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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bull, Hedley Norman (1932–1985)

by J. D. B. Miller

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Hedley Norman Bull (1932-1985), professor of international relations, was born on 10 June 1932 at Enfield, Sydney, third child of Sydney-born parents Joseph Norman Bull, fire insurance inspector, and his wife Doris Annie, née Hordern. Hedley attended Burwood Primary and Fort Street Boys’ High schools, and the University of Sydney (BA, 1953), where he studied history and philosophy, gaining first-class honours in the latter. Throughout his life he acknowledged the intellectual influence of Professor John Anderson. Having won a Woolley scholarship, Bull went to England and read politics at University College, Oxford (B.Phil., 1955). He married Frances Mary Lawes, great-granddaughter of William Lawes, on 13 March 1954 at the register office, Oxford; they adopted three children.

In 1955 Bull was appointed assistant lecturer in international relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science; he became a reader in 1963. After winning the Cecil peace prize (1956), he was awarded a Rockefeller travelling fellowship (1957-58), which took him to Harvard and other universities in the United States of America, and a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation fellowship (1959) to Paris. His book The Control of the Arms Race (1961), which gained him prominence internationally, showed that he had mastered the concepts and issues relating to nuclear weapons, while understanding the historical background of earlier attempts to limit other kinds of armament. An early member, he was later a councillor (1968-77, 1981-85) of the (International) Institute for Strategic Studies. In 1964 he accepted the post of director of the arms control and disarmament research unit of the British Foreign Office. Surveying the whole of his discipline, he often inflicted punishing blows on what he considered foolishness in its development, such as the `scientific’ pretensions of behaviourism. A notable example was his explosive article `International Theory: The Case for a Classical Approach’, published in 1966 in World Politics.

In 1967 Bull returned to Australia as professor and joint head of the department of international relations, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University. He was also research director (1969-70, 1972-73) of the Australian Institute of International Affairs. In 1977 he went back to Oxford as the Montague Burton professor of international relations. He was a member (1968-71) of the Social Science Research Council of Australia and a fellow of both the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia (1971) and the British Academy (1984).

One of Bull’s major preoccupations was the nature of the international system and its potential for world order. He explored the implications of the great increase in the number of sovereign states since World War II. In particular, he asked whether Third World states would adapt themselves to what had been an essentially Eurocentric society. In his seminal work, The Anarchical Society (1977), he concluded that despite the brutalities of world politics, the historic system of sovereign states exhibited a degree of actual co-operation and the possibility of future extension of an international society. In 1984 he developed these themes further in The Expansion of International Society, which he edited with Adam Watson.

A formidable but always fair opponent in debate, Bull was a kind and patient teacher. He could be abrasive with both colleagues and students, but rarely caused lasting offence. Tall, slightly stooped and inclined towards portliness, he was serious but never solemn. Survived by his wife and their son and two daughters, he died of cancer on 18 May 1985 at Oxford and was cremated. He had been an atheist since 1949. The University of Oxford and the ANU created positions and scholarships in his honour.

Select Bibliography

  • R. O’Neill and D. N. Schwartz (eds), Hedley Bull on Arms Control (1987)
  • J. D. B. Miller and R. J. Vincent (eds), Order and Violence (1990)
  • Balliol College Annual Record, 1985, p 24
  • Proceedings of the British Academy, vol 72, 1986, p 395
  • Times (London), 20 May 1985, p 14
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21 May 1985, p 15
  • Bull papers (Bodleian Library, Oxford, England)
  • private information.

Additional Resources

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Citation details

J. D. B. Miller, 'Bull, Hedley Norman (1932–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 24 November 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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