The Relevance of ‘International Society’ in the 21st Century:

Challenges and Opportunities in a Potential Post-Liberal Order


  • Arie M. Kacowicz


Palabras clave:

international society, post-liberal order, international cooperation, global governance


In this paper, I aim to update and apply the idea and practices of “international society,” as developed in the classic book written by Hedley Bull (1977). This, by assessing its continuing relevance in the first decades of the 21st century. For scholarly, practical, and policy reasons, I believe that Bull’s masterpiece offers a relevant ‘guide to the perplexed’ to navigate world politics in our turbulent times. The two research questions to be addressed in the paper are: First, what are the challenges confronting the idea of the contemporary international society and its practices in the third decade of the 21st century? Second, what is the relevance of the idea of the international society and its practices nowadays?

To answer the first question, I compile a list of significant contemporary challenges to the international society. In a nutshell, these include the rise of non-state actors and their challenge to the centrality of states; the impact of globalization and the preponderance of global issues (such as COVID-19 and climate change); and the lack of agreed global and shared norms, in both cultural and normative terms, which make international cooperation more difficult to obtain. Facing these four intertwined challenges, I argue that the idea and practices of international society can be updated to face the complex realities of our times. I sustain this argument by linking the concept and practices of the international society to the relevant mechanisms of global and regional governance, including the institutions of the international society. I refer to alternative world orders from the North and the South that reflect the resilience of the international society. Moreover, the opportunities for the flourishing of international society might include its potential decoupling from the Liberal International Order.

Biografía del autor/a

Arie M. Kacowicz

Prof. Arie M. Kacowicz is the Chaim Weizmann Chair in International Relations and Full Professor of International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A Faculty member of the Hebrew University since 1993, and an Adjunct Lecturer at Georgetown since 2003. Author would like to thank Joseph Gratale, Carlos Escudé, Cody Levine, Galia Press-Barnathan, and Daniel Wajner for their comments in previous versions of this paper.