Are Eurocentrism and Babel The Only Options? (ISQ Online forum)
Charles R. Butcher and Ryan D. Griffiths’ theory note is a welcome addition to the growing literature in IR that aims to study ‘international’ orders pre-dating the modern one we are in. It is increasingly clear that we find ourselves in a moment of systemic transition, and it also seems obvious that our ability to imagine what could come next in world politics depends, to a large extent, on how well we understand what existed before modernity (Ruggie 1995 still makes the best case for this point). Unfortunately, mainstream IR has not been very good at understanding the past, having naively assumed that things taken for granted now —anarchy, modern states, Europe etc.— have always existed in some recognisable form in history. Until recently, this was reinforced with what may at best be termed tunnel vision in IR’s dealings with history, where only those episodes from the past that seemed familiar (the Peloponnesian War, Westphalia, the Concert of Europe, World War I etc.) would even be considered as appropriate sites of inquiry. Having thus reduced all of human history to a few ‘greatest hits’, and hampered in the analysis of even those episodes by the ahistoricism of its conceptual toolkit (see e.g. Lawson 2012), IR would return from its excursions into history with its worst generalisations about the present confirmed, in the manner of an American tourist whose ideas about world cuisine were formed by sampling Big Macs at different national franchises in Europe.