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The "standard of civilization" as an English school concept

Buzan, Barry (2014) The "standard of civilization" as an English school concept. Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 42 (3). pp. 576-594. ISSN 0305-8298

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Identification Number: 10.1177/0305829814528265


The 'standard of civilisation' has its roots in the culturally widespread trope of 'civilised' versus 'barbarian'. It took its specific modern form in the 19th century, primarily as a European legal term. No specific set of criteria for the 'standard of civilisation' was ever codified, but the general practice was to define the standard by the contemporary forms of government prevailing in Europe. Its political role was to gate-keep membership of international society, and to justify colonialism. The term collapsed after 1945 when the right of self-determination opened membership to nearly all peoples. In the English School literature, the 'standard of civilisation' has been used to tell a variety of historical encounter stories, and to critique the School's neglect of colonialism. Its contemporary relevance in the literature concerns debates about whether human rights, democracy, capitalism and possibly environmentalism are being used to construct a new 'standard of civilisation' operationalised through conditionality and other discriminatory practices. Another important link is between the colonial obligation to raise 'less advanced' peoples to the standard and the post-1945 obligation to provide aid and development to the 'less developed'. The English School concept of the 'standard of civilisation' is thus both refreshingly frank politically and of durable relevance for thinking about international relations.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2014 Sage
Divisions: International Relations
Subjects: J Political Science > JZ International relations
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
Date Deposited: 30 Jun 2014 15:22
Last Modified: 19 Jun 2024 03:36

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