Tag: ideas

Is there a middle ground in the study of ideas in international relations?

I’m working on a new project about the use of religion in power politics (part of which I’ll be presenting “at” APSA this week). I’m finding good evidence, but the framing is tricky. Religion as a power political tool happens, and matters, but it rarely works out the way the wielders intended. Is this an example of ideas mattering in international relations, or an example of their limits? The fact that I feel forced into such a binary reflects a broader issue in the sub-field.

As we all learn in Intro to IR, the study of ideas revolves around constructivism. With the emergence of neorealism and neoliberalism in the 1980s, IR became overly rationalist and materialist. Constructivism developed as a reaction to this, producing numerous studies on the way intersubjective beliefs guided and shaped state behavior. After the paradigm wars faded, “constructivist-y” studies continued, with important work focusing on the role of rhetoric and practices in international relations.

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It’s a trap. No, really, IT’S A TRAP.

Change you can believe in. Or is it a trap?

So our little geekfest-in-a-teacup has provoked, among other things, some additional contributions by members of The Duck focusing on additional ways that the Empire’s command structure and Imperial strategy towards the Rebel Alliance doesn’t make a lot of sense. The Imperial troops are feckless, letting the rebels escape on occasions when they should have been able to stop them easily. Opportunities to wipe out the rebels are missed through various kinds of incompetence, tactical or bureaucratic or otherwise. The Empire as a whole is riddled with inconsistencies and incoherences, clashes between divisions, competing goals, unclear budgeting priorities. And so on.

To all of that I say, along with my main Mon Calamari, Admiral Akbar: IT’S A TRAP. Really. The whole damn thing is a trap, not just specific instances of deception like the one that his most famous exclamation seems to refer to. Yes, it’s a trap that the shield generator is still working and the Death Star is operational when the rebel fleet jumps into the Endor system, but more to the point, the entire interstellar-galactic-political situation is a giant trap for the unwary, and by “the unwary” here I mean not just the various denizens of the Star Wars universe who are focusing on the wrong thing if they think that the main game in town is Empire-vs.Rebel Alliance, but also and perhaps even more profoundly the analysts who keep mistakenly treating anything that the Empire does as animated by the strategic goal of securing political rule and defeating insurgents. All of that is a sideshow, because the actual story here has nothing do with political rule; the contest is and always has been Sith vs. Jedi, which is more of a theological contest despite what misguided strategic analysts who don’t respect the conditional autonomy of constitutive ideas might think about it.

So, let’s review a little basic Star Wars history (and I am going to give the grade-school textbook version here, not the C-canon version). Once upon a time there were Sith engaged in an epic battle with Jedi, but the Jedi prevailed, set up their Temple on Coruscant, and proceeded to be the guardians of peace and justice throughout the galaxy for a thousand generations, including their cooperation with the Old Republic. The Jedi order is based on the notion that the Force has two aspects, the Dark and the Light, and that only the Light has merit: they are, pretty directly, Manichaean dualists. Meanwhile the Sith bided their time, adopting the Rule Of Two — always two there are, a master and an apprentice, no more, no less — and managed to survive in the shadows, waiting. Palpatine, a.k.a. Darth Sidious, after killing his master Darth Plageous, becomes basically the single most powerful Sith Lord ever, with a command of the Dark Side of the Force to make anyone quail in terror. But even this isn’t enough against an entire galaxy that thinks of the Jedi Order as a good thing, so he launches a cunning plan to utterly destroy the Jedi by corrupting the Jedi Order (getting them involved in the Clone Wars as generals) and then turning the galaxy against them (declaring them traitors, blaming the war on them) and then killing off most of them (issuing Order 66, Vader’s rampage in the Temple). Vader then proceeds to hunt down and destroy the rest of the Jedi that he can find, and only misses Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda because they go into deep-cover hiding and lie very low for almost two decades.

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God and Man at Kale

Governor Romney’s Nutrition Czar-Designate

A small part of my portfolio at the Duck is wading into the shallow end of the conservative pool of ideas, and in that spirit I bring to you the latest contretemps over Imam Obama and his jihad against loyal, God- and YHWH-fearing Americans.

If I were to walk up to you and say that control of our nation’s school lunches is a key part of the Communist plot to control our precious bodily fluids, you would probably leave, or at least think about calling the police. And if I were to tell you that our nation’s First Lady–the only one of Barack Hussein’s wives that we know about–is heading up a nefarious plot to corrupt our youth by forcing them to forego calories and eat carrots, presumably you would ask Siri about involuntary institutionalization laws in your state.

But for CNS News such allegations are a news hook:

Last night, radio host Mark Levin described the Department of Agriculture and Michelle Obama’s new school lunch regulations as “tyranny.” Levin was discussing an article that stated many high school athletes and students are not getting enough food each day and are throwing away food because of the mandates instituted this year by the Department of Agriculture. “But I think Michelle Obama is the new Eva Peron with her lunch standards,” Levin said. “Like she knows something about this. She knows as much as I do. Eat carrots and celery. Yum, yum.”

Among the sort of people who think that including footnotes in a tract elevates it to scholarship, Mark Levin is taken semi-seriously–which is to say that many, many more people take Mark Levin seriously than, say, Suzanne Mettler, which is probably why so many political scientists keep threatening to move to Canada.

Anyway, the only sane reaction to someone who says that school lunch = teh jackbootz is “You’re a lunatic.” But in a world where we can no longer control the flow of information, we have to live up to the classical liberal principle that the only response to stupid speech is severe mockery. So, here’s Levin again:

First of all, where does the Constitution empower her or that department to reach all the way down to every school- public school – in this country and set the menu? Are people in the local communities – are you incapable of overseeing this yourself? Is your school board incapable of doing this? Are your local administrators and principals – are they incapable of doing this? We need the Department of Agriculture and Michelle Obama to mandate who eats what, where, how, and when in our public school systems? That’s tyranny right there – it’s absurd.

I guess that Levin missed the memo where public schools themselves are tyranny. Haven’t you heard that government schools themselves are part of the Islamo-leftist conspiracy?

Later in the article, Levin accuses Michelle Obama of trying to starve students. Which, you know, maybe, but, hey, Americans, our children aren’t even close to starving, unless they’re poor, in which case conservatives like Mark Levin refuse to fund government programs to feed them.

The saddest part about all of this is that there is a good critique of the politics of school lunches, one advanced in my favorite scholarly book about school lunches ever: Susan Levine’s School Lunch Politics (Princeton UP, 2010). School lunch programs have largely been driven by Progressive reformers and agricultural interests, the latter who want a government-subsidized market and the former who want to wean new immigrants and the lower-class from their culinary habits.

The roots of Michelle Obama’s nutrition activism have a long history, and the saga of upper-middle-class women’s attempts to get “better” food into schools is not an altogether positive one, as Levine demonstrates. If eating is, with sex and excretion, one of the most intimate of our bodily functions, then it’s no surprise that we tend to both naturalize our policy preferences (“of course all children should have milk, Mrs. Thatcher!”) and also strongly resist “reforms” we find, well, unpalatable. Obesity is a public health problem, and therefore a public policy problem; but the idea that the remedy is to teach kids to eat “better,” where “better” often sounds a lot like the tastes of folks who can afford to eat at Per Se, is itself problematic. (This is before we consider that changing the menu is not the same as training kids to make better choices.)

Is there a solid conservative–or, for that matter, radical–critique to be made here? Yes. Are today’s conservatives intellectually capable of adducing such a critique? Not even by a long shot.


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