Before the Nation-State: Civilizations, World Orders, and the Origins of Global International Relations

Amitav Acharya

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3 Scopus citations


The dominant perspectives on International Relations (IR) focus on the rise of the Western civilization and the global expansion of the European Westphalian system as their starting point. This leads to a narrow Eurocentric understanding of IR that obscures the role and contribution of other civilizations to the evolution of world order. However, during the last 5000 years, many civilizations have risen, fallen, and survived. This essay focuses on five world orders that made their mark before the "rise of the West"or the advent of European colonialism around roughly the 16th century AD: Near Eastern, Indian, Chinese, Islamic, and Indian Oceanic. A study of classical civilizations and world orders can help IR scholars to more fully engage history and reshape the study of IR theories and concepts in several ways. It helps us to understand, and if necessary, challenge, the dominance of certain key ideas that claim to be universal and have been taken for granted as such. Moreover, studying IR from a historical-civilizational perspective opens the door to understanding both material and ideational relationships among states and societies. It also encourages a shift in IR thinking from the conventional state-centric category of the "international system"to the broader framing of world order.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)263-288
Number of pages26
JournalChinese Journal of International Politics
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2023

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