In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Democracies and World Order

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • The Liberal Internationalist Order

International Relations Democracies and World Order
Gabriela Marin Thornton
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 June 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 June 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0067


What do we mean by world order? How can world order be defined, and what is the relationship between democracies and world order? Are democracies important pillars of world order? Furthermore, in what kind of world order can human aspirations best be fulfilled? Scholars of international relations (IR) have been wrestling with these questions since the inception of the IR disciple in the aftermath of World War I. It should be stated that from the beginning there has been no consensus in IR over the meaning of the term “world order.” The definition of democracy is also contested among political scientists. The link between democracies and various types of world orders is a matter of dispute, too. Moreover, the literature that defines both democracy and world order is voluminous. Realist scholars tend to conceptualize world order as a system of states in which the distribution of hard power creates various types of orders such as multipolar, bipolar, or unipolar. International political economy and Marxist scholars mostly equate world order with the capitalist global economy. In general, realists, international political economists, and Marxists scholars see the world order as an arrangement of actors such as great powers or economic classes. On the other hand, liberals, constructivists, and globalists view the world order as a process in which states or dominant classes are not the only actors. Various transnational institutions, norms, and values transcend borders and continuously shape world politics. This article is structured as follows: First, it maps out resources that exemplify the link between democracies and world order from President Woodrow Wilson to President George W. Bush. Second, the article provides resources that explore the link between democracy and globalization: a concept that mostly displaced that of world order in the mid-1990s. Third, the article analyzes the link between democracies and various forms of liberal orders. This article devotes considerable space to the world order created by the United States because the United States has been the only great power that has created a world order in which democracy and its promotion has played a central role.

General Overviews

The annotated sources in this section are ground breaking works on world order. Represented here are works coming from: (i) the English School of international relations, such as Bull 1977; (ii) the critical/historical materialist school, such as Cox 1987; (iii) various schools of liberal thought, including Ikenberry 2009 and Slaughter 2004; (iv) the globalization school, such as Held 1995; and (v) the Marxist and deconstructivist school, such as Hardt and Negri 2000. Huntington’s crucial work The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order Huntington 1996) and Peter J. Katzenstein’s A World of Regions: Asia and Europe in the American Imperium (Katzenstein 2005) are also discussed. Bull 1977 argues for a world order that supersedes the anarchical Hobbsian realist system and even supersedes the concept of international society initially advanced by the English School. Bull argues that order should take precedent over justice. Cox 1987 presents us with a different conceptualization of the world order: a world order whose main characteristic is change fueled by the transformation of the global economic system. The connection between the world order and democracy appears superfluous in both works. By contrast, the liberals and the globalists play this connection strongly, albeit in different ways. Ikenberry 2009 sees democracies as an important part of the world order. Slaughter 2004 argues that government networks are the key feature of the world order in the 21st century. Held 1995 goes from classical democracy (within the state) to cosmopolitan democracy (beyond the state), and argues that the meaning of democracy should be rethought in an international society in which the state lost considerable power. Hardt and Negri 2000 define world order as empire. Empire is a specific regime of global relations of (neo)Marxist origins. Democracy is something the empire grows from within. Huntington 1996, contradicting both the realist and the liberal theses, presents us with a vision of post-Cold War order in which wars will be fought not among states but among civilizations. According to Huntington the world order is an order of civilizations. Huntington argues strongly against US efforts to spread democracy. Katzenstein 2005 envisions a world order formed of regions tied to the “American Imperium” and whose cultures play an important role in world politics. Students and scholars of IR will benefit from the works presented in this section.

  • Bull, Hedley. The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics. New York: Columbia University Press, 1977.

    Written by one of the most notable IR theorist, the book defines order in world politics, presents order in the contemporary international system as well as alternatives paths to world order. For Bull, the world order is formed from patterns or dispositions of human activity directed toward clearly defined goals.

  • Cox, Robert W. Production, Power, and World Order: Social Forces in the Making of History. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987.

    Brilliant analysis of the liberal order, the era of rival imperialisms, and the Pax Americana, defined as a hegemonic order. Democracy is not viewed as an important factor of this order. The hallmark of Cox’s world order is transformational change brought about by the capitalist system.

  • Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

    In this very provocative book the world order is conceptualized as empire—meaning a specific regime of capitalist global relations. Empire creates potential for resistance and revolution. The multitudes, which represents a global movement with democratic characteristics, will rise against the empire.

  • Held, David. Democracy and the Global Order: From the Modern State to Cosmopolitan Governance. Stanford, CA: Sanford University Press, 1995.

    Notable work analyzes models of democracy and the formation and displacement of the modern state and introduces the concept of cosmopolitan democracy. The need for cosmopolitan democracy arises from a new international order characterized by multiple and overlapping networks of power that challenge the power of the state.

  • Huntington, Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon & Shuster, 1996.

    Preeminent scholar presented a powerful vision of the post-Cold War order in which new wars would be fought not among states but among civilizations. The world order would be based on civilizations. The civilizational order would require the West to abandon the spreading of democracy and strengthen itself culturally.

  • Ikenberry, G. John. “Liberal Internationalism 3.0: America and the Dilemmas of Liberal Order.” Perspectives on Politics 7.1 (March 2009): 71–87.

    DOI: 10.1017/S1537592709090112

    Preeminent liberal argues that the liberal international order is not a fixed order. It encompasses among other factors open markets, cooperative security, international institutions and the democratic community. It differentiates among liberal internationalism: 1.0 Woodrow Wilson; 2.0 Cold War; and 3.0 post-hegemonic liberal internationalism whose tenants are not clear yet.

  • Katzenstein, Peter J. A World of Regions: Asia and Europe in the American Imperium. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005.

    Katzenstein’s world order is an order dominated by the American Imperium in which regions interact closely. The cultural aspect of world regions is very important in the shaping of the world order as exemplified by Europe and Asia.

  • Slaughter, Anne-Marie. A New World Order. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.

    Slaughter’s main claim is that government networks are the key feature of the world order in the 21st century. Those networks bolster the power of the state. Slaughter’s new world order requires a new conception of democracy in which uncertainty and unintended consequences should be accepted as facts of life.

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