Seminar Series – 21 September 2016

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Our inaugural seminar for the academic year 2016/7 took place at the School of History, Politics and International Relations of the University of Leicester. In three, lively debated sessions we discussed papers on the Perpetual Peace puzzle, the European refugee crisis and the myth of security exceptionalism. You can find details on the papers below.


Session 1: The Perpetual Peace Puzzle: Kant on Persons and States  (click for electronic copy of paper)

Benjamin Holland (University of Nottingham)

Abstract: Kant described the state as a ‘moral person’, and did so when dealing with international relations. For all the interest in his contribution to the theory of global politics, the locution according to which Kant characterized the state has received very little attention. When notice has been taken of it, the moral personality of the state has moved arguments in opposing directions. On one recent reading, when Kant called the state a moral person he intended to indicate that it possessed certain duties to itself and to others, for the sake of which it could be coerced to leave the international state of nature. On another, the juridical compulsion of states to join a state of nations or world republic is categorically ruled out because this would impair their moral personality. Both cannot be right. In this paper, I analyze Kant’s notion of moral personhood, contextualizing it within his wider philosophical concerns. On the basis of this groundwork I put forward an argument about Kant’s theory of the moral person of the state which allows me to show how he in fact was able coherently to incorporate two seemingly contradictory arguments about the state as an international actor in a single argument, and present this as my solution to what I call the Perpetual Peace Puzzle.


Session 2: The European Refugee Crisis: Holding Responsible as Contingent Cosmopolitanism

Kelly Staples (University of Leicester)

 Abstract: Although understandings of its nature differ, it is quite clear that Europe is in the midst of a refugee crisis. The humanitarian crisis, at least, is tangible; in recent memory, and well known to many Europeans, people made acutely vulnerable by political violence at the continent’s borders have been freezing, starving and drowning, and subject to fences, batons and tear gas. Understanding the extent to which the EU and its member states have responsibilities to refugees is not straightforward. This article provides one account of European responsibility in the midst of this crisis. It limits its focus to refugees already in Europe, and attempts to attribute some responsibilities to those European institutions able to act authoritatively in response to the demands of refugees for sanctuary. By way of an account of institutional responsibility, and of a consideration of the potential of ‘contingent’ cosmopolitans, the article makes a case for the importance of holding the EU and its member states responsible for their disregard for refugees. It also suggests, that the prospects for contingent cosmopolitanism might be enhanced by real world attempts to hold these institutions responsible for their failure to respond to the refugee crisis.


Session 3: The Myth of Security Exceptionalism: Critical Architectures for Global Ethics

Thomas Moore (University of Westminster )

Abstract: Despite the sizeable literature documenting Carl Schmitt’s contribution to political thought there is still significant debate as to how to decode his contribution to contemporary security studies. This article considers the theological contours of Westphalian security politics and how this needs to be understood not only through ontological security but also through existential discourses of insecurity in global politics. Carl Schmitt’s rendering of the international generates a critical architecture to understand the myth of security exceptionalism within international relations. The weight of positivist orthodoxy within security studies has simultaneously rationalised and secularised the grammar of risk that has defined conceptions of the modern state. As a result the turn towards the politics of resilience, in both traditional and critical security studies, has emphasised the capacity of the modern subject to positively resolve moments of crisis and risk within security discourse. This article examines the theological dimensions of contemporary security politics, calling for a closer reading of discourses of authorisation and statist conceptions of identity formation at work within the field of international security. The tendency to treat sovereignty as the ‘territorial trap’ for making sense of the modern state has foreclosed the possibility of making sense of security politics beyond the domain of sovereignty. Tracing the plural dimensions of sovereignty—juristic, popular and theological— allows us to see how ‘security exceptionalism’ operates through a number of distinct political registers that are deeply inscribed with both existential and theological discourses of insecurity. When sovereignty is flattened into these three ‘hygienic’ domains, establishing different ontological claims about the sources of political legitimacy, the theological and existential grammars of international security are overlooked.