For many commentators the lack of success in international statebuilding efforts has been explained through the critical discourse of ‘liberal peace’, where it is assumed that ‘liberal’ Western interests and assumptions have influenced policymaking leading to counterproductive results. At the core of the critique is the assumption that the liberal peace approach has sought to reproduce and impose Western models: the reconstruction of ‘Westphalian’ frameworks of state sovereignty; the liberal framework of individual rights and winner-takes-all elections; and neo-liberal free market economic programmes. This article challenges this view of Western policymaking and suggests that post-Cold War post-conflict intervention and statebuilding can be better understood as a critique of classical liberal assumptions about the autonomous subject – framed in terms of sovereignty, law, democracy and the market. The conflating of discursive forms with their former liberal content creates the danger that critiques of liberal peace can rewrite post-Cold War intervention in ways that exaggerate the liberal nature of the policy frameworks and act as apologia, excusing policy failure on the basis of the self-flattering view of Western policy elites: that non-Western subjects were not ready for ‘Western’ freedoms.
This article seeks to draw out an understanding of the role of narratives and discourses of race, culture and civil society within international peacebuilding, through the location of the discourse of culture as a transitional stage between interventionist and regulatory discourses of race and civil society. It particularly seeks to highlight that the discourse of culture is key to understanding the peacebuilding discourses of intervention and regulation that have developed in the last decade. This is all the more important as the discourse of culture has in many respects been displaced by the discourse of civil society. In drawing out the links between the framings of race, culture and civil society, the article seeks to explain how the discourse of civil society intervention has been reinvented on the basis of the moral divide established and made coherent through the discourse of culture, and how the discourse of civil society contains a strong apologetic content, capable of legitimizing and explaining the persistence of social and economic problems or political fragmentation while simultaneously offering potential policy programmes on the basis of highly ambitious goals of social transformation.