Anarchy, Hierarchy and Order

Publication Date: 
March 2009
Cambridge Review of International Affairs 22 (1), pp. 129-145
Joseph Parent
Emily Erikson

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How does order emerge from anarchy? While scholars generally agree that international politics is anarchic, there is much dispute about how anarchy orders relationships. This paper challenges prevailing views by attacking the problem of anarchy from behind. We examine how hierarchy creates order and argue that two mechanisms are responsible. The first is the direct actions of a leviathan; the second is an indirect effect, which counterintuitively results from insurmountable handicaps to central authority, that we call the threat of incompetent intervention. We then examine how these two mechanisms affect order as power decentralizes and highlight how bottom–up and top–down processes intersect. Our arguments are tested in difficult cases: highly developed states, where central authority is strongest, and international politics, where central authority is weakest. The arguments have broad implications for all the paradigms, trust in world politics and organizational change.