State Formation, Liberal Reform, and the Growth of International Organizations

This article argues that the growth of international organizations (IOs) over the past
century has been imagined and carried out as necessary to making modern states on a
broadly Western model. The proliferation of IOs and expansion of their legal powers,
through both formal and informal means, raise profound questions regarding the
relationship between international law’s reforming promise and its imperialist perils.
The article proposes a new analytic framework for understanding these phenomena,
focussing on the rationalities of IO powers and the technologies through which they are
made operable. It argues that both the growth of IOs and the cultural processes of state
formation are impelled by a particular dynamic of liberal reform that is at once internal
and external to law. That dynamic and the analytic framework proposed here are both
illustrated and exemplified through an analytical account of the emergence of IOs in the
19th century.