(Un)Natural and contractual international society: A conceptual inquiry

This article offers a critical perspective on one of the central concepts of IR and the English School of IR in particular, namely the concept of international society. It argues that the moral agency of international society and its ‘naturalness’ were affirmed simultaneously with the marginalization of the concept of societas designating contractual political relations. The article traces the concept of contracted societas back to the work of Hugo Grotius, an acclaimed founder of the ‘international society’ tradition. By placing Grotius’ use of the concept in the context of ancient and early modern discussion of political alliances and partnerships, it demonstrates that politically contracted societas was no less conventional and important than the Stoic universal human society. However, this alternative societas had to be abandoned in the debates over the rival theories of social contract and the law of nations. The inherent sociability arguments, which were used to undermine a Hobbesian explanation for social contract or to question the very idea that society results from contract, found no place for societas contracted for a particular political purpose. The identification of such contingency in the history of the concept provides grounds for reopening the closure of the present conceptualizations of international society.
1354-0661, 1460-3713

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