The standard of civilisation in historical and contemporary international relations: the case of East Timor
Thesis DisciplinePolitical Science
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
The standard of civilisation has been prominent in both historical and contemporary international relations theory and discourse. The practices associated with it have resulted in a multidisciplinary field of research that examines the causes and consequences of dividing the world into distinct categories of civilisational status, whereby people and societies are judged to be either ‘civilised’ or ‘uncivilised’. The conquest and colonisation of the non-European world relied heavily on the use of civilisational language. During this time, ‘civilised’ nations used force and violence to purportedly teach and nurture the ‘uncivilised barbarians.’ While this practice was argued to be underpinned by humanitarianism, moral responsibility, and universal values, it often misrepresented what was truly happening in the colonies, in which violence, exploitation, and cultural dislocation was standard practice. The thesis intends to bring renewed attention to the dangers of employing civilisational practice and language in contemporary international relations. It will explore the evolution of the concept across time, in order to discern how civilisational language can shape the understanding of permissible actions against people, and in particular, how violence and intervention is legitimised. The thesis then considers whether the standard of civilisation has been employed in the context of a number of interventions in the country of East Timor. The thesis concludes that the case of East Timor indicates that civilisational language and its associated practices continue to exist in contemporary international relations. The perpetuation of the practice of the standard of civilisation generates destructive consequences for the states it is wielded against and for the wider international community.