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IR Theory

When I started graduate work many, many, years ago, I wanted specifically to write a project on Thucydides and Aristotle, and what they had to say about the passions, politics, and the philosophic life. What I didn’t realize at the time was how the path to this project would make an important detour through international relations theory.

I took the core IR Theory course specifically so I could fill my requirement for a minor field. It was soon clear to me that what I thought International Relations meant and how I thought about International Relations were severely underdeveloped and juvenile. The professor during that course work went on to become my PhD Supervisor. That early encouragement from him that my interests aligned with IR theory in more ways that were immediately clear to me was a pivotal moment in my education and training.

However, there was one particular moment when I could see the path forward for myself, and how to frame the problem of politics and passion that I wanted to write about. That moment was when I read Roland Bleiker’s seminal essay, “The Aesthetic Turn in International Political Theory“.  The key point that I took away was this: Aesthetics and aesthetic representation conceal the entirety of the political problem. The movement from original thing to represented thing requires, as a matter of responsibility, a logos; it requires a reasoned and rational account of what the differences are between original and copy. Of course, this isn’t new. At the same time that I was reading Aesthetic Turn essays in IR I was also preparing a presentation on Book VI & VII of Plato’s Republic. Circumstances!

This notion of aesthetic distance concealing the political is the thread that wove together everything for me – from Aristotle’s teaching on the passions in Book 2 of his Rhetoric, to Rousseau’s teaching about masks and amour propre in Emile – and made the project that I wanted to write intelligible to an audience I wouldn’t have expected.

With all of this said, it’s wonderful to see this topic revisited so many years later by Bleiker and others in Millennium.  Here is a quote that inspired this post:

the aesthetic turn was and should continue to be about opening up thinking space…Opening up thinking space inevitably involves risks. It is to embrace creativity, and the uncertainty associated with it, over the comfort of time-honoured procedures and disciplinary conventions. It is to never stand still and to search for ever new ways of writ-ing, sensing, seeing and hearing the political.

There’s clearly an ethics, a morality, a duty upon writers, researchers, and practitioners, that is demanded by the aesthetic turn, once one is attuned to it.

I’m struggling with how to “introduce” my dissertation, now that it is finally, officially, the end game for writing. Looking through notebooks and old files I found my preparatory work for my Proposal defense. It isn’t quite appropriate for the dissertation itself, but it’s always nice to revisit the clarity with which one thought about a project at its beginnings, as opposed to the layers upon layers of literature that obfuscate at the end of it. Here’s what I had to say, then:

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If you’ve found your way to this space, then you’re likely already familiar with the work of Sergei Prozorov.  The depth of his thought on International Relations as Political Philosophy is hard to match.  I’d say that he has, more explicitly than any other writer, taken up Rob Walker’s call in 1993 to do IR as Political Theory.  After all, that is all that “international relations” is, and it is certainly all that the discipline of IR theory is. We have not benefited one iota from the separation of Political Theory proper from IR Theory, in the academic world or outside of it.  I have taken to describing my self as a “political theorist” whose area of concentration is “IR”, and I think that this descriptor would fit a great many.   But the occasion for this post is the review of both volumes of Prozorov’s Void Universalism (the first volume is Ontology and World Politics, the second is Theory of the Political Subject) that appeared today in Contemporary Political Theory, written by my friend Dr Robert Oprisko.  You can read it here.  I will pull out only one quote from the first volume of Void Universalism that picks up some of my favourite themes:

In this classic article Wight (1960, ‘Why is there no International Theory?’) famously distinguished between ‘domestic’ political theory, whose object was the territorially delimited state, as the theory of ‘good life’ and ‘international’ theory, whose object was the relations between these state with no overarching authority above them, as the theory of ‘mere survival’… More important for our purposes is Wight’s constitution of the domain of international theory by the subtraction of all positive content of ‘good life’, reserved for political theory proper, which leaves ‘international theory’ reduced to a theory of mere survival.  International theory is thus from the outset conceived in the privative mode as ‘political theory minus’.

This is exactly right.  I don’t say that often, so it’s important to do so when appropriate. Now is such a time.  I’ve tried to make this point in a different and much more inelegant way by arguing that sovereignty and security are one-and-the-same concept, and the question of the good life, ‘how must one live?’, is answered with one word: securely.  But I will restate this formulation of mine, which I have yet to improve on: the logic of inside/outside is made possible by the noetic heterogeneity of the good.  Prozorov destroys the intellectual borders and boundaries of IR by giving IR a more important role in the enlightenment of the human race than we usually accord it, or than it usually allows itself.  That is no small feat.  Read the books.  Both of them.  I am.

Over the last couple of months I’ve had a couple of reviews published. Both books are excellent. And they are quite related. The first is Nicholas Rengger’s Just War and International Order: The Uncivil Condition in World Politics for the Review of Faith and International Affairs. The second is Robert Howse’s Leo Strauss: Man of Peace for E-International Relations. Both are published with Cambridge University Press. I want to say a couple of things that didn’t make it into the reviews for the sake of space.

First, regarding Rengger’s book. It is remarkable the extent to which just war is totally misunderstood, and the reasons causing us to misunderstand it. His point is, essentially that once politics began to question the morality of certain tactics of war, the big question of whether a war was just became displaced by the question of whether our actions were legal. This is a hugely important change because it is no longer easy or clear that we should ask whether or not to allow violence to enter politics but how and in what way politics is violent. This is quite obviously related to the question of security, which only arrives in full bloom once Machiavelli and Hobbes have had their way with the holy books. Violence is permitted too easily. Far too easily. I’m writing this post under the environment of the American Senate releasing the executive summary of its committee report on torture. The questions, “is it worth it?” or “Is it permissible?” miss the moral point. Merely posing them means some kind of moral introspection about the relationship between politics and violence has been lost.

This relationship between politics and violence is a running them in Howse’s book. Strauss, it turns out, has a great deal to say about international politics, state violence, international law, and so on. Howse covers an incredible range of material, in Strauss’s written work and in his newly available lecture transcripts. One point which I left out of the review is that using the transcripts is not as difficult as at first seems, despite their quasi-private character. This procedure is perfectly legitimate, as Strauss used it himself. In his introductory essay to Mendelssohn’s The Morning Hours and the Friends of Lessing, Strauss uses the private correspondence between Jacobi and Mendehlssohn to clear up ambiguities in the public record regarding Lessing’s “Spinozism,” that is, whether he was an atheist. Certainly if private correspondence is suitable for that weighty subject, the less private character of classroom conversations can be used for insights regarding questions of everyday political relevance.

The one thing I loved about Howse’s book is how it puts to rest any doubt that Strauss resembles the caricature usually represented in popular media. The polemical case against this has already been made by a handful of others in the aftermath of America’s invasion of Iraq, but now we have a philosophical case against this nonsense. Any writers who continue extolling that simplistic tripe demonstrate the shortcomings of their reading habits. To wit, this bizarre review by Richard Wolin in the Chronicle of Higher Education. We leave this review learning more about Richard Wolin than either Leo Strauss or Rob Howse’s book. Though Wolin has faced criticism recently about his reviews.

Two reviews well worth reading are from Steven Smith and Benjamin Wurgaft.

Video of a dialogue on the book held at Penn State with commentary from Anne Norton is available here.

The more I learn of the Inklings’ outlook on Modernity, the more I come to love them.  I know I’ve written about Lewis’s The Abolition of Man previously in this space, and I should read them (and write) about them far more often.  What is most impressive and accurate to me about the approach that is as clear in the most esoteric and unknown Inkling works as it is in the Tolkein inspired movies, is the profound sense that some humanity has been lost in Modernity.  Modernity (which is a word thrown around too often but also not often enough) as a phenomenon in itself is glossed over too often and too quickly, especially by “international Relations” scholars, a category to which I belong.  (n.b. The proximate cause of this is a dreadfully famous essay by Martin Wight.  I’ve discussed the ultimate cause in a post on Descartes, Hobbes, Schmitt, and Strauss).  I suspect because Tolkein, Lewis, Barfield, and Williams wrote novels, or poetry, or literary criticism, and because the art of rhetoric had already been unjustly discredited and its study fallen into disuse that Political Science neglected the commentary on politics, society, technology, economics, &c. that is so clearly running through everything they’ve written.  What has my attention at the moment is Barfield’s essay “The Coming Trauma of Materialism.”  A quote:

“Materialism” in my title means, not any materialist philosophy … but the mental habit of taking for granted, for all practical purposes and most theoretical ones, that the human psyche is intrinsically “alienated” from nature in the manner indicated, a habit so inveterate as to have entered into the meanings of a great many common words and thus to have become accepted  as common sense itself.  Materialism in this sense is not, for instance, incompatible with deep religious conviction.  The habit is one which owes a good deal to a certain secondary consequence of Cartesianism that is not often recalled or alluded to.”

Again, I’ll remind about the previous post on the makros anrhopos vs. the retreat into consciousness.  The retreat does not take for granted the intrinsic alienation of psyche and physics.  To thwart my own confusion, materialism is compatible with deep religious conviction because of the transformation of common sense.  Modernity and its sciences take a leap of faith.  What Barfield says two paragraphs later about Darwinism is simply magisterial, and speaks directly to something that I can only describe as an “Enlightenment of Biology.”  Even in this small passage above we see the basis of a grammatology and a post-modernity, but a post-modernity that first returns to the past before progressing.  No small feat, and still ignored.  Whatever.  I still have papers to mark and a dissertation to write.

Flipping through old notebooks – if an old notebook of my own counts as a “book” with which I can “discoure” – and I found the following rumination on Sovereignty and Security:

Sovereignty vs Security

These are, fundamentally, the same concept.  They have the same “essence” i.e. the right to life, and all that right implies.

To speak of a trade-off or balance between securitas and libertas is to make an error.  More security does not mean less freedom.  Rather, the logic of modernity implies that more security must mean, or bring about, more freedom.  Precisely: because this security satisfies and upholds my right to life.  So, security – as the desire to have more than one needs – becomes the desire for life itself.

Therefore, we have an asymptotic (?) relationship between liberty and security, not a trade-off.

Sovereignty is the institution that upholds rights.  Security is the activity that does the upholding.  They are essentially the same.

p.s. The Logic of inside/outside is made possible by the noetic heterogeneity of the best/ideal/just regime.

p.p.s. “Security” is a vision of the good society, therefore posing the question of the good as such. cf. Thoughts on Machiavelli, p.268.

#science

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Well then. My past self has given my present self something to think about.

I had to go through the dreary business of cleaning out my office this week.  Aside from making clear that we need at least two extra bookcases at home, I came across the old coursework essay that served as the source of the title for my dissertation.  I quote myself:

International politics becomes an orientation of the internal self to the external political world.  It is a way of behaving, thinking and coming into knowledge that places demands on the individual qua individual, and makes no demands or assumptions about the political organization of international relations.  The international is internalized because IR becomes an account of how one comes to knowledge about international politics: IR properly understood becomes a discussion of how one relates to the international.

Perhaps I should rename my project: “The Concept of the International” just in case the Schmittean undertones weren’t clear enough in a subtitle such as “The Affect of the Political”.  The footnote in this essay where I suggest more esoteric writing is a possible solution for  escaping the flat nature of IR Theory texts brought a smile to my face.  The frankness with which a Master’s student can write!

From paragraph #171 of Natural Right & History, in the discussion of the mutability and immutability of natural right:

The Thomistic interpretation is connected with the view that there is a habitus of practical principles, a habitus which he call “conscience” or, more precisely, synderesis.  The very terms show that this view is alien to Aristotle; it is of Patristic origin.

“It is of Patristic origin” or perhaps, “it is of the Patristic, Origen”.  See his homilies on Ezekiel.  One cannot emphasize this point enough: the moral conscience is apparently not a Greek invention.  Is this invention the crisis of classic natural right? Is this what allows Thomas to so easily turn natural right into natural law? What about the comparison between the Nichomachean Ethics 1134b and Rhetoric 1.13.2?  To the Kuzari?  But first:

The doctrine of synderesis or of the conscience explains why natural law can always be duly promulgated to all men and hence be universally obligatory.  It is reasonable to assume these profound changes were due to the influence of belief in biblical revelation.  If this assumption should prove to be correct, one would be forced to wonder, however, whether the natural law as Thomas Aquinas understands it is natural law strictly speaking, i.e., a law knowable to the unassisted human mindto the human mind which is not illumined by divine revelation.  (p.163, emphasis not in original)

I’ll note only two circumstantial coincidences.  The Platonic chariot appears in a dialogue that occurs outside of the city walls.  Maimonides notes that the Account of the Chariot (III 6) implies an understanding of its audience as being outside the city: comparing two mean, one from a settle population and another from desert nomads, “the former knew that city people know in what state the ruler rides, [Isaiah] did not describe that state, but said only: I saw the ruler…whereas the people of Exile required these details [from Ezekiel].”  The biblical Chariot, like the Platonic one, is outside the city.  The biblical Chariot is a picture that is only possible outside of the Second Table, outside of the “minimum requirements for society” (NRH 158). The second circumstance: I usually write in this space in the dead of night, seeking the morning sun; at this moment, I am writing in the middle of the afternoon awaiting the evening dusk.

p.s. Origen postulates a parallel between Ezekiel and Christ on the basis of Luke 3:23, Matthew 3:13, and Luke 3:21. See the Scheck translation, p.32-3.

p.p.s. There are many, many, benefits to the current fashionable love for habitus, doxa, and field in my academic community. But much, much more resides on the surface of these concepts than their first impression admits. And the first impression is already powerful.

In 1927 Carl Schmitt published the first edition of his famous essay The Concept of the Political.  Heinrich Meier has done the world of scholarship a service in his study of the “hidden dialogue” between Schmitt and Leo Strauss that presents itself between the second edition of Begriff (1932) and the third (1933) after the publication of Strauss’s review in 1932.  Schmitt responded to a friend that Strauss’s review “cut through him a barre’s length” or some such thing.  No matter what one thinks of Strauss or Schmitt it is clear that Schmitt’s reputation has the most to gain from this hidden association.

My concern though is the equally subtle and hidden dialogue between the first and second edition of Schmitt’s Begriff.  In 1929 Hans Morgenthau wrote a dissertation on Schmitt’s book, where he argues that Schmitt’s is wrong to say that politics is to be understood as a domain but is instead to be understood as an intensity.  The vista this opens up in Schmitt’s theory is the ability to explain civil war:  any relationship between any two groups has the potential of becoming political, of becoming a battle for the good of friends and the death of enemies.  Morgenthau asserts in 1978 that Schmitt printed Morgenthau’s ideas “without lifting the veil of anonymity from the author” – Bill Scheuerman is fantastic on this particular episode in Weimar intellectual history.  What I find most fascinating is that the valorization of this violence in Schmitt’s political theory, and the return to the violence of Hobbes’s State of Nature — not as a negative standard but as the essence of politics — all of which is possible with the movement of Morgenthau’s critique from domains to instensity, is precisely the ground upon which Strauss builds his critique of Schmitt.  Therefore, the dialogue “between the lines” of the “hidden dialogue” is between Strauss and Morgenthau.  Compare the new first chapter and acknowledgments in Morgenthau’s Politics Among Nations, second edition.  At any rate, the good people at Palgrave have released a translation of Morgenthau’s 1933 French monograph, “The Concept of the Political”.  I look forward to reading this.  The translators note for the benefit of the great unwashed that Morgenthau is writing explicitly with Schmitt in mind, as well as Hans Kelsen’s legal positivism (a framework that is also criticized for its inability to distinguish tyranny from healthy regimes).  Where does one find this criticism?  In Strauss’s Natural Right and History, naturally (first chapter, footnote 2).  Hans Kelsen is a name that deserves more currency – Constellations has done us all a favour.  As always, books we refuse read have already been critiqued and ideas rethought by authors we ignore.  No doubt, five years from now graduate students will discover Kelsen’s nomostatics the way Columbus discovered America: already populated, full of life.  But as we’re approaching the 100th anniversary of J.J. Ruedorffer’s Grundzüge der Weltpolitik in der Gegenwart, where is Kurt Riezler’s day in the sun?