Through historical studies of some of the work of Montesquieu, Comte, Durkheim, Boas, Morgenthau, Aron and Bourdieu, Derek Robbins examines the changing and competing conceptualisations of the political and the social in the Western European intellectual tradition. He suggests that we are now experiencing a new ‘dissociation of sensibility’ in which political thought and its consequences in action have become divorced from social and cultural experience. Developing further the ideas of Bourdieu which he has presented in books and articles over the last twenty years, Robbins argues that we need to integrate the recognition of cultural difference with the practice of international politics by accepting that the ‘field’ of international political discourse is a social construct which is contingent on encounters between diverse cultures. ‘Everything is relative’ (Comte) and ‘everything is social’ (Bourdieu), not least international politics.
I have tried to conform with the norms of academic scholarship in writing this account of aspects of the progression of thinking about culture and politics within a Western European tradition over the last 300 years. Objectivity was the assumed goal of my intellectual formation. I was trained in the study of literature and history to seek to understand the meanings, intentions, and motivations of people living in the past whose ideas and values were dissimilar to my own. This fundamental orientation of my liberal education at an English grammar school in the 1950s and at the University of Cambridge in the 1960s was, therefore, always culturally relativist.
The attempt to be objective in this text has led, in summary, to the following representation:
Montesquieu belonged to one category of the provincial nobility during ...