A Troublesome Abstraction
By contrast, the modern theory of international relations seems to have been ruled by something else entirely: the idea of relations between—even actions by!—states. During the past half-century, reservations about the traditional focus in international studies have certainly not been lacking. By the late 1970s, the interdependence theorists were evoking the expanded opportunities for trade and human exchange under the US-Soviet condominium—and in their stress on the new vibrancy of non-state actors, sidelining traditional state ones. State agents are enshrined in international law and the traditional diplomatic theory from which politicians take their collective cue. The functional, economistic bias of interdependence as a concept also gave a highly selective view of the Cold War world. By contrast, older ideas of nationalism and internationalism date from a time—the European nineteenth century—when nation building and liberal democracy could be portrayed as complementary forms of social progress.