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Freedom in International Relations Theory

Wednesday, June 7, 2023, 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm

co-hosted by the Advanced Certificate in Political Thought

In this lecture Joseph will present his latest paper on the concept of freedom in international relations theory. 

Much of what we know about freedom comes from, and is applied to, domestic settings. But what does freedom mean in international relations? We distinguish between two forms of freedom: structural freedom (freedom from domination) and satisfaction freedom (freedom from interference). Next, we assess tradeoffs with respect to taking different actors’ perspectives on freedom in world politics. Then we work through what each form of freedom means for International Relations theories, which differ on how much authority exists in anarchy and what states’ interests are. We examine potential approaches to increase international freedom, considering the plurality of state preferences and forms of freedom. Our central findings are that anarchy creates challenges for both conceptions of freedom alone or together, both approaches converge on constitutions and confederations as the most promising paths forward, and that the future of international freedom rests on better dialogue between causal and normative theory.


Joe Parent’s research examines how shifts in power affect cooperation. He is the author of Uniting States (Oxford, 2011), and coauthor (with Joe Uscinski) of American Conspiracy Theories (Oxford, 2014) and (with Paul MacDonald) Twilight of the Titans (Cornell 2018). He has published in the American Journal of Psychology, Foreign Affairs, International Security, Sociological Theory, History of Political Thought, and World Politics, assisted the National Intelligence Council on its Global Trends 2030 and Global Trends 2035 reports, and received a Fulbright fellowship in Rome and a Nobel Fellowship in Oslo. His research has been covered in The Atlantic, Cosmopolitan, FiveThirtyEight, Newsweek, the New Yorker, the New York Times, Scientific American, and Time, and on CBS “Sunday Morning”, Fox, MSNBC, NBC “Nightly News”, and NPR’s “This American Life”. He edits the Columbia University Press Studies in International Order and Politics series, and directs the Hans J. Morgenthau Program in Grand Strategy. He received his BA from the University of Chicago in 1999, and his PhD from Columbia University in 2006.

                                                                  --- Reception to follow ---