Social Standards of Self-Restraint in World Politics

Andrew Linklater


The process sociologist, Norbert Elias (2012:89) maintained that Caxton’s comment in his fifteenth century treatise on courtesy that ‘things that were once permitted are now forbidden’ could stand as the ‘motto’ for the European civilizing process that was to come. The main course of development which would revolve around the formation of modern states and the significant pacification of the relevant societies shaped different related spheres of social interaction. According to Elias, they included the standards that governed bodily functions, changes in table manners and (of particular importance for the present discussion) shifts in emotional responses to cruelty and violence. His writings were less consistent on the subject of whether actions that were once permitted in relations between states have become forbidden in the most recent phase of the modern states-system. The main objective of the following discussion is to synthesise elements of process sociology and the English School in order to determine whether the current era is distinctive if not unique. The paper begins with a brief discussion of Elias’s reflections on international relations.

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