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The modern international order is facing significant challenges. Power is shifting to non-Western states and diffusing to non-state actors, including transnational insurgents. This is more than a power transition, though: it is also about culture. Western states now share the stage with powers such as China who bring their own cultural values, practices, and histories. And new forms of transnational violence are justified not in the name of political ideology but religious identity and belief. Some see this as a fundamental threat to modern international order, an order created by, and for, the West. Others see the ‘liberal’ order as uniquely able to accommodate states and peoples of diverse cultures. This paper challenges both positions, arguing that they misunderstand the nature of culture, and misread the historical relationship between diversity and order. International orders, it argues, emerge in heterogeneous cultural contexts, and diversity shapes orders as a governance imperative. In response to historically contingent conjunctions of material capabilities and articulations of cultural difference, orders evolve ‘diversity regimes’ that license units of political authority, authorise forms of cultural difference, and relate the two. When these conjunctions change, the question is not whether a culturally homogenous order is threatened by new found diversity, but whether the prevailing diversity regime, and its distinctive architecture of political authority and cultural recognition, can accommodate new combinations of power and articulated difference.
Chris Reus-Smit is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, and Professor of International Relations at the University of Queensland. He is the author of Individual Rights and the Making of the International System (Cambridge University Press, 2013), American Power and World Order (Polity, 2004) and The Moral Purpose of the State (Princeton University Press, 1999); co-author of Special Responsibilities in World Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2012); editor of The Politics of International Law (Cambridge University Press, 2004); and co-editor of The Globalization of International Society (Oxford University Press, 2017), The Oxford Handbook of International Relations (Oxford 2008), ‘Resolving International Crises of Legitimacy’ (Special issue of International Politics, 2007), and Between Sovereignty and Global Governance (Macmillan 1998). His articles have appeared in a wide range of journals, including International Organization, European Journal of International Relations, Foreign Affairs, Review of International Studies, Ethics and International Affairs, International Affairs, and Millennium, and his work has been awarded the Northedge Prize (1992), the BISA Prize (2002), the Susan Strange Prize (2014), and the Outstanding Research Award (2015) in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Queensland. Professor Reus-Smit edits the Cambridge Studies in International Relations books series (with Nicholas Wheeler) and the journal International Theory (with Duncan Snidal and Alexander Wendt), and is General Editor (with Duncan Snidal) of a new twelve volume series of Oxford Handbooks of International Relations. Prior to joining the University of Queensland, Professor Reus-Smit held Chairs at the European University Institute in Florence and the Australian National University (where he was Head of the Department of International Relations from 2001 to 2010).