Legitimacy and Authority in International Politics by Ian Hurd NOTES
What motivates states to follow international norms, rules, and commitments? All
social systems must confront what we might call the problem of social control�that
is, how to get actors to comply with society's rules�but the problem is
particularly acute for international relations, because the international social
system does not possess an overarching center of political power to enforce rules.
Yet, taken in balance with other values, a measure of order is a valued good. Some
take this absence of centralized power to mean that the international system is
like a Hobbesian state of nature, where only material power matters; others see it
as evidence that international rules have force only when they are in the self-
interest of each state. I show that these two conclusions are premature because of
their shallow reading of international society and misinterpretation of the ways in
which authority works in domestic society.
Scholars of international relations have long argued that the international system
is characterized by anarchy and that states are the central players, and only
recently has this orthodoxy been challenged by new thinking about hierarchy and
nonstate political actors. In an innovative modification of this debate, Ian
Hurd�s After Anarchy ties together the core arguments of two major schools of
thought, realism and constructivism. Hurd argues that perceptions of legitimacy
undergird how states act, both vis-�-vis one another and in relation to
international institutions; in other words, legitimacy creates international order.
Furthermore, if legitimacy is necessary to compel state action and shapes how
states perceive the world, then states cannot be the only bearers of such power: it
is also held by international bodies, such as the United Nations Security Council,
the empirical focus of the study.
Hurd�s argument about legitimacy can be broken into two major strands. The first
is an argument that anchors legitimacy firmly in debates about the rational state.
Hurd hopes to undo the current dichotomy between those who believe states to be
rational actors engaged in shaping the world according to their interests and those
who argue that interests are shaped by underlying understandings of how the world
�ought� to be. In other words, he shows that James March and Johan Olsen�s
�logic of consequences� and �logic of appropriateness� are mutually dependent in
explaining international relations. The second strand is that states not only
respond to one another�s claims of legitimacy but that international
organizations, such as the UN, may also affect how states conceive of their own
interests, and of right and wrong actions. In other words, states have lost their
exclusive claims on making the rules of international politics.
The task Hurd undertakes is by no means an easy one. By classifying legitimacy as a
�governing concept� (p. 29) over the use of symbols and authority, Hurd reveals
the problems that have plagued theories about legitimacy in international
relations. If he is right, and legitimacy in fact is a meta-concept that ultimately
determines the behavior of states in the international system, current theories
about anarchy and state sovereignty need serious revision. Yet few scholars have
offered either clear explanations of what legitimacy is, how one goes about
attaining it, or how legitimacy affects international poli