Why Stephen Toulmin’s post-modernity framework is a dangerous concept.

On Page 7 of his book Cosmopolis, Stephen Toulmin seeks to explain the concept of post-modernity. He cites Peter Drucker who writes that “instead of assuming the nations of the world continue with business as usual, we must see that the nation-state, which claims unqualified sovereignty, is no longer the self-sustaining political unit that it was in the 17th and 18th century” (7). However, using this concept to explain the end of modernity in the 20th century is a misrepresentation of the international system. Not only is it a misrepresentation, but it is dangerous. In his article “Why the Ukraine crisis is the West’s fault”, John Mearsheimer explains how liberal delusions about the state of the international system led to the crisis in Ukraine. The West began to believe the same thing that Drucker was arguing, that states would have far less capabilities and power to dictate their own affairs. The West believed that the nation-state was no longer the “self-sustaining political unit” that it once was. Instead believing that international institutions and liberalism was the reality of the international system. However, as Russia demonstrated in Ukraine, realpolitik is still as salient as it once was. This was not just some small conflict that could potentially be argued away as an exception to Drucker’s argument. The gravity of Russia’s actions cannot be understated. Russia invaded Ukraine and in doing so, violated the territorial sovereignty of a major European state. Russia would go on to annex Crimea, a move that was seen as highly illegally according to the international community.

In addition to the continued reality of realpolitik, the idea of a world dictated by liberalism has taken blow after blow in recent years. International institutions have bore the brunt of the damage, with multiple movement across Europe advocating to leave the European Union. Most notable was the decision of Britain to exit the EU. The rise of populist leaders and the election of President Donald Trump with his “America First” initiative has demonstrated that the idea of the unitary nation state continues to endure and perhaps become even stronger in recent years. As a result, Toulmin’s understanding of post-modernity has a serious point of contention. Is modernity really behind us? Toulmin may retouch this idea later on in the book but as it stands right now, the seems to already create a hole in his overarching argument.

– Vlad


One thought on “Post-Modernity

  1. Hey Vlad, I really like the points you make in this post. As someone who tends to lean towards realism, I definitely see the weaknesses in his argument about modernity. Although I do agree in some ways that maybe modernity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, I don’t know if his identification of liberalism is useful in proving this. By operating through his lens, I think he does in fact, misrepresent the issue and therefor even if his argument is correct, he is still building his argument on a shaky base.



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