Briefly Noted

| March 2015
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Socializing States: Promoting Human Rights Through International Law, Ryan Goodman and Derek Jinks (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 256 pp., $26 paper.

This is an ambitious work of social science and international affairs that seeks both to explain the success of the international human rights regime as well as provide normative instruction for its improvement. Cross-pollinating from work in international law and international relations, the authors provide a powerful rejoinder to instrumental critiques of human rights by showing not only that human rights treaties and norms “matter” but that activists and lawyers can actively shape better outcomes through institutional design.

Socializing States’ centerpiece is a theory of “acculturation” that overcomes the typical boundary between description and normative advocacy to demonstrate how international norms related to human rights are generated and sustained. Explanations of how states can be influenced to comply with human rights usually fall into either the “material inducements” (carrot and stick) or “persuasion” (argument and deliberation) category. But Goodman and Jinks argue that there is an important third mechanism—socialization—that explains why states behave as they do.

What diplomats and statesmen still call the “international community,” Goodman and Jinks explain as the “isomorphic” tendencies of states to mimic, copy, and follow a “global script” (p. 75). One prominent example is the proliferation of constitutions and constitutional courts over the previous quarter-century, but evidence abounds in such policy areas as arms control, suffrage, and methods of combat. In the second section of the book, the authors helpfully show how their theory differs from the inducement and persuasion paradigms when designing and implementing enforceable multilateral agreements for human rights. In the third section, they address whether acculturation takes effect on the ground instead of becoming just “shallow” commitments.

Socializing States is a formidable account that sets a clear agenda for future studies of human rights. By fruitfully bringing together international relations and international law, the authors have provided a double service: one to the academy, by using social science to illuminate morally pertinent questions about the world in which we live; and one to the object of their study, by describing how human rights can continue to play a constructive role in international affairs.

 

Maxwell’s Demon and the Golden Apple: Global Discord in the New Millennium, Randall Schweller (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014), 216 pp., $24.95 cloth.

Is world politics becoming more chaotic? Recent evidence from Europe’s eastern border, Syria, Iraq, and the South China Sea (separating China and Japan) might suggest so. In his timely new book, political scientist Randall Schweller describes the structural reasons behind such bubbling conflicts: the world is reaching a state of entropy and so “in the coming age, disorder will reign supreme” (p. 13).

For Schweller, the initial conditions of disorder have been set by recent history. A declining hegemon—the United States—hampered by its own overreaching, is reluctant to police the globe, though it has no heir apparent. In place of a single power to guarantee order and stability, Schweller says there is instead a plethora of actors—corporations, militias, individuals—competing with rising states in the post-American world. This system is unlike previous world orders in that the diffusion of power is leading to its dissipation, not its concentration, and this is where the concept of entropy gains intellectual purchase. Entropy, as developed by physicists, refers to the observed fact that closed systems of particles will tend toward disorder until reaching eventual equilibrium. Entropy takes hold in “systems where no new information is yet to be discovered, all actors are known, and the space is clearly defined” (p. 45).

Schweller views the world as a closed system. The elimination of a “great powers” war of hegemonic succession, the near complete control over the earth’s territory by states, and instantaneous access to information set the preconditions for entropy to take hold. The consequences are that actors in world politics now behave in an uncoordinated manner, like trapped gas particles: states are unconstrained in their options for choosing allies (or foes). Today’s novel geopolitics is à la carte in place of last century’s prix fixe, such that Russia, or China, or India can both “align with or against” the United States, and likewise with or against each other, all at cross-purposes (p. 48). Thus, when “anything and everything becomes possible, nothing is predictable or stable” (p. 46).

Maxwell’s Demon pursues this line of thought by cobbling together ideas and examples from physics, probability theory, finance, Thomas Pynchon, and even the popular game Angry Birds. But a system left to entropy leads to its own kind of equilibrium: exhaustion.

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Category: Briefly Noted, Issue 29.1

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