European-centered dualism has characterized the modern state system since Grotius’s conception of an outer circle that embraced all humanity and an inner circle bound by the law of Christ.71 Scholars of the English School tradition such as Hedley Bull presuppose the occurrence of historical progression from one set to the next that result from normative changes in international society according to the criteria for statehood and sovereign recognition.72 Accordingly, as stated by Siba Grovogui,73 “the end of European empires through decolonization completed the transformation of the international system into one of fully autonomous states, dependent upon a Western-based political ethos which is encoded albeit imperfectly into a singular regime of sovereignty.” The conclusion is that European conquest and colonization facilitated the convergence in international morality that laid the groundwork for the international society.74
Diverging from Bull, Roxanne Doty75 understands the above dualisms as structures of exclusion consisting of a privileged inner core and inferior peripheries. Drawing on Foucault, Doty76 suggests that one structure of exclusion creates the niches for others; just as, for Foucault, the poor vagabond, the criminal and the deranged person took up the niche previously occupied by the leper, the members of each of these circles were characterized alternatively through time.
In this same way, a new dyad has emerged from the end of World War II onwards, replacing the old one that had distinguished the “civilized” sovereign states from their uncivilized dependences. The “core and periphery” new dyad underpinned the practices that supplemented the Cold War dynamic by establishing another axis of political action between North and South. The construction of peripheral states was dedicated to those communities whose evolution led to the acknowledgement of their own national identity and, therefore, made them independent of the metropolitan rule. Joining international society implied that nations should forge themselves as sovereign states by following the techniques of sovereignty, which are: (i) to recognize its rights and duties as a sovereign state; (ii) to differentiate itself from the other states by expressing an essential, singular and irreducible identity; (iii) to recognize the rights and duties of the great powers; (iv) to share a diplomatic vocabulary that was already disseminated among the members of the society; (v) to sustain the already established balance of power and (vi) to support the use of force in order to guarantee peace. To be a national sovereign state meant to become a subject of international society. Former colonies that once stood on the borders of the colonial powers were attracted to the center of the society of sovereign nation-states in order to share and adhere to their allegedly common interests and values.
However, the colonizing machinery and its techniques had as their objects not only space—the imperial space in this case—but also time. In fact, as a modern artifact, the colonizing machinery incorporated time and history into a new relationship in which time produced change; time meant evolution. The colonizing machinery had created cleavage within international society: on one side, there were the states which had long been sovereign—the founding fathers of international society—and on the other, the colonized states whose history and culture had to be translated into international society’s vocabulary.
From an evolutionist perspective, colonized states were condemned to experience a time-lag due to their problematic and always belated inscription in the symbolic order of international society. In fact, to the states that had just joined international society, the effects of the time-lag appeared, historically, under a variety of labels: lateness, dependence, underdevelopment, transition, developing. Those labels are historically constructed stereotypes used as a tactic to produce subjects—in this case, states that were becoming sovereign but that were not sovereign just yet.
Center and periphery were distinct discursive instances that were articulated by a rhetorical authority that made being the condition of existence that may be found in the very idea of international society—and in the international regime of power which articulates it. The cleavage between “center and periphery” is an instrument-effect in which the international colonizes time, creating a synchronic and homogeneous presence of international society’s subjects inside its own order. As Bhabha perceives it, there was an economy of affects between colonizers and the colonized that encompassed their identities in a process of productive ambivalence.77 The colonizing machinery’s transcendental mode of operation and its techniques created a “time-lag” and, therefore, center and periphery as discursive instances.
Since the end of the Cold War, critical scholars have exhibited a growing interest in the concept of “failed states” and have debated how these new discursive instances are taking up the niche previously occupied by the uncivilized and the periphery during the Cold War. In the failed state discussion, a number of categories and metaphors are used to represent difference as backwardness, creating a temporal distance between Europeans and non-Europeans that reproduces a pattern of the first encounters between Europeans and non-Europeans. Taking into account this tem- poralization of difference, the discourse on “failed states” produces the temporal identity of the so-called successful states. Thus, “successful states” are able not only to guarantee security through the monopoly of the legitimate use of force, to respect democratic principles and to ensure the efficient functioning of their administrative machine but also to construct themselves as temporally advanced in relation to their “failed” and “backward” counterparts.
As demonstrated herein, the main limitations of Foucault’s approach reside in the fact that he did not devote enough attention to the process by which the colonial “Other,” or the colonial alterity, centrally participated (and participates) in the production of the European self. As observed by the postcolonial thinker Achille Mbembe, “It’s as if the colonial event belonged to another age and another place, and as if it had absolutely nothing to teach us about how to understand our own modernity, about citizenship, about democracy, even about the development of our humanities.”78 Thus, the uncivilized, the periphery, the failed states and, more recently, the fragile states, create, over time, modern European subjectivities.