Question 3

Group 3 (Hossein Aghaie, Mehrdad Moarefian, Mikael Savesky, Khaled Ali, Artem Zamozhniy)
Question 3
In his book “Political Theory and International Relations”, Charles Beitz refutes the Hobbesian
conception of the state of nature in international relations, arguing that this rather skeptical
conception is not applicable for the contemporary structure of international relations.
Furthermore, he explicates that it is not impossible to reach a universal normative theory of
international relations. From Hobbes’ perspective, persons in the state of nature have no
obligations to follow moral rules, mainly because observance of such principles might be
inconsistent with the primary objectives of states to pursue their self-interests. On the contrary,
Beitz postulates that making moral judgments in international relations is applicable since
individuals share some basic ideas about the nature and requirements of morality, which will
accordingly constitute the underpinnings of the normative theory of IR.
Hobbes’ argument for international skepticism rests on two premises: First, the empirical claim,
according to which the state of nature is characterized by constant war in which states have no
inclination to abide by moral rules, because taking ethical principles into consideration might run
counter to state’s primitive concern for survival and serving their own self-interests. Second, the
theoretical claim that moral principles must be justified by showing that following them
promotes the long-range interests of each agent to whom they apply.1
Beitz claims that each premise is wrong: the first because it involves an inaccurate perception of
the structure and dynamics of contemporary international politics, and the second because it
provides an incorrect account of the basis of moral principles and the moral character of the
state. This image of state of nature is misleading and rests on inaccurate reasoning and incorrect
empirical assumptions.2
Beitz further argues that the analogy between international relations and the state of nature would
be inaccurate unless four propositions relevant to the Hobbesian state of nature are proven right.
He insists that contemporary international politics render a different picture than portrayed by
1. States are the primary actors in international relations.3
Beitz argues that, in international relations, the states are not the sole actors; there are many
organizations involved in global affairs. Negotiations are often conducted by NGOs and nonstate actors, who contribute to the stabilization of the international world order.4
Charles R. Beitz, Political Theory and International Relations, 2nd Ed, (USA, 1999), p.14
Charles R. Beitz, Political Theory and International Relations, 2nd Ed, (USA, 1999), p.15
Ibid., p.36
Ibid., p.37
2. States are relatively equal in power.5
Clearly, if one were to view the international arena, it would be quite difficult to support such an
argument for equality. States are not equal in power; the weakest state cannot defeat the
strongest. The most powerful states have an array of devices to make the less fortunate states
comply with their interests.6
3. States will be able to act independently of the internal policies of other states when it comes to
decision making.7
In today’s international relations, it is hardly deniable that the security and prosperity of states
are, to a greater or lesser degree, intertwined with other states’ internal policies. Beitz suggests
that nowadays states have reached such level of interdependence that begs further cooperation
based on non-violent means. In addition, states have given their consent to international
organizations such as IMF and GATT, and have agreed to comply with rules dictated by such
4. There are no reliable expectations of reciprocity in international relations.9
Reciprocity is a fundamental and integral part of international relations; states are expected to
abide by a minimal set of guidelines. States in contemporary international affairs have a relative
level of shared interests. Essentially, states will work with one another because it is conducive to
their overall interests. There are a number of institutions that hold states accountable to a certain
level of reciprocity, for example the UN and IMF implement a set of accepted norms and values
to which states adhere.10
In conclusion, Beitz claims that the idea of the state of nature is out of date, and is irrelevant in
contemporary international relations, in which states are increasingly becoming interdependent
and in pursuit of shared norms and values. It can also be inferred from Beitz’ argument that
abiding by moral rules while serving state’s overriding interests is not mutually exclusive. He
rejects the Hobbesian theory of the state of nature, because it is empirically and theoretically
incorrect. Unlike Hobbes, Beitz suggests the state has a minimum level of obligations to conform
their actions in international affairs in accordance to moral principles.
Charles R. Beitz, Political Theory and International Relations, 2nd Ed, (USA, 1999), p.36
Ibid., p.36 f.
Ibid., p.36
Ibid., p.43 f.
Ibid., p.36
Ibid., p.47 f.