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)?
…(cymbal crash)… We have a new Author of Disorder (or is that Disordered Author?). Please welcome, in your virtual way, Elke Schwarz, a PhD student at the LSE working with Kim Hutchings on Hannah Arendt, Michel Foucault, Walter Benjamin, biopolitics and political violence.
‘How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?’. Winston thought. ‘By making him suffer,’ he said. ‘Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough’
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948)
The killing of Bin Laden last month has given new fuel to the claim that torture, as a tool in the securitization tool kit of a neo-conservative US government, actually has its place and validity in a liberal society. How absurd this artificial claim is has been highlighted in many a news source but incidents like this keep the so-called Torture Debate alive and well, as the normalising process unfolds. The practice of torture has become much more widely seen as a ‘necessary evil’ available to a liberal State in the pursuit of the protection of its population, if not humanity at large. A recent study conducted by the Red Cross has shown that as many as 59% of the American teenagers surveyed and 51% of adults accept torture as a means to garner information. When tyrannies torture, however, it continues to be a widely condemned affair and the international community shows no shortage of outrage.
Torture as a practice of and within otherwise liberal societies can only enter the realm of the morally permissible if it is detached from its illiberal roots and the discourses and practices allow societal norms to be such that a violation of the human bodies of some serves as a means to ensure the survival and proliferation of others in the pursuit of information finding. And it is precisely this clinical mask of the instrumental dimension of torture as an means of truth-gathering that the torturer’s power can be understood in terms of their insecurities and vulnerabilities. Facilitated by the display of the fiction of power, the ultimate objective of torture is one of domination in times where political power is challenged and status disputed.
It is perhaps not surprising that torture should emerge as a radical example of routines of illegal acts enacted in the most corporeal sense for the alleged securitisation and greater good for the greatest number of ‘good’ people whose sanctity of life has become precarious. In the wake of 9/11 this increased precariousness of American life has served as a warrant for the now infamous ‘gloves off’ approach instituted by Bush Junior’s neo-conservative posse. The problem is: the gloves have stayed off, even with Obama in command.