Roundtable 10-10 on Humiliation in International Relations: A Pathology of Contemporary International Systems38 min read

Humiliation in International Relations coverBertrand Badie is one of France’s leading IR theorists; it is yet another mark of the fact that the discipline of international politics is not itself highly international that he is so little known in the United States. A personal confession may not be out of place: I would not have known of his work had I not met him at a conference in Europe several years ago, and an informal poll of my colleagues reinforces my point. I think this Roundtable is then particularly important for pointing American scholars to research they do not know.


H-Diplo | ISSF Roundtable, Volume X, No. 10 (2018)

Editors: Robert Jervis and Diane Labrosse
Web/Production Editor: George Fujii

Bertrand Badie.  Humiliation in International Relations:  A Pathology of Contemporary International Systems (French Studies in International Law No. 5).  Oxford:  Hart Publishing, 2017.  ISBN:  9781782256199 (hardback, £70.00).

Published on 9 March 2018



© Copyright 2018 The Authors

Introduction by Robert Jervis, Columbia University

Bertrand Badie is one of France’s leading IR theorists; it is yet another mark of the fact that the discipline of international politics is not itself highly international that he is so little known in the United States. A personal confession may not be out of place: I would not have known of his work had I not met him at a conference in Europe several years ago, and an informal poll of my colleagues reinforces my point. I think this Roundtable is then particularly important for pointing American scholars to research they do not know.

Our reviewers, although not entirely of one mind, think they should. Campbell Craig says that while the book would have been improved by a deeper engagement with Anglo-American scholarship, “this should not detract from its brilliance and incisiveness. Humiliation in International Relations belongs on your top shelf.” Michael Cox calls the book “important and original.” Fred Lawson is more critical, finding the lack of definitions and imprecision frustrating, but also calls the effort an “ambitious essay [that] offers an alternative conception of international relations to the structural realist model.”

Lawson ends by saying “I’ll stick with American-style political science,” and I think the spread of evaluations reflects different styles within the Anglo-American discipline. Lawson, although a student of Middle Eastern politics and foreign policy, is steeped in American IR while Campbell Craig was trained as an historian in the U.S. but taught abroad his entire career, and Michael Cox is an LSE-based scholar of IR who has taught in Ireland, Wales, and now lives in London. The latter two are more sympathetic to Continental styles of argumentation. Their writings also display sympathy if not identification with underdogs in world politics, and so Badie’s stress on the importance and pervasiveness of humiliation rings true with them.

Without being unduly sociological, let alone psychoanalytic, I also doubt it is an accident that it is a scholar from France who focuses on the importance of respect, standing, and exclusion in world politics because the post-World War II years have seen that country struggle to regain what its leaders believe is its rightful place in the center of world politics.

The reviewers provide an excellent synopsis of the book and I will not summarize their summaries here. I would just add that Humiliation follows on Badie’s earlier Diplomacy of Connivance[1] that argues that much of international politics has been based on the connivance of the major powers to exclude and diminish others. Even the Concert of Europe, usually seen (at least in the U.S.) as a model of cooperation that might guide us today, was a cartel designed to exclude and diminish those outside the club. This is a perspective that American scholars should ponder, even if in the end they maintain their own research styles and substantive positions.


Bertrand Badie is Professor of Political Science and International relations at Sciences Po (Paris). He was Vice-President of the International Political Science Association (2006-2009), and is the author of several books, including The Imported State (Stanford University Press, 2000), Diplomacy of Connivance (Palgrave, 2013), The International Encyclopedia of Political Science (with D. Berg-Schlosser and L.Morlino, Sage, 2011), and Political Science. A Global Perspective, with L. Morlino and D. Berg-Schlosser, Sage, 2017).

Robert Jervis is Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics at Columbia University. His most recent book is How Statesmen Think (Princeton University Press, 2017). He was President of the American Political Science Association in 2000-01 and has received career achievement awards from the International Society of Political Psychology and ISA’s Security Studies Section. In 2006 he received the National Academy of Science’s tri-annual award for behavioral sciences contributions to avoiding nuclear war.

Michael Cox was appointed to a Professorial Chair at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in 2002. He is currently Directly of LSE IDEAS—recently ranked second in the world amongst university affiliated Think Tanks. Author and editor of over twenty-five books he is the world’s leading authority on E.H. Carr and is currently writing a history of the LSE, which was founded in 1895 by four Fabian socialists.

Campbell Craig is Professor of International politics at Cardiff University. He is the author of several books, including (with Fredrik Logevall) America’s Cold War: The Politics of Insecurity (Harvard University Press, 2012). Professor Craig has held senior visiting fellowships at Yale University, the Norwegian Nobel Institute, and the European University Institute. His forthcoming book (with Jan Ruzicka), on U.S. unipolar preponderance and nuclear nonproliferation, will be published by Cornell University Press.

Fred H. Lawson is Visiting Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School. He is author is Constructing International Relations in the Arab World (Stanford University Press, 2006) and co-editor of Armies and Insurgencies in the Arab Spring (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016). In 1992-1993, he was Fulbright Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Aleppo, Syria.


Review by Michael Cox, Emeritus Professor of International Relations, London School of Economics and Director LSE IDEAS

I first came across the idea of ‘humiliation’ as a social science or political category some years ago in the work of Evelin Lindner, who devoted a good deal of her academic life to the subject. As one of her many admirers pointed out, humiliation, as a separate category had, until Lindner, received “surprisingly little theoretical or systematic attention from historians, anthropologists, political scientists, psychologists, or scholars of literature.”[2] But Lindner did much to make up for this lacuna, suggesting in her work that humiliation had been a largely “unrecognized psychological, political, and military imposition with enormous and tragic consequences in every part of the world for centuries past as well as in our own day.” Indeed, according to Bertram Wyatt-Brown in a 2006 review of some of her essays collected together in the journal, Social Alternatives, it was Lindner’s “contention that while nearly all individuals seek the respect of their fellows, repudiation of that common expectation can develop into savage recriminations, frustrations, desire for revenge, and violence.”[3] Humiliation, in other words, does not end with the act of humiliation but has consequences–invariably tragic and disturbing ones as those so humiliated seek to right the wrongs done to them.

It is Bertrand Badie’s contention that ‘humiliation’ deserves a place in the discourse of IR which hitherto it has not had. Humiliation, he insists, is visible everywhere and its cumulative effect on world politics considerable. It is therefore critical that we “integrate humiliation” into the theory of international relations (vi). But it has so far not received adequate theorisation—and it is about time it did. He is right to insist.

After all, how are we able to understand the language of politics today in much of what was once called the Third World without recognizing the experience of past colonial humiliation? Indeed, modern China refers constantly to the idea of a ‘nineteenth century of humiliation’ when the western powers imposed the most humiliating of terms on a declining imperial dynasty. As Matt Schiavenza pointed out in the October 2013 issue of The Atlantic, one even wonders what the People’s Republic of China would do without an idea—based on reality to be sure—which has now become “a central part of the P.R.C.’s founding mythology.”[4] But it is not just China, of course, which has deployed the notion to good effect. According to most Germans, Germany too had been ‘humiliated’ at Versailles in 1919 (did John Maynard Keynes not tell us so?), so the sooner the whole Versailles system was jettisoned the better it would be all round. Russian President Vladimir Putin is also no slouch when it comes to deploying the language of humiliation when it comes to justifying his policies at both home and abroad. Thus Russia, he contends, was humiliated when it was forced to give up its holdings in Eastern Europe. It was humiliated a whole lot more when the USSR fell apart two years later. And more humiliation followed, as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on the one hand, and NATO on the other, worked in the case of the Fund to weaken Russia economically, and then in the form of the western alliance to surround it strategically as prelude to changing his regime. And so it goes on. Humiliation followed, in time, by a response which invariably leaves the world in a more dangerous and desperate place than if the humiliation had never happened in the first place.

Still, all this only proves Badie’s very important and well-argued point: that if states (or any other actor for that matter) do not treat their rivals, enemies, and competitors with dignity and respect, then it is bound to come back to haunt us all. Think Israel and the Palestinians. Think the Iraqi government and its treatment of its own Sunni population after the country had been liberated by the Anglo-Americans. And think too of all those ‘deplorables’ in the United States who felt so marginalized—humiliated even—by changes taking place in their lives and to their communities that they decided to vote in their millions for Donald Trump in November 2016.

Badie wisely reminds us in this important and original book that “the creators of many states”—including that most Anglophile of Indians, Jawaharlal Nehru—“have all known journeys of humiliation.” But it is not just leaders who have suffered. So too have millions of ordinary people who may suffer in silence for years but then at some point–for whatever reason–take their lives into their own hands and seek redress with consequences that elites may decry but which serious students of politics have to understand if they are to help make the world a saner place. It is to Badie’s credit that he forces us all to think about these issues and to refresh our vocation as informed citizens of the world rather than just academics sitting in our offices writing yet another article which few (other than our peers) will have the time or a desire to read.


Review by Campbell Craig, Cardiff University

Bertrand Badie has produced the most compelling and original description of the contemporary international condition I have seen in a long time. I use the word ‘description’ rather than ‘theory’ because I do not believe that his argumentation aims at a theoretical explanation, at least in the Anglo-American IR sense, though there are certainly elements of this in his book. I think his book would have benefited from a more thorough engagement with that scholarly world, but this does not detract from its brilliance and incisiveness.[5] Humiliation in International Relations belongs on your top shelf.

Badie’s overarching claim is that the structure of contemporary international politics today–in brief, the tandem of U.S.-led unipolarity and an increasingly unequal globalised capitalism–is a ‘frustration-making machine’ whose most salient effect is humiliation. Less powerful states feel humiliated; the global poor feel humiliated; victims of colonialism in the past and present feel humiliated; ‘rogue’ targets of the United States and/or the Western ‘international community’ feel humiliated. This humiliation in turn has become the leading cause of international violence and conflict in today’s world, as aggrieved people, societies, and states express their resentment against an order which can no longer call upon geopolitical imperatives such as the Cold War to suppress rebellion. Because their humiliation is shoved in their face in real time by YouTube, Facebook, and presidential Twitter accounts, and because the violence and outrage they employ in response is difficult for most countries to prevent by traditional forms of statecraft, the problem is a modern one, unimaginable 50 years ago and peripheral until relatively recently.

In the first and best part of the book Badie develops a broad explanation of what has happened. During the Westphalian, or ‘Weberian’ era, conflict and war among European states was managed by elites who did not have to worry about the broader sentiments of their societies. Thus they could resist postwar popular demands for revenge and humiliation of their European enemies, and play the rational game of power politics in a way that kept most heads cool. At the same time, lest Badie sound too much like an old-school Realist, these same elites were able to run their imperial projects overseas without much fear of repercussion, not only because they so heavily out-gunned their colonial subjects, but also because it was difficult for these subjects to recognise their humiliation in any comparative sense or express their resistance beyond their own community.

That world disappeared in the last century. Popular nationalism in Europe fed both efforts to humiliate others, such as after the First World War, and the cause of revanchement, most notably in the case of Germany. Both Cold War superpowers, though surely the USSR more grievously, traded in humiliation in order to suppress smaller client states, while the process of decolonisation in the global south brought the humiliation inherent in colonialism to the political fore. Badie demonstrates this process in action with particular skill in the cases of China, the Arab world, and sub-Saharan Africa: his detailed accounts of the role of humiliation in driving the political ambitions of anti-Western leaders in China, Indonesia, Kenya, Libya, and other states drive home his historical case, if sometimes perhaps with too much descriptive narrative.

Badie argues that humiliation manifests itself in three distinct ways in the contemporary era. The first kind of humiliation derives from the aftermath of colonialism, the memory of European domination and the enduring resentment it has engendered in the South. It lingers on today, most evidently, Badie insists, in the case of Israeli humiliation of the Palestinians, but its primary salience is in its historical legacy, and how this plays out in contemporary international affairs, such as peacekeeping. As he well might, Badie likes to focus on French foreign policy, and marvels at the fact that France continues to remove leaders and call elections in ex-colonies like Mali, which is now supposed to be a sovereign state.

The second type, which he calls ‘structural,’ focuses on great-power relations, or what he calls the ‘superpowers vs. everyone else.’ Here, humiliation has to do with aspiring powers demanding, and not receiving, respect from the dominant states, which now comprises the United States. This plays out most conspicuously in the foreign policies of two states that suffered humiliation at the beginning and end of the twentieth century, China and Russia. Badie argues that the worldview of both of these states cannot be understood without understanding their bitter feelings of resentment, their determination to gain respect and face at all costs; the most cursory overview of U.S.-China relations or U.S.-Russia relations today surely bear this out. Surprisingly, Badie does not deal at length with what I would regard as one of most vivid forms of structural humiliation today: the nuclear nonproliferation regime. The fact that states bristling with nuclear weapons have the gall to demand that others eschew them in the name of nuclear peace stands, at least in my view, as perhaps the most blatant form of humiliation in contemporary international politics. That an argument can be made that this humiliation is necessary to preserve international order only strengthens the point.[6]

The third type, ‘functional’ humiliation, refers largely to the league of international institutions, organizations, and other alliances which can be lumped together under the ingenuous term ‘the international community.’ Here humiliation manifests itself in what Badie calls ‘minilateralism,’ by which he means the informal grouping of mostly Western states and organizations to deal with global problems, from which the weak are largely or completely excluded even though these problems affect them the most. The resemblance here to domestic politics, a theme to which we will return, is straightforward: initiatives to help the poor and solve problems in the south are dominated by the rich, who know better than those whom they are aiding. This points at a larger issue of global governance—if the management of global order is going to become increasingly international, who will actually be governing? The alienation of the working classes in domestic politics in the West speaks to this problem.

Though he spars intermittently with Realists like Hans Morgenthau and Stephen Walt throughout the book, Badie clearly accepts the broader Realist assumption that the structure of the international system shapes the nature of its politics. Though humiliation has been a feature of the international system for a long time, as he shows, the end of the Cold War and emergence of unipolarity explains, for him, why the problem has leaped to the forefront of our contemporary order. The absence of a traditional great-power rivalry in today’s world not only lessens the incentive to shut down resentments and resistances in the name of power politics; it also channels these resentments toward one target—the United States and its neoliberal globalised ideology. During the Cold War, the humiliated could, and often did, seek to redress their grievances by appealing to the rival of the superpower that was doing the humiliating. Thus many post-colonial states sought to overcome their legacy of humiliation by allying with the USSR and pursuing socialism; thus many states humiliated by the USSR, especially in Eastern Europe, could dream of allying themselves with the West, which they did in short order after 1989. Badie discusses at length how the non-aligned movement during the Cold War reflected the legacy of humiliating colonialism and represented an attempt to overcome it, but it is worth remembering that most of the prominent members of this movement ended up allying with one or another superpower (or, on occasion, both): it was difficult for them to privilege the politics of humiliation over more conventional political ends.[7]

Today, that dynamic is gone. As Badie puts it, “Everything is likely to make someone angry in Karachi, Kano, or Djakarta,” and their anger is normally going to be targeted at the American order (126). Anti-Americanism, he declares, is the default position of the humiliated in the contemporary world, and I would suggest this is not really because everyone who is angry in Pakistan or Indonesia specifically dislikes the United States and only the United States, but rather because if you are angry and powerless you tend to blame whoever is on top, and today there is no doubt about who that is. This is a cost of the West’s victory in the Cold War, and it is something that ‘end-of-history’ triumphalists did not foresee.

Unless, therefore, the international system reverts to an authentically multipolar order, something it shows no signs of doing anytime soon, must we expect the problems Badie identifies to continue?[8] This is implied in his analysis, and in his brief conclusion he does not persuasively show why we should believe otherwise. To be sure, the United States could try to include the world’s humiliated powers more directly in global decision-making, or try to redress the humiliation felt by middle power nations like India or Brazil, or democratise international institutions, but why would it do this? President Donald Trump’s categorical rejection of such gestures only reflects a larger American belief that the U.S. has no overriding incentive to worry about the world’s humiliated masses, and that the occasional act of terrorist or cyber revenge can be dealt with by traditional means of power politics—as the administration’s new nuclear posture review states quite clearly. If the new world order has failed the Palestinians, the Yemenis, or the Congolese, it has made life unprecedentedly comfortable and secure for Americans, 9/11 notwithstanding. Few politicians are likely to be sent to Washington by promising to change that, and this was as true for President Obama just as much as it is for the White House’s current occupant.

While Badie’s argument seems to lead to this conclusion, he nevertheless sees a possible sociological shift in the politics of the international system which might force America’s hand, a shift from the Westphalian and Weberian model to an intersocial and Durkheimian one. Because globalisation and modern communication technologies permit most people on the planet to have no illusions about their relative powerlessness and humiliation, the condition of the international has evolved from a formal and ordered interstate model, in which large powers can effectively manage the system indefinitely in the name of ‘international order,’ into a totally interlinked and chaotic global society in which the anger of someone in Saudi Arabia or the Philippines can now affect the course of world politics more decisively than foreign policy papers developed in London or Tokyo.

The French sociologist Émile Durkheim perceived this process happening at the domestic level in the nineteenth century: the advent of modernity and industrial capitalism created a mechanical society in which workers were separated from one another by their specialised work but at the same time more dependent on one another and on the functioning of the economy more generally.  Badie suggests that the same process is now occurring at the global level, and that it behooves the United States and its Western allies to include the poor and weak of the world into the decision-making processes that affect their lives, just as elites did in western nations a century ago. In short, Durkheim’s portrayal of the evolution of society from the solidary to the mechanical is now playing out on the international level; if the logic obtains, a continued reliance on mechanical divisions in the name of a liberal globalisation that maintains them is certain to explode.

It is possible that Badie’s analogy will work, that global society will increasingly resemble the nineteenth-century industrial nation, and that we will see the emergence of democratisation at the international level and so a kind of global governance. But I think that powerful states like the U.S. are better able to protect themselves from the effects of humiliation at the global level than were elites in Victorian times at the national level. The United States is farther away; and as we have regrettably seen over the past twenty years, in the name of national security it can deploy power to crush overseas resistance in a way that is less plausible within domestic society. Moreover, a state like France had an additional reason for incorporating the workers and the poor: namely, the imperative of maintaining national solidarity in the face of external threats, which was hardly a minor concern at the time Durkheim wrote. Unless Mars attacks, the United States does not need the allegiance of the global poor for the traditional purposes of interstate security. For these two reasons, the U.S. can probably cope with a ‘Durkheimian’ breakdown of international society. For it to adopt the democratic and integrative policies Badie suggests, particularly given that such moves would at present be political suicide, it will have to have stronger incentives than the ones Badie identifies.

Luckily, if we want to put it that way, there are two supranational problems which threaten even the mightiest of powers–nuclear war, and climate change. These threats represent another and more material sign that we have moved on from the Westphalian era, for no individual state, not even the U.S., can protect itself from the outbreak of a nuclear conflict or an environmental catastrophe brought on by global warming.[9] And if we want to solve these problems effectively, we will have to enlist the cooperation of all. So maybe not so much Durkheim as Hobbes.


Review by Fred H. Lawson, Visiting Professor of National Security Affairs, Naval Postgraduate School and Professor of Government Emeritus, Mills College

In this ambitious essay, Bertrand Badie offers an alternative conception of international relations to the structural realist model that has dominated academic inquiry in the United States since the mid-1980s. Humiliation in International Relations builds on a compelling critique of the Waltzian approach that was first articulated by John Ruggie, which suggests that the international arena displays features of a Durkeimian social order.[10] Unlike Ruggie, who claims that Emile Durkheim’s conception of societies provides a useful way to think about any given era, Badie asserts that sociological notions have become apposite due to actual trends in the contemporary world (11). It is the ongoing process of globalization that makes humiliation more salient and more pervasive than ever before.

Badie starts out by imposing an assortment of limiting assumptions on the meaning of humiliation that might better be left open to empirical investigation. He states, for instance, that humiliation is “a mark of weakness” (vi). Can rich powerful states never be humiliated? He stipulates that humiliation “gives the major role to non-state actors” (vi). Do we know whether non-state actors suffer humiliation more frequently or more profoundly than states do? Humiliation “is a founding narrative,” which operates at the outset of a country’s involvement in international affairs (3). It would be worth exploring the extent to which humiliation-at-birth overshadows humiliation that states experience in adolescence or old age. More important, Badie posits that humiliation “always impl[ies] violence, whether symbolic or physical” (5). Yet are there any significant differences between instances of inter-state humiliation that entail physical violence and ones that do not?

In fact, what precisely constitutes humiliation in world affairs? Badie offers only loose definitions of the fundamental concept. He begins by defining humiliation as “any authoritarian [sic] assignment of a status that is inferior to the desired status” (5). Almost immediately after this he equates humiliation with “dehumanisation” (6), which is surely a very different thing. Somewhat later humiliation is defined as “long-lasting dissatisfaction” on the part of a state or its leadership (13). More often, the text associates humiliation with the deliberate withholding of recognition by other states (18, 20). Badie also claims that humiliation arises when ambitious political figures find that their “dreams of the West [get] shattered” by unfavorable circumstances (79). Thus such nationalist cum revolutionary leaders as Palestine’s George Habash, Pakistan’s Muhammad Ali Jinnah, China’s Zhou Enlai and Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh all suffered humiliation as a result of not being able to complete their education at prestigious universities.

Perhaps the most cogent definition of humiliation appears on page 50, where it is called “a loss of status too great to be accepted, counterbalanced by a desire for revenge, mixed with hate, of denigration and of a secret fascination, leading to a desire to imitate the enemy.” There is quite a lot going on here. If humiliation entails a loss of status, then it must involve a diminution of some previous amount—which means that it cannot operate at the birth of a state. If, as seems appropriate, humiliation occurs when the loss is intolerable, then not every reduction in status counts. Scholars will have to determine whether any given episode includes actions that are too egregious for a country’s leaders or general public to abide. Humiliation will only be present if it accompanies a yearning for vengeance. And so on.

Badie offers a clearer statement of the circumstances in which humiliation is likely to take place. He expects it to occur whenever there exists a high degree of nationalism, especially among newly independent states; when there is a strong sense of victimhood; when the target state has a low capacity to carry out programs of its own; and when the target possesses a weak sense of overall respect, both for itself and for others (23-24).

After a while, one starts to wonder how humiliation differs from exploitation. When Badie surveys the development of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt during the 1930s and 1940s (132-133), for example, what stands out is the exploitative conditions in which workers lived. No evidence is adduced to demonstrate that the laborers who gravitated toward the movement suffered humiliation at the hands either of their supervisors or of the British officials who hovered behind the scene. It would be well worth investigating the point at which systematic or persistent exploitation transforms into humiliation.

In a similar vein, what is the difference between humiliation and frustration (94-95), or between humiliation and despair (137-138)? The book’s discussion of the People’s Republic of China, India, and Brazil highlights the inability of these states to gain entry to the top tier of current international society, despite many long decades of trying. Does this constitute humiliation or frustration? When Badie recounts the episode of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian peddler who ignited a large-scale popular uprising in December 2010 with his self-immolation, what comes across most vividly is his deep-seated frustration and despair, rather than his humiliation—although rough treatment at the hands of the local police may have been the final straw. Strikingly, Badie brushes aside such nuances by remarking that “it does not make any difference” what exactly was going on in this specific case (136).

Anyone who aspires to build on the foundation that Badie lays down in Humiliation in International Relations would do well to clarify the extent to which humiliation is a causal factor (an independent variable) in world politics, and in what ways it is instead an effect of other things (a dependent variable). For the most part, Badie uses humiliation as an independent variable. Different types of humiliation are hypothesized to produce varying responses on the part of a humiliated state. Thus “humiliation by lowering of status” generates “revanchism,” which tends to entail unilateral action (50-51). Efforts to reclaim lost ground are more apt to occur whenever the international arena is “not very [highly] structured” (51), as in the 1860s, the 1920s, and the 1990s. If, on the other hand, the world is comparatively highly structured, as it was during what Morton Kaplan called the tight bipolar era of the 1950s,[11] revanchist proclivities on the part of demoted states will be tightly constrained.

“Humiliation through denial of equality,” by contrast, produces a tendency for the humiliated state to take steps to strengthen its sovereignty (55). Such attempts to reconsolidate or reaffirm sovereign rights may be undertaken unilaterally, but they can also involve multilateral initiatives, such as the Non-Aligned Movement of the mid-1950s or the creation of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in 1964 (56). Why humiliation through denial of equality sometimes causes unilateral action and at other times generates a multilateral response remains open to exploration. One wonders as well which of the four types of sovereignty adumbrated by Stephen Krasner Badie has in mind here.[12]

A third kind of humiliation—”humiliation by relegation” (55)—looks indistinguishable from humiliation by lowering of status. In both, a state finds itself downgraded against its will to a position that it resents. Furthermore, the primary illustrations that Badie deploys for humiliation by relegation (the nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire and those countries that aspired to join the “nuclear club” during the late twentieth century) seem more like instances of humiliation through denial of equality. Since the Ottomans had never been accorded equal status in the Europe-centered international order to begin with, they could not technically be relegated to the minor leagues.

In much the same way, a purported fourth type of humiliation—”humiliation through stigmatisation” (59)—shares crucial features with humiliation through denial of equality. Perhaps the difference is that humiliation through stigmatization tends to evolve into the defamation of entire cultures. Thus efforts by Washington to stigmatize Iraq and Iran during the 1980s set the stage for the subsequent demonization of Islam as a whole (60-61). Whether this sort of escalation is unique to the United States is an open question.

Following a lengthy digression into various trends that one sees in the contemporary world (Part 2), Badie returns to the topic at hand in Part 3. The gist of the discussion is the degree to which humiliation prompts actors to pursue “anti-system” foreign policies (121).[13] Badie posits that in the early twenty-first century, states are not the only protagonists in global politics; societies have become equally significant players (123). This development has occurred largely due to the fact that “existing political institutions are weak, fragile, and barely legitimate” (123). And it is precisely this context in which humiliation is most likely to take place as well. Consequently, humiliation galvanizes local populations and mobilizes them to engage in protest against the established order (128). This dynamic is what Badie sees happening in the uprisings that erupted across the Middle East and North Africa starting in the winter of 2010-11.

With regard to international relations, Badie claims that Algeria during the 1970s pursued an anti-system foreign policy. The radical leadership in Algiers called for the creation of “a new international economic order,” along with the right of each state to control the natural resources inside its recognized borders (143). Later on Algeria “denounced foreign interference” in Kosovo and East Timor. It is worth thinking about whether these demands actually constituted an anti-system platform. It could be argued that the Algerian government consistently pushed for the full (or non-hypocritical) implementation of Westphalian sovereignty, rather than for its abolition.

More radical still would be the emergence of “diplomacies of deviance” as a response to humiliation (147). Here Badie’s exemplar is the Islamic Republic of Iran, most notably its acquiescence in the take-over of the American embassy in Tehran in 1979 and its consistent voicing of virulent anti-U.S. and anti-western rhetoric. These actions have provoked harsh punitive measures from defenders of the international status quo, which in turn culminated in the presidency of Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad. At this point the analysis breaks down. Badie simply characterizes Iranian foreign policy during the Ahmadi-Nejad era as “confused”: “Radical options leading nowhere, except to more and more unbearable sanctions” (150). Badie notes approvingly that the excesses of Ahmadi-Nejad set the stage for the “subtle mixture of opposition and restrained deviance” that has characterized the presidency of his successor, Hasan Ruhani (151). “Policies that respond to humiliation,” he opines, “must not disappear under the effect of force; they must nourish themselves; and when such policies allow the international status of a State to be raised, they have every chance of being continued” (151).

There follows a kind of coda, in which Badie ruminates on the unprecedented growth of “uncontrolled violence” in the contemporary world (153). This trend accompanies the collapse of states, the spread of ethno-sectarian conflict and the proliferation of competing militias (155). Badie claims that such warfare represents the apotheosis of long-standing humiliation (156), although once again readers might decide that frustration (157-158) and exploitation (159) look more germane. He does make the convincing argument that commanders of radical movements do their best to inculcate a sense of collective humiliation in their cadres, as a way of generating ferocity and resolve (159-160).

Humiliation in International Relations ends with a two and a half page Conclusion that, like the final scene of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, points the way toward a prospective resolution of the ills that plague humanity’s present situation. The routine exercise of humiliation is neither inevitable nor immutable; humiliation “is a policy like any other, produced by States that can measure its failure day by day, thus measuring the price of such deliberate blindness in the face of new realities” (168). The solution to the problems inherent in international humiliation, Badie avers, will have to be multilateral in nature and inclusive in scope. The text closes with the puzzling pronouncement that “a winning foreign policy is probably one which, in this new wide dimension and with this new logic, the resources to make further gains” (169). I think I’ll stick with American-style political science.


Author’s Response by Bertrand Badie, Sciences Po Paris

I am very grateful to my colleagues, four distinguished scholars in International relations, for opening the discussion around my book on Humiliation in International Relations. Many important points have been made in the introduction and the three reviews and I would just try to gather some of them around what seems to be the main axes of the debate. Let me start by saying that our convenor is right to introduce the discussion by arguing that the book was significantly written by a French scholar: France was severely hit by three successive humiliating defeats (1871, 1940, and the decolonization wars). The trauma was strong with respect to the long French imperial dream. It probably explains why French foreign policy appears nowadays as an overachievement considering its rather limited ressources and why it is based on a persistently ambiguous vison of power.[14]

How to deal with this new perspective? As is emphasized by two reviewers, humiliation was never really constructed in IR as an explaining variable. I was struck by this blank throughout my own research and it is probably why I decided to imagine and write this book. That is also why I conceived humiliation as such, not as an independent variable, as it has been written, but as an explaining variable. How could a social fact be considered as an independent variable, especially when I claim, as a main argument, that the increasing role of humiliation in IR is deeply dependent on the transformation and the “socialization” of the international system?

In fact, humiliation has been so far very poorly considered in IR theories, probably because IR scholars coming from the theoretical mainstream are reluctant to introduce social dimensions in their own paradigms. As it has been pointed out, humiliation played a major role in the international relations arena since when the competition among elites and rulers was completed by the increasing impact of an “intersocial” competition. Humiliation then became an obvious topic of what we call a “sociology of international relations.” Do I claim that I have created a new theory? Certainly not. Actually, we can observe that the new trends in the sociological approach to IR do not result in a new theory, but try to mobilize the classic concepts of the great sociologists, merging with the traditional IR theories. At the same time, IR Sociology did not abolish the former Realism, but tried to complete it. The duality of the world- as it was previously stressed by James Rosenau- comes from an “interstate world” which is more and less constrained to play according to the old game, and an “intersocial world” which is poorly committed to it. That is why humiliation is much more apposite in the latter than in the former.[15] By the way, if NPT (Treaty on the Non Proliferation of Nuclear weapons) is definitely a humiliation, it was less claimed as such because it was imbedded, especially along the bipolarity, into the persistent interstate game.

That being said, the crucial question is to analyze how a social fact is able to slot into the interstate game. I tried to show that this penetration was particularly successful, as states could promptly use humiliation as a political instrument while they had, in the meantime, to react to all the social movements which sprang from it everywhere around the world. Humiliation comes from societies, but can be shaped by watching how their states and their rulers are humiliated by being committed to an international order which is defined from the outside. At this point, we should be cautious and clear in the use of the concepts. Humiliation must be identified and considered as a process: as such, it is different from exploitation, which is an objective fact, while humiliation is the subjective result of it; it has to be distinguished from frustration, as humiliation appears as an interpretation of it, pointing to an actor at fault and to an enemy, which is mostly important in IR. Dehumanization is, at this level, an important nodal point. Our Western humanism considers equality as the keystone of our philosophy: when we move to a hierarchical vision of the international order, we initiate a dehumanization process which opens the way to humiliation. That is probably why status is such a sensitive issue in IR.

Another point is arguing that powerful rulers do not have any interest to remove a humiliating foreign policy. If we accept this very challenging postulate, we should obviously resign ourselves to a very pessimistic vision of the future. Two points would, however, amend this conception: the increasing conviction that humiliation, cynicism, and power risk being more and more costly and dangerously destabilizing; the new great transformation through which weakness appears now as more active and efficient for setting up the international agenda than power: it is probably what President Barack Obama discovered and then claimed.

Two other points: denying equality, relegation, and stigmatization must be sharply distinguished and must not become mixed up, as has been suggested. The first one relates to the manipulation of the concept of sovereignty; the second one equals what Christopher Daase calls political recognition in the agenda setting, the third one relates to the discourse and what would be considered by Daase as moral recognition.[16] Finally, I must confess that, personally, I do not stick with any national style of political science…Even if it is true that national experiences have oriented differently the same science of IR, it is so much more fruitful to take from elsewhere what we need for a better understanding of the world. This is the correct way of scientific progress, but also the best manner for sweeping off humiliation.



[1] Bertrand Badie, Diplomacy of Connivance, translated by Cynthia Schoch and William Snow. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

[2] Evelin G. Lindner Gender, Humiliation, and Global Security: Dignifying Relationships from Love, Sex, and Parenthood to World Affairs (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2010); Making Enemies: Humiliation and International Conflict (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2006).

[3] All references are to Bertram Wyatt-Brown’s Introduction to “History and Humiliation,” A Special Issue of Social Alternatives (2006)

[4] Matt Schiavenza, “How Humiliation Drove Modern Chinese History,” The Atlantic, 25 October 2013,

[5] In particular, Badie does not engage much with the growing literature on emotion in international relations or with the constructivist emphasis on identity and recognition. For a recent overview of the former literature, see Maéva Clément and Eric Sangar, eds., Researching Emotions in International Relations (Palgrave, 2018); on the latter, see Alexander Wendt, Social Theory of International Politics (Cambridge University Press, 1999).

[6] See Campbell Craig and Jan Ruzicka, ‘Who’s in, Who’s out? The Nuclear Nonproliferation Complex,’ London Review of Books 34 (23 February 2012).

[7] On this, see Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

[8] On the durability of unipolarity, see William Wohlforth and Stephen Brooks, America Abroad (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), and Nuno Monteiro, Theory of Unipolar Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

[9] On how the destructive potential of nuclear war makes the interstate Westphalian model obsolete, see Campbell Craig, Glimmer of a New Leviathan (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), and Daniel Deudney, Bounding Power (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007). On climate change, see F. Biermann, et al, ‘Navigating the Anthropocene,’ Science 335 (16 March 2012).

[10] John G. Ruggie, “Continuity and Transformation in the World Polity: Toward a Neorealist Synthesis,” World Politics 35:2 (January 1983): 261-285.

[11] Morton A. Kaplan, System and Process in International Politics (New York: John Wiley, 1957).

[12] See Stephen D. Krasner, Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999).

[13] See Giovanni Capoccia, “Anti-System Parties: A Conceptual Reassessment,” Journal of Theoretical Politics 14:1 (2002): 9-36; Mattia Zulianello, “Anti-System Parties Revisited: Concept Formation and Guidelines for Empirical Research,” Government and Opposition (10 May 2017), DOI:

[14] See B. Badie, “French Power-Seeking and Overachievement,” in T. Volgy, and al., eds., Major Powers and the Quest for Status in International Politics (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

[15] See J. Rosenau, Turbulence in World Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990).

[16] C. Daase et al., Recognition in International Relations (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).