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Bounding Power: Republican Security Theory from the Polis to the Global Village

Bounding Power: Republican Security Theory from the Polis to the Global Village

by Daniel H. Deudney


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 2900691138304
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 10/20/2008
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)

About the Author

Daniel H. Deudney is Associate Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. He has written extensively on international political theory and contemporary global issues.

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Bounding Power

Republican Security Theory from the Polis to the Global Village
By Daniel H. Deudney

Princeton University Press

Copyright © 2006 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.


Before Realism and Liberalism

I study power so as to understand the enemy. -Stanley Hoffmann


Globalization is the first, most important fact about the human condition at the threshold of the second millennium. Globalization, the rising levels of interdependence on progressively larger spatial scales, has been the dominant trend in human history during the last five centuries, and it has operated in military, ecological, economic, and cultural dimensions. Over this period, all human political communities, initially isolated or loosely connected, have become more densely and tightly interconnected and subject to various mutual vulnerabilities in a manner previously experienced only on much smaller spatial scales. The creation of this villagelike proximity and density on a global scale has occurred through every means imaginable, from genocidal invasion and enslavement to cooperative exchange and progressive emulation. It has produced massive epidemics, world wars, ecological devastation, and cultural annihilation, as well as large populations of humans more secure, more free, and more prosperous than ever before in history. Looking ahead into the new century, globalization shows every indication of further intensifying as humanpopulation burgeons, weapons of mass destruction proliferate, lethal new plagues emerge, ecological destruction accelerates, economies further integrate, and information capacities advance.

In the face of these developments, theorists of international relations and world politics have a decidedly divided posture. On one side, numerous globalist and interdependence theorists have charted these realities for more than a century, and many have pointedly drawn the conclusion that increasingly substantive world governance and government are needed to satisfy basic human interests. On the other side, the still hegemonic tradition of Realist international theory maintains a skeptical stance toward globalist claims about the world and doubts the need or the possibility of establishing robust world governance. Labeling these ambitions utopian or idealistic, Realists emphasize the long historical persistence of the fundamentally anarchic sovereign state system and expect the future to look much like the past. The Realist view also seems to gain authority from a conceptually rich tradition of theorizing supposedly stretching back to the ancient Greeks and seemingly vindicated repeatedly by the historical record.

The second most important fact about the contemporary human situation is the liberal-democratic ascent, the rise to an historically unprecedented preeminence of the 'free world' composed of the United States of America and its democratic allies. Republics (polities based on political liberty, popular sovereignty, and limited government) have been historically precarious and rare, generally poor, and massively compromised. They now constitute a zone of peace, freedom, and prosperity far greater than any other in history. For most of history republics were confined to small city-states where they were insecure and vulnerable to conquest or internal usurpation, but over the last two centuries they have expanded to continental size through federal union and emerged victorious from the violent total world conflicts of the twentieth century. In contrast, their major despotic and imperial adversaries have failed spectacularly. The American-led 'free world' overcame the reversals of the 1930s and early 1940s, expanded with the reconstruction of Western Europe and parts of East Asia as capitalist, liberal, constitutional, and federal democracies, and has built a dense network of international institutions. This "compound of federations, confederations, and international regimes" now constitutes a political order more like the domestic spheres of earlier republics than the prototypical Realist state system of hierarchies in anarchy.

On the Liberal ascent international theorists also have a decidedly divided posture. Realists tend to view the United States as simply another nation-state and as a particularly successful great power. They tend to dismiss its exceptionalist liberal-democratic ideology as either dangerously naive or disingenuously self-serving. Realists also have difficulty accepting and conceptualizing the Western liberal order as a distinct type of state system. They have little hope for its persistence and expend little effort in thinking about how it might be sustained or augmented. Contemporary Liberal international theory, growing in strength and sophistication along with the expansion of the liberal system, does better, but its treatment is also fragmented, off center, and increasingly in disarray. In contrast to the pessimistic Realist emphasis on historical patterns of recurrence, contemporary Liberalism, particularly American 'neoconservativism,' has tended toward overoptimism, verging on triumphalism and complacency, thus forgetting the arduous circumstances and severe problems faced by early republican polities. International Liberalism's numerous practical agendas of arms control, democracy promotion, international law, human rights, peacekeeping, international organization, and functional problem-solving regimes still labor inappropriately under the onus of utopianism. These agendas are not well connected to one another or to a larger conceptualization of Liberal and world governance, and the legacies of progressive internationalism are increasingly under assault. Liberals are also increasingly divided about the appropriateness of establishing international restraints on states, and the liberal democracies of America and Europe are increasingly divided about which parts of the liberal-democratic agenda are most important.

The stakes and divisions over intensifying security globalization and the status of broadly liberal political arrangements are particularly acute concerning nuclear weapons. Marking the effective culmination of five centuries of strategic and military globalization, the discovery of nuclear explosives a half century ago created a material context with unprecedented possibilities for large-scale destruction. In the wake of the attacks of 9/11, the increasing credibility of nonstate actors acquiring and using nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction has further raised both the stakes and the intellectual disarray surrounding security globalization and the fate of free polities.

The response of theorists to these destructive possibilities also has been extremely diverse, ranging from the view that the state system is obsolete and must be replaced by effective world government, through the currently dominant middle view that nuclear deterrence has brought about a revolution in interstate relations, to the still influential view that nuclear weapons are not revolutionary in their implications. Within this diverse matrix of theory and policy, Realist views, while themselves varied, have dominated, displacing into increasing marginality early American and liberal views supporting robust international regulation and vigorous arms control. The attacks of 9/11 and the prospects of nonstate nuclear terrorism have brought new urgency to the old question of the relationship between domestic liberty and international order.


Given these discrepancies between these two contemporary realities-intensifying globalization (particularly concerning security) and the liberal-democratic ascent-and their treatment in contemporary international theory, the goal of this book is to rethink the basic traditions and concepts of international theory. I do so by offering an alternative reading of Western security theorizing that aims to alter our conception of our theoretical past in ways potentially useful for our present and future needs. I focus on the main line of Western theorizing about the relations among security-from-violence, material contexts, and types of government. This reading recovers and reconstructs a line of thinking centered around republicanism and contextual-materialist geopolitics that emerged in the ancient and modern European Enlightenments. This line of theorizing, which I shall refer to interchangeably as republican security theory and security-restraint republicanism, has been misunderstood and misappropriated in mainstream, and particularly Realist-centered, accounts of international theory. Central ideas of its main successors-Realism and Liberalism-are incomplete fragments of it. While some parts of this line of argument are central to both contemporary Realism and Liberalism, other parts, some of great importance, have been partially lost and marginalized and the connections between them have nearly vanished. Viewing the original formulations of Western structural-materialist security theory in this way reveals a tradition that was doing in the past precisely what we need to be doing in the present and future, namely, grappling with change in material contexts and the extension of republican government on successively larger scales. The net effect of this argument for contemporary international theory is to diminish Realism as a distinct and intelligible tradition, to expand, deepen, and recenter international Liberalism, and to point the way toward a unified structural-material security theory.

In simple terms, I claim that the main axis of intellectual development in Western structural-materialist security theory is composed of two problematiques which seek to understand the interplay between variations and changes in the material context, security-from-violence, and three arrangements of political authority (anarchical, hierarchical, and republican). The overall republican security project has been to achieve security by simultaneously avoiding the extremes of hierarchy and anarchy over successively larger spaces in response to changes in the material context, particularly changes in violence interdependence. The most essential claim of the first problematique is that anarchy is incompatible with security in situations in which there are high levels of violence interdependence, and that such situations vary across both space and time in intelligible patterns shaped by the interaction of geography and technology. A key claim of the second problematique, largely dropped by more recent Realist formulations, is that the extremes of both hierarchy and anarchy are intrinsically incompatible with security owing to the absence of restraint. Republican forms, evolving over time to encompass ever-larger spaces, essentially entail the simultaneous negation of both anarchy and hierarchy through the imposition of mutual restraints. As such, the main axis of Western structural-material security theory is about the interplay between restraints-either material contextual or political structural-and security-from-violence. In short, providing security in a world of bounding power, of leaping violence possibilities, requires changes in the scope and types of bounding power, of socially constructed practices and structures of restraint.

Two often overlooked facts suggest the value of rereading the main historical axis of security theory as essentially that of republicanism and its fragmentary successors. First, the terms 'Realism' and 'Liberalism' first appear during the nineteenth century, and six of the main ideas now associated with them (for Realism: the anarchy problematique, balance of power, and society of states; for Liberalism: democratic peace, commercial peace, and international institutions) were first formulated before the nineteenth century largely within the conceptual idioms of republicanism. Second, almost all the writings from which Realist and Liberal international theory take their main arguments were written about the particular problems of a handful of polities (democratic Athens, republican Rome, Renaissance Venice and Florence, and early modern Holland, Britain, and the United States) and were written by citizens, inhabitants, or close observers of these polities. Far from being a random selection of polities across Western (let alone global) historical experience, these polities were highly anomalous due to their precocious possession of political liberty, popular sovereignty, and limited government, and several of them had roles within their state systems vastly disproportionate to their size and population. Given these facts, it is easy to entertain the proposition that international security theory originated within the conceptual idioms of these republican polities and to see its overall project as the simultaneous avoidance of the extremes of anarchy and hierarchy. Like the surprise of Molière's bourgeois gentleman upon learning he had been speaking prose his whole life, international theory is surprised to learn that it has long been unknowingly speaking republicanism.

In the remaining sections of this introduction, I unpack more fully my claim that the main ideas recognized as central to contemporary Realist and Liberal international theory are republican in origin, explore the conceptual parameters of this 'republicanism,' specify the role of material contextual variables in these arguments, outline the nature and limits of interpretative rereadings, and summarize the subsequent chapters.


To appreciate the value of recovering and reconstructing the structural-materialist security arguments of ancient and early modern republican theory, it is useful to begin with an examination of the commanding heights in the diverse landscape of contemporary international relations theory. There are far more international theorists than ever before, and the lines between different schools and arguments are often blurred. Despite this expansion and blending, the most widely used way to refer to the major clusters of arguments is as traditions, three of which are most established and developed-Realism, Liberalism, and Marxism. There is also wide agreement that Realism, despite continued assaults and criticisms, remains the most compelling, even hegemonic tradition, particularly concerning security. Realism is itself diverse, encompassing social science arguments, policy-relevant analysis, and a canonical body of earlier theorists, and there are many debates among Realists.

The construction of Realism as a tradition of international theory has largely been in the 'American social science' of international relations, fashioned during the second half of the 'American Century.' But the essential conceptual building blocks of this enterprise were derived from earlier European thought and largely brought by European émigrés. Realism's rise and contours have been heavily shaped by its aspiration to guide American foreign policy better than indigenous American 'idealism.' Realism's intellectual hegemony is buttressed by its sense of itself as a tradition of practice and theory stretching back to Thucydides in Greek antiquity and claiming many of the leading figures in Western political thought. Reinforcing this hegemony, non-Realists largely define themselves through their attacks on Realism. Although Realists are not a majority of contemporary international theorists, the field (particularly concerning security) resembles a wheel with Realism at the hub and its competitors situated on spokes radiating out from it.


Excerpted from Bounding Power by Daniel H. Deudney Copyright © 2006 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

List of Figures     ix
Preface and Acknowledgments     xi
Introduction: Before Realism and Liberalism     1
Traditions and Theory
Republican Security Theory     27
Relatives and Descendants     61
From the Polis to Federal Union
The Iron Laws of Polis Republicanism     91
Maritime Whiggery     114
The Natural 'Republic' of Europe     136
The Philadelphian System     161
Toward the Global Village
Liberal Historical Materialism     193
Federalist Global Geopolitics     215
Anticipations of World Nuclear Government     244
Conclusion     265
Notes     279
Index     375

What People are Saying About This

Henry Nau

Daniel Deudney is one of the most creative thinkers in contemporary political science. In this captivating and wide-ranging book, he retrieves classical ideas of republican security theory to critique realist and liberal interpretations of present-day globalization and the ascent of liberal democracy. He then offers novel republican solutions for future world order that square the circle of avoiding nuclear violence while preserving individual freedom.
Henry Nau, George Washington University

Nicholas Onuf

To say that Bounding Power is a significant contribution to the field is an understatement. Indeed, it is a significant contribution to several fields: political theory, U.S. history, constitutional law, ethics, and, of course, international relations. Once it is published, no one will be able to talk about international relations theory without taking the republican legacy into account. This will be the case for years to come.
Nicholas Onuf, Florida International University, author of "The Republican Legacy in International Thought"


Bounding Power has the potential to revolutionize international political thought. Such an exciting book comes along once in a blue moon.
David A. Welch, University of Toronto, author of "Painful Choices: A Theory of Foreign Policy Change" and "Justice and the Genesis of War"

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