Although the idea that the king, and later the people in the form of their representative government, are sovereign over their territory with the right to be free of interference had been around for hundreds of years, it wasn’t until 1919 that this principle was enshrined into the League of Nations, at later Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter. Thus, enshrined, the importance of sovereignty and non-intervention have come to be dominant norms of international politics.

However, some have raised questions as to whether this is really the case or even a desirable state of affairs. Steven Krasner argues that while states pay lip-service to sovereignty, intervention occurs at all levels on a frequent basis. As such, he views sovereignty as a kind of “organized hypocrisy” where states pretend the norm exists when, in reality, it is relentlessly violated. Others, like David Luban and Walzer debate the moral worth of sovereignty. Do states that abuse their own citizens really deserve to hide behind international legal principles?

Seminar Questions:

  • What factors in international society have challenged the norm of non-intervention in the last 50 years
  • Is it useful to differentiate between a ‘pluralist’ and ‘solidarist’ conception of international society? To which is international society more inclined today?
  • What is more important, international order or international justice?
  • Is Walzer right to attribute a moral standing to states in the international system? Or is he guilty of ‘romancing’ the nation state?
  • Can we have shared understandings between community boundaries? 


S. Krasner, Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy, 1999.

F. Kratochwil, “Sovereignty as Dominium", 1995

D. Luban, "Just War and Human Rights", Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 9, No. 2, Winter, 1980, pp. 160-181

D. Luban,"Romance of the Nation State", Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 9, No. 4, 1980, pp. 392-397

M. Walzer, "The Moral Standing of States: A Response to Four Critics", Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 9, No. 3, 1980, pp. 209-229

Other Readings:

C. R. Beitz, Political Theory and International Relations  (Part II), 1979/2000

C. Brown, Sovereignty, Rights and Justice, 2000 (especially Chapter 5)

H. Bull, The Anarchical Society, 1977/1995/2002

M. Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, 2000 (3rd. ed). (KEY EXCERPT HERE)

M. Walzer, Thick and Thin: Moral Argument at Home and Abroad, 1994

Suggested Movie: Passport to Pimlico (1949) – Residents of a part of London declare independence, when they discover an old treaty. This leads to the need for a 'Passport to Pimlico'.