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Essays on English School of International Relations: Michael Donelan (6 of 7)

I will assess the five different views bestowed by Michael Donelan on the nature of international politics. According to him there are five views or elements that comprises the nature of international politics, these are natural law, realism, rationalism, fideism and historicism.[i] There are two concepts related to the natural law tradition: (1) common morality (reflection on the sense of humanity) and (2) common good (the individual prioritization of both moral virtues and what is good unto himself and to others). He opined that both common morality and common good are essentially built to human beings which actually a staunch distinction from non-human beings. These two ideals provide guidelines of reason and are universal in nature for it aspires good for all which can be done in different levels (be they national or multinational levels). He argued that common morality and common good were both given with regards to natural law tradition. If both were naturally given, are they subject to change? Are there any consequences that common morality and common good can be alter if human beings themselves cannot attain commonalities in moral virtues and goodness of values. What are the permutations of natural law to divine law since I understood that the author is a devout catholic? Who authorizes or speaks for morality and law?
     His idea on realism is similar with the common and general understanding of realism. That state is driven by power which pursues peculiar national interest in an anarchical world or in a self-help system. Security depends upon other state’s recognition and action. They exist with the consideration that other states also exist. The idea of common morality and common good is null and void. Only in the domestic realm of state such morality and law exists and are provided by domestic authorities as well, i.e., executive and judiciary branch of the government. Realism gave little attention or regards morality, ethics and especially common good insignificant or unimportant in the conduct of state affairs. For them reason of state alone can present an encompassing description in viewing the predicament of international politics. And since real politik (struggle for power) is the name of the game, states do not trust one another. However, we should also consider the taxonomy of power and how it greatly affected the realist’s thesis. Power can be presented in different forms: power of language, mind, discourse, physical or material (economic and/or military), and ideas and ideologies. But I think we all have common understanding that when we talk about realist conception of power we are concern with high politics such as political prominence and military capabilities.
     Rationalism for Donelan starts with three concepts: (1) self, which means I exists (in my conscious mind), (2) freedom and (3) equality. These concepts set out the foundation of human society. It is the belief that when you think you exist and that you recognizes other’s existence then both of you exist freely, and when you think all of us exist freely, and then we will think that all of us are equal. The simplicity of their correlations is outrageous, it doesn’t mean that when you believed you exists it inevitably leads you to believe other’s exists or else you may ask whether the pleasantries of life lead me to believe that I exists. How about the unpleasant situation that others experienced, will they be also (immediately) believe that they exists and recognizes the existences of other so we are both free and equal? Equality comes into many textures whether women and men, men and gays, black and white, Europeans and Asians are equal and with similar perceptions as to how they see themselves.  In this view, commonalities do not come from and built in all human beings; instead, it comes from observation, examination, and reason of human being. In taking consideration of the idea of the good of all, this is to say that the function of international politics is to make every individual compatible with the achievement of common good. According to Donelan, there are four principles of society of states which were patterned from the foundations of human society: (1) the belief that each state is free, (2) all states are equal, (3) agreements should be kept or pacta sunt servanda, and (4) justice should be done, hitherto with its implementation that three laws are provided – possessions should be respected, any transfer of possessions should be done by consent and not by accession, and promises made should be fulfilled. In this argument it entails that private life is more important than public life, which I think resonates that private international law has more weight than public international law (if we will take it into the state-level).
     In Dr. Yurdusev lecture, he oriented us that Michael Donelan was a devout catholic so it follows that his line of thinking is influenced by strong affiliations to the dogmas of Catholic Church. He included fideism as the fourth element in looking and viewing the nature of international politics. This is the belief that faith supersedes reason or faith is independent from reason and that it provides more basis in arriving at particular truths. In short, faith and reason are both hostile or in contradictory with each other. How can this idea be an element or view in international politics and in what method will suffice international milieu? Donelan argued that morality and law should be based on faith alone, but if scholars interpret it on the basis of reason then selfishness prevails. Furthermore, the so-called universal community of believers is regulated by law revealed by divine providence and the authority, of course, comes from the church, in which Donelan regarded the church as the only entrusted institution for such great authority. But how can this argument applicable to international politics when most, if not all, are composed of states adhering to secularism, the idea that all of the activities and duties in politics and governance must be under the authority of the government while religious and spiritual activities is to church only. The community of believers is even under the authority of the government and to which foreign policy is undertaken, which shapes how they (members of the government) act and play their role in the international community.
     The last element is that international politics must be viewed historically. This is again one of the major features of the British School of International Relations – historicism in their epistemological pluralism. Donelan argued that reality is something historical. But I contend if we can say that reality of the present is an extension of the reality of the past? What is the ‘something’ that reality is historical? Is this base on certain scenarios depicting historical accounts to form reality? In addition, reason, morality, interests and etc for him were historically conceived juxtaposed to an occurrence of life which continuously flows and probably might change. If reason, morality, interests and other notions which make-up the international politics were historically conceived then it follows that the changing component of these notions were not constant. I can accept that historicism is one way of conceiving these notions but there are also other plausible factors conceiving these matters. We can take on the empiricism and other methodologies applicability.
     In sum, the five views or elements on the nature of international politics are somehow overlapping, tension arises on some notions like ideas on morality and law in describing and explaining under the context of each element, and compounded by escalating confusions on part of Donelan’s understanding of the complex phenomena of the nature of international politics.

[i] See Michael Donelan, “Elelments of International Political Theory,” (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990).
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