis of ideas about state freedom. While explicit discussion of the freedom of states was prominent in the 17th and 18th century, as the state's position as the locus of political authority was gradually consolidated the terminology of state freedom diminished in salience. Ideas of state freedom did not disappear, however; they continued to be expressed in analogous areas of international discourse. In this paper is considered one such area, examining international debate about the equality of states at the Second Hague Peace Conference (1907) and the United Nations Conference on International Organization (1945). Patrick Herron uses those cases to demonstrate both the historical role of ideas about state freedom and the utility of the concept for understanding a prominent theoretical problem for IR theory: how to understand the co-existence of both sovereignty and hierarchy in the international system.

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