A Constructivist Reading of State Morality in International Relations

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Istanbul Aydin University, vol.15, no.2, pp.169-185, 2023 (Peer-Reviewed Journal)


This article subjects the concept of state morality to a discourse analysis based on three constructivist perspectives namely those of Nicholas Greenwood Onuf, Friedrich Kratochwil and Alexander Wendt. All three are acknowledged and recognized constructivist theorists who have pursued and written extensively on the merits of their distinctive constructivist theorems. All three are academic endeavours that massively contributed to the popularity of Constructivism as the most novel IR-theories with a strong grounding on shared characteristic concepts such as ideas, norms and values. This paper contains a comparative discourse analysis referring to the main principles of the three mentioned constructivists. The central question in this paper therefore is, how state affairs in the international arena ought to be moral comparing the three constructivist perspectives. The methodology used in this article is a discourse analysis by ordering the arguments on state morality in all three constructivist theorems. For Kratochwil the international environment resembles a society of states sharing some features with the English school (Kratochwil, 2018, p. 51) characterized by a common and shared international culture, and a language that represent norms and vocabulary that uphold international order. From this perspective state actors ought to agree and commit to the use of shared norms and culture. The changes in the international environment are considered as opportunities. Once such opportunities are evaluated they can become lessons learned possessing moral worth and become institutionalized. For Onuf constructivism is built around the notion of human reason which is why Onuf prefers methodological and a systematic approach in his discourse. This systematic approach does not construct a so-called social reality from the perspective of subjects but rather from the dynamic nature of ideas and how these ideas come to be accepted as reality. For Wendt, the most recent of the three constructivists, constructivism is the opposite (Wendt, 1999, p. 20) of what realism argues in terms fear and violence. On the contrary the relations within the international domain is not based on the idea of rigidity of a fixed human condition, but is rather plastic as the human condition can be defined and redefined making it socially alterable.