Hedley Bull: Realist Visionary

Thirty-two years ago this month the great international relations theorist Hedley Bull ended his journey on this earth.

Bull was born in Sydney, Australia in 1932. He studied history and philosophy at the University of Sydney where he was influenced by the philosopher John Anderson. In 1953, he left Australia to study politics at Oxford and after two years he was appointed to an assistant lectureship in international relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science

Bull spent some time in government service. In 1965 he was appointed to the British Foreign Office as director of arms control and disarmament. Two years later, in 1967, he was appointed to a professorship of international relations at the Australian National University in Canberra.

In 1977, he gave the world his central work “The Anarchical Society.” The book represents the central text of the English School of International Relations. The English School states that nation-states live in a state of anarchy, each one pursuing its own interest, but there is a sense of order underneath the anarchy.

In “The Anarchical Society,” Bull said that nation-states, sharing a fear of violence, start to make rules and reveal the international order in a system of states. He said: “a group of states (or, more generally, a group of independent political communities) which not merely form a system, in the sense that the behavior of each is a necessary factor in the calculations of the others, but also have established by dialogue and consent common rules and institutions for the conduct of their relations, and recognize their common interest in maintaining these arrangements.”

Bull is also known as the father of modern arms control. He published a book “The Control of the Arms Race: Disarmament and Arms Control in the Missile Age” 12 years before “Anarchical Society” in 1965. Bull defined arms control as “restraint internationally exercised upon armaments policy, whether in respect of the level of armaments, their character, deployment or use.” In “Arms Control” he warned us of the dangers of amassing huge amount of arms.  In this book he stated “If armaments do not of themselves produce war, certain kinds or levels or deployments of armaments may be more likely to give rise to the decision to go to war than others. If arms races do not necessarily lead to war, there are directions they can take which undermine security against it.”

Bull agreed with Realist School of international relations that said that nation-states always pursue their own interest but at the same time he saw a better international order based around international law and the restraint of force.  Bull draws a map to peace that takes into account observations from the physical word but still holds onto human wishes and dreams – the metaphysical. Like in the field of international relations, Bull saw a need for balance when it came to working for a better world. During the final years of his life he had returned to Oxford as an instructor and was writing on third world justice, human rights and international law.  Cancer claimed Bull’s life on May 18, 1985.

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