David Brook’s latest column in the New York Times, banging on the same themes about “the kids are just not right,” raises some questions about what it means to engage in radical politics in the Trump era. Brooks compares the younger generation’s belief “that the system itself is rotten and needs to be torn down” to accomodationist and gradualisms. He continues on to speculate about how these new attitudes might affect older, more “pragmatic,” liberals who desire to work within the system. Brooks, as usual, uses a conservative argument to position himself in the “middle.”
I have been thinking a lot about this issue of “radicalism” contra arguments about working within systems that are unjust in thinking about liberal world order and its futures. It has led me to a question I am currently exploring in a work-in-progress about what the possibilities are of radicalism as a way of approaching international politics. Against arguments like Brooks’, and even more sophisticated arguments about agonistic democracy developed by thinkers like Chantal Mouffe, I think there is a place in IR for radical conceptions of transformation, order, and politics.
Last week, an article published in the online outlet Areo revealed a hoax that involved ideologically motivated academics writing fake papers in the realms of what they characterized as “grievance studies,” and trying to place them in humanities journals—the idea being to demonstrate that such research is meaningless and not rigorous. Besides the fact that the hoaxsters were mostly unsuccessful in this endeavor—only four papers out of the twenty authored were published—the fact that this endeavor has been used as a tool to discredit a wide-range of scholarship in the realms of , inter alia, gender, race, and sexuality studies has caused a stir in academic circles.
Earlier this week, a particularly volatile fissure within the Trump Administration opened up. Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, announced on Sunday that the Administration would be imposing fresh sanctions on Russia. However, the Administration quickly denied that this was true, stating—in fact—that her statement was based on “momentary confusion.” Haley struck back saying that she does not “get confused.” This is not the first issue of unclear signals (see my previous post about this here), but it holds significance for how we approach signaling in foreign policy.
“There is not one civilized nation in the world that ought to rejoice in seeing India escape from the hands of Europe in order to fall back into a state of anarchy and barbarism worse than before the conquest.” ~Alexis de Tocqueville, in correspondence with William Nassau Senior in 1857, regarding the Sepoy Rebellion in India.
Psychologist Steven Pinker’s new book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, has caused quite a stir. The book itself provides the reader with an optimistic narrative about how the contemporary period is the best time to be a human; we have never lived in a safer, more joyful, period of human history. As in his monstrous prequel, The Better Angels of Our Nature, Pinker provides statistics and data as a way of demonstrating this fact, and draws a causal historical connection about the rise of Enlightenment-era ideas–especially ideas regarding science and the decline of religious beliefs–and our moment of “bliss.”
Katie Couric, in a tweet last month about the Olympics , wrote: “I do think the Olympics is unique in that it transcends politics.” This view is pervasive in Couric’s formulation, but takes on a subtler tone in the argument that the Olympics is political only in circumstances of the “exceptional.” For example, writing for the Atlantic in 2012, Armin Rosen constructs a narrative of Olympic politics within the context of Cold War rivalries. For Rosen, the Olympics was not always apolitical: “the Olympics were once a particularly bright flashpoint in one of the Cold War era’s tensest geopolitical dramas.” This drama was the boycott of the games by twenty-eight African countries in protest of the New Zealand rugby team’s violation of the international athletic embargo on apartheid South Africa.
These takes on the Olympics are misguided on two fronts. First, it obscures the long political history of the Olympics. The idea of the “sacred truce”—a putting aside of politics during Olympic games for the purposes of friendly and fair athletic competition—is a myth. Second, this misunderstanding of the Olympic games is hazardous. It is more proof of what Carl Schmitt criticized as the death of the political: the increasing depoliticization of inherently political processes.
I suggest that a consideration of the Olympics as a political event, with political aims, cannot only help us understand the way that the Olympics functions as a site of international relations, but should also—from a normative angle—allow us to more broadly rethink exercise, fitness, and sport as a public activity. Following Arendt, this lack of understanding of things like sport-as-politics is indicative of a world where society has failed people; it “has lost its power to gather them together.”
Umberto Eco, writing about an “Ur-Fascism” in the New York Review of Books in 1995, quoted Eugène Ionesco, who said “only words count; the rest is mere chattering.” Donald Trump was certainly not at a loss for words in Tuesday night’s State of the Union speech. He gave us plenty of words. Beautiful words. The best words. Words that would have likely worried Eco.
This is not a post about Trump-as-fascist. We have read plenty of those takes, many of which tend to fear-monger as much as the administration does. However, Eco’s understanding of the idea of an “Ur-Fascism” gives us a means of understanding the way the Trump administration talks about security politics—it can contextualize the contours of the discourse. While Trump is not a Mussolini or a Hitler, there is a commonality in the functions of language in how Trump talks about security.
Because of space, I cannot offer a full discourse analysis of the speech, but I will highlight the connection between the rhetoric and Eco’s understanding of an “Eternal Fascism” using text from the speech, in order to point to commonalities—especially in the way Trump constructs security issues in the speech. I will focus on six of Eco’s 14 defining features for the sake of space.
Partly in response to Steve Saideman’s post today with advice on dissertation topics, and partly also in response to a pretty enthusiastic discussion of advice to graduate students on Twitter yesterday, I thought I’d write a few things about getting started on the path of researching a dissertation in a field as unwieldy (and a job market as uncertain) as IR.
Here is where my perspective comes from. I finished my dissertation in 2016 and got a job. I am preparing to have a publishable version of the book emerging from the dissertation ready to market to publishers in the next few months. I teach in a department that has a bachelor’s degree in political science, so I do not have graduate students of my own. So—my perspective comes as someone for whom the job market and dissertation process is fresh and who is still working with the research question I started with in 2013 (oh dear—time flies!).
On Saturday, the New York Times ran an investigative story that revealed a few significant facts about the US’s programs to study UFOs. There were some interesting findings in the article (and citations/paraphrases below are from the article, which can be found here):
- A 22 million dollar program called “Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification” was operated at DoD from 2007 to 2012—and, in fact, the program continues today without an official budget.
- The program produced documentary evidence of spacecraft hovering with no sign of propulsion.
- A contracted company, Bigelow Aerospace, was given large sums of money to help operate this program, which included the maintenance of a storage facility in Las Vegas for unidentified metal alloys related to UFO events.
- A Pentagon briefing summary from 2009 stated that “what was once considered science fiction is now scientific fact,” and argued that the US government would have great difficulty in securing itself against some of the technology the program had discovered.
Quick takes on the recent escalation of the North Korea nuclear crisis have highlighted how administration strategy has the potential for a negative effect on the outcomes of the conflict (see: here for example). However, I’d like to work through the role that social media—as a primary mechanism the administration has used to signal intentions—plays in the escalation/de-escalation of a nuclear crisis like this one.
I argue that Trump’s tweets are not only bad optics and potentially inflammatory, but that if we return to thinking about classic deterrence theory, it has the potential of failing to deter war. A scary possibility, especially considering that some have argued North Korea may have rational incentives to use nuclear weapons first.
I was fascinated by a brilliantly written, and well-thought out, guest post here on Duck, by Hannes Peltonen, posted over the weekend. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, you won’t be disappointed. Peltonen presents an argument that digs into recent debates about the seemingly ubiquitous “anthropocene” and its relationship to world politics—and particularly the ways that IR theory should approach issues relating to humankind’s interconnectedness with natural/planetary processes.
I’d like to take the opportunity to engage with Peltonen’s argument, with an eye toward extending the discussion into a few new directions. Specifically, I think the issue of the anthropocene paints an even grimmer picture for the future of IR.
It is not easy waking up in America these days. Sunday morning I woke up from a lazy weekend morning to see that a shooter had committed mass murder at a church in Sutherland Springs, TX. The shooter killed 26 people, including several children; the youngest victim was just fourteen months old (for latest updates, see here).
Besides my outrage as a citizen, as a social scientist I want to understand how we can explain why gun violence in the United States is not being taken as seriously as it should by both politicians and the broader public. Here are some stats on the scope of the problem in the US (sourced from here and here):
- On average, 93 Americans are killed each day by guns.
- There are nearly 12,000 gun homicides per year.
- Guns, on average, kill seven children/teens each day.
- Each month, 50 women on average are shot to death by intimate partners.
- African-American men are 14 times more likely than white men to be killed by a gun.
- The US has nearly 6 times as many gun homicides than Canada (per capita!) and 16 times as many as Germany each year.
- There have been more than 1,500 mass shootings since the Sandy Hook Massacre in 2012.
These numbers should shock each-and-every American citizen.
Earlier this year, I wrote a piece for Duck regarding “declinist” arguments about liberal world order under Trump. I don’t think these arguments are going away, and in fact—just this week—they are in the news, and on our blog/twitter feeds (including a great piece posted just last week here on Duck).
I want to reiterate, and elaborate on some earlier points I have raised about these kinds of arguments. In the first place, they deserve reiterating and elaborating. In the second place, I just got back earlier this week from an illuminating conference at University College Dublin called “John Dewey and Critical Philosophy for Critical Political Times” which touched on many issues related to the problems for democracy around the world in a time of right wing populism.
“In the first place, we don’t like to be called ‘refugees’.” ~Hannah Arendt
This past weekend was a weekend full of birthdays. Hannah Arendt’s 111th birthday fell on Saturday (October 14th), and—in an interesting coincidence—Michel Foucault and Friedrich Nietzsche share a birthday (October 15th). I teach and write about Foucault and Arendt, and there is a Nietzschean spirit in both, though Arendt’s engagement with his work ended abruptly with her death.
In honor of all three, I want to make some notes—sketches really—of what it means to write in exile, and, by extension, to teach in exile. I take this term from an excellent edited volume put together by the dramaturgist Marc Robinson titled Altogether Elsewhere: Writers on Exile, in which Arendt’s obscure 1943 article, “We Refugees” was reprinted. The volume collects essays from a variety of expatriate authors writing about the experience of writing about the trials, joys, and oddities of writing from a place “altogether elsewhere.”
After the horrific attack in Las Vegas on Sunday, 1 October, the question of knowledge should be key to our understanding of this event. What do we know? What can we recall? The first thing that comes to mind is likely numbers, statistics, values attributed to life. We know now that the death toll is at 59. The injured number 527. The killer had 18 guns at his home. He shot from the 32nd floor at a rate of 400-800 rounds per minute (6-13 rounds per second). We know numbers.
Surely, this quantification of death gives us important information, but what does it do in regards to the way we relate to violence? Does it make us conceptualize mass shootings as just another data point, as a blip on a graph? Does it help us establish trends? My own experience with this shooting is different than most. I grew up in Las Vegas; I lived there for twenty years. My closest friends live there. Half of my family still lives there. Monday was a day of terror for me. Much of the day was spent texting or calling friends to make sure they were safe, seeing frantic posts on social media from friends trying to locate family that had not checked in yet.
My heart sank at seeing the news that someone I knew from my high school class was killed in the shooting.
Numbers could not capture my experience, or my friends’ experiences, or the experiences of the victims, the families, and onlookers. In a broader way, this raises an important question about how scholars in the fields of political studies, international studies, and cognate fields teach about death and violence.
The past week has seen a boiling-over of controversy regarding a publication by Bruce Gilley entitled “The Case for Colonialism,” appearing in the journal Third World Quarterly, leading some to even begin petitions to the journal to retract. As of the writing of this post, the journal has not retracted the article.
In this post, I would like to reflect on this piece as both a part of a scholarly conversation: showing how its claims are the result of poor methodology, a bad reading of the existing literature on colonialism in political science and other fields, and a general glossing-over of a wide literature on post-colonial theory. If I had reviewed this piece, it would have received a hard “reject” recommendation. Perhaps more importantly, I’d like to reflect briefly at the end of this post on what this piece as a textual artifact tells us about political science’s—and particularly IR’s—colonial present. This is certainly, in my view, the most disturbing aspect of the article.
It seems that “totalitarianism” is everywhere these days. I suppose that is the point of totalitarianism. Nonetheless, the buzzword has seen a remarkable resurgence in popular usage and misusage in the context of domestic and international politics. The number of articles comparing Trump to a totalitarian ruler are not easily countable (though here and here are some examples). Some, have attributed current US foreign policy issues related to North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons as relating to a battle against a totalitarian regime. And others—notably from the conservative side of the political spectrum—have characterized certain political movements such as calls to remove Confederate statues and the so-called “Antifa” movement, forms of totalitarian ideology.
Totalitarianism is a part of political discourse in 2017. This raises several questions, one of which is the obvious: What does this term mean? And, related: How can this term be mobilized to condemn a wide variety of different political acts—from protests for social justice, to the Trump administration, to North Korea?