Stephen Chan’s Plural International Relations in a Divided World offers a thoughtful and enriching meditation on the history of the modern “Westphalian” international system. The main argument of this book is that the Westphalian system is a moving target, and that it is entering an era of plural and pluralizing legitimacy principles. In a context of increasingly articulated non-Western world politics, how can we understand the plurality of “worlds” in international relations today? In a context of contrast between democratic and authoritarian states, and secular and non-secular states, what is the plurality of states that can be considered legitimate today?
This book is beautifully written, in lucid prose that is nonetheless not dispassionate. It is composed with the benefit of a lifetime of observation and scholarship on international affairs. The book is organized in three parts. Part I explores the history of the moving target of the Westphalian system, from the League onwards, with cases studies in Soviet Union, communist China, Nasser’s Egypt, Israel and Palestine, South Africa, Zambia, Nehru’s India, the Non-Aligned Movement, whilst exploring the theories of the international generated in these contexts, Indian IR, Chinese IR, and African IR. With an interest in post-secular politics, Part II explores the history of Islamic states and non-states in the Westpalian system. Part III reflects on the political tensions and forces explored in Parts I and II, seeking the course to navigate the current ‘end of universalism’ in a plural and pluralizing world politics. A critical engagement of Henry Kissinger’s World Order is made, noting its insight into the plurality of legitimacy principles in contemporary international relations, whilst dissecting Kissinger’s flawed essentialism of civilizational worldviews and his problematic attempt to manage plurality through a balance of power system.
Global IR scholars might quibble the facts of the book’s case studies, which facts are included and which excluded. Yet, it is an immense history that necessarily needs to be selective. Reading this book brings the events and struggles of decades past into the present, giving them an immediacy, with an enriched appreciation of the diachronic sweep of the Westphalian system. This book also articulates the outlines of an important gesture towards navigating our plural and pluralizing world order: the need to articulate a shared but pluralistic principle of legitimacy. Scholars of the international are in this spirit called on to help articulate the theory and principles this emerging plural world order. This book will serve both the new and advanced observer and scholar of international affairs.