How Hierarchical Can International Society Be?

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Waltzian analysis proceeds from the distinction between the ordering principles of anarchy and hierarchy. This raises the large question whether the introduction of pockets of ‘authority’ would represent a fundamental challenge to an anarchical international society. The article investigates this theme by exploring a putative institution of hegemony. It begins with a distinction between primacy and hegemony, and develops the idea of hegemony as a potentially legitimate practice of international society. Since most political systems are ‘mixed’, it then concludes that adoption of a hierarchical principle of hegemony is no more contradictory for international society than is its development of other such institutions. In common with much recent scholarship, it agrees that international society can function as a form of ‘hierarchy under anarchy’, within which hegemony could play its part. The article finally demonstrates what is distinctive to hegemonic behaviour, and suggests that practices such as soft balancing do not represent any form of balancing at all, but are better understood as attempts to institutionalise hegemony.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)464-480
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Relations
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 01 Sept 2009


  • anarchy
  • hegemonic stability
  • hegemony
  • hierarchy
  • international society
  • legitimacy
  • primacy
  • soft balancing


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