Chapter Summary with Learning Objectives

Chapter 7

The identity perspective sees international relations in terms of the construction of ideas and the competition among ideas. In today’s world, identity perspectives focus on the role of democracy, religion, ethnicity, and human rights in international affairs. Among these identity perspectives, there is a tension between those that emphasize religion and ethnicity, on one side, and those that emphasize democracy and human rights, on the other.

Democracy is a set of ideas about political power and institutions: that opposing parties change power peacefully through free and fair elections; that all government institutions are subject to civilian control; and that individuals have protected civil rights. After the end of the Cold War, Francis Fukuyama argued that the victory of democracy over communism brought an end to the violent struggle for recognition among people, bringing about “the end of history.”

Religion may be a stronger force in international relations than democracy. For Samuel Huntington, who described a “clash of civilizations,” differences among religions (along with other cultural factors) would drive future conflict. He argued that religion is the primary basis of civilization, or the highest unit of culture. He identified nine civilizations and argued that conflict had and would continue to take place along the fault lines between those civilizations. The power of culture may be stronger than democracy; Fareed Zakaria describes “illiberal democracies,” or states that hold elections but do not value and safeguard civil rights.

At a local level, ethnicity is the primary focus of identity. A key determinant of identity is the authority to which people turn; nationhood is a status acquired by states that are strong enough to protect their borders and command the loyalty of their citizens, and nation-building is the process that advances states towards nationhood. Some states are centered on civic identity, meaning that the citizens are willing to submit to a common government despite ethnic or religious differences.

An emphasis on human rights might be signaling a shift away from traditional norms of state sovereignty (or states’ rights). Universal human rights are recognized by the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and are supported by an international human rights regime. The European Union and other regional groups also have their own human rights regimes.

Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter students should be able to understand:

  • What four key issues identity perspectives focus on in current international relations.
  • How those four factors conflict or contradict each other.
  • How those four factors influence power politics and institutions.