Adriana Ratmirskaya. Empire in International Relations Theory

Despite Fukuyama’s infamous thesis, world history has not yet been interred; rather, it faces the perspective of another beginning, or a fundamental revision. Considering the increasing attention of the world’s political élite to the possibility of a new world order based on multipolarity, we are now observing the end of the unipolar moment and the beginning of a paradigmatic transition. It behooves us to pay special attention to the most thorough deconstruction of terms, international legal systems, and the underlying concepts which must be taken as the fundamental principles of a multipolar world. One of the concepts requiring closer consideration is that of ‘Empire’, which is seeing renewed attention and relevance in the political sphere, here, in the beginning of the 21st century.


Throughout world history the imperial concept has undergone essential paradigmatic changes. We can point out two sources of Empire concept:

The first is that of imperium sacrum (i.e. “pagan imperialism”) which can be traced back to the ancient Roman Empire and Byzantium.

The second is the modern notion of imperialism as a project of global expansion and hegemony that originated in the British Empire (e.g. the colonial order based on domination).

According to the definition given by Barry Buzan and Richard Little, Empire is a structure of traditional societies or a classic/antic system. Having its foundation on the transcendent spiritual sphere, premodern Empire builds its order not within geographical borders but under the influence of a structuring Idea. It has not a geographical, but, rather, a holistic nature. This vision of ‘empire’ is not universal, but unique. The imperial order represents a political union of territory related through a common civilization with a single strategic centre or pole.


The spiritual core of Empire is equivalent to a code of laws, so that they constitute a single unit. A traditional society is also run by the principle which Aristotle called “unity-in -diversity”, and the peoples inhabiting the territory of Empire do not become assimilated to a homogenous common identity but preserve their discrete identities as a result of the right to cultural self-determination. Ontologically it’s from the diversity of incarnated forms and owing to the individual entelechy that the higher collective identity is constructed and the empire’s structural order is maintained.


The transition from the classical political system to modernity began in the early modern period beginning in 1648 with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, and the triumph of ‘the Nation’ during the French Revolution can be regarded as its final stage. The Jacobin model came into force and the ‘nation-state’ became dominant in the international system. Louis Dumont affirms that the cult of ‘the nation’ originated from individualistic values and aspires to a universal global society. From now on, the spiritual and religious basis of society is relegated to a secondary factor and law is strictly separated. A colonial version of imperialism going back to the époque of Pax Britannica rests solely upon materialistic foundations and the struggle for territorial influence.


Nation-states, which are the main subject of the realist theory of international relations, still exist in theory today. However, after the Westphalian system collapsed, other entities and institutions have acquired sovereignty on the international scene.  The Vienna geopolitical system was perhaps the first formalized system of international relations where not only nation-states but also their coalitions became actors. A balance of power was set up between the five great European states: England, Russia, Prussia, Austria and France. But their policy was still dictated by colonial imperialism and their political boundaries determined by power and force, regardless of religious and ethno-sociological divisions among their populations, which eventually helped lead to the first World War.  


In the second half of the 20th century we can see two power poles which de facto became new actors – the USSR and the USA (the Yalta, or bipolar system) competing for the possibility to exert influence over other countries deprived of the sovereignty necessary for practicing independent policy. Since 1991 with the collapse of the USSR, unipolarity has de facto reigned in the world, but contemporary political discourse still officially operates within the nation-state system, which in reality lost its value in the beginning of the 20th century.  


       The United States of America remains the only power which has preserved its sovereignty and potential. According to Schmitt, the level of political significance can be defined in conflict situations and is based on the capacity for making sovereign decisions. In this sense just one pole – the USA – possesses political significance in full measure.

Initially built upon the principle of freedom from something and not for something, the USA has quite logically surpassed the Monroe Doctrine, which laid the foundation of their statehood.


Formulated in 1823 by US President James Monroe, the Monroe Doctrine became the pillar of American foreign policy. The main point of this doctrine was that the United States should directly dominate the interests of all countries situated on the American continent, thus preventing hegemonic European influence. In Schmitt’s view, this demonstrates the building of geopolitical “Great Spaces” that are to take the place of nation-states.         

However, at some later stage America exceeded the limits established by the Monroe Doctrine. American leaders assumed the role of a world arbiter in order to undertake permanent expansion. This step has led American civilization away from the possibility of building “Great Spaces” to the direction of colonial hegemony – the 1902 work by the British economist John Atkinson Hobson, titled “Imperialism”, was the manifesto of this policy.

The liberal democratic ideology of a sterile modernity detached from its archaic European roots has reached the apogee of its development in America. Manifest Destiny has transformed into the total global expansion, which is a project of the New World Order.


A fundamental analysis of this project has been carried out by the antiglobalists Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt. The ‘Global Empire’ as described by Negri and Hardt has no root in traditional imperialism from a legal viewpoint because of the decentralization process, and it also overcomes spatial borders:

The concept of Empire is characterized fundamentally by a lack of boundaries: Empire’s rule has no limits. First and foremost, then, the concept of Empire poses a regime that effectively encompasses the spatial totality, or really that rules over the entire “civilized” world. No territorial boundaries limit its reign.[i]   


Negri and Hardt assert that the global Empire based upon a network structure and the decentralization of power is an absolutely new project which has nothing to do with traditional imperialism as the expansion of ethnic will.

It’s through the final subversion of spatial imperatives that the USA finds the logical development of its maritime nature as a thalassocratic power. In his work The Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of the Jus Publicum Europaeum C. Schmitt emphasizes the fact that “the Sea doesn’t know such an evident unity of Space and Law, Order and Localization.”[ii]


In his fundamental work Theory of a Multipolar World Alexander Dugin writes, “Empire in the Postmodern context is a network [i.e. not spatial] structure. It practically coincides with global civil society, for it’s based upon the reification of liberal values and principles and not upon archaic principles of hierarchy in any way”[iii].


The unipolar world, as we know it today, has its foundation on “soft” liberal democratic jihad. Since the Western ideology claims to be universal, it negates the legal status of the enemy (Justus hostis) possessed by every political subject within the scope of international law (Jus publicum europaeum). Instead of this, the USA convinced of the necessity of imposing democracy all over the world irrespective of other nations’ social, cultural and political peculiarities,  justifies itself with justa causa (a just cause).  


Alain de Benoist writes: Schmitt shows that the ideological and “humanitarian” wars of modernity which morally disqualify the enemy instead of acknowledging him as an opponent whose rationale are recognized even in a state of enmity – have adopted the course of religious wars. They manifest the same merciless and total character.[iv]  


 Such a self-positioning means exceeding the limits of the political. The binary “Friend-Foe” dichotomy, though necessary for postulating the political as existential differentiation, becomes diluted under postmodern conditions. In contemporary discourse the concept of Empire has only a postmodern meaning, that is, the ‘Global Empire’ described by Negri and Hardt.

Nevertheless, in the 20th century it was possible to observe the growing intellectual interest towards imperial projects, especially in the Weimar Republic.


 After 1933 the idea of the Reich was vividly discussed in official German circles. C. Schmitt, who was then just working on the notion of “Great Spaces” (Grossraum), insisted on the concept of Empire as the main departing point for a new political order in international law. A fundamental difference between Schmitt’s concept of “Reich” and the “Reich” of the national socialists was manifest in the fact that the latter claimed national priority to be a centralizing power, while from a Schmittian viewpoint of conservative revolution, the Reich had a civilizational dimension based on ethnic alliance, which better corresponds to the actual potential of international relations.


Cynical and long been not concealed rejection of the leading superpower for other states to recognize the unique subjectivity leads today to the awakening of them consciousness and the possibility of building a multipolar world.

Already in the early 90s, Samuel Huntington wrote that global politics has become multipolar and poly civilizational.


French philosopher, politician and theoretician of the movement "Nouvelle Droite" ("New Right") Alain de Benoist put forward the concept of "pluriversum" as opposed to the unification and homogenization of global processes.


A common civilizational and cultural community becomes a basis for building Great Spaces. This is in the first place a geopolitical union based on the fundamental opposition of Anglo-Saxon and Eurasian paradigms:

Great space operates with a historical and sacred worldview. The subject in the theory of Great Spaces is a people, e.g. a concrete organic collective body.[v]   


This ‘people’ is opposed to the civil society as a faceless mass of postmodernity. The “thinking presence” is against the process of two-dimensional fragmentation, “the metalanguage of banality”.

Thus, what we have in the sphere of international relations are Civilizations (Huntington) – a cultural and sociological union.


 A new iteration of ‘Empire’ with roots in the traditional is thus proposed as a form of political union which would be the most congenial to Civilizations and Great Spaces. As Alain de Benoist puts it, Empire represents a supranational political formation which is “a priori compatible with different forms of government”, i.e. it may be a monarchy as well as an aristocracy or a democracy depending on the civilizational model.[vi]


The idea of Empire as a political form of civilization which is conceptually opposed to the postmodern New World Order, now represents a preconcept which which аccording to Schmitt is antecedent to the international legal status. In order to fully substantiate these ideas and to overcome the global network system autonomized by a certain centre of power, its government and spatial imperatives, it’s necessary to appeal to the intellectual core of every civilization through opposing them to each other. It will be a radical answer of the supreme humanism, a categorical “no” to the virtual post-reality.    


Even American political thinkers now admit that a multipolar era has already begun. But at the same time they are only willing to regard America, Europe and China as great powers, while excluding Eurasia. Eurasia is relegated to the so called “Second World”. But hidden behind all this is a panicked resentment against the revival of ‘the Heartland’, which would resist becoming a Western colony.   


The construction of the fourth pole – the Eurasian pole - necessitates discovering and activating the Eurasian civilization’s strategic centre. It’s absolutely clear that only Russia whose duty in the present geopolitical situation is to assume the role of the structuring axis, or “Pivot area”, can be such a centre. The well-known French political thinker and geopolitician Aymeric Chauprade insists that Russia is a token of the future course of events. The establishment of a multipolar world depends on its political orientation.    

In his Theory of a Multipolar World A. Dugin speaks of the strategic civilizational pole. One of its functions is to shape ideology, as well as to work out a strategic project and foreign policy decisions:

This instance is conventional and induced in a purely speculative mode as an ideational space where decisions concerning the sphere of international relations in one way or another are focused. This strategic pole is essentially a pole of the multipolar world, for the world of civilizations opens as multipolar exactly due to the crossing of interests and the shaping of conflicts going through the instance of the pole.[vii]


Russia is paradoxical. It refuses to act in a direct, logically adjusted, and purely Western manner. It has always acted not because of, but contrary to, all laws and rules. This peculiarity has always terrified and fascinated other nations the world over.


Is this iteration of an Imperial order our future? Martin Heidegger made a clear distinction between such notions as the Future and the Oncoming, the Past and the ‘Having Been’. Only what exists in co-being has its eternal, imperishable leitmotif, which is never annihilated regardless of the present manifestation as fact. 


Empire operates with Eternity. All the fugitive and perishable actually come in second place. And now when the mist of illusions has started to clear away, we announce an intention to reconstruct the eternal order, e.g. the order of Empire.











[i] A. Negri, M. Hardt, Empire, Cambridge, London, 2000. P. XIV.

[ii] C. Schmitt, Der Nomos der Erde im Völkerrecht des Jus Publicum Europaeum, Berlin, 1974. S. 13.

[iii] A. Dugin. Theory of a Multipolar World. Moscow,  2012. Part 1. Chap. 5.

[iv] Alain de Benoist. Die Aktualität Carl Schmitts // Sezession 42 / Juni 2011. S. 16.

[v] A. Dugin. Theory of a Multipolar World. Moscow, 2012. Part 3. Chap. 8.

[vi] A. de Benoist, L’idée d’Empire. Les Amis d’Alain de Benoist. 2004-2012 [cited 2012 Nov 10]. Available from:

[vii] A. Dugin, Theory of a Multipolar World, Moscow, 2012.