International Relations Theory(IRT) origins in colonial International Relations (IR)
IRT is not separate from the practise and discipline of IR, to understand IRT’s racist legacy one has to look at IR and its effects on IRT. This section is underpinned by Krishna (2001:4)’s view that historical analysis should be vital in understanding the importance of race in IR than focusing solely on theorising race as this allows IRT to ‘whitewash’ the historical content of international affairs by silencing the important role of race. In IRT, racist sentiments according to Muppidi (2012) have long been expunged, however ‘colonial signs’ are evident in the intellectual foundation of IRT and should not be ignored. Similarly, Georgis and Lugosi (2014:76) argue that colonial sentiments are entrenched in IRT and that IR as a discipline; its theorists and individuals consciously and unconsciously take these sentiments as their points of departure. The main claim this section proposes to advance is that IRT’s origin in IR expose that the discipline was founded on a racial hierarchy discourse dominated by European colonial powers’ conception of civilisation and imperialism and that this racial hierarchy legacy has continued in international relations. Further, this section will argue that IRT’s racist legacy cannot be expunged because it is part of IRT’s history and by seeking the removal of the legacy IRT continues to ignore and silence experiences of states beyond West.
The conception of civilisation can be best traced in the 15th century ‘age of discovery’ as this period witnessed the rise of sovereign and independent states (Kavalski 2015). This period also led to the colonisation and exploitation of the people and resources in Africa, the Americas, the Antipodes and Asia by the Europeans (Kavalski 2015). The voyages and expeditions of Christopher Columbus set in motion European colonisation and embedded Eurocentric preconceived knowledge of the world; Columbus rejected alternative culture, language and race upon his first encounter with the Amerindians (Todorov 1984:30). This rejection of diversity and imposing of Eurocentric ideas would later influence the mindset of explorers such as Vasco Da Gama, Bartolomeu Dias and Bernal Diaz del Castillo (Todorov 1984:127). Further, this mindset would also impact the type of encounter that would dominate international politics and after the 15th century – to colonise (power) and to destroy (anarchy) as acknowledged by Diaz del Castillo’s encounters with the Aztecs:
“Gazing on such wonderful sight… but today all that I then saw is overthrown and destroyed” (Diaz 1963: 216).
Similarly, in the ‘scramble for Africa’, European imperial powers created borders in Africa to mark their ownership to avoid any possibility of an outbreak of wars between the imperial powers (Mingst 2004). What became common was the definitive nature of superiority amongst the Europeans over the rest of the world based on race. Therefore, power and race during the colonial period were of great importance. Kerr (1916:142) asserted, “One of the most fundamental facts in human history…mankind is divided into a gradual scale”. This statement can be traced to the works of Darwin who assumed a hierarchy was the basis of human evolution; this hierarchy would be the part of the justification of colonisation and the understanding that European races were superior is central in the framework of IR. The people of Africa, the Americas, Asia were regarded as barbaric and savage and it was the burden of the ‘white man’ to civilise the lesser-uncivilised races (Giddings 1898; Hobson 2014). The idea of barbarism and savagery would then lead to the works of Rousseau and his social contract theory whereby the people would be guaranteed peace, justice and order in exchange for their freedom (Rousseau 2002). Mainly, because the new world was presumed to be in chaos and anarchy, the European colonisers would bring civilisation and protection in exchange for the people’s resources, labour and freedom. In short, the colonial powers would gain power over the colonised territories in the ‘civilising mission’.
Caldecott (1910:17) argued that the presumed weakness of the “people of colour” by the higher races (Europeans) and the latter’s responsibility of to act as protectors and to bring the lesser races into international life should not be regarded as a positive forecast for the future good. Equally, Marxist Walter Rodney (1973) argued that colonisation was not aimed at benefiting and developing the colonised territories instead colonisation was based on gaining economic power amongst the imperial powers.
The 19th century witnessed World War I (WWI), the parochial sentiments of IR continued in the theorising the causes of WWI. Du Bois (1915) argued that disputes over imperial acquisitions influenced the course of WWI and it transformed European conflicts to global politics (Kavalski 2015). The racial hierarchy was still present during WWI, as many of the European powers still had control over their colonies. Many people from Africa and Asia were used as labourers and fighters for their relevant colonial masters for which the German front asserted that WWI was an ‘uncivilised war’ due to the inferior lesser races fighting on the side of the Allies (colonial masters) (Fogarty n.d). Ironically, Du Bois’ contribution as a theorist had rarely been cited in IR scholarly literature, possibly due to his race as an African-American. While Lenin’s (1999) work on imperialism published after Du Bois gained much more recognition than Du Bois’ work. All these statements clarify that the policy of imperialism was at the forefront of colonisation that can be connected to the principal conceptions of power in realism. Gilpin’s (1988) hegemonic stability theory contradicts the purpose as mentioned earlier of the civilising mission. For Gilpin (1988) the European great powers were not imperialist rather an objective of the mission was to help and not exploit the colonised territories. Similarly, Keohane (2005) argues that the great powers acted universally and were not selfish in the ‘civilising mission’.
Therefore, IR was “borne out of prejudice, ignorance and the pursuit of hegemony (with) disregard of non-Western experience” (Kavalski 2015:5). In short, IR’s legacy is based on ‘interracial relations’ (Du Bois 1915) as the social construction of racial hierarchy has continued in the discipline of IRT (Hobson 2014). The imposing of Eurocentric ideas and knowledge to colonised territories was the foundation of Eurocentric international relations disciplinary. The continuous neglect of the inhabitants of both the Americas and Africa in the division of territory, creation of colonies and policy-making as well as lack in considering the possibility of tribal or ethnic conflicts due to the ‘civilising mission’ show the colonial legacy of IR and IRT. Henceforth, IRT in its inception was largely based on the behaviours of the European powers dominated by racist sentiments as the colonised territories had been identified as lacking civility and also were classified as barbaric, savage and lesser races.