Great powers are ascribed a special responsibility for ensuring order and peace within international society both by the great powers themselves as
well as by other members of international society at least since the Congress of Vienna 1815. This responsibility implies a socially recognised -
and not solely coercively imposed - privileged status to act in concert on behalf of international society (e.g. permanent membership and veto-power
in the UN Security Council). The prevailing narrative of great power struggle fails to acknowledge the political dimension of this status: its
resemblance to a form of legitimate, hierarchical rule. The dissertation therefore asks: To what extent does the special status assigned to great
powers constitute a form of legitimate rule in the world political system and how has this rule been exercised?
Drawing on Max Weber's notion of legitimate rule and the English School's account of great powers, a three-dimensional analytical framework will be developed which differentiates between (a) a constitutive legitimacy structure ("rightful rule" as part of the un-written constitution of international society), (b) the institutional forms and practices of great power systems and (c) the respective environments (that is, international society and the world political system). This analytical framework will be applied in a case-based historical comparison to the three forms of great power rule that have been established with varying success since the Congress of Vienna: (1) the Concert of Europe, (2) the League of Nations, and (3) the United Nations.
Specifically, the dissertation traces the contingent evolution of the great power status and its legitimacy (using conceptual history and discourse analysis) and scrutinizes the ways in which these three great power systems institutionalised legitimate rule (using structured, focused comparison and ideal-typification). The dissertation thus aims at contributing to a deeper and more sophisticated understanding of the role of great powers and legitimate rule in the world political system both in the field of International Relations and the field of International History.
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Mathias Albert