Humility & vulnerability in international relations

Christopher Hobson

Event details

IR Seminar Series

Date & time

Monday 29 February 2016


Room 1.04, Coombs Extension Building (8), Fellows Road, ANU
ANU Canberra


Dr Christopher Hobson, Assistant Professor, Waseda University


Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs
+61 2 6125 2167

Department of International Relations Power, Ethics & World Order Seminar Series

If liberalism’s confidence in the spread of democracy and free markets captured the zeitgeist of the 1990s, the more pessimistic outlook associated with classical realism increasingly seems a better match for today’s world. Central to this renewed interest in classical realism within IR has been its exploration of tragedy. There is a risk, however, of overstating its applicability. As Niebuhr observed, ‘a purely tragic view of life is not finally viable... destructiveness is not an inevitable consequence of human creativity’. In this context, a related idea that is ripe for reconsideration is that of humility. The paper considers different meanings the idea has taken, which serves as the basis for an understanding of humility grounded in an appreciation of the physical and mental limits that shape us individually and collectively.

In developing this alternative, the paper draws not only on the scholarship of classical realism, especially Reinhold Niebuhr, but also on more recent work on vulnerability by Judith Butler and Stephen Wight. What a humble approach to IR might entail is considered through examining the Responsibility to Protect doctrine and the 2011 Libyan intervention.

About the speaker:

Christopher Hobson is an Assistant Professor in the School of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University (Japan). He has previously held positions at the United Nations University and Aberystwyth University. Dr Hobson is the author of 'The Rise of Democracy: Revolution, War and Transformations in International Politics since 1776' (Edinburgh University Press, 2015). He has also co-edited three books and a special issue of International Politics, as well as publishing articles in a range of journals including Review of International Studies and Millennium.

For more information, visit his website: or check his Twitter feed: @hobson_c


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