The anthropomorphic fallacy in international relations discourse by Carlos Escudé


The identification of the anthropomorphic fallacy is of normative, explicatory, and even epistemological value insofar as this fallacy:

1. Is a type of metaphor conducive to flawed thinking and to the generation of emotional behavior functional to the mobilization of loyalties toward the state, whose identification and policy consequences can and should be the object of empirical study. In this sense its identification and study can help to explain some foreign policies that make use of this mechanism through which support for symbolic objectives linked to a society's collective self-esteem is generated. Concomitantly, its identification can be of normative use, helping to prevent the formulation of policies based on this sort of emotional manipulation for the sake of objectives that are usually not truly citizenry-centric but are disguised as such by elite interests and by a government or state-centric frame of mind.

2. Is related to totalitarian and organicist assumptions about human nature and about the relation between the individual and the state that inadvertently creep into international relations theory.

3. Is found both in political and in theoretical discourse. A situation is thus created whereby allegedly value-free international relations theory unintendedly helps to legitimize totalitarian polities and their elite-serving foreign policies.

Nonetheless, although the identification of the anthropomorphic fallacy and of its policy implications are relevant for all of these reasons, it must be pointed out that the use of anthropomorphic language, the unproblematic character of the state for mainstream international relations theory, and the normative implications of these linguistic and conceptual problems, can be said to lead to actual logical fallacy only insofar as, by rejecting organicist assumptions, we implicitly or explicitly adopt contractarian assumptions. Hence, the very identification of this phenomenon in international relations discourse is an eloquent proof of the fact that philosophical assumptions are of necessity built into the very logic of international relations theory.

The anthropomorphic fallacy and the state-as-person fiction from which it stems is present in most international relations theory, including the neorealist, interdependentist, institutionalist and dependencia literature. It seriously flaws most of the present-day thinking on the subject. However, its effects are more serious vis-a-vis the neorealist approach to the study of world politics, because this model's founding assumption is that the accumulation of power is the foremost objective of the generic state in the interstate system, and both the state-as-person fiction and the anthropomorphic fallacy have consistently served to emphasize this assumption, subordinating alternative but equally relevant state goals in the formulation of foreign policy (such as citizen welfare or the consolidation of domestic power) at the theoretical level.

Indeed, anthropomorphization and the state-as-person fiction naturally lead to the realist assumption that the quest for power will be the generic state's foremost objective in the interstate system. Yet this is clearly not empirically true in many cases. Foreign policies are often formulated with citizen welfare in mind. And oftentimes, they are formulated with the aim of consolidating a domestic power structure, for the benefit of either an individual statesman or an elite.

All three types of objectives are usually present in a foreign policy agenda, but which is the predominant objective to which the others are subordinated will make an important difference. This is clear when we consider the fact that although there are some intermediate foreign policy objectives such as "national security" that can be justified both in terms of the accumulation of state power and in terms of citizen welfare, the amount of national security that a state will buy if its foremost priority is the accumulation of power will usually be greater than what it will buy if its foremost objective is citizen welfare. The state-as-person fiction and the anthropomorphic fallacy obscure this basic normative dilemma, to the point that even liberal theoreticians use language such as a weak state's greater "willingness to suffer" than a strong one, without realizing the often deeply perverse meaning of an anthropomorphic collective being's alleged readiness to accept sacrifice.

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