A can reshape the shared ideational environment, moving states

A key success of SToIP is that it has contributed greatly to
the development of modern liberalism and the debates within it. The book takes
inspiration from idealist arguments of the interwar period, ignoring coetaneous
liberal and neoliberal developments and going against the grain. Wendt proposes
a socially scientific cornerstone for the idealist presumption that diplomacy
can alter the way states view themselves and their counterparts. In chapter
four, Wendt sets out to provide an ideational structure that contrasts the
neorealist material one. Against liberalism, Wendt constitutes the causal role
of systemic ideational structure on the partialities of states, independent of
domestic-level processes. Against neoliberal institutionalism, Wendt’s work contests
the belief of exogenous preferences, predominantly the assumption of egoistic,
absolute gains-augmenting states. If egoism is sustained only by process, as
Wendt claims, then new, more other-regarding practices can reshape the shared
ideational environment, moving states to levels of cooperation not explained by
neoliberalism (Copeland, 2000).

The moderate nature of Wendt’s constructivist stance thrusts
the paradigm to a higher tier of sophistication that is not quite hypothesised
by others in the field. More staunch, hardline constructivists will disagree
with Wendt’s approval of states and those within them having rudimentary needs
that are unassociated with social interaction. Also, by his claim that these
actors are inherently egoistic (at least primarily) and by his understanding
that states are actors with corporate identities that are there before
interaction. Despite all of this, Wendt clearly illustrates that if these
factors were missing, social processes in an international context would have
nothing to affect. The view expressed by more rigid constructivists – ideas all
the way down – is disputed by Wendt in chapters three and four as leaving the
theorist with all structure and no agents. If actors were entirely established
by structure, the constructivist program would become meaningless, as agents
would purely be products of their ideational setting –  existing as a socially conditioned
“Me,” without the free willed “I” capable of resisting the
socialisation process (Mead, 1934). I believe that Wendt fleshes out
constructivism to a degree that is necessary to better understand the
interactions between states as it gives greater credit to them and their
agents, allowing for more explainable structural transformation.

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A central aspect of SToIP is to critique neorealism, Wendt
provides three effective contributions to this cause. Firstly, Wendt takes it a
step further than many liberal and constructivist scholars when examining the
concepts of power and interests. Whilst other theorists disregard the
correlation between power and interests and social interaction (thus giving
credence to realism) Wendt shows the extent to which material variables (such
as power and interests) are governed by social activity, and are not a given as
neorealists would suggest. For Wendt, it is the very interaction with others
that ‘create and instantiate one structure of identities and interests rather
than another; structure has no existence or causal powers apart from process’
(Wendt, 1992). Secondly, Wendt’s work could be seen to advance systemic
theorizing in all forms of political theory; as it provides a philosophically
rigorous justification for viewing a state as an actor. Whilst neorealists,
neoliberals and other constructivists agree that states are important actors, this
assertion only goes as far to say that they exist for the purposes of theory
building. This belief can be countered by unit-level theorists, who could
comment that it is the individuals and social groups within the state that
define it as an actor, and this must be the theoretical focus. Wendt provides a
multi-leveled analysis of a state’s ability to function as its own
self-organising entity that doesn’t depend on other actors to exist. In chapter
five Wendt offers a uniquely stripped down conceptualisation of a state’s
ability to operate as an actor. Wendt provides four concepts of “identity”, a
fundamental theme that enables for a higher understanding of the state’s place
in the world as a key actor. Identities are significant because they provide
the basis for interests. Interests, in turn, develop in the process of defining
situations (Wendt, 1999). Finally, Wendt offers a historically audacious
critique of realism through his claim that “anarchy is what states make of it”.
Wendt seeks to show that episodes of hostility, arms racing, and warfare are
not a certainty in an anarchic system. If states descend into conflict, it is a
consequence of their social activity, which stimulate egoistic and militaristic
mind-sets. In chapter six Wendt provides a deep analysis of anarchy,
proclaiming the importance of cultures. Wendt effectively articulates that
constructivism is not just about ‘adding the role of ideas’ to existing theories
of IR, objectively pointing out that material supremacy and interests are
shaped by ideas and interaction. Therefore, states in an anarchic system may
have potentially threatening capabilities but that is not to say that conflict
must arise. This is a central theme of Wendt’s moderate approach, as he agrees
with the realist assumption of anarchy. However, Wendt’s argument that anarchy
does not force states into conflict juxtaposes the pessimistic outlook of the
realist thinkers who had shaped Cold War realpolitik mindsets; this is
significant as it presents a more positive prospect for the future of IR.


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