A video has been made available for this event on Columbia University’s YouTube Channel.

The Fourth Annual Kenneth N. Waltz Lecture in International Relations will feature Dr. James Fearon of  Stanford University in a discussion titled “Anarchy is a Choice:  International Politics and the Problem of World Government”

If, as Realist writers on international relations argue, the fact of international anarchy implies great costs and “tragedy” for states (such as occasional war) then why is Realism also the theoretical tradition most strongly opposed to world government?  Realists are largely silent on this paradox and do not develop compelling resolutions.  I argue that the problem of world government is the same as that faced by combatants in civil wars or by political communities contemplating federation — how to construct political institutions that credibly commit groups with conflicting preferences not to try to seize power and impose their own preferences?  This problem is harder to solve the greater the extent of conflicting preferences among the groups.  It is less important to solve (less inefficient) the more technological and other factors favor the defense, and the less preferences conflict.   Rather than anarchy being a natural fact or a “structural condition,” states choose to coexist in anarchy rather than under world government, because the former is significantly better for them (or at least the strong states) than the latter under feasible institutional designs.  Especially in an era of nuclear weapons and widespread democracy, anarchy is an efficient way to organize world politics relative to attempting world government, even if it is almost surely not the most fair or just way.

Moderated by Richard K. Betts, Director with commentary by Kenneth N. Waltz, Senior Research Scholar.

Dr. James D. Fearon is the Theodore and Frances Geballe Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, Stanford University.

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