Remembering the future - Utopia, empire, and harmony in 21st-century international theory

William A. Callahan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Using a comparative approach to international relations theory, this article examines how ancient ideas are being recycled to describe world order in the 21st century. In particular, it provides a thick description of three models of utopia in global politics - Great Harmony and Harmony-with-difference from China, and Empire from Hardt and Negri. Using an unexplored set of Chinese-language texts, the article first excavates how Communist Party intellectuals in China have been writing about the ancient Confucian ideal of Great Harmony as a way of promoting the Peoples Republic of Chinas role as a Great Power in the 21st century. Second, it uses Hardt and Negris deterritorialized concept of Empire to criticize Great Harmony discourse as a transcendent and state-centric model of world order. Hardt and Negris notion of immanent utopia is elaborated in the third section using another set of Chinese texts that describe the flexible methodology of Harmony-with-difference. The article concludes that Harmony-with-difference provides a practical logic for achieving Hardt and Negris immanent utopia. The article contributes two things to international relations theory - (1) using Chinese-language texts, it broadens the reach of comparative international relations theory and (2) it uses the concept of Empire to challenge Chinese concepts of harmony, while using Chinese theory to elaborate on Hardt and Negris utopia. In this way, the article shows how key texts have productively recycled the classical concepts of utopia, empire, and harmony as a way of remembering the future for the 21st century.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)569-601
Number of pages32
JournalEuropean Journal of International Relations
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2004


  • China
  • Empire
  • Harmony
  • International relations theory
  • Utopia


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