Political Science

Start Free Trial

What does Hedley Bull argue in his essay "Does Order Exist in World Politics?"

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

According to Bull, order exists in world politics. Order is maintained by the actions of independent states that act in their interests. As long as no one interferes with the internal affairs of a nation, international politics remains orderly. Order is also maintained by the presence of international societies created by states with a common agenda. The states party to an international organization are usually bound by the same rules and regulations. Bull states that order is working towards a certain goal. He further states that world order is an activity that aims to satisfy three objectives: securing property rights, promise-keeping, and security. However, he argues that order is very different from justice, even though they can go hand in hand. In other words, justice may or may not be necessary to achieve world order.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Hedley Bull (1932–1985) was an important international relations scholar within the English School, what is sometimes known as normative realism. The English School sat at the midpoint between realist and liberal theories of world order.

"Does Order Exist in World Politics?" is an important chapter in Bull's landmark treatise The Anarchical Society. In it, Bull advances a position that ultimately accepts the basic claim of the realists, that is, that the world is in a state of anarchy due to the absence of any higher polity than the nation-state. However, Bull suggests, there has nonetheless always been an element of order due to the generalized acceptance of basic rules of action. While states may pursue policies designed to maximize their self-interest, they do not do so at all costs because cooperation itself can produce benefits.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the chapter Does Order Exist in World Politics?, Hedley Bull seeks to determine what order is in world politics. He also seeks to establish how such order is enforced within different states. Additionally, he also tries to determine whether such states have the capacity to provide for the implementation of world order.

To answer these questions, Bull argues against the theory that international states exist in a state of perpetual anarchy. He suggests that states always seem to gravitate towards cooperation and order. Thus, he asserts that order does exist; however, he adds that order exists under specific conditions.

He states that order will exist in a situation where constituents have an established pattern of activity aimed at achieving a particular goal. Thus, world order would exist in a situation where the society of states protect and maintain individual independence, recognize the rights to property, preserve peace, and maintain fidelity to agreements.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As your tag implies, Hedley Bull was a member of the English School of international relations.  This school of thought is a constructivist school of thought that does not completely reject realism but which criticizes that school of thought.  This is what Bull is trying to say in this chapter -- he is trying to say that there is such a thing as an international society and that states do not exist merely in a Hobbesian state of anarchy.

Bull points out that there has long been some degree of cooperation between states.  The actions of states have also long been regulated by a set of standards that all states have been expected to abide by.  This is not to say that states always play by the rules or that they always cooperate.  However, Bull is arguing that the realists are missing something when they argue that the international system is characterized only by anarchy.

So the major point of this chapter is that anarchy is not the only characteristic of the international system.  Instead, states show a strong tendency to cooperate with one another and to abide by unwritten "laws" that help to constrain their actions.  Both of these ideas are contrary to what realists believe should be the case.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team