08/05/2013 10:59 BST | Updated 07/07/2013 06:12 BST

Emotionality of States and Symbiotic Realism

The role and political repercussions of human ego, emotions and sensibilities in state conduct and international relations are, less transient and more pervasive than it is often acknowledged.

This paper analyses the concept of state emotionality and briefly discusses the theory of " Symbiotic Realism, " as a more comprehensive framework for interstate relations in our modern, connected and interdependent world that takes into account the role of emotionality in state behavior.

Rethinking the 'rational' in state conduct

My argument does not obviate the role and persistence of rational behavior and the relevance of state interests, but it suggests an alternate lens to regard the state, in addition to what I call the Rationalist egoism of the state.

Importantly, state emotionality and rational state egoism do not necessarily stand in stark opposition, as dichotomous notions that are bound to collide.

The history of the "rationality" of the state

Despite epistemological differences to Hobbes, the state for John Locke, is still theorized as a rational entity, tasked to surpass the defects existent in purely natural societies and ensure that justice and public good are attained.

Ethnic nationalism, an ideology invented by the German Romantic intelligentsia, held that it was not the state that created the nation, as Enlightenment claimed, but the nation and its people created the state.

This meant that individual attachment is inherited, not chosen. The state would thus be born as an aggregate volition of a certain people, mirroring their sensibilities.

Realism implicated that imperialism and imperialist conquests or prestige can be pursued as part of the animus dominandi, the desire to dominate, which is the social force that determines political activity.

The strongest critique to the Realists emerged with the Constructivist school of thought that criticized the former for its obliteration of critical ontological questions.

How do states 'feel'? Examples of state emotionality

Cognitive neuroscience, and social theorists from Weber to Bourdieu, have recognized that humans act, most of the time, habitually, not reflectively. Both at intrastate and inter-states levels, habits play critical roles in mitigating uncertainty, providing a sense of order and entrench patterns of cooperation or enmity.

Hitler's rise to power and the appeal of his ideology cannot be separated from a poignant emotional discourse that was endorsed by a "disoriented and defeated people". A sense of revenge and historic justice for Germany accompanied Hitler's choice of the Compiegne Forest as the location for signing the armistice that meant the defeat of France in 1940, the same spot, and the same train wagon, where in 1918 Germany had signed the armistice that confirmed its humiliating defeat.

This is also evident in the recent over-dramatic securitization of terrorism. Beyond a 'palpable' terrorist threat, the global 'war on terror' is also a deeply emotional and emotive statement of regained control, a rehabilitation of America's strength and an effort to counter the sense of vulnerability befallen on it after "9/11".

The history of Israel-Palestine conflict cannot be understood without its underlying emotional meanders The emotional frameworks of the loss of Palestine for the Arab-Islamic world, touched deep scars that go back to the Crusades, symbolizing a proof of Arab-Islamic decay, political impotence and perceived (British/French) betrayal, and antagonism.

The same is true for Israel, which had emotional connectivity to parts of Palestine. The historical injustices perpetrated against the Jewish people in Europe generated deep and persistent insecurities This led to the insistence on a US guarantee of unshakable qualitative Israeli regional military superiority. The result has been repeated reluctance to come to a peaceful resolution of the conflict despite numerous Arab peace plans, while maintaining the doctrine of maximum land and minimum Palestinians.

Similar situations with consequential historical emotional baggage can be found in persistent tensions between Japan-China, the two Koreas, India-Pakistan etc.

A Symbiotic Realist approach and Concluding remarks

As this study has shown, the central actor in international politics, the state, is a much more complex institution and its actions on the international scene reflective of much more than 'pure' rational state interest.

This study of the emotionality of states hopes to stimulate further theoretical progress and interdisciplinary dialogue, including across the confines of the IR discipline.

Such an exploration includes my recently published "Symbiotic Realism", a theory of relations in a globally-anarchic world of connectivity and interdependence. It aims to provide a comprehensive framework for understanding the character of relations generated by four interlocking facets of the global system, namely: the neurobiological substrates of human nature (including emotionality); global anarchy; instant connectivity; and deepening interdependence.

Symbiotic Realism expands unitary state actors beyond the state and non-state actors to also include: the individual, large collective identities, International organizations, transnational corporations, women, and reactive actors such as (natural resources, the biosphere and information and communications technologies).

Nayef Al-Rodhan will be speaking at this year's HowTheLightGetsIn, the world's largest philosophy and music festival held in association with the Huff Post UK. For more information, see