How civilized is “civilization”?

Not going to lie, I found some of the texts in Buzan’s “An Introduction to the English School of International Relations” difficult to connect to. They were dense, abstract, and their theoretical nature made it difficult for me to apply them to any other concepts I had previously learned about. That is, until, I started connecting some of the ideas mentioned in chapter  5 to other things I was learning this semester.

Why does it seem that everything in the world is Eurocentric? From news coverage, to educational curriculum, to international theory, it seems as though Europe and the “West” are at the center of our worlds. The framework presented in chapter 5 begins to explain the complex process of the expansion of European societies into almost every facet of our international society. In his book, Buzan summarizes the English Schools’ interpretation of the expansion story into three parts.

  1. The story begins with emergence and consolidation of anarchical international society centered around Westphalian ideas
  2. The story continues with transfer of this society to the rest of the world through colonization
  3. The story ends through decolonization, and inclusion of 3rd world countries as members in the international society and the problems associated with that

Obviously, this is a rather simplistic summary of the expansion of European International society. I think it is very easy to forget about the consequences associated with this forceable expansion. The consequences are not often taught as part of the dominant narrative. I agree with Buzan when he says that the some members of the English School tend to downplay the “dark side” of the colonial era because “at least some elements of the English School were influenced by the nostalgia for the nineteenth century colonial order” (Buzan 74). This “dark side” included the mass atrocities committed against indigenous peoples, exploitation of resources, and the destruction of culture. So I think Buzan’s analysis of the shortcomings of the historical interpretation  of the expansion of European society is a bit too forgiving.

I further agree with what Buzan says about the limitations of the emergence story in the English School. From his summaries in chapter 5, I agree that the authors in the English school tend to ignore the results of colonization on those being colonized. Additionally, I believe there is a need to address the international systems and even societies that existed before the Europeans over took them (what?? There was a world before Europe ran it?? ). Even as college students we are not often taught from the perspective of the “others”.

I found many parallels between this concept of the “standard of civilization” that we are discussing in this class, and the history of racism we are discussing in my politics of race, ethnicity, and gender class. European colonization resulted in so much more than just the spread of Westphalian ideals. The idea of other cultures being “less than”, and therefore meaning it is acceptable to enforce this new world order upon, has perpetuated and become so deeply engrained in our society we barely even notice it anymore. We see it through systematic racism, immigration policy, and classism. I think this is important to talk about when discussing global order, because the victims of these things are the players that are often excluded from the conversation.

Obviously there is no way to change what has happened in the past, but I do believe it is important to pay closer attention to the implications of the development of a Eurocentric international society on those states that are not being considered major players. If we lose this perspective I think the system fails to operate effectively. I found this section of reading to be very thought provoking, after semi successfully wading through the mumbo jumbo that is Buzan, that is.


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4 Responses to How civilized is “civilization”?

  1. evmillar

    I really liked how you connected these ideas to the development of racism in the modern world. I agree completely with what you said, but I probably couldn’t have worded it so eloquently. It’s really interesting to look at the continuing effects of colonialism even today. I recently read a Washington Post article questioning the lasting tradition of African judges and barristers wearing wigs in court ( and I feel like it connects to what you were saying about the spread and support of European ideas in ‘uncivilized’ areas.

  2. ealex9

    This is a very good insight into the idea of the ‘standard of civilization’ and racial implications of it. I found Buzan’s txt to also be confusing at times but you did a great job of consolidating his argument into understandable language while offering your own insight. You bring up a great point about how the victims of racism ought to be a ‘player in the game’. Do you think that they can/will be? How so?

  3. cplambert

    I also wrote about the eurocentric bias of the expansions story! Good point about the parallels between the English School’s narrative and the concept of standard civilization. I like how you connected the theories from this book to your other classes; when discussing topics with such broad applicability as this, having interdisciplinary context provides unique interpretations and you did a good job bringing that other insight into your writing

  4. Brett Netto

    Excellent post!

    “Additionally, I believe there is a need to address the international systems and even societies that existed before the Europeans over took them (what?? There was a world before Europe ran it?? ).” – Your concern will be addressed through the readings we will do once we finish with Buzan.

    “Even as college students we are not often taught from the perspective of the “others”.” – it is my hope that I will do the best I can to show this perspective this semester.

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