Civilisation, Sovereignty and War: The Scottish Enlightenment and International Relations
In recent international relations (IR) literature and foreign policy, the concept of civilisation has enjoyed a surprising revival. Its recent use, however, has had little reference to those who did most to introduce it into modern thought, the thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment. A re-examination of their thought suggests the need for a more nuanced view of civilisation, one that appreciates that the promise of domestic peace that comes with civilisation is also laden with the peril of war and new dynamics of international order. This article will focus on how David Hume (1711-76), William Robertson (1721-93), Adam Smith (1723-90) and Adam Ferguson (1723-1816) framed their understanding of civilisation and the civilising process in Europe. It will be argued that they were animated by the need to identify the processes at work in reshaping Europe, giving rise to a new international order of civilised societies and mighty sovereign states. Civilisation thus emerged as a process not simply of domestic refinement and pacification, but of the emergence of a new kind of international order between militarily powerful, 'civilised' and 'civilising' sovereign states with enhanced capacities for waging war.