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MIL0010.1177/0305829814528265Millennium: Journal of International StudiesBuzan

MILLENNIUM Journal of International Studies


Millennium: Journal of

The ‘Standard of Civilisation’

International Studies
2014, Vol. 42(3) 576­–594
© The Author(s) 2014
as an English School Concept1 Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0305829814528265

Barry Buzan
London School of Economics, UK

The ‘standard of civilisation’ has its roots in the culturally widespread trope of ‘civilised’ versus
‘barbarian’. It took its specific modern form in the 19th century, primarily as a European
legal term. No specific set of criteria for the ‘standard of civilisation’ was ever codified, but
the general practice was to define the standard by the contemporary forms of government
prevailing in Europe. Its political role was to gate-keep membership of international society,
and to justify colonialism. The term collapsed after 1945 when the right of self-determination
opened membership to nearly all peoples. In the English School literature, the ‘standard of
civilisation’ has been used to tell a variety of historical encounter stories, and to critique the
School’s neglect of colonialism. Its contemporary relevance in the literature concerns debates
about whether human rights, democracy, capitalism and possibly environmentalism are being
used to construct a new ‘standard of civilisation’ operationalised through conditionality and
other discriminatory practices. Another important link is between the colonial obligation
to raise ‘less advanced’ peoples to the standard and the post-1945 obligation to provide aid
and development to the ‘less developed’. The English School concept of the ‘standard of
civilisation’ is thus both refreshingly frank politically and of durable relevance for thinking
about international relations.

conditionality, English School, human rights, international society, ‘standard of civilisation’

  1. This article is based on a talk given at the October 2013 Millennium conference. It draws on
Barry Buzan, An Introduction to the English School of International Relations: The Societal
Approach (Cambridge: Polity, 2014), and Barry Buzan and George Lawson, The Global
Transformation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

Corresponding author:
Barry Buzan, London School of Economics, Houghton Street, London, WC2A2AE, UK.
Email: b.g.buzan@lse.ac.uk
Buzan 577

The English School has a good claim to be the founding site for using ‘the standard of
civilisation’ in the analysis of international relations.2 But as with Watson’s concept of
raison de système, the English School has not featured this term as much as it might.3 I
argue that the English School should raise the profile of the ‘standard of civilisation’ not
just in its historical work, but also in its analysis of the post-colonial world. There is no
problem about using the concept when looking at the pre-1945 international society,
because ‘standard of civilisation’ was in common use at that time. Applying it to the post-
1945 world might be thought embarrassing or inappropriate because of its strong asso-
ciation with colonial attitudes and practices. Yet what is clear is that practices very close
in form and political purpose to those of Western-colonial international society remain
common in contemporary world politics. These practices are no longer referred to using
the term ‘standard of civilisation’, which along with ‘barbarian’ and ‘savage’ have largely
dropped out of polite conversation. They generally come wrapped in more anodyne and
bureaucratic terms such as ‘conditionality’, ‘good governance’ and ‘development’. My
case here is that the English School should have the courage to stick with the original
term. The reason is partly that a spade should be called a spade, but mainly that it is
important to highlight the continuity of the practice and not to pretend that things have
changed when they have not. ‘Standard of civilisation’ is a powerful analytical concept
applicable well beyond the historical particularities of the last two centuries. It should
not be hidden behind a veil of political correctness. The next section looks at the origin
and meaning of the concept in the Western-colonial era, and the one after that at how it
has been used by the English School in historical analysis. Section four examines analo-
gous contemporary practice, and the final section argues for the ongoing relevance and
utility of the concept to the analysis of international relations.

The Concept
The concept of the ‘standard of civilisation’ has deep roots in many societies beyond the
West, from ancient Greece and China to the Islamic world. It rests on the differentiation
between ‘civilised’ and ‘barbarian’ that was common to most civilisations. This differen-
tiation could be done as a cultural ranking (in which case upward movement was possi-
ble by acquiring the relevant high culture) or as a racist one (in which case superiority/
inferiority was biologically inscribed). The concept opened a status gap between ‘civi-
lised’ and ‘uncivilised’ (‘barbarian’ or ‘savage’) and legitimised the claim by the former
of higher political and legal, as well as cultural, standing over the latter. It is a typical
construct of a stronger party over a weaker one.4 I put ‘standard of civilisation’ in inverted
commas to signify that it is almost always the construct of one party in a relationship,

  2. Gerritt W. Gong, The Standard of ‘Civilization’ in International Society (Oxford: Clarendon

Press, 1984).
  3. Adam Watson, The Evolution of International Society (London: Routledge, 1992), 14.
  4. This is not always true. The Romans acknowledged the high civilisation of Greece even
though they had conquered the Greeks.
578 Millennium: Journal of International Studies 42(3)

usually the dominant one, and not a statement about some essential condition. As Fidler
sums up the essence of the idea, it means that: ‘to engage fully in international relations,
your behaviour has to conform fully to expectations, policies, and rules established by
the prevailing powers’.5 During the 19th century, the ‘standard of civilisation’ thus sup-
ported a partly racist taxonomy of ‘savage, barbarian and civilised’ as a way of classify-
ing the non-European world in relation to Europe, and gate-keeping on entry to European,
and later Western, international society.6 The expansion of international society was thus
done on unequal terms in two ways: by the imperial absorption of much of the non-West
into European empires, and by the phased admission of a few non-colonised states into
international society once they were deemed ‘civilised’. Its use in Europe became promi-
nent during the later 19th century at a time when an enormous power gap existed between
Europe and the rest of the world, and European economic, colonial and settlement expan-
sion had brought Europeans into close and highly unequal encounters with peoples rang-
ing from small hunter-gatherer bands to classical agrarian empires with huge populations.
‘Scientific’ racism was also strong in Europe at that time, reinforcing a sense of European
superiority.7 The concept developed mainly in international law, and diplomatic and
international legal practice.8
In one sense, the ‘standard of civilisation’ represents a particular phase in the rise of the
West. The expansion of European international society required changes of identity, start-
ing with ‘Christendom’ in the emergence phase, then during the early 19th century switch-
ing to ‘Western culture’ in order to integrate the Americas and other European offshoots,
and finally to the ‘standard of civilisation’ in the late 19th century.9 In some ways, the shift
from Christian to Western to ‘civilisation’ marked a shift from highly exclusive to less
exclusive points of differentiation.10 When international society was considered to be
exclusively Christian, majority Muslim polities such as the Ottoman Empire were axio-
matically outside its ambit. However, the shift to an idea of ‘civilisation’ based on the

 5. David Fidler, ‘A Kinder, Gentler System of Capitulations? International Law, Structural
Adjustment Policies, and the Standard of Liberal, Globalized Civilization’, Texas International
Law Journal 35, no. 3 (2000): 389.
 6. W.R. Louis, ‘The Era of the Mandates System and the Non-European World’, in The
Expansion of International Society, eds Hedley Bull and Adam Watson (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1984), 201–13; Brett Bowden, The Empire of Civilization: The Evolution of
an Imperial Idea (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2009), Kindle edn locs. 755–848.
 7. John M. Hobson, The Eurocentric Conception of World Politics: Western International
Theory 1760–2010 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).
  8. Benedict Kingsbury, ‘Sovereignty and Inequality’, in Inequality, Globalization, and World
Politics, eds Andrew Hurrell and Ngaire Woods (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 72–
7; Fidler, ‘A Kinder, Gentler System of Capitulations?’; Bowden, The Empire of Civilization,
locs. 1633–1787.
 9. Gong, The Standard of ‘Civilization’, 4–6; Adam Watson, ‘New States in the Americas’, in
The Expansion of International Society, eds Hedley Bull and Adam Watson (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1984), 127–41; Ian Clark, Legitimacy in International Society (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2005), 35–50.
10. Andrew Phillips, ‘Saving Civilization from Empire’, European Journal of International
Relations 18, no. 1 (2012): 13–14.
Buzan 579

‘modern’ capacities of a polity meant that, in theory, international society could be univer-
sal. This is one reason why the Ottomans, the Egyptians, the Japanese and others embraced
modernising projects during the long 19th century – the implementation of legal, admin-
istrative and fiscal reforms held out the promise, in theory if rather less so in practice, of
a pathway towards equality of status within international society. This pathway was open
even during the 19th century, when the power and status gaps between core and periphery
were at their maximum. As Donnelly argues, international society can be seen as open
(because, although European in origin, others can join if they meet specific terms and
conditions), or it can be seen as imperial (seeming to offer pluralism while in fact requir-
ing extensive Westernisation).11 O’Hagan takes a similar view, noting the complacency of
pluralists such as Jackson who think that the global covenant on coexistence among states
largely takes care of this by providing a Western framework for dialogue across cultures.12
She contrasts this with the ideas of critics such as Keal and Keene who focus on the
coerced unequal character of international society in which non-Western cultures were
devalued and forced into Western moulds.13 Keene highlights colonialism and imperial-
ism pre-1945 as emblematic of divided sovereignty in which the core develops a
Westphalian principle of sovereign equality and tolerance within itself, but practises
divided sovereignty and the ‘standard of civilisation’ against the periphery. He argues that
‘we need to appreciate the importance of the idea of civilisation not merely as a standard
for regulating the entry of new states in international society, but also for validating an
entirely different set of legal rules and political institutions in its own right’.14
Another element underpinning the ‘standard of civilisation’ was the increasing domi-
nance of positive over natural law in Western thinking and practice during the 19th cen-
tury. Natural law made all humans equal under the sight of god, offering some kind of
basis for civil inter-cultural encounters. Positive law linked the ‘civil arrangements’ of
states to their standing in international society. In this way, positive international law was
explicitly the law of ‘civilised’ European states,15 paving the way for the divided sover-
eignty noted by Keene. For example, the 19th century codification of the laws of war
distinguished between insiders and outsiders of international society, with the former
subject to rules that determined the scope of legitimate violence, not least that it should

11. Jack Donnelly, ‘Human Rights: A New Standard of Civilization?’, International Affairs 74,
no. 1 (1998): 1–11.
12. Jacinta O’Hagan, ‘The Question of Culture’, in International Society and Its Critics, ed.
Andrew Bellamy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 209–28; Robert H. Jackson, The
Global Covenant: Human Conduct in a World of States (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
13. Paul Keal, European Conquest and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: The Moral
Backwardness of International Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003);
Edward Keene, Beyond the Anarchical Society: Grotius, Colonialism and Order in World
Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).
14. Keene, Beyond the Anarchical Society, 117.
15. Martti Koskenniemi, The Gentle Civilizer of Nations: The Rise and Fall of International Law
1870–1960 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 73–5, 99–116; Turan Kayaoglu,
Legal Imperialism: Sovereignty and Extraterritoriality in Japan, the Ottoman Empire, and
China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).
580 Millennium: Journal of International Studies 42(3)

be discriminate and proportional, and the latter considered to be outside such rules.16 The
effect of this stratification was to privilege Western states and peoples, and to downgrade
the rest of the world.17 As a consequence, non-European polities that had previously been
acknowledged as sovereign were now viewed, at best, as potential candidates for admis-
sion into a European-dominated international society. There is, therefore, a close link
between the turn to positive law and the expansion of Western power through the ‘stand-
ard of civilisation’.18
Although the ‘standard of civilisation’ became one of the key concepts underpinning
the 19th century European colonial international society, it never acquired a clear set of
criteria. The underlying idea of the standard was the measure provided by the governing
practices of the leading-edge powers in the West. This covered such things as law, prop-
erty rights, individual rights, religious rights, diplomatic practice, and the capacity to
create and deploy modern technology and infrastructure. In effect, the ‘standard of civi-
lisation’ was about modernity. The problem was that all of these components of moder-
nity were themselves undergoing rapid change within Europe as the multiple revolutions
of modernity (industrial, social, political, economic) continued to unfold and expand.
Progress was (and remains) a central theme of modernity, and during the 19th century
four ‘ideologies of progress’ – liberalism, socialism, nationalism and ‘scientific’ racism
– came to dominate the ideational landscape of international society. These evolving
ideologies were, along with industrialism, closely linked to the ‘standard of civilisation’,
helping to define ‘barbarian’ and ‘savage’ outsiders.19 The standard could thus not be
pinned down. Then as now it set a moving target for those trying to acquire it. China, for
example, has mastered the Westphalian rules of international society and a good part of
industrial modernity, only to find that the West has moved the goalposts towards more
liberal norms.20 Another way of looking at the standard is in terms of the degree of readi-
ness for self-government that was inscribed in the mandate system of the League of
Nations. In a globalised international political economy like that which has existed since
the 19th century, readiness for self-government is necessarily a relative idea. As the inter-
national system and society become ever more dense, interdependent and intense, the
capacity for self-government necessary to cope with that rises inexorably, meaning the
standard of the ‘standard’ continues to become more demanding. So long as modernity

16. Casper Sylvest, ‘International Law in Nineteenth-Century Britain’, British Yearbook of

International Law 75 (2005): 9–70; Lacy Pejcinovic, War in International Society (Abingdon:
Routledge, 2013).
17. C.H. Alexandrowicz, An Introduction to the History of the Law of Nations in the East Indies:
16th, 17th, and 18th Centuries (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), 2, 156, 236–7.
18. Kayaoglu, Legal Imperialism.
19. Gong, The Standard of ‘Civilization’; Keene, Beyond the Anarchical Society; Antony Anghie,
Imperialism, Sovereignty and the Making of International Law (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2004); Shogo Suzuki, Civilisation and Empire: China and Japan’s
Encounter with European International Society (London: Routledge, 2009); Hobson, The
Eurocentric Conception of World Politics.
20. Rosemary Foot, ‘Chinese Strategies in a US-Hegemonic Global Order: Accommodating and
Hedging’, International Affairs 82, no. 1 (2006): 77–94.
Buzan 581

continues to evolve, so the criteria for meeting the ‘standard of civilisation’ will change,
probably becoming increasingly demanding.
For the past two centuries, the ‘standard of civilisation’ has been largely defined by
the differentiations opened up by modernity. It is not, I think, a primary institution of
international society itself, but rather a closely associated feature of such institutions that
feature hierarchy, most obviously imperialism/colonialism, and development. It stands in
some tension with the institution of sovereign equality, but, as Simpson shows, a very
similar tension between sovereign equality and the ‘legalised hegemony’ of the great
powers has been a feature of international society since 1815.21

Usage in English School Historical Analysis

The main use of the ‘standard of civilisation’ in the English School literature has been in
relation to the various ‘encounters’ between expanding European international society
and those polities that were able to resist colonisation and therefore needed somehow to
adapt to a European-dominated international order: China, Japan, the Ottoman Empire/
Egypt, Russia, Siam. Colonies were simply absorbed into the sovereignty of their metro-
poles, meaning that the question of membership in international society did not arise for
them in the same way. Colonies were differentiated across the scale of the ‘standard of
civilisation’ from settlers to ‘savages’, and the politics of this were mainly internal to
their respective empires. This explains the curious neglect of India in the English School
The key English School work on the standard of civilisation is Gong.22 Gong argues
that the expansion of European international society raised a host of issues about how to
manage interaction between polities of unequal capacity. Both diplomacy and commerce
required certain standards of effective government, particularly the ability to meet ‘recip-
rocal obligations’ in law.23 Gong explores the nature and operation of the ‘standard of
civilisation’ in some depth. He notes the clash of civilisations explicit in the expansion,
and how the ‘standard of civilisation’ created a pressure for conformity with Western
values and practices which posed a demanding cultural challenge to the non-West, much
of which had to go against its own cultural grain in order to gain entry. This left an ongo-
ing legacy of problems for the legitimacy of international law, still seen by some as
reflecting Western imperial values.24 He notes how the European need for access (trade,
proselytising, travel) was what drove the functional aspects of the ‘standard of civilisa-
tion’ (to protect life, liberty and property) and therefore the demand for extraterritoriality
and unequal relations where the locals could not or would not provide these.25
Holsti charts the shift in criteria for recognition from the strict rules of the ‘standard
of civilisation’ during the 19th century through to the almost anything goes attitude

21. Gerry Simpson, Great Powers and Outlaw States: Unequal Sovereigns in the International
Legal Order (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
22. Gong, The Standard of ‘Civilization’. See also Bowden, The Empire of Civilization.
23. Gong, The Standard of ‘Civilization’, 64–93.
24. Ibid., 7–21.
25. Ibid., 24–53.
582 Millennium: Journal of International Studies 42(3)

during the post-1945 decolonisation.26 Western-colonial international society during the

19th century was very much a two-tier affair, with the Western core moving towards
sovereign equality for interstate relations within it, but outsiders being subject to the
entry criteria of the Western-defined ‘standard of civilisation’. This involved condition-
ality on such issues as law, property rights, human rights and good governance. Colonised
peoples were notionally under tutelage on such things. Non-colonised peoples such as in
China, Japan and the Ottoman Empire were not given full recognition until they could
meet the standard. Their unequal status was inscribed in the humiliating extraterritorial
rights demanded by Westerners in treaties with them. Although a handful of non-Western
countries made it into international society, this system of divided sovereignty largely
stayed in place until the breakdown of imperialism/colonialism as an institution of inter-
national society after the Second World War. As Bain argues, this was a system in which
a ‘superior’ West decided on the readiness for self-government of less developed peo-
ples: ‘self-determination implied granting powers of self-government and autonomy in
proportion to the capacity of a people to make good use of them’.27
The classical English School’s version of the encounter, and the whole ‘standard of
civilisation’ question, is therefore mainly confined to a small number of cases. The early
decolonisation of the Americas created few problems because the new settler states were
offshoots of European culture and therefore easy to accept as ‘civilised’, if not at first
entirely equal. Four cases attracted the most attention – Russia, the Ottoman Empire,
China and Japan – although some others (Siam, Iran) get passing mention. Other encoun-
ter and entry stories are still being written.28 Russia was half European anyway and had
made it into European international society by the early 18th century.29 The Ottoman
Empire served as Europe’s alien Other for many centuries, but was also in close interac-
tion with the European balance of power during much of that time.30 This meant that the
Ottoman encounter story has a different quality from the later ones involving European
expansion. For the Ottoman Empire, the question was about joining (or not) Europe’s

26. Kalevi J. Holsti, Taming the Sovereigns: Institutional Change in International Politics
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 128–30.
27. William Bain, Between Anarchy and Society: Trusteeship and the Obligations of Power
(Oxford University Press, 2003), 92.
28. Yannis A. Stivachtis, The Enlargement of International Society: Culture versus Anarchy and
Greece’s Entry into International Society (London: Macmillan, 1998); Yannis A. Stivachtis,
‘International Society: Global/Regional Dimensions and Geographic Expansion’, in
International Studies Encyclopedia, ed. Robert A. Denemark (New York: Wiley-Blackwell
Publishing for ISA, 2010), English School section editor Daniel M. Green.
29. Adam Watson, ‘New States in the Americas’, 61–74; Gong, The Standard of ‘Civilization’,
100–6; Iver Neumann, ‘Entry into International Society Reconceptualised: The Case of
Russia’, Review of International Studies 37, no. 2 (2011): 463–84.
30. Iver Neumann and Jennifer Welsh, ‘The Other in European Self-Definition: An Addendum
to the Literature on International Society’, Review of International Studies 17, no. 4 (1991):
327–348; A. Nuri Yurdusev, ‘The Middle East Encounter with the Expansion of European
International Society’, in International Society and the Middle East: English School Theory
at the Regional Level, eds Barry Buzan and Ana Gonzalez-Pelaez (Basingstoke: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2009), 70–91.
Buzan 583

international society, not the later Western-global version of it. It has inspired an ongoing
debate about how to understand the difference between just being part of the European
international system and meeting enough of the ‘standard of civilisation’ to become a
member of its international society. There is still no consensus about when (or if) the
Ottoman Empire became part of European international society,31 and this whole debate
gives useful depth to the current discussions about the EU and Turkey.
Japan provides the model case for a rapid and successful adaptation by a non-Western
power to the ‘standard of civilisation’, and its acceptance into international society by
1899, and shortly thereafter as a great power.32 But there are interesting twists to this
story, such as Japan’s failure in 1919 at Versailles to get Western recognition of racial
equality.33 China’s struggle with the ‘standard of civilisation’ was much more protracted
and is indeed, like Turkey’s, still ongoing.34 There are, in a sense, two rounds, one clas-
sical and one modern, to China’s encounter story. In the classical round, as with the
Ottoman Empire, there is a debate about when China gained entry, possibly not until
during the Second World War with the final removal of extraterritoriality.35 In the mod-
ern round, there is the story of communist China’s encounter. Zhang tells this story in
detail, seeing communist China as alienated from international society (both excluded
and self-excluding), but increasingly becoming more integrated with it in terms of sov-
ereignty, non-intervention, diplomacy (rising participation in IGOs and the global econ-
omy), international law and suchlike.36 As noted above, China has successfully adapted
to Westphalian international society, yet remains alienated from the human rights and
democracy elements that have come more to the fore in Western practice since the end of
the Cold War.
More work has recently been done to bring out what the encounter looked like from
the other side. Onuma looks at the imposition of Western international law during the
later 19th century, fulfilling its earlier false pretensions to universalism.37 Kayaoglu
explores the rise and fall of the extraterritorial jurisdiction established by Western states

31. Ibid.; Gong, The Standard of ‘Civilization’, 106–19.

32. Hidemi Suganami, ‘Japan’s Entry into International Society’, in The Expansion of
International Society, eds Hedley Bull and Adam Watson (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1984), 61–74, 185–99; Gong, The Standard of ‘Civilization’, 164–200.
33. Ian Clark, International Legitimacy and World Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2007), 83–106.
34. Zhang Xiaoming, ‘A Rising China and the Normative Changes in International Society’, East
Asia 28 (2011): 235–46.
35. Ibid.; Gong, The Standard of ‘Civilization’, 136–63; Yongjin Zhang, ‘China’s Entry into
International Society: Beyond the Standard of “Civilization”’, Review of International Studies
17, no. 1 (1991): 3–16; Yongjin Zhang, ‘System, Empire, and State in Chinese International
Relations’, Review of International Studies 27, Special Issue (2001): 43–63.
36. Yongjin Zhang, China in International Society since 1949 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998);
Barry Buzan, ‘China in International Society: Is “Peaceful Rise” Possible?’, Chinese Journal
of International Politics 3, no. 1 (2010): 5–36.
37. Onuma Yasuaki, ‘When Was the Law of International Society Born? An Inquiry of the
History of International Law from an Intercivilizational Perspective’, Journal of the History
of International Law 2 (2000): 1–66.
584 Millennium: Journal of International Studies 42(3)

in Africa, Asia and the Middle East in the 19th century, but also demonstrates how the
practice helped to consolidate a conception of sovereignty in Europe that continues to
hold sway in the 21st century.38 Roberson shows how Egyptian elites adapted to the finan-
cial ‘standard of civilisation’ set by Britain, and Englehart how the Thai elite played to
British cultural norms in order to gain recognition as ‘civilised’.39 Neumann explores how
the cultural memory of being subordinated within a suzerain system affected Russia’s
encounter with European international society.40 He sets up the interesting argument that
all such encounters have been with polities coming from hegemonic/suzerain systems
having to come to terms with the anarchic qualities of European/Western international
society. Zarakol surveys the ongoing impact of the encounter experiences on Turkey,
Japan and Russia.41 Reus-Smit sees a recurrent theme in which domestic struggles for
individual rights link into anti-imperial struggles and the pursuit of sovereign equality
within international society.42 The humiliations of having to conform to alien standards,
and the condescending and often racist attitudes of the Europeans towards those who
tried, were important components of the third world’s revolt against the West.43
The Second World War, with its catalogue of barbaric behaviour by Westerners to
each other, delegitimised rule by ‘superior’ over ‘inferior’ on grounds of the ‘standard of
civilisation’. It opened the way to mass decolonisation on the basis of a transcendental
right of self-determination that trumped all arguments about unreadiness for self-
government in the modern world.44 This in turn set up the problem of failed states and
humanitarian intervention which brought the return of a modicum of conditionality to
recognition of sovereignty, and more so to rights of entry into various international clubs,
after 1989. As Wight tellingly observes, the ‘standard of civilisation’ underpinned two
contrasting logics about how a powerful, better developed core should relate to a weaker,
less developed periphery. In realist logic this difference allowed conquest, exploitation
and even extermination of ‘barbarians’. But in rationalist logic it pointed to a paternalis-
tic obligation of the ‘civilised’ to tutor the ‘barbarians’ up to the ‘standard of civilisation’,
giving them only the partial rights of a ward along the way.45

38. Kayaoglu, Legal Imperialism.

39. Barbara A. Roberson, ‘Law, Power and the Expansion of International Society’, in Theorising
International Society: English School Methods, ed. Cornelia Navari (Basingstoke: Palgrave,
2009), 189–208; Neil A. Englehart, ‘Representing Civilization: Solidarism, Ornamentalism,
and Siam’s Entry into International Society’, European Journal of International Relations 16,
no. 3 (2010): 417–39.
40. Neumann, ‘Entry into International Society Reconceptualised’.
41. Ayşe Zarakol, After Defeat: How the East Learned to Live with the West (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2011).
42. Christian Reus-Smit, ‘Struggles for Individual Rights and the Expansion of the International
System’, International Organization 65, no. 2 (2011): 207–42.
43. Hedley Bull, Justice in International Relations, Hagey Lectures (Ontario: University of
Waterloo, 1984).
44. Bain, Between Anarchy and Society, 134–5.
45. Martin Wight, International Theory: The Three Traditions (Leicester: Leicester University
Press/Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1991), edited by Brian Porter and Gabriele
Buzan 585

Contemporary Practice: The ‘Standard of Civilisation’ by

Other Names
Decolonisation therefore put an end to the ‘standard of civilisation’ as a term of polite
public discourse. With the right of independence and sovereign equality becoming almost
unconditional,46 questions of membership in, and conditions of entry to, international
society largely disappeared. In the English School literature the focus then turned to the
consequences of this rapid move to universal membership, the problems it raised for the
cohesion of international society, and what, if anything, might be done about them.
Decolonisation tripled the membership of international society and brought into it many
post-colonial states that were both politically weak as states and economically poor and
underdeveloped. It also weakened the cultural foundations of international society by
diluting the previously dominant European cultural cohesion. Now all the world’s cul-
tures both great and small were inside, and this moved Wight’s question about the rela-
tionship between cultural cohesion and international society to centre stage. As Riemer
and Stivachtis argue, ‘the logic of anarchy, operating in the international system, has
brought states into international society, once in, the logic of culture has determined their
degree of integration into international society’.47 On this logic, if culture was diverse,
then international society could be only weakly integrated. On top of all this was the
Cold War, which along with decolonisation defined the post-1945 era, and which meant
that the great powers were at loggerheads, weakening international society still
But although the term ‘standard of civilisation’ fell out of use after 1945, the practice
continued in various ways. Stivachtis sees its successors in human rights, international
law and a general standard of modernity, and provides a detailed study of EU condition-
alities in this light.49 Fidler argues that ‘the rejection of the “standard of civilization” as
a driving force of international law [has] been more apparent than real’.50 In similar vein,
Zarakol argues that the revolutions of modernity set the terms for the social hierarchy
between the West and outsiders that has defined aspects of the modern international
agenda from the ‘standard of civilisation’ in the 19th century to the differentiations of
‘development’ and ‘good governance’ today.51 The substance of the ‘standard of civilisa-
tion’ thus very much remains. It is often still about membership, though now more com-
monly in terms of ‘conditionality’, and membership of specific clubs and organisations.
Since all are now inside international society generally, the ‘standard of civilisation’

46. Watson, The Evolution of International Society, 296.

47. Andrea K. Riemer and Yannis A. Stivachtis, eds, Understanding EU’s Mediterranean
Enlargement: The English School and the Expansion of Regional International Societies
(Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2002), 27.
48. Hedley Bull, ‘The Great Irresponsibles? The United States, the Soviet Union and World
Order’, International Journal 35, no. 3 (1980): 437–47.
49. Yannis A. Stivachtis, ‘Civilization and International Society: The Case of European Union
Expansion’, Contemporary Politics 14, no. 1 (2008): 72–4.
50. Fidler, ‘A Kinder, Gentler System of Capitulations?’, 289.
51. Zarakol, After Defeat, 38–56.
586 Millennium: Journal of International Studies 42(3)

game is now played mainly between inner (still mainly Western) and outer circles, about
who is allowed to join which clubs. International society may have become universal,
but in the process it has become both more layered and more regionally differentiated. It
still contains status hierarchies mainly defined in terms of Western standards of moder-
nity, and, as in the colonial era, these standards continue to change as the frontiers of
modernity, both technological and behavioural, evolve.52 Like the classical ‘standard of
civilisation’, the new one works to differentiate the more ‘civilised’ from the less so, and
on that basis to gate-keep on access to the private goods of international society’s inner
circles. This section looks at various contemporary practices of conditionality and dis-
crimination that constitute the new ‘standard of civilisation’ in modern form: human
rights, democracy, capitalism, environment and development.

Human Rights
Several English School writers have noted that the ‘standard of civilisation’ has morphed
into the politer terminology of human rights and conditionality, albeit now within a uni-
versal international society rather than constituted through relations between insiders
and outsiders.53 In effect, they argue that the conditionality of Western demands for
human rights is the successor to the ‘standard of civilisation’. The term ‘human rights’
has become a catch-all for a wide variety of things ranging from basic survival needs,
such as food, clean water and shelter, through social entitlements necessary to self-
realisation, such as education and health care, to individual freedoms to speak, practise
religion and not be subjected to excessive coercion by the state. Some aspects of this
package are quite widely agreed, such as the right to food and the basic principle of
human equality. But others are hotly contested, especially those involving the rights of
citizens against the state.
The standard of human rights kicked in after 1945 in the context of a quite major
change in some of the primary institutions that define international society. The pre-1945
package of colonialism, human inequality/racism, the ‘standard of civilisation’ and
divided sovereignty collapsed. It was replaced by a package of universal sovereign
equality, self-determination and human equality/anti-racism. Accompanying self-
determination was a strengthened liberal notion of universal human rights, which gave
practical form to human equality and anti-racism.54 The new norm of human equality
was embedded in the charter of the United Nations and most visibly expressed in the
1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR made individual

52. There is also the problem that modernity took not just liberal form, but also fascist and com-
munist totalitarian ones. The standard of modernity has become increasingly liberal, but the
other forms still resonate and underpin some of the contestation about human rights.
53. Gong, The Standard of ‘Civilization’, 90–3; Gerrit W. Gong, ‘Standards of Civilization
Today’, in Globalization and Civilization, ed. Mehdi Mozaffari (New York: Routledge, 2002),
77–96; Donnelly, ‘Human Rights’; Jackson, The Global Covenant, 287–93; Keene, Beyond
the Anarchical Society, 122–3, 147–8; Stivachtis, ‘Civilization and International Society’;
Bowden, The Empire of Civilization.
54. Clark, International Legitimacy and World Society, 131–51.
Buzan 587

human beings ‘right holders on their own behalf’.55 Human rights were also embodied in
many UN conventions and committees, as they were in a number of regional bodies. All
in all, the shift from Western-colonial to Western global international society after the
Second World War involved substantial changes to the institutional structure of interna-
tional society.
Within the English School, the doctrine of human rights has been promoted by the
solidarist wing.56 Pluralists, following Bull, have deep reservations about the pursuit of
human rights on the basis of cosmopolitan principles. Bull worried that such a pursuit
was fundamentally compromising to the claim by states of sovereignty, which he saw as
the foundation of such international order as existed and was likely to be possible.

Carried to its logical extreme, the doctrine of human rights and duties under international law
is subversive of the whole principle that mankind should be organised as a society of sovereign
states. For, if the rights of each man can be asserted on the world political stage over and against
the claims of his state, and his duties proclaimed irrespective of his position as a servant or a
citizen of that state, then the position of the state as a body sovereign over its citizens, and
entitled to command their obedience, has been subject to challenge, and the structure of the
society of sovereign states has been placed in jeopardy.57

This position did not change much in his later, seemingly more solidarist, work. Both
Mayall and Jackson also oppose the solidarist project of transforming international soci-
ety from a practical into a purposive or ‘enterprise’ association. And both oppose the
practice of the strong trying to impose any new ‘standard of civilisation’ on the weak.58
The reason why human rights have become a new ‘standard of civilisation’ is that it can
easily be used as a criterion not only for conditionality regarding membership, but also for
suspending the right of non-intervention that states enjoy as a corollary of sovereignty.
Such usage circumvents the decolonisation deal of sovereignty and sovereign equality for
all, by declaring some states, or at least their governments, either or both of not fit for
membership or not fit for recognition and the right of non-intervention. As always, who
does such declaring is a crucial issue. An authorised collective body such as the UN
Security Council might, with difficulty, legitimately override the right of non-intervention

55. James Mayall, World Politics: Progress and Its Limits (Cambridge: Polity, 2000), 33.
56. R. John Vincent, Human Rights and International Relations: Issues and Responses
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986); Tim Dunne and Nicholas Wheeler, ‘Hedley
Bull’s Pluralism of the Intellect and Solidarism of the Will’, International Affairs 72, no.
1 (1996): 91–107; Nicholas J. Wheeler and Tim Dunne, ‘Hedley Bull and the Idea of a
Universal Moral Community: Fictional, Primordial or Imagined?’, in International Society
and the Development of International Relations Theory, ed. B.A. Roberson (London: Pinter,
1998); Andrew Linklater, The Transformation of Political Community (Cambridge: Polity,
1998); Andrew Linklater, The Problem of Harm in World Politics: Theoretical Investigations
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011); Nicholas J. Wheeler, Saving Strangers:
Humanitarian Intervention in International Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).
57. Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics (London: Macmillan,
1977), 152.
58. Mayall, World Politics, 21; Jackson, The Global Covenant, 105.
588 Millennium: Journal of International Studies 42(3)

in a case of gross human rights violations. But for some self-declared liberal standard-
bearers, such as the mooted ‘League of Democracies’,59 to do so would be vastly more
controversial. Because the doctrine of human rights sets benchmarks against which all can
be assessed, it naturally generates a performance hierarchy among states. That tendency is
endlessly reproduced as the standards of human rights themselves evolve. So as the human
rights issue becomes more influential within international society, it probably cannot
avoid resurrecting something like the ‘standard of civilisation’.

Like human rights, and quite closely associated with it, democracy is an emergent but
still hotly contested institution of international society. It is the counterpoint to the demise
of dynasticism in the sense that both represent primary institutions that define the legiti-
mate form of government within the state members of ‘civilised’ international society.
But democracy has not yet acquired the general legitimacy that dynasticism once had as
the norm for government, nor has it been as widely successful as nationalism in the role
of legitimising politics. Democracy promotion has nevertheless achieved some legiti-
macy within international society, and this is reflected in the practices and policies of a
lot of IGOs.60 As well as conditionalities for state membership and/or access based on
democratic values, many INGOs have achieved limited official standing within IGOs
and increasingly play significant roles in the promotion of solidarist values, from envi-
ronmentalism through human rights to restraints on war.61 Mayall argues that even
though democracy is far from universal, democratic values such as human rights, repre-
sentative government and the rule of law have become influential, perhaps even the
standard of legitimacy, in international society.62 Navari backs this up with a detailed
assessment of how far democracy has come as a new ‘standard of civilisation’. She
argues that it is not yet a right under international law, but that it has acquired a clear defi-
nition in terms of regular multiparty elections with reasonably free and fair voting proce-
dures, and that, where it exists, it enjoys some rights of protection.63 Nevertheless,

59. John G. Ikenberry and Anne-Marie Slaughter, Forging a World of Liberty under Law: US
National Security in the 21st Century (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Project on National Security,
2006); Ian Clark, The Vulnerable in International Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2013); Anna Geis, ‘The “Concert of Democracies”: Why Some States Are More Equal Than
Others’, International Politics 50, no. 2 (2013): 257–77.
60. Yannis A. Stivachtis, ‘Democracy: The Highest Stage of Civilized Statehood’, Global
Dialogue 8, no. 3–4 (2006): 102; Ian Clark, ‘Democracy in International Society: Promotion
or Exclusion?’, Millennium 37, no. 3 (2009): 563, 568–9.
61. Ann Marie Clark, ‘Non-Governmental Organizations and Their Influence on International
Society’, Journal of International Affairs 48, no. 2 (1995): 507–25; Clark, International
Legitimacy and World Society, 189–93.
62. Mayall, World Politics, 64–8, 86.
63. Cornelia Navari, ‘Liberalism, Democracy and International Law: An English School
Approach’, in After Liberalism? The Future of Liberalism in International Relations, eds
Rebekka Friedman, Kevork Oskanian and Ramon Pacheo Pardo (Baskingstoke: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2013), Kindle edn locs. 889–1283.
Buzan 589

democracy promotion is still essentially a Western and especially an American project,

and the hierarchy it creates favours the West.64
After the Second World War, democracy consolidated as a primary institution within
Western international society. Democracy promotion was part of US Cold War strategy
against the Soviet Union,65 albeit accompanied by a good deal of hypocritical, if prag-
matic, support for anti-Soviet dictatorships. Disagreements over policies and alignments
meant that being a democracy never earned India much favour from the US during the
Cold War. There was a burst of enthusiasm after 1989, when democracy seemed to defeat
its last great rival and become the dominant form of government within international
society.66 This led to a largely American debate about whether to exploit the tide of his-
tory to pursue democracy promotion more aggressively by creating a League, or Concert,
of Democracies to act towards that end, and to circumvent the paralysis of the UN
Security Council. Although this idea did not become the organising principle for US
foreign policy, it has certainly played a role in such things as the US cultivating a coali-
tion of Asian democracies as part of its hedging strategy against the rise of China. As can
be seen from China’s paranoid crackdown on its own civil society in response to the Arab
Spring, democracy has enough clout as an international norm to make authoritarian
regimes feel existentially challenged.
Part of the impetus to promote democracy comes from the fact that it is seen as a
necessary condition for both human rights and peace.67 Among its promoters there is
consequently a tendency to revive ‘standard of civilisation’ thinking by equating
democracy with ‘civilisation’ and non-democracy with ‘barbarity’.68 This kind of pro-
motionalism, as with human rights, raised tensions not only with non-intervention, but
also with the problem that the social conditions necessary to sustain democracy and
human rights as a ‘standard of civilisation’ simply do not exist in many parts of the

Linked to democracy, though not all that much discussed in the English School literature
(which remains weak on economic matters), is capitalism.70 The hegemony of the
Washington consensus, and the somewhat imperious manner in which it was promoted
up to 2008, is easily seen as a new ‘standard of civilisation’. Fidler, Gong, Bowden and
Seabrooke, and Bowden all see the ongoing inequality in the world economy as perpetu-
ating the ‘standard of civilisation’ logic or, as Fidler puts it, ‘the standard of liberal,

64. Stivachtis, ‘Democracy’, 103; Clark, ‘Democracy in International Society’, 564–5.

65. Stivachtis, ‘Democracy’, 107–8.
66. Thomas M. Franck, ‘The Emerging Right to Democratic Governance’, American Journal of
International Law 86, no. 1 (1992): 46–91.
67. Clark, International Legitimacy and World Society, 153–4; Clark, ‘Democracy in International
Society’, 570–1.
68. Stivachtis, ‘Democracy’, 111.
69. Mayall, World Politics, 81–120.
70. Stivachtis, ‘Civilization and International Society’, 87.
590 Millennium: Journal of International Studies 42(3)

globalized civilization’.71 Capitalism has a much more controversial link with human
rights, with a major ideological division over whether the capitalist form of political
economy does more to promote or to deny human rights. In the emerging world order,
even the link between capitalism and democracy is becoming weaker. There is now a
variety of authoritarian capitalist states that look stable enough to be part of the world
order for at least some decades to come.72 Here the interesting question is whether their
shared capitalism will promote this criterion for ‘civilisation’ or whether their political
differences will reproduce ‘civilisational’ hierarchies between democracies and

Whether or not environmental stewardship will become a new ‘standard of civilisation’
criterion is as yet unclear, though the potential is clearly there. The topic has begun to
attract some English School writing.73 It is unclear how much normative leverage the
idea has acquired, but this could change quickly if some crisis created a more unified
opinion about priorities. It rose to consciousness later than human rights, and has been
more a pragmatic response to observed problems than a fundamental and long-standing
question of political philosophy. Since the 1970s, it too has acquired a host of interna-
tional conferences, conventions, treaties and protocols, and some standing in
international law. And as with human rights there is both much diplomatic engagement
by non-state actors, and a big question about how much of this is just rhetorical posturing
and how much substantive commitment. As with the right to food, even if there is agree-
ment about the problem, there is a large scope for legitimate disagreement about what
should be done.74 And since, even more so than the right to food, environmental steward-
ship has potentially enormous implications for how the global economy is run, these
disagreements have been deep. There is also still disagreement about whether or not the
problem exists, though this could change in the face of a suitably grave and obvious
crisis such as global warming and sea-level rise. Under those conditions it is not difficult
to imagine a new ‘standard of civilisation’ discourse emerging in which those who were

71. Fidler, ‘A Kinder, Gentler System of Capitulations?’, 409; Gong, ‘Standards of Civilization
Today’; Brett Bowden and Leonard Seabrooke, eds, Global Standards of Market Civilization
(Abingdon: Routledge, 2006); Bowden, The Empire of Civilization, locs. 2398–2448.
72. Barry Buzan and George Lawson, ‘Capitalism and the Emergent World Order’, International
Affairs 90, no. 1 (2014): 71–91.
73. Bull, The Anarchical Society, 293–5; Christian Reus-Smit, ‘The Normative Structure of
International Society’, in Earthly Goods: Environmental Change and Social Justice, eds
Fen Osler Hampson and Judith Reppy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996), 96–121;
Jackson, The Global Covenant, 170–8; Andrew Hurrell, On Global Order: Power, Values and
the Constitution of International Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 216–36;
Linklater, The Problem of Harm in World Politics; Robert Falkner, ‘Global Environmentalism
and the Greening of International Society’, International Affairs 88, no. 3 (2012): 503–22;
Eero Palmujoki, ‘Fragmentation and Diversification of Climate Change Governance in
International Society’, International Relations 27, no. 2 (2013): 180–201.
74. Ana Gonzalez-Pelaez, Human Rights and World Trade (London: Routledge, 2005).
Buzan 591

taking serious measures to address the problem would begin to see those who were still
contributing to it as ‘barbarians’.

Somewhat differently positioned, but nonetheless part of the contemporary ‘standard of
civilisation’, is the issue of development. Unlike the four issues just discussed, develop-
ment is not so much a new issue as a direct extension of one that has been debated since
colonial days. The colonial ‘standard of civilisation’ left as its legacy to the post-colonial
world the discourse of aid and development.75 The colonial obligation of the metropoli-
tan powers to bring the natives up to a European ‘standard of civilisation’ morphed into
an obligation on the part of the rich world to assist in the development of the ‘third world’
or ‘less developed countries’. Indeed, it is an interesting thought that, in English School
terms, development, understood as the right to acquire modernity, might well have
become the successor primary institution to imperialism/colonialism. It appears as a goal
in countless diplomatic documents and IGO constitutions and charters. It draws legiti-
macy from both a sense of obligation by the former colonial powers (aka ‘developed
states’) and a sense of entitlement by the post-colonial states. It also draws legitimacy
from its synergies with the welfare and basic needs end of the human rights and human
security discourses with their emphasis on rights to adequate nutrition, clean water, shel-
ter, education and suchlike, all of which are associated with better developed societies.76
Whether this right to development is about resource transfers from rich to poor, or about
the necessity for the ‘underdeveloped’ to undergo their own revolutions of modernity, is
of course hotly contested.
Bain offers the most detailed discussion of the obligation of states and their citizens
to outsiders in the specific case of trusteeship: the idea that dominion over others is only
justified if it is used to protect and improve those whose right of self-rule is suspended.77
In contemporary form, such a discourse represents both a basic continuity with older
strands of thought (based on the superiority of the West) and a reworking of this assump-
tion (without the overt racism that marked earlier strands of thought).78 Bain notes the
troubled background to this in the unequal, often racist, doctrines of 19th century empire
that put an obligation on more advanced races to bring those lagging behind up to the
‘standard of civilisation’. On this basis the Europeans considered the Turks unfit to be
imperial rulers.79 After the First World War and the break-up of empires, Bain argues that
trusteeship became a short-lived institution of Western international society. Along with
colonialism, within which it might be seen as an evolution of practice, it was largely
swept away by the tide of decolonization after the Second World War, in which formal
inequality among peoples was delegitimised, and the right to self-determination trumped

75. Holsti, Taming the Sovereigns, 250; Bowden, The Empire of Civilization, locs. 1000–1084,
76. Clark, The Vulnerable in International Society.
77. Bain, Between Anarchy and Society, 1–26.
78. Zarakol, After Defeat.
79. Bain, Between Anarchy and Society, 95.
592 Millennium: Journal of International Studies 42(3)

all considerations of capacity for self-government under modern conditions.80 Bain sees
a substantial ghost of trusteeship haunting contemporary international society in its
attempts to deal with failed and failing states, and in its deployment of conditionality,
human rights and good governance as entry criteria into various international clubs.81
As in the case of its classical predecessor, the new ‘standard of civilisation’ is closely
tied to a progressive agenda of international relations – or, in English School terms, soli-
darism. Yet as Clark warns, solidarists set standards that tend to narrow the range of
rightful membership by stiffening the criteria for entry, whether to various clubs or to
international society as a whole.82 That was the point of the classical ‘standard of civili-
sation’ and remains the point of contemporary proposals ranging from conditionality to
a ‘League of Democracies’. Clark sees this as having been a growing problem since the
First and Second World Wars, and it is clear from the discussion of human rights, democ-
racy and potentially environmental stewardship (less so capitalism) that such dynamics
remain powerfully in play.83 So while the phrase ‘standard of civilisation’ fell out of
fashion after 1945, much of the practice in terms of both status hierarchies, based on
Western criteria of development and modernity, and membership gate-keeping largely by
Western states carried on, albeit mainly inside a universal international society rather
than in the inside/outside framing of a colonial one.

Since the 1990s there has been something of an explicit re-emergence if not of the term
‘standard of civilisation’, at least of the ‘civilised’ versus ‘barbarian’ trope that underpins
it. Bowden shows how the discourses around failed states and terrorism have revived the
‘standard of civilisation’ and notes that: ‘Like the classical standard, the current measure
of civilisation revolves around the capacity of Non-western states to govern and conduct
themselves in such a manner that they can engage with the West on its terms, whether
that be through trade or war.’84 While this remains true for now, it is an interesting ques-
tion for how long the ‘standard of civilisation’ will stay tied to a largely West/non-West
framing, as it has been for more than two centuries. Both the classical and the new ver-
sions of the ‘standard of civilisation’ are products of modernity, and especially of the
uneven and combined way in which modernity impacted on international society. On this
basis, one might expect that as the revolutions of modernity spread, the era of Western
domination is coming to an end, and a period defined by a more globally even distribu-
tion of power and development is emerging – Zarkaria’s ‘rise of the rest’.85 In such a
world one civilisation is unlikely to be able to set the standard for the rest because power

80. Ibid., 92, 78–107.

81. Ibid., 155–63.
82. Clark, Legitimacy in International Society, 26–8.
83. Ibid., 109–29, 173–89.
84. Bowden, The Empire of Civilization, loc. 2589.
85. Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World and the Rise of the Rest (London: Penguin, 2009).
See also Buzan and Lawson, ‘Capitalism and the Emergent World Order’; Buzan and Lawson,
The Global Transformation.
Buzan 593

will have become more diffused, making it impossible for a small subset of states to
dominate the rest. As ‘development’ becomes more widespread, there might therefore be
less scope for discrimination and hierarchy based on a ‘standard of civilisation’ defined
by modernity. As noted, however, modernity itself has proved capable of generating dif-
ferent pathways (liberalism, fascism, socialism, communism). It is clear that major states
such as China, Russia and India are still seeking to pursue modernity in their own cultur-
ally distinctive fashion. There may thus well be contending standards of modernity
between liberals and others, or perhaps a looser global standard with degrees of regional
differentiation and pluralist tolerance.
But the ‘standard of civilisation’ as a practice of international relations, whatever
rhetorical form it takes, is unlikely to disappear. Its survival across the transition from
colonial to global international society is evidence of both robustness and utility. More
speculative pop-culture evidence for this can be found in the ‘galactic civilisation’ branch
of intelligent science fiction writing. Even so liberal a version of this as Star Trek con-
tained a strong ‘standard of civilisation’ criterion in the form of whether a culture had
developed faster-than-light (FTL) travel or not. As Neumann perceptively argued, the
FTL standard determined whether the Federation would either initiate diplomatic contact
or subject the newly discovered culture to anthropological observation, and the non-
interference rule of the ‘prime directive’.86 Iain M. Bank’s series of Culture novels also
feature a specific eight-level ranking of civilisations. Although Banks never set out the
scheme in full, the Culture was a ‘level eight civ’, and therefore one of the ‘high level
involved’ who were allowed to play a managerial role in the anarchic affairs of the gal-
axy – i.e. to interfere in the fate and development of lower level civilisations (as in The
Player of Games): no ‘prime directive’ here! In this scheme contemporary earth counted
as a ‘level three civ’ (The State of the Art). The classification of ‘civs’ seemed to rest
mainly on the level of technology attained, particularly weapons technology, multiples of
FTL obtained (does it take you a few days, or a few months or many years to get from
one side of the galaxy to another?) and machine intelligence. Both of these schemes are
quite obvious extensions of the differentials created by modernity. They presuppose that
societies at different levels of development coexist within an inter-civilisational system/
society. These imaginary schemes of course depend on FTL travel being possible, and on
the galaxy being populated by a variety of sentient species that have either developed
differently from each other or are at different levels of development. But if those two
conditions are met, then it is difficult to imagine how an inter-civilisational society could
operate without some form of ‘standard of civilisation’, whether imposed by one, or by
an oligarchy like Banks’s ‘high level involved’, or negotiated pluralist fashion among
many, as in Star Trek.
The ‘standard of civilisation’ is therefore a durable concept whether one likes it or not.
In my view, it should be used and valued in the analysis of international relations more
than is currently the case. It is refreshingly frank and analytically penetrating, and well
aimed at exposing the hypocrisies of liberal and other types of normative universalism.

86. Iver B. Neumann, ‘“Grab a Phaser Ambassador”: Diplomacy in Star Trek’, Millennium 30,
no. 3 (2001): 603–24.
594 Millennium: Journal of International Studies 42(3)

It is well worth keeping in play in IR generally. The English School should seize its
advantage and deploy the concept in its developing analysis of the tension between hier-
archic practice and a legitimising principle of sovereign equality.87

Declaration of Conflicting Interest

The author declares that there is no conflict of interest.

This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or
not-for-profit sectors.

Author Biography
Barry Buzan is Professor Emeritus at the LSE, and a Senior Fellow at LSE IDEAS. Previously, he
was Montague Burton Professor of International Relations at the LSE. In 1998 he was elected a
fellow of the British Academy, and in the late 1990s he began a project to reconvene the English
School. His books include: International Systems in World History: Remaking the Study of
International Relations (2000, with Richard Little); From International to World Society?
English School Theory and the Social Structure of Globalisation (2004); The United States and
the Great Powers: World Politics in the Twenty-First Century (2004); International Society and
the Middle East: English School Theory at the Regional Level (2009, co-edited with Ana
Gonzalez-Pelaez); International Society and the Contest over ‘East Asia’ (2014, co-edited with
Yongjin Zhang).

87. Watson, The Evolution of International Society, 299–309, 319–25; Adam Watson, The Limits
of Independence: Relations between States in the Modern World (London: Routledge, 1997);
Adam Watson, Hegemony and History (London: Routledge, 2007); Gong, The Standard
of ‘Civilization’, 7–21; Ian Clark, The Hierarchy of States: Reform and Resistance in the
International Order (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989); Ian Clark, ‘Towards an
English School Theory of Hegemony’, European Journal of International Relations 15, no. 2
(2009): 203–28; Ian Clark, ‘Bringing Hegemony back in: The United States and International
Order’, International Affairs 85, no. 1 (2009): 23–36; Ian Clark, Hegemony in International
Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); Hurrell, On Global Order, 13, 35–6, 63–5,
71, 111–14; Barry Buzan, ‘Culture and International Society’, International Affairs 86, no. 1
(2010): 1–25; Simpson, Great Powers and Outlaw States.