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The Living Dead: On the Strange Persistence of Zombie International Relations

10 Nov

A guest post by George Lawson, Lecturer in International Relations at the London School of Economics & Political Science. He is the author of Negotiated Revolutions: The Czech Republic, South Africa and Chile, Co-Editor of The Global 1989: Continuity and Change in World Politics and has written a number of articles on historical sociology, revolution and world order. He is currently a Co-Editor of Review of International Studies and a Convener of the BISA Working Group on Historical Sociology and International Relations. He is currently working on a monograph on the anatomy of revolutions. Images by Pablo.


Daniel Drezner is no fool. This is a scholar who produces major publications, who teaches at a major institution, and who contributes to a major International Relations blog. So you have to wonder why he wrote Theories of International Politics and Zombies. Because this is, by any criteria I can come up with, a very foolish book.

Every now and again, I come across films, music or books and wonder how, in a world where so many talented people fail to make the grade, it can be possible to create, develop, sanction and, ultimately, sell products that are so banal. Often, the answer is simple – money. Perhaps that is the case here too. But I have a feeling that something else is involved in this book as well – Drezner, and plenty of others, seem to think that the connection between zombies and IR theory is uproariously, hilariously, side-splittingly funny. Judging by much of the commentary on the book – and listening via podcast to the guffaws of the audience at a panel devoted to the book at the 2011 International Studies Association Convention – many people clearly share Drezner’s sense of humour. So perhaps I am the curmudgeon here. Because I found this book diverting only in a way popularised by a recent headline in The Onion: ‘Time Between Thing Being Amusing, Extremely Irritating Down To 4 Minutes’. I lasted about half that long with Theories of International Politics and Zombies.

Why is it that so much hoo-hah has been made about this book (10,000 copies sold within six months of publication)?

Continue reading

Have you got ‘Exotic Capital’?

25 Nov

The sequel.

‘The only answer was slaughter, and the only way to do it was fast’; In which others read the autohagiography of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair so I don’t have to

19 Oct

The publication of Blair’s recollections and rationalisations has been a gift to many of us. Not content with the material for satire he provided during office, he has now furnished us with further damning evidence in his own hand. A weighty (non est) mea culpa. Pat psychologising, quasi-religious conviction, the hamfisted use of historical analogy and that overwrought prose (now infamous: “I needed that love Cherie gave me, selfishly. I devoured it to give me strength. I was an animal following my instinct, knowing I would need every ounce of emotional power to cope with what lay ahead“). All of this has enabled some incisive commentary, and some barely contained rage: Tony as Captain Stanhope; Tony as the ‘preacher on a tank’ (Dick Cheney’s apposite barb); Tony as delusional Christ-Pope in waiting.

Three thoughts. First, there is the question of how we can now read Blair, and Iraq as the exemplar of his style of thought. What were the mechanisms that allowed the clear advice of experts of all stripes, and the opposition of most of the population, to be translated into an unbending commitment to the projection of American power? A familiar answer is that the New Labour project was driven by the energies of Blair’s religious (or religious-like) faith, his commitment and earnestness and belief. But the scene set by A Journey and its deconstructions is far more prosaic. On the one hand, there is plenty of garden-variety ‘misperception’. Actors chose the analogies that fit their pre-established understandings, over-emphasised the pressures for action in their calculations, and failed in their responsibility to examine situations from more than one angle. These are the kind of slippages that pop up enough for some systems- and cognitively-minded scholars to trace their role in wars across the ages.

On the other hand, there is Blair’s extraordinary decisionism. Something must be done, and someone must do it. But this is in some ways the reverse of a faith-based politics. It was not belief that guided Blair, and certainly not carefully delineated actions set out by dogma or doctrine. It was the absence of such a schema which mattered, at least on his own account. “The pieces are in flux”. Hence the insistence on leadership, on grasping the truth and necessity of the moment. What continues to intrigue is this movement between an over-abundance of values and the hardened core of Machiavellianism. The necessity was never one dictated by the ends of justice, but only that of power and its demands.

Yes, ideology was at play. But structurally so. Not in the bible readings and personal psycho-dramas of two little rich boys from New Haven and Edinburgh, but in a much less appreciated, and much more insidious sense. A subjectivity with a sociology. There is something typically Žižekian about this apparent paradox. As with others nominally committed to grand projects, the issue is not one of hypocrisy, so much as of the means by which raw power and purity of purpose can be experienced as synonymous:

the figure of the ‘big Other’ as a background against which [to] exert… ruthlessness and drive for power. They had displaced their belief onto this Other, which, as it were, believed on their behalf. Continue reading

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