Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name



Josef Korbel School of International Studies

First Advisor

Alan Gilbert


common interest, evolution, Herodotus, international relations, Plato, state


This work seeks to examine the role of the state in international relations. While international relations treat states as institutions endowed with agency, they lack any means of explaining how the state can gain agency, autonomy, and rationality.

My dissertation seeks to reorient the theoretical assumptions of international relations in two ways. I develop a theory of the of the state that seeks to explain the mechanisms by which individuals are able to form collective social institutions and to endow them with authority and agency. I examine the relationship of the individuals to collective bodies such as states that can account for how human beings are able to forge communities, and a theory which has the ability to explain how these collective representations are endowed with authority and agency.

I then seek to incorporate these views of human sociality, community, and the state in international relations. I do this by re-engaging with the classical foundations of the field. Specifically, I seek to integrate a more comprehensive account of both the state and international relations beyond a limited reading of Thucydides' Peloponnesian War. By engaging with the works of Aristotle, Plato, and Herodotus, I show how these theorists had a very sophisticated view both of the state and the international system. If we examine their arguments closely, the field of international relations can find a more comprehensive theoretical and historical foundation.

Instead, to date, the field has simply utilized social contractarian and utilitarian-rationalist models of individual rationality to describe states in an anarchic system. The 'state' of nature serves as the central metaphor of the social sciences since it believes that its models require the articulation of rationality in the form of a presocial egoist. The model of the presocial individual, formed in anarchy, becomes the basis of political theories' rationalist accounts of the formation of states. For international relations, the anarchy of the international system is defined by the absence of governmental structure to regulate the behavior of states. The same explanatory assumptions and methods are used to explain the behavior of individuals and states. The collapsing of social institutions like the state with models of individuals is deeply problematic and limits the ability of the field to develop its own theoretical approach to interstate relations.

For international relations to grow as a discipline, it must recognize the basic social and cultural nature of man. International relations requires a theory that can explain the relationship of the individual to collective bodies such as states, that can account for how human beings are able to forge communities, and which has the ability to explain how these collective representations are endowed with authority and agency. In other words, it must explain the ways social institutions are formed and operate, how they gain their own autonomy, and their forms of collective rationality.

To explain the ways that human beings realize and maintain their social world, however, requires revising the foundational assumptions of political theory at work today. My dissertation seeks to do so by confronting the problem of anarchy and the 'state of nature' directly. Specifically, by drawing on the insights from anthropology, evolutionary biology, and cognitive psychology, I examine the evolution of human sociality within hunter-gatherer bands which are structured as egalitarian and cooperative communities without need for coercive mechanisms of enforcement. Working from traditional political theory and international relations theory, I seek to find a better theoretical account of the nature of the state and to explain how the state gains agency in ways that help expand the theoretical foundations of international relations.

My dissertation does this in two ways. First, I develop a cognitive theory of community by tracing the evolutionary development of our species and seeking to identify the cognitive and emotional mechanisms that allowed for the emergence of human collective agency through the unit character of human selfhood, empathy, and collective rationality. I speculate about how aspects of these faculties allow them to be scalable from hunter-gatherer bands to larger forms of affiliation, giving humans the capacity to deploy 'we-feeling', to articulate a common set of interests, from the nation state to religious communities. The cognitive theory of the state is grounded in an evolutionary study that seeks to identify the symbolic normative representations that have allowed for collective action as well as for collective identity in group solidarity.

A cognitive theory of the state provides a scientifically grounded explanation for the emergence of a distinct realm of social ontology among humans. This has allowed for the development of collective agency. I draw out the implications of this approach to international relations by seeking to integrate a more comprehensive view of the state and community in international relations.

I engage with Greek political theory. I link the study of human sociality and the state to the Greeks, specifically seeking how Herodotus and Plato can help us develop more comprehensive theoretical approaches to international relations. Lastly, I examine the ways that human communities have become closely linked to the territorial state and the potential implications of neoliberal globalization for the relationship of governmental structures and communal organizations.


Recieved from ProQuest

Rights holder

Edinson Oquendo

File size

444 p.

File format





International relations, History, Political science