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Second Natures: Is the State Identical with Itself?

JENS BARTELSON University of Stockholm

This article analyses existing assumptions about state identity within contemporary International Relations theory, arguing that the quest for the identity of the state leads to either circularity or regress. Departing from commonsensical criteria of self-identity such as indivisibility, distinctness and spatiotemporal continuity, this article examines how these criteria are interpreted and applied within essentialist, institutionalist, historicist and poststructuralist theories of International Relations, depending on their different background understandings of the relationship between problems of being and problems of knowing. The article ends by suggesting a reconceptualization of the state in terms of proper identity.

Until quite recently, the question of state identity did not pose much of a problem to International Relations. When the international domain could be dened as anarchic by virtue of being populated by sovereign states, and these latter could be dened as sovereign by virtue of being situated in an anarchic context, the task of International Relations could be dened simply as an inquiry into the intercourse between such sovereign entities. To many International Relations scholars, the state was a second nature. Today, however, state identity has become increasingly contested, both in terms of the general conditions of statehood and in terms of the identity of particular states. Yet if the identity of the international domain has conventionally been dened in terms of its composite states, and the discipline of International Relations in terms of the relationship between these states, then questioning the identity of the state is tantamount to questioning the identity of the international domain itself as well as that of
European Journal of International Relations Copyright 1998 SAGE Publications, London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi, Vol. 4(3): 295326 (13540661 [199809] 4:3; 295326; 005020)

European Journal of International Relations 4(3) International Relations. Thus, if the state ever really became as obsolete as some theorists of International Relations imagine, this would spell the end not only of their domain of inquiry, but also of their intellectual autonomy vis-a-vis adjacent disciplines. But when one contests the status of the state in International Relations today, what, more exactly, is being contested? Therefore, and well before we can hope to settle ongoing theoretical and empirical debates about the modern state and its future fate, it is necessary to answer a prior question: what makes the state identical with itself? Now the fact that this philosophical question rarely has been posed within International Relations does not mean there is any shortage of answers to it, only that these rarely are made explicit but tend to be buried among the premises of theorizing, and thus removed from the standard range of theoretical criticism. The primary objective of this article is to unpack and then scrutinize these presuppositions and their implications. Doing this, I shall analyse three different ways of making sense of the state concept within contemporary International Relations theory, arguing that they all rely on accounts of state identity which are either regressive or circular. In response to this situation, I shall briey analyse the concept of identity itself, arguing that this concept rather than that of the state is responsible for the difculties experienced when trying to make sense of the state. I shall end by suggesting that a concept of proper identity ought to replace the conventional view of self-identity, and nally spell out some implications for our understanding of the state.

1. State Identity in International Relations Theory

Before we can analyse existing accounts of state identity in International Relations theory, it is necessary to describe some of the main but largely subdued sources of philosophical controversy concerning the state, sources which ultimately lie at the heart of all questions of identity. These are bound to be Platonic in origin (see Rosen, 1989: 11859). First, and when posed in its most basic terms, the question of state identity is a question of the being of the state, and what makes a state a state and not something else, such as a subject or object of higher or lesser complexity. This question can be answered in two different ways, either in terms of the attributes which taken together make a state a state, or, in terms of some condition or conditions that make the state possible as bearer of those attributes. The main problem here is whether the state is identical with the sum total of its attributes, or whether it is identical with itself in virtue of some condition that logically precedes the attribution of attributes and which therefore is essential to statehood. Is identity something which the state has, or is it something which the state is? 296

Bartelson: Second Natures Second, and closely related to the previously-mentioned problem, state identity concerns the intelligibility of the state under what conditions is it accessible to human knowledge and human action, either as a subject or as an object? This question can be answered in different ways, but the main source of controversy in the contemporary debate is whether the state is accessible to understanding because it exists, or whether it exists only by virtue of being intersubjectively believed to exist or by being instantiated in political practices. Solutions to this problem are typically dependent on the kind of relationship between language and the world one subscribes to, whether consciously or not. Whenever the existence of the state is thought to be a condition of intelligibility, its concept is supposed to function as a medium of representation which makes the state intelligible. Whenever its intelligibility is thought to condition its existence, its concept is frequently supposed to be constitutive of its existence (see Searle, 1996). If these are the main philosophical sources of controversy in the contemporary debate on state identity, how can we possibly hope to compare different solutions to the problem of state identity, without taking sides in these philosophical debates, and thereby implicitly privileging one solution over the other? While it seems desirable to remain agnostic as to the possible foundations of state identity, our very topic seems to prohibit such an agnosticism, since in order to unpack the state concept, we have to admit, at least tentatively, that its identity represents a possibility. For our present purposes, therefore, it would be clearly sufcient to provide a shopping list of the criteria that would make it possible for us to speak as if states were identical with themselves, without committing ourselves to any specic account of that identity or what it implies in terms of agency, autonomy or rationality. In other words, we should avoid phrasing the problem of state identity in terms that prematurely condition our interpretation of existing solutions to it. One way to accomplish this would be to use commonsensical criteria which hypothetically could be used to answer questions about the selfidentity of any kind of subject, object or concept, and then tentatively transpose them to the realm of states as if the latter were given to intuition in much the same way as a person or a physical object supposedly is.1 Doing this, we must distinguish between the state as a type and the state as token. Type identity concerns the identity of the state as as a general concept, whereas token identity concerns the common characteristics of individual states. This done, our shopping list would look something like this: 1. Indivisibility. A state would lose its fundamental character if it were divided into parts. This implies that if our object of investigation is a 297

European Journal of International Relations 4(3) state, it cannot be split into parts without ceasing to be identical with itself. This goes for type as well as token identity. 2. Distinctness. States are not only categorically distinct from other classes of subjects or objects, but also numerically distinct from each other, and therefore ordinally separable. Thus, the state as a type remains the same by virtue of being clearly distinguishable from other classes of subjects or objects, and each individual state remains identical with itself as a token by virtue of being numerically distinct from every other state. 3. Continuity. As a type, the state enjoys duration in time and extension in space. As a token, individual states enjoy exclusive locations in time and space. This implies that each state remains the same by virtue of having a unique and continuous spatiotemporal trajectory. All this may sound trivial, but as soon as we start to dig into the muddy foundations of contemporary International Relations theory, it will become obvious how difcult it has been and still is to make sense of state identity by means of these criteria. To my mind, there are at least three different kinds of solutions to the problem of state identity available today, and in the rest of this section I shall describe and analyse these. Doing this, I shall try to show that the interpretation of the criteria is strongly conditioned by the above-mentioned philosophical controversies, and that they invariably lead either to circularity or regress by circularity, I shall simply mean the propensity to explain state identity in terms of itself, and by regress, I shall mean the tendency to explain state identity by recourse to antecedent modes of authority, modes in turn accounted for by recourse to yet another identity. But are not circularity and regress inherent in the way the problem of identity has been phrased, rather than assumptions in need of exegetical demonstration? At the most abstract level, this is certainly true by dening the problem of identity in reexive terms, it becomes all too easy and therefore also unnecessary to show that every identity is impossible. Yet when applied to a concrete problematic, the analysis of this impossibility may lead further to the realization that identity is but a name of this impossibility, and that circularity and regress not only are the limits of deconstruction but also the sources of proper identity. A. The Givenness of the State Within this largely mainstream view, the state is a brute fact of international reality and therefore also is given as an object of knowledge much in the same way as planets were given to early astronomy. The state is intelligible by virtue of its existence as an irreducible part of international political reality, and the main function of the concept of the state in theories of International 298

Bartelson: Second Natures Relations is to represent a portion of ready-made political reality, thus making it accessible to theoretical and empirical knowledge. The background understanding goes something like this. Token states may come and go in history, but the type state is a form of political life which is an immutable and perennial feature of the international domain. Indeed, it is the sameness of the former that supposedly accounts for the sameness of the latter. Individual states may change their attributes, through revolutionary upheaval, constitutional change or war, but the type state remains the bearer of those capabilities, interests and intentions. Indeed, it is the variation of power, interests and intentions that makes it possible to explain and understand the intercourse of states, yet this understanding demands that the individual state be identical with itself throughout this intercourse and that the general conditions of statehood are unaffected by changes in power, interest and intentions among individual states. Thus, the state is a given and undeniable fact of international political life, but what makes it identical with itself? Those who take the existence of the state for granted usually come up with two different and prima facie incompatible answers to this question, depending on whether they conceive of state identity in terms of its essence or in terms of its attributes. Whereas the essentialist conception lies at the heart of the monist theory of the state, the willingness to identify the state with the sum of its attributes or components constitutes the core of the pluralist theories of the state. Since the former conception has long constituted the unquestioned foundation of most mainstream theorizing, I shall dwell primarily on the monist point of view, while briey recapitulating the pluralist critique. From the point of view of givenness, our criteria on the shopping list are transhistorical constants which help us to identify both the state as type as well as token states. Let us therefore start with the notion of indivisibility, in order to see how this criterion has been handled conventionally among theorists who take the state for granted. In International Relations theory as well as within classical political philosophy, there has been a long tradition of dening the state as an indivisible unity by virtue of its sovereignty (Vincent, 1989: 694 f.). Within this view, sovereignty is an attribute of the state provided that a series of political and legal requisites of sovereignty obtain. Indeed, most disputes over the meaning and proper application of the concept of sovereignty concern the ranking and operationalization of these requisites, as well as the order of priority between internal and external aspects of sovereignty. Two main positions can be discerned. Either sovereignty is attributed on the basis of the actual distribution of power within a given state, or it is attributed on the basis of the legitimacy of that distribution of power. 299

European Journal of International Relations 4(3) According to the rst position, an effective de facto monopoly on the use of violence is a sufcient condition of statehood. According to the second one, this monopoly has to be supplemented, either by a sufciently homogenous national identity or a sufcient degree of consent. While the rst view tends to accord primacy to internal sovereignty, the latter typically puts a greater emphasis on international recognition.2 Behind this source of disagreement however, there is an underlying and lasting agreement that it is sovereignty itself however operationalized that confers indivisibility upon the state, rather than conversely. Within this view, prominent in early-modern political thought, the state is dened as indivisible by virtue of its sovereignty, since, according to a famous formulation, sovereignty is it selfe a thing indivisible (Bodin, 1962: 185). The idea that the attribute of indivisibility comes through the attribution of sovereignty, and that the essence of sovereignty is indivisibility, lies at the heart of the monist theory of the state. It took the concept of representation to turn this idea into a nice piece of juridicopolitical ction:
A Multitude of men, are made One Person, when they are by one man, or one Person, Represented; so that it can be done with the consent of every one of that Multitude in particular. For it is the Unity of the Representer, not the Unity of the Represented, that maketh the Person One . . . The Multitude so united in one Person, is called a Common-Wealth. (Hobbes, 1991: 114, 120)

In modern International Relations theory, however, the notion that states are indivisible is something that largely has gone without saying or has been left to international jurisprudence to discuss, although Morgenthau (1985: 341) constitutes a notable exception:
If sovereignty means supreme authority, it stands to reason that two or more entities persons, groups of persons, or agencies cannot be sovereign within the same time and space. He who is supreme is by logical necessity superior to everybody else; he can have no superior above him or equals beside him.

Thus, a state can be sovereign if and only if there is but one locus of authority within it, since to divide that locus of authority would be tantamount to dividing the state itself into two or more states. This is the essence of the monist theory, since it assumes that the attribute of indivisibility comes through the attribution of another property sovereignty which in its turn is dened by its indivisibility. Thus sovereignty is conceived of both as an attribute of the state and as a condition of its possibility by virtue of its indivisibility most theories that take the state for granted vacillate uncomfortably between those interpretations but what makes sovereignty itself indivisible? 300

Bartelson: Second Natures This brings us over to the next criterion on the shopping list, that of distinctness, since indivisibility seems to presuppose that agents to which it is attributed have to be distinct as well. At rst glance, the demand that states ought to be categorically distinct from other classes of agents or objects appears to be trivial. In International Relations theory, the justiable intellectual demand for categorical distinctness has conventionally been satised through a differentiation between the domestic and the international spheres. This differentiation can be carried out in several ways. Before the quest for scientic legitimacy, the distinction between the domestic and the international carried strong theological overtones, reecting the tragedy of the human condition. Later, during the heyday of that quest, the separation between the domestic and the international was frequently carried out in terms of a methodological distinction between different levels of analysis (Singer, 1961), a distinction which likewise functioned as a foil for ontological commitments (Waltz, 1959). Sometimes, however, the ne line distinguishing the domestic and the international was thought to reect a profound existential difference between different spheres of political life. As Aron (1962: 6) once stated, so long as humanity has not achieved unication into a universal state, an essential difference will exist between internal politics and foreign politics. Arguably, however, even if there has been a wide agreement to the effect that some such kind of divide indeed is indispensable to the intellectual coherence of International Relations, the exact nature of and possible relationship between the domestic and the international spheres has been widely disputed. Later, when questions of ontology became common stock, there was a growing awareness that the concept of sovereignty conditions this categorical distinction by making domestic order and international anarchy ethically opposed yet ontologically interdependent (Dessler, 1989; Hollis and Smith, 1990: 92118; Wendt, 1987). In the nal analysis, the categorical distinction between the domestic and international spheres demands that the objects in the latter sphere share something in common that distinguishes them from objects in the former sphere, and yet that the objects in the latter sphere also are numerically distinct. Hence, when regarded from the outside, each state appears to be identical with itself by virtue of being ordinally distinct from every other state, that is, by being countable. This means that two or more states do not and cannot overlap spatially without at least one of them ceasing to be a state proper. They cannot share the same territory nor can they be subjected to the same sovereign authority without losing their individuality as states, since states are states by virtue of being both exclusive of each other and together exhaustive of the international domain. 301

European Journal of International Relations 4(3) But if numerical distinctness furnishes the baseline for further identication, numerical distinctness itself seems to presuppose that each state is unique by virtue of something else than by sheer numbers. This brings us over to the nal and apparently most basic criterion of sameness, that of spatiotemporal continuity. That such continuity appears to be most basic also means that it is rarely made explicit the idea that states enjoy a certain duration and extension of their own, and thus a unique spatiotemporal trajectory, is a demand so commonsensical that it rarely has stood in need of justication in the literature. Arguably, temporal duration and spatial extension are features presumably so integral to statehood that the concept of the state would be impossible to make sense of without implying them. But such continuity is itself difcult to make sense of without assuming something that traverses time and space without ceasing to be identical with itself by virtue of something else than its continuous existence, and, at a minimum, that something has to be indivisible throughout its spatiotemporal trajectory, since if it were to split into parts, it would also automatically cease to be continuous. Spatiotemporal continuity seems therefore to defy any further attempts at analysis, since it both is presupposed by and presupposes other criteria on the shopping list. Hence, the identity of the state, much like that of Theseus ship, is inextricably intertwined with time and space, since it is supposed to exist in time and space yet presupposes time and space as conditions of its existence. So what makes the state a state, and what makes it given to International Relations theory? From the earlier analysis we might infer that when indivisibility, distinctness and continuity are treated as constants, they are all inferentially connected if not dened in terms of each other, and that this inferential connection is precisely what makes it possible to treat them as constants. This is thus the essence of givenness indivisibility presupposes a substrate to which this attribute can be ascribed, yet this substrate itself seems to demand further individuation by means of the criteria of categorical and numerical distinctness, which in turn necessitate an anterior individuation by means of spatiotemporal concepts, whose application eventually brings the concept of indivisibility back into play as a condition of their applicability. This means that however far we push in search for the identity of the state, we are likely to end up where we began, hence conrming our initial assumptions about its basic essence, perhaps ultimately to be dened in terms of some primordial and mysterious founding authority. This brings us to the pluralist critique. For all the impression of coherence it creates, the monist theory of the state has remained a target of criticism within International Relations theory long after it was discredited and marginalized within the rest of political science. This is not because of intellectual underdevelopment within the former, however. Due to its long 302

Bartelson: Second Natures and partly mystical association with the modern concept of the state, the notion of indivisibility has been the prime target of criticism. This criticism had many guises. Whereas early critics of monism such as Barker and Laski used to point to the absolutist roots and non-democratic implications of the idea of indivisible authority, one of the main upshots of the behaviouralist critique was to argue that the state concept is redundant to a scientic understanding of politics (Easton, 1951: 108 ff.; Runciman, 1997: 15094; Vincent, 1987: Ch. 6). In International Relations theory, however, critique of monism has frequently arrived through the back door, as have pluralist conceptions of the state, most likely because a pluralist understanding of the state is difcult to reconcile with a systemic perspective on International Relations. According to a rst and widely accepted version of the pluralist critique, the inherited monist understanding of the state is metaphysical in character and also unwarranted empirically, and constitutes a major obstacle to a detailed explanation of foreign policy formation. It should therefore be replaced by a pluralist theory of the state that is able to make sense of the foreign policy process. This is the standard way of underpinning the claims of foreign policy analysis, that is, by dividing the state into those components which taken together best explain those details of foreign policy left unexplained by systemic variables (Allison, 1971; Gourevitch, 1978). According to a second version, the monist theory of the state has become obsolete due to increasing interdependence between states, and should therefore be replaced by an account that takes into consideration the plurality of state institutions and their transnational patterns of interaction. This line of reasoning underwrites theories of interdependence (cf. Keohane and Nye, 1977; Rosenau, 1990). In either case, what is disputed is the methodological virtue of treating the state as an indivisible unity, but not the ontological givenness of the state or its component parts from having been conceived of as a unity of plural components, the state now appears as a plurality of components themselves unitary. Unfortunately, however, such criticism of the monist state concept in International Relations has frequently bordered on the trivial or missed its target, since very few today would deny that the state when viewed from within resembles a divisible manifold, and that this should condition our understanding of what goes on inside states. Nor has anyone seriously denied that what goes on inside states might inuence their dealings with each other, since what goes on on the inside might be suspected to inuence foreign policy outcomes. What has been denied, either implicitly by virtue of the very structure of existing explanations of interstate intercourse, or sometimes explicitly in the name of parsimony, is that this potentially confusing insight should be allowed to contaminate our understanding of 303

European Journal of International Relations 4(3) what goes on at the systems level of analysis, since the international system conventionally is dened in terms of its indivisible components. This denial of course presupposes that the categorical distinction between the domestic and the international is accepted as integral to the discipline and its self-understanding, which is far from self-evident. But whereas pluralist critics have busied themselves with the concept of indivisibility, they have rarely bothered to question this categorical distinction. Having done this, they would most likely have discovered that the monist concept of the state is contingent upon this distinction. But in the absence of such penetrating and potentially destructive criticism, it has been tempting to conclude that as long as the concept of the sovereign state and that of the international system remain dened in terms of each other, the dissolution of the latter into a plurality of institutions would also spell the end not only of the categorical distinction, but also of the international as we have come to know it since its inception (see Milner, 1992; Parekh, 1990; Zacher, 1992). Whether we stay monist or turn pluralist does not really matter as long as we accept that either the state or its components are given in the ontological sense of givenness discussed here. As long as we treat indivisibility, distinctness and continuity as transhistorical criteria of sameness, we are likely to end up in regress or circularity whenever we pose the question of what makes a state a state. The state is then explained by itself, by, as it were, a constant recourse to ever more primordial concepts of sovereign authority which constantly are removed ever further from the scope of rigorous theoretical analysis. Accepting that the state is a given and brute fact of international reality has two important consequences for our understanding of the state as a form of political life. First, it becomes impossible to explain how the state and the international system came into being more than in the most speculative terms, since if the state is taken to be a perennial and constitutive part of the international sphere, both the state and the international system will appear profoundly immutable. Second, it becomes difcult to explain how the identities of particular states are formed and transformed other than in most supercial terms, since the givenness of state identity also implies the essential uniformity and sameness of states in time and space. While their power, their interests and their intentions may vary, their basic identities are simply not accessible to systematic inquiry. The end of the Cold War has made the rst two implications look problematic to many theorists, since they deprive International Relations theory of the conceptual resources and theoretical possibilities necessary to explain changing conditions of statehood as well as ongoing processes of 304

Bartelson: Second Natures identity formation and transformation. So even if today it is fashionable to argue that the good old state is about to wither away thanks to the forces of globalization, very few of those who have subscribed to the notion of givenness can entertain any clearcut ideas of what possibly lurks beyond the predominance of the state as a form of political life. Nor is it possible to settle disputes between those who claim that the state is about to be replaced by new forms of political identity and those who claim that the state is likely to remain politically and legally prominent, since they depart from incommensurable assumptions about what makes a state a state. It is to these alternative conceptions we now must turn. B. The Constructedness of the State Those who want to make the case for the constructedness of the state normally begin by criticizing the notion of givenness by showing that this givenness is merely apparent and rooted in ontological misconceptions. Doing this, they frequently point to the ctitious character of the state concept, emphasizing that the presumption of givenness makes it impossible to explain how the state came into being and was taken for granted. They then try to demonstrate that everything previously thought essential to statehood is merely historically accidental to it. As they argue, the concept of the state might be a convenient metaphor or shorthand, but as soon as we ask what it stands for, the state either vanishes before our eyes or dissolves into an incoherent bundle of components (Ringmar, 1996). Hence the state is not a brute fact, but an institutional and therefore ultimately also a manmade fact. From a constructivist point of view, the state has no essence of its own that transcends the sum total of its attributes, and these latter are the outcome of either a structural context or a historical process. Furthermore, the state ultimately exists because it is believed to exist or because agents act as if it existed, and has therefore been institutionalized as behavioural patterns in international society. Its existence is thus derivative from its intelligibility rather than conversely, and the relationship between the concept of the state and the corresponding reality is held to be mutually conditioning. But if the ideas and institutions of the state are mutually conditioning, the state can have no reality apart from the intersubjective reality constituted by practices of statehood (Buzan, 1991: 57111; Wendt and Duvall, 1989). Within this view, the indivisibility, distinctness and spatiotemporal continuity used to identify the state are not transhistorical conditions of statehood, but variables whose applicability varies with the structural or historical context. Thus, what vary historically are not only the attributes of individual states such as power, intentions and interests, but with them, the very conditions 305

European Journal of International Relations 4(3) of possible statehood. The type state is not given, nor is it an immutable and persistent feature of international life, but rather the outcome of interaction between agents, each struggling for survival and recognition among other, similar agents. This makes token states profoundly historical entities, with denite beginnings and denite ends. Hence, there is nothing necessary about the identity of individual states either, so when the time is ripe, states can be expected to wither away and be replaced by some new form of political identity. Those who want to make the case for the constructedness of the state have to explain two things, two things that those who take state identity for granted invariably fail to explain coherently. First, they have to explain how the type state became possible and seemingly inevitable as a form of political life. Doing this, they have to account for how the state became indivisible and how the categorical distinction between the domestic and international realm emerged. Second, they have to explain how the identities of particular token states have been constructed out of anterior resources. Doing this, they have to account for how states actually are individuated from each other numerically as well as spatiotemporally. Today, those who argue that state identity is constructed usually come up with two kinds of solution to the above problems, the one synchronic and the other diachronic. According to the rst and institutionalist solution, state identity is the outcome of interaction between other, antecedent classes of agents within a more or less given structural context. According to the second and historicist solution, state identity is seen as the outcome of a unique historical process leading from embryonic to mature forms of state. These two views of identity formation converge on two assumptions. First, they both assume that identities are never given prior to social intercourse, and that the formation of identities precedes the acquisition of everything but crude capabilities, interest and intentions. Second, they assume that identities are profoundly intersubjective insofar as their existence depends on socially constituted and shared meanings. To an extent, therefore, state identity is what we make of it, however opaque the reference of that we might turn out to be on closer inspection. The main difference between these views concerns their explanatory priorities. Whereas the institutionalist regards the creation of social meaning as simultaneous with the process of social interaction, and the historical processes as conditioned by both, the historicist is disposed to regard the historical process as a condition of both possible structures and possible meanings. Let us again start with the notion of indivisibility, since if the state is not immediately given to experience, neither can its indivisibility be. Conse306

Bartelson: Second Natures quently, if indivisibility is thought to go hand in hand with sovereignty, sovereignty can hardly be conceived of as a ready-made attribute of states, but must be interpreted and analysed as a condition of possible statehood. But if sovereignty is what makes a state a state by conferring indivisibility upon it, a consistent constructivist must nd a way to explain not only how sovereignty becomes an attribute of states, but also how sovereignty becomes constitutive of them, and this without implying the prior existence of already individuated states. The institutionalist way of making sense of sovereign statehood begins by arguing that identities are inherently relational, insofar as they derive from the social context in which an agent is situated. Social identities are sets of meanings that an actor attributes to itself while taking the perspective of others (Wendt, 1994: 385). What exists prior to interaction and the subsequent acquisition of identity is merely the material substrate of agency . . . an organizational apparatus of governance . . . and a desire to preserve this material substrate (Wendt, 1992: 402). Thus, at the beginning of things, sovereignty is not an attribute of ready-made states, but results from the interaction of embryonic states in an international context. Sovereignty is
. . . an institution, and so it exists only in virtue of certain intersubjective understandings and expectations; there is no sovereignty without an other . . . [t]hese understandings and expectations not only constitute a particular state . . . but also a particular form of community . . . [t]he essence of this community is a mutual recognition of one anothers right to exercise exclusive political authority within territorial limits. (Wendt, 1992: 412)

Following the logic of this account, sovereignty does not derive from the interaction between substrates, but is already present as a possibility in the context of their interaction (see Krasner, 1989: 747). But then it becomes difcult to make sense of sovereignty, let alone make sense of other things in terms of it. Since interaction takes place in a context which is composed of a plurality of individual organizational apparatuses with no single authority above them, and if the possibility of sovereignty is inherent in the context which shapes interaction, then the interacting agents have to be individuated independently of their external relations in order to be able to acquire sovereignty through interaction and mutual recognition. In legalistic terms, this is to say that states have to be internally sovereign before they can engage in those practices by virtue of which they become externally so, a view also shared by many of those who take the state for granted. The historicist way of making sense of indivisibility usually starts by emphasizing the historicity of the modern sovereign state, by pointing to the 307

European Journal of International Relations 4(3) fact that it is the result of a highly specic way of differentiating and legitimizing political units (Ruggie, 1986: 142 f.). Within this view, indivisibility and sovereignty are outcomes of a highly specic set of historical circumstances, creating a form of political individuation which is unique to the modern age. Thus, within this view, the modern state was once assembled out of a variety of material and intellectual resources that were handed down from the Middle Ages, culminating in territorially dened, xed, and mutually exclusive enclaves of legitimate dominion (Ruggie, 1993: 151). In this account, what supposedly preceded the formation of state identity was a patchwork of spatially extended but not yet mutually exclusive enclaves, in which authority was both personalized and parcelized within and across territorial formations and for which inclusive bases of legitimation prevailed (Ruggie, 1993: 150). Regardless of the historical validity of this characterization (cf. Fischer, 1992), such an explanation of state identity departs from the assumption that the then prevailing claims to authority were exclusive of each other, and that each such locus of authority itself was given and indivisible, even if these power claims were yet unconnected to specic and exclusive territorial portions. So again, even if there are no states from scratch and hence no sovereign statehood either, their emergence seems to presuppose some sort of indivisible authority at the bottom line, an authority the origin of which is lost in prehistory. Thus, while these different constructivist perspectives help to account for the formation of state identity, they do so by presupposing that the members of the class of embryonic agents that are thought to precede the formation of states in their turn are sovereign and indivisible in some basic sense. This brings us to the problem of distinctness, since one possible way of making sense of state identity without presupposing indivisibility would be in terms of numerical distinctness between agents or in terms of categorical distinctness between classes of agents. From an institutionalist point of view, state identities are fashioned through interaction. But in order to explain the process of interaction that shapes state identities, agents must be assumed to be numerically distinct if such interaction is to be possible, simply because it takes two to tango. Thus, numerical distinctness is what remains when all those attributes that result from interaction have been stripped off, since
. . . the raw material out of which members of the state system are constituted is created by domestic society before states enter the constitutive process of international society, although this process implies neither stable territoriality nor sovereignty, which are internationally negotiated terms of of individuality. (Wendt, 1992: 402)


Bartelson: Second Natures Yet this fact of numerical distinctness is itself left unexplained. This implies not only that the domestically constituted identities are taken for granted, but also that distinctness itself is accepted as a baseline fact (cf. Mercer, 1995). Thus, from an institutionalist point of view, states are assumed to be numerically distinct from scratch, and the context of their interaction is nothing but a plurality of such numerically distinct agents. But why should we assume that states are numerically distinct from the beginning, and that their context of interaction is given as a plurality, rather than assuming that numerical distinctness results from the ssion of an anterior unity? Whereas the the former view brings with it the assumption of a primordial authority to divide et impera of a quasi-transcendental kind, the latter implies assumptions about primordial unity of political identities presumably some version of a Respublica Christiana. From a historicist perspective, the assumption of such anterior unity is crucial for explaining the transition from pre-modern forms of political authority to modern ones. These explanations seek to account for the passage from the universalist form of political identity held to be characteristic of medieval Europe to the modern differentiation into territorially exclusive states. But in doing this, however, the historicist typically tends to assume that the numerical distinction between authorities was present in an embryonic shape even during the pre-modern period, and then coexisted with universalist institutions before it nally replaced them. Explanations of this transition typically focus upon how boundaries between different forms of authority were redrawn as a consequence of the struggle between universalist and particularist claims, and how this process was propelled by strategic rivalry between the embryonic loci of secular and particularist authority the new organizing principle of reciprocal sovereignty was challenged in and hammered home by wars (Ruggie, 1993: 162). Thus, the logic of explanation here is the reverse of the institutionalist one, since from a historicist viewpoint, numerical distinctness is the outcome of ssion rather than of fusion (cf. Buzan, 1993; Kratochwil, 1986; Zolberg, 1981). Turning now to categorical distinctness, both these views either assert or imply that the international domain cannot be sui generis, since the differentiation of political life into indivisible and distinct units necessarily precedes the formation of such a domain. Still, however, the accounts of how state identities are formed invariably tend to assume that the context in which the agents that precede the state interact is characterized by the absence of effective overarching authority, and that this absence conditions the possibility of state formation. This makes these attempts to account for construction of state identity vulnerable to the accusation that they no longer are doing International Relations theory proper, but unwittingly have undermined the autonomy of this discipline by assimilating it to the 309

European Journal of International Relations 4(3) traditional concerns of historical macrosociology (see Giddens, 1985; Mann, 1988; Tilly, 1990). And ultimately, whether such a rapprochement is perceived to be a problem or not depends on ones expectations about the future fate of the state. This brings us to the criterion most difcult to disentangle from the existing ways of conceptualizing the state, that of spatiotemporal continuity. Here all but a few theorists remain remarkably silent, yet concepts of time and space arguably constitute the inescapable foundation of their theorizing. Thus, whereas institutionalists are inclined to regard the construction of identities as something that takes place in time and space, historicists tend to explain how identities are constructed out of time and space. What all these accounts presuppose, however, is that time and space ultimately are dimensions external to the identities thus constructed, something which entails that spatiotemporal continuity is presupposed by the respective account rather than explained by it. Thus, whereas institutionalists perhaps willingly would admit that historicists are right when they argue that different conceptions of time and space are constitutive of political identities in virtue of being inherent in the intersubjectively shared understandings which make up these identities, they would nd it hard to argue this consistently without assuming that the same identities are formed in a timespace which is divorced from the intersubjective understandings which are to be explained. By the same token, whereas historicists hardly could argue much against the view that the formation of identities takes place in a time and in a space not themselves constituted by the same formative process, the formative process itself presumably being propelled by changing conceptions of time and space. Hence, in the previous accounts, time and space are both topic and resource simultaneously since, according to their logic, even the constitution of time and space must take place in a wholly dimensional timespace otherwise the very concept of process would lose much of its meaning. Whether institutionalist or historicist, the above-mentioned solutions to the problem of state identity converge on the assumption that if the identity of the state has been constituted through interaction, this identity is also bound to dissolve sooner or later, and could therefore be expected to be replaced by new forms of political identity. If the story of the state and the international system has a beginning, it surely must have an end, and the fear or hope that we are about to reach that endpoint tacitly underwrites most constructivist accounts of state identity. To institutionalists, the most obvious way this is going to happen is through increased interdependence or internationalization, so that the emergent mutuality of interests sooner or later will spill over into new forms of identity or perhaps into a shared one. The sovereign state can then be 310

Bartelson: Second Natures expected to yield gradually to the emergence of new forms of state or even an international state (Cox, 1986; Cox, 1989; Wendt, 1994: 391 f.). To historicists, the trajectory of the modern state will be completed once the territorial basis of legitimation is undercut by transnational practices, giving way to forms of rule not bound to exclusive territories (Badie, 1995; Ruggie, 1993: 1714). How and when this is going to happen is rarely discussed, however. We might conclude this section by pointing to the regress and circularity that the constructivist view gives rise to. If the state is an institutional fact, it exists by virtue of being intersubjectively understood to be so. But if the state exists because a critical mass of people believe it to do so or at least act as if they did, what, more exactly, do these people believe exists or is instantiated in their practices? Already this phrasing of the problem of state identity seems to give rise to circularity, since the question of identity supposedly is brought closer to a solution by being relegated to the level of intersubjective belief, but whenever the content of these beliefs or practices is questioned, the original problem reappears. Thus, pushing the problem of state identity from the level of being to the level of intelligibility does not make it prima facie easier to solve. The answers provided by constructivists do indeed invite circularity and regress, since they not only presuppose that other classes of agents are given to analysis which is necessary for theory in order to remain empirical but also that these embryonic and state-like entities are identical with themselves by virtue of the same criteria that are used to individuate the mature state, merely reiterating the exemplary juxtaposition of political authority and identity that is the mark of internal sovereignty. Thus, however far we push the quest for the ultimate sources of identity, we are bound to discover that the antecedents of the modern state themselves display a striking ontological resemblance to their mature counterpart, since the formative process is reconstructed as if the state were coming to an end and as if we stood at that very end looking backwards. If subscribers to givenness unwittingly turned indivisibility into the most basic criterion of statehood, constructivists seem to imply that numerical distinctness is at the bottom line. If state identity is formed through interaction, interaction in turn necessitates numerical distinctness, yet this distinctness is left unexplained. Thus, what ultimately seems to make a state a state in the earlier accounts is numerical distinctness, since within the view of constructivists, indivisibility and continuity both seem to be derivative from numerical distinctness. Yet behind this reliance on numerical distinctness is a tendency in the accounts to reduce the question of state identity to a question of primordial authority. What allegedly precedes the formation of the modern state and 311

European Journal of International Relations 4(3) what remains when the results of interaction have been abstracted from the state is what is thought to be the essence of statehood, and this essence is invariably symbolized by primordial concepts of authority, vested in the person of the prince or in the rudiments of government or dominion. Yet such a sovereignty is always double always an attribute of agents, but also their condition of possibility and thus essential to their being. But is it possible to account for sovereignty without presupposing it? This brings us to the nal way of handling the problem of state identity in contemporary International Relations theory. C. The Contingency of the State Those who want to make the case that the identity of the state is contingent cannot remain content demonstrating as constructivists do that the givenness of the state is an illusion resulting from undue reication, but have to show that the conditions of possible state identity themselves are nonessential and wholly contingent upon things other than those entities whose existence the constructivist takes for granted in his or her account of the state. Indeed, the upshot of the contingency argument is to demonstrate that essence is not essential to our understanding of the international, and, by implication, that things could have been totally otherwise had history taken a slightly different turn. From the viewpoint of contingency, the state is a discursive fact. As such, what makes the state identical with itself is neither its essence nor the sum total of its attributes, but rather the contingencies of political discourse. If givenness implies that the attributes of statehood ultimately are reducible to its essence, and constructivists make the point that this essence is nothing but the structurally or historically variable attributes of statehood, contingency implies that everything about the state is pure plasticity. The state has no attributes or essence behind the succession of interpretations, and its identity is simply what we have made of it in and through discourse. The standard case for contingency is made by asserting or implying the autonomy and primacy of such discourse in relation to state identity. State identity is thus what we make of it out of linguistic habits which we supposedly cannot fully control, since within this view, we ourselves are what discourse has made of us. Hence, a coherent case for contingency necessitates a wholesale reversal of the relationship between being and intelligibility and the a priori assumption that the constitutive function of language has primacy over the representative one. This is normally done by arguing or implying that the very possibility of representation is dependent on intralinguistic conventions rather than on any extra-linguistic distinction between language and world. 312

Bartelson: Second Natures So state identity does not inhere in the world, nor is it constructed from things themselves given to experience, but is rather the outcome of the way we happen to talk about things political. If identities are contingent, they are contingent upon a discourse which both constitutes and renders them intelligible. This implies that the criteria of indivisibility, distinctness and spatiotemporal continuity are nothing but rhetorical resources which together condition the possibility of both type and token state identity. Like the constructivist argument, the contingency argument can be articulated in either an synchronic or a diachronic version, even if these tend to converge on crucial points. The question how the identity of the state has been constituted can either be answered by deconstructing a roughly contemporaneous discourse on International Relations, pointing to the binary oppositions that constitute the state as essentially continuous, indivisible and distinct from other forms of political life, or, it can be answered genealogically, by analysing how the concepts and categories that create and sustain this differentiation themselves have come into being in the prehistory of that discourse. In one deconstructive version of the contingency argument, state identity is regarded as contingent upon the structure of International Relations discourse. In this case the indivisibility of the modern state is understood as the result of a discursive differentiation that separates the state from other possible or actual forms of political life. Thus, the rendering of the state as an indivisible unity is contingent upon an interpretive disposition regarding the question of community in international affairs (Ashley, 1987: 406). According to such an interpretation, the state is a perennial site of sameness, at once different from what went before it and what exists outside it. Ultimately, therefore, the state is constituted by the knowledgeable practices by which domestic societies are differentiated from each other and from the international context in space and time (Ashley, 1989: 301). This interpretive disposition both conditions and is conditioned by political practices of domestication that constitute the sovereign state as the privileged form of political community and the sole locus of legitimate authority in the world. Taken together, these practices reify the state as a timeless and immutable identity (Ashley, 1988: 118 ff.), the ultimate source of this differentiation being the silent community of realist power politics (Ashley, 1987: 423). From a deconstructive viewpoint, the question of spatiotemporal continuity becomes a question of the timing and spacing effected by discourse, since time and space cannot be anything but interpretations created and sustained by a specic mode of discourse. Thus the temporal duration and the unique spatial extension said to individuate each state are nothing but residues of 313

European Journal of International Relations 4(3) the conceptual oppositions brought into play by a discourse which constitutes a temporality and spatiality of its own. Following the logic of the deconstructivist argument, indivisibility, numerical distinctness and spatiotemporal continuity are reducible to the categorical distinction between the domestic and the international spheres, a distinction which in turn renders these as ethically opposed yet ontologically implicating (Walker, 1990a: 914). This implies that the identity of the state depends on a prior distinction between the domestic and the international spheres, a distinction which originates in the same theoretical practices of demarcation which also make states numerically distinct from each other, and statehood distinct from other possible forms of political identity. Yet the possibility of drawing these lines of demarcation is inherent in the total structure of political discourse at a given moment, and is therefore difcult to make sense of without circular recourse to the same discourse. Here the state is not explained by itself, yet this strategy seems to demand that discourse is wholly self-referential. From a logical point of view, the deconstruction of state identity boils down to the observation that if the criteria of indivisibility, distinctness and continuity are dened in terms of each other within political discourse which seems to be the case then these and the boundaries sustained by them presuppose gestures of demarcation that must be logically extrinsic and/or historically anterior both to the criteria themselves and the domains these help to constitute as separate, since no distinction between classes of objects itself can be a member of any of those classes it serves to distinguish. This brings us to the diachronic and genealogical version of the contingency argument, whose task it is to explain the historical genesis of the concepts and categories which have been put to use in the constitution of state identity. Two main versions of such an argument can be discerned in the literature. In the rst version, the task is to understand how the concept of sovereign state came into being and became a constitutive part of international life within modern political discourse, including that of International Relations. The point of departure is to regard state sovereignty as but one historically specic solution to the perennial problem of creating political community and legitimizing the presence of authority within it (Walker, 1990b: 164 f.). Since solutions to this problem invariably involve practices of demarcation, the drawing of boundaries between inside and outside is necessary to create and sustain state identity in a world of difference. Interpreted in this way, the sovereign state is the outcome of a series of discursive accidents together which effect the kind of resolution between the universal and the particular which we know and inhabit today (Walker, 1993: 81124). 314

Bartelson: Second Natures In this case both indivisibility and distinctness are regarded as derivative from the timing and spacing created by political discourse, yet the identity of this discourse in turn derives from the fact that it deals with the same allegedly timeless problem, that of community. Hence, all solutions to this problem seem to demand the ability to x a point of identity a universality in time and space against which all differences in space and time can be measured, judged, and put in their place (Walker, 1990b: 175). In the second version, the task is to understand how the categorical distinction between the domestic and the international has been created and been subjected to change by different discourses through different periods. The focus here is how changing discursive practices of demarcation coexist with and are conditioned by changing modes of knowledge in the shaping of historically specic forms of political community. Within this view, neither the state nor the line separating it from the international domain are transhistorically present, but result from the interfoliation of discourses on power and knowledge. Thus, the indivisibility, distinctness and spatiotemporal continuity of the state can be regarded as outcomes of the epistemic and ontological options made available by a symbolic exchange between philosophical and political discourse throughout the ages (Bartelson, 1995: Ch. 23). Since both the deconstructive and the genealogical versions of the contingency argument phrase the question of state identity in terms of the conditions of possible intelligibility and then answer it by pointing to the modal antecendents of the state concept, they of course beg the question of what makes political discourses and discursive practices self-identical enough to warrant treatment as objects of inquiry in their own right. Furthermore, even if both deconstruction and genealogy explicitly problematicize time and space by arguing that our modern that is, Newtonian interpretations of time and space are wholly integral to the formation of state identity, they nevertheless have to assume that this constitution of state identity takes place in a historical time other than that produced by the modalities of discourse, lest they either become incoherent or indistinguishable from pure ction. So if the state is contingent upon discourse, it is also hard to imagine what possibly could replace it. Both deconstructivists and genealogists are reluctant to speculate about what may lurk beyond the modern state and the international system, yet they argue as if both were dead letters and inescapable at once. This being so, since the assumptions that inform their enterprise seem to preclude anything but either a total transformation of the present, or, that this present is totally immutable. That a transformation either is under way spontaneously or about to be effected by discursive 315

European Journal of International Relations 4(3) intervention in the present is rarely doubted and often desired, but since new forms of political identity have not yet been brought into being by discourse, they are not yet intelligible either. The identity of the state is explained as if existing explanations primarily were constitutive of it, rather than helpful in analyzing it. As a consequence, very small conceptual resources are left with which we could hope to understand what possibly might replace the state, since the same set of statements and concepts hardly can be expected to explain what they constitute simply because they constitute what they explain. We might therefore conclude that whereas contingency arguments successfully have stripped the identity of the modern state from all remnants of apparent givenness, the ensuing explanations of how the identity of the state has been formed cannot but conrm the obvious, namely, that it has to be explained with reference to something else that in turn has to be assumed to be either identical with itself or completely different from itself. Thus, even the most die-hard proponent of contingency must assume the existence of something which contingent things are assumed to be contingent upon and which is contingent upon nothing but itself, even if that is pure difference. But if state identity is assumed to be contingent upon political discourse, this discourse is often implicitly assumed to be contingent upon a specically modern resolution of the problem of political community the state whose presence the same discourse was to account for in the rst place. Also, since the core claim of the contingency argument revolves around the categorical distinction between the domestic and the international, and since the other criteria of identity are treated as derivative from this disjunction, the main upshot of the contingency argument has been to demonstrate and lament the interdependence between this divide and disciplinary identity (Ashley and Walker, 1990). But if the questioning of state identity automatically spills over into a questioning of disciplinary identity and conversely, the contingency argument is vulnerable to the criticism that deconstruction merely serves to assimilate the study of International Relations to the concerns of literary criticism and that genealogy turns International Relations into a branch of the history of ideas. Finally, not even a consistent contingency argument can avoid the pervasive tendency to reduce questions of identity to questions of authority. Whereas both deconstruction and genealogy denaturalize the state and turn it into a discursive fact, they both beg the question of how the distinctions, concepts and categories produced by discourse and productive of identity themselves are authorized and rendered historically effective, a question which is difcult to answer without venturing outside discourse for 316

Bartelson: Second Natures explanations of the content of discourse, its dissemination and its impact. In the nal analysis, we either stay inside discourse and attribute a certain authority to discourse itself, or we step outside it by attributing authority to those institutions and practices that supposedly produce and sustain it. In the former case, the authority necessary to demarcate the state from its others becomes ghostly and the ensuing explanation regressive, and in the latter case we not only violate the methodological precepts of orthodox discourse analysis, but also end up with a circular account in which the state is identical with itself by virtue of being constituted by a discourse that itself ultimately founders in or presupposes the state.

2. From Self-Identity to Proper Identity

What we have seen earlier is that even if the notion of constructedness was articulated in conscious opposition to the notion of givenness, and the notion of contingency in conscious opposition to both, these three views nevertheless all led to circularity or regress, albeit through very different conceptual detours and on different levels of abstraction. All these ways of making sense of the state assume that the state is identical with itself by virtue of its indivisibility, distinctness and continuity their main difference concerns the grounds for interpreting and applying these criteria, and, ultimately the very possibility of identity. Accounts of state identity invariably necessitate assumptions about the self-identity of other things. In one sense this is trivial, since there cannot be any frameworks of inquiry devoid of presuppositions about their objects of inquiry, and such presuppositions characteristically entail some ontological commitments. Yet this also indicates something less trivial and highly problematic, namely, that even if the concept of identity presumably is susceptible to analysis, it also gures as a necessary precondition of all analysis. As Nietzsche (1968: 309) once remarked, [t]here would be nothing that could be called knowledge if thought did not rst re-form the world in this way into things, into what is self-identical. Within the problematic of state identity, the criteria of indivisibility, distinctness and spatiotemporal continuity are therefore always both explanans and explanandum, and this irrespective of whether they are interpreted as transhistorical constants, structural or historical variables, or rhetorical resources. Hence, given the way the problem of identity has been phrased, what makes the state identical with itself in the earlier accounts is always something other which is supposed to be spatially exterior or temporally anterior to the state, yet that something is both constitutive of and thus foundational in relation to the state proper. Posed in these terms, the question of state identity will inevitably yield elusive answers, and a constant 317

European Journal of International Relations 4(3) quest for its conditions of possibility. And the ensuing recourse to some foundational authority or primordial act of violence (physical or interpretive) will seem inevitable, yet the outcome of such recourse will always appear as a mystical limit to our critical abilities, and thus invite further deconstruction (see Derrida, 1992a: 14). But in order to be deconstructible, the identity of that which is to be deconstructed must at least momentarily be taken for granted. At this point we might suspect that the difculties we experience when analysing state identity have more to do with the concept of identity itself than with any inherent ambiguities of the state concept perhaps it is the other way around. In this section, therefore, I shall take a brief look at the concept of identity itself, and then try to restate the problem of state identity. A. The Concept of Identity Revisited If we accept that our interpretation of commonsensical criteria of identity such as indivisibility, distinctness and continuity ultimately is conditioned by more profound and largely unreected ontological commitments, it becomes easier to realize that these commitments in turn are enabled and circumscribed by a set of differences, such as those between essence and attribute, being and intelligibility, and language and world. But if there is no way of making sense of state identity without invoking such oppositions, there is no way of making sense of these differences without invoking the identities that constitute the terms of these oppositions. This assumption boils down to the observation that identity can only be understood in a context of differences, while difference can only be understood within a context of identities. Conventionally phrased, this further implies that something can only be identical with itself by virtue of being different from something else. Yet this conventional logic inevitably collapses into paradox, since if identity is premised on difference between two or more things, these things in fact share in common both the attribute of being self-identical and the attribute of being different from each other, which implies that they in fact are identical with each other, and therefore cannot be two. This daunting insight is frequently attributed to Hegel, as is the solution to the paradox. As he states in his Logic,
. . . the truth is rather that a consideration of everything that is, shows that in its own self everything is in its selfsameness different from itself and selfcontradictory, and that in its difference, in its contradiction, it is self-identical, and is in its own self this movement of transition of one of these categories into the other, and for this reason, that each is in its own self the opposite of itself. (Hegel, 1969: 412)

Hegel held this to be a universal law of both being and intelligibility. Thus 318

Bartelson: Second Natures interpreted, ontological difference becomes a condition of possible identity rather than conversely, so that sameness ultimately depends on the possibility of being different from itself. If this indeed is the fundamental law of all identity, this would imply that the concepts put to use when phrasing and solving the problem of identity themselves are subject to the law of identity rather than being conducive to its solution nothing is identical with itself by virtue only of itself. Thus, if identity and difference are mutually implicating, something can be identical with itself only by virtue of being different from itself, and different from itself only by virtue of being identical with itself (cf. Siemens, 1988). Therefore, in the nal analysis, what is proper to identity is the ability to enter into a relationship to oneself, and to be different from oneself as a condition of oneself. As Derrida (1992b: 10) has remarked, there is no selfrelation, no relation to oneself, no identication with oneself, without culture, but a culture of oneself as a culture of the other, a culture of the double genitive and of the difference to oneself . That is, a given identity will remain identical with itself only by virtue of being related to itself as another, yet such self-relation demands a medium through which it can be articulated, a culture of oneself as a culture of the other, in Derridas words. Thus, rather than merely showing state identity or any particular identity to be impossible, this deconstruction of the concept of identity has shown that identity not only is an impossibility, but that identity itself is nothing but another name for that impossibility that hinders the constitution of a full identity-with-itself (Zizek, 1991: 37). We are therefore obliged to conclude that identity is a profoundly contradictory concept, since the conditions of its possibility coincide with the conditions of its impossibility. B. The Concept of the State Revisited But granted that identity is nothing but a radical impossibility, how are we to make sense of the theoretical discourse on the state? To my mind, the main reason why existing accounts of state identity lapse into either regress or circularity is that they fail to apprehend that the state concept ultimately is self-referential within most contexts of employment. Existing accounts of state identity are therefore best understood as expressive of the same identity they seek to describe and explain, since the very possibility they share in common, namely that of conceptualizing the state as if one stood outside it, presupposes precisely that kind of difference which is integral to its proper identity. The main historical reason why state identity has become so difcult to disentangle and analyse is that existing accounts of state identity within 319

European Journal of International Relations 4(3) International Relations theory consistently have departed from the outcome of prior juridicopolitical justications of the state in terms of its ideal genesis and and progressive trajectory, and have then transposed this outcome to the international domain, oblivious of the fact that the state and the international domain are wholly simultaneous. This deserves some elaboration. First, in order to make sense of state identity, theorists of International Relations typically start from a hypothetical situation in which all supposedly accidental attributes of the state have been stripped off. Originally applied to the juridicopolitical person in the context of contractarian justications of authority, this way of reasoning is supposed to yield the kind of clean slate from which the emergence of the state can be explained and justied, much in the same way as the state of nature was invented in order to explain and justify the presence of authority in the domestic context. But behind the ideal genesis of the state we nd nothing but primordial violence International Relations has incorporated into its ontological core an understanding of political authority that originally was tailored to conceal the facts of conquest and the violent origin of all authority, and then once and for all sealed this understanding by grafting it on to a domain which is nothing but an iteration of the original and concealing contractarian context. Second, and now in order to account for the possibility of transformation and expectations of transcendence, the same theorists venture to explain the present identity of the state in terms of its structural, historical or discursive antecedents. Originally invented in order to justify visions of the perfect community and to legitimize expectations of transcendence, this temporalization of present identities is supposed to lay bare the conditions of possible transformation in the international domain. But again, this gesture is one of iteration, since the ideal trajectories of the state, portrayed in terms of its future demise or permanence, wholly correspond to and sustain its idealized origin at the speculative end of the state we will always nd nothing but its legitimizing foundation. This is why the juridicopolitical conception of the state as identical with itself yields strange results when inserted within a context dened by the absence of central authority and common identity. The original use of this latter conception was to justify existing political authority and to conceal foundational and revolutionary violence by temporalizing it. But in sharp contrast to the later employment of a notion of a state of nature in the context of International Relations theory, its domestic counterpart state was not created to account for the identity of its constitutive components. But since there is no international authority to justify and no common international identity to depart from in the ensuing explanation of the state, 320

Bartelson: Second Natures accounts of state identity which repeat the gestures mentioned earlier are also bound to reproduce the initial conditions of their own starting point, since the logic of explanation presupposes what it sets out to explain, namely, that the state always already is identical with itself. This goes for the critical possibility as well. On the one hand, international anarchy makes criticism of the sovereign state seem urgent, since the state looks like the main source of discord in the world. On the other, the fact of anarchy makes criticism very difcult, since the state cannot be summoned to appear before a moral law that is not simultaneously the law of the state, hence it is ultimately founded in the very same condition that one so urgently wishes to subject to criticism. Hence, the kind of state identity which gures as an object of theoretical controversy in contemporary International Relations theory is nothing but a ction dreamed up by contractarians and cultivated by their historicist successors in order to conceal the facts of conquest and the ignoble origin of all law. It is this concept that signies something given according to the adherents of givenness, something constructed and therefore reconstructible according to constructivists, something contingent therefore deconstructible according to proponents of contingency the state is their second nature, and the secret source of their professional enjoyment. C. Conclusion But even if the efforts to transcend the state are demonstrably futile, we may well be able to move beyond the current connes of political imagination. How, then, could we reconceptualize the state in the light of the earlier analysis? Such a reconceptualization would amount to nothing less than a wholesale reversal of perspectives. First, through an intitial detour through Weber, we should regard the state as a claim to a monopoly of violence, but without deciding pace Weber upon whether this claim has to be successful or legitimate in order for us to speak of the state. Regarded as nothing but a claim, it becomes possible to view the state as a contestable possibility whose fulllment is impossible, and whose legitimacy always is derivative from its relative success, rather than conversely. As Hoffman (1995: 6275) has argued, the nal success and total legitimacy of any such claim would be tantamount to its cancellation, which entails that the state is profoundly contradictory it is but a name for a certain structural impossibility made possible by a certain political practice. Thus, viewed from inside itself, the state is always necessarily an apple of discord before it can present itself as a source of political identity and order. Hence our conceptualizations of the state will always reect the interpretive 321

European Journal of International Relations 4(3) violence of a founding authority, as well as its capacity to authorize itself by concealing the fact of primordial conquest. When viewed from outside itself, the state is but a battle beset by deadlock or ceasere long enough to have been forgotten by the combatants, but always ready to erupt in a renewed struggle and new conquests, conquests in turn awaiting new acts of concealment, and new authorizations of the fundamental laws of the political. Thus, rather than being the happy outcome of successful domestication and pacication, the state is a continuation of war with other means (see Foucault, 1997: 1617). Second, this implies that all politics ultimately is international politics, if we by international no longer mean what takes place within a preconstituted realm, but rather the kind of practices that are fundamental to the establishment of such realms that is, as politics as the quest for the rst principles of the political in the absence of rst principles. From this perspective, the juridicopolitical ction of the self-identical state, along with its corollary international system are nothing but momentary stabilizations of historical practices of power politics, practices which both precede and exceed the constitution of political identity and political authority, but which themselves nevertheless are historically specic and dinstinctively Western in origin. In the nal analysis, the impossible possibility of the state founders in raison d tat, and will live and die with its dissemination. What we are e witnessing today is therefore not the death of the state, but an intensied awareness of how its permanent crisis eludes understanding other than from within a perspective that cannot but contribute to its reproduction. Only when this perspective itself has been long forgotten, will we be totally entitled but not the least tempted to speak of the end of the state.

I would like to thank Andreas Behnke, Didier Bigo, John Crowley, Kjell Goldmann, Perti Joenniemi, Lotta Wagnsson as well as the anonymous referees of EJIR for their valuable comments on earlier drafts of this article. 1. I must admit that I have compiled this list somewhat impressionistically, drawing both on discussions of the identity of physical objects and that of persons, trying to boil them down to a set of common denominators. See among others Brody (1980: 439); Chisholm (1971); Gracia (1983: 3948); Hollis (1985); Oksenberg (1988: 7898); Sprigge (1988) and Wiggins (1971). 2. The debate concerning the meaning and attribution of sovereignty is enormous. See among others Barkin and Cronin (1995), Hinsley (1986), Jackson (1987), Kelsen (1969), sterud (1997) and Thompson (1995).


Bartelson: Second Natures References

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