Precursor to Foucault?

Oh Christendom is pampered with the nonsense that the Christian God is a decent and harmless chap, a good fellow, and especially a friend of female busyness and the begetting of children. All human effort tends towards herding together – Let Us Unite, etc. Naturally, this happens under all sorts of high-sounding names, love and sympathy and enthusiasm and the carrying out of some grand plan and the like. This is the usual hypocrisy of the scoundrels we are. But the truth is that in a herd, we are free from the standard of the individual. So, millions of men live and die. They are just numbers and the numerical becomes their horizon. That is to say, they are just copies and Christianity, which in the Divine Love wants everyone to be an individual, has been transformed by human bungling into precisely the opposite.  – Soren Kierkegaard

I’ve been perusing some more of Kierkegaard’s philosophy, so correct me if I’m wrong, but I dare to make the claim that it was Kierkegaard himself that first proposed the deconstruction of social reality. He is the first to recognize that the identity of the herd and the identity of the individual are both social constructions through his theistic existentialism, which predates both Nietzsche’s Foucault’s geneaologies of the social and is an obvious critique of Marx’s communism.

There are certainly political implications to what he says here. For instance, the notion of the “herd” and false consciousness (in terms of Christianity and socialism, the former being further elaborated by Nietzsche). The most fascinating aspect I find is that Kierkegaard brings up the notion of numbers and the numerical, similar to Foucault’s Security, Territory, and Population piece where calculation and statistics are an integral part of enforcing state sovereignty. That is, people can be managed by imposing a nationalist imaginary that they are a unitary subjects versus individual subjects. Kierkegaard is critiquing the metanarrative (perhaps also the geneaology?) of the state machine as derived from Christianity (a grand plan that people are predestined for greatness). He acknowledges the power of political ideology to reproduce sovereign power through the notion of the “herd” or population according to nationalist, democratic, or unitary sense. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Foucault borrowed the notion of the relationship between power and subjectivity from Kierkegaard (who is credited with first using the concept of subjectivity)! Although they differ where Kierkegaard believes that state power is not productive and that the individual must free oneself from the herd.

Earlier last month, I was discussing the importance of interrogating the doubt we have about objective beliefs, that it is a healthy and necessary practice that permits the advancement of moral progress. Granted, Kierkegaard has not done well to interrogate his own sexist assumptions, as indicated by the first phrase of the quote. However, the subjectivity of the self is incredibly important to understanding the objectivity (I prefer to call it superrationality or transcendence) of belief/reality. The subject is meant to inquire into the object, else no meaning is giving to the object or the subject without interaction (or as Kant would say, the synthesis of the a priori and the empirical). Perhaps this is a Popperian view, but I start from the premise that since the objective can be interrogated, it permits it to be so insofar as it withstands critique.

Now I wonder if I can use Kierkegaardian philosophy in the rebranding or reformulation of  liberal IR theory. I suppose it would be more useful to constructivist IR theory since existentialism and the subjectivity of identity go hand in hand. However, liberalism is still a viable vessel for integration with Kierkegaardian thought, especially with the agency of the individual and such agency is predicated on the formation of identity through human development, to take a page from Mill. I also have the fear that constructivism and critical IR theory are not so much alternatives as indicative of the progress of IR thought and therefore it would be useless to rehash liberal IR theory. At the same time, I would argue that critical (feminist, race-thinking, Gramscian) and constructivist IR thinking are all rehashings of liberal IR thought. In any case, I intend to investigate this further, perhaps by reading more Kierkegaard…

A Theory of Peace

The Place of Realism In Current IR Thought

Putting aside the tedious task of studying US Foreign Policy, I’d like to reflect on some texts I’ve read earlier this week.

The assertion was that international relations theory will continued to be flawed so long as we start from the premise that international relations is primarily based on the principle of war. That is, there is a significant gap in political philosophy (which should be the foundation of any good theory of international relations) that seeks to derive social relations from a state of peace. For instance, the Hobbesian state of nature is depicted as one premissed on the idea of war and conflict such that the surrender of rights and the necessity of social contract is the only way to coerce human into a cooperative stance (which does not necessarily exclude the possibility that such contracts may come int0 conflict with other contractual or non-contracted entities). Very few early modern theories begin with the premise that the state of nature can be peaceful in the collective sense, largely due to Rousseau and Kant affirming that human have asocial sociabilities.

Indeed, if we look at current international relations theory, all of them acknowledge or found themselves on the notion of war. Realism preoccupies itself exclusively with it, idealism/liberalism begins with realist assumptions on anarchy and sees peace as a (faroff) end, marxism/neogramscianism critiques the violent nature of imperialism as the real implication of the sovereign state, and critical/constructivist IR thought acknowledges these narratives in the same fashion. Though the latter theory of useful in terms of bringing ethics back into IR, it will continue to be flawed insofar as it does not propose an alternative foundation.

Here I shall therefore propose to work towards a new theory of peace within international relations. Such a theory must seek to challenge the processes of subjugation and dismantle aporias in sovereign power (especially surrounding discipline and security) that expose the moral “lack” in state institutions. At the same time, it must propose a more ethical reformulation of the sovereign state or propose an alternative structure. The problem lies in the implementation of an ahierarchical political unit in an ahierarchical international system. Such a theory will include and theorize about current parallel structures of governance such as geoeconomics (economic globalization), the marketization of citizenship, or cyberpolitics (among other social revolutions tied to info tech flows)  and how such parallels can be used as precursors or part of a new reformulation of (the) basic political unit(s) in international relations. Such an endeavour may very well become a life’s work, but I hope to engage myself with current philosophical and IR thought in order to find a solid basis for a new direction in the field.

Diversify Your Reading

Having run into an educated colleague recently, I have found it necessary to contemplate the utility of reading more than one perspective on a topic, whether it be diversifying your authors or diversifying your content. As I mentioned in one of the earlier posts in this blog, the purpose of my musings is to “find the truth” in the abstract philosophical sense. Such a statement assumed that objective truth exists and because it exists, it inspires an obligation to search it out in order to better our understanding of the world and also for its own sake. From there, this inspires further obligations to an ethical code, a certain form of praxis or code of conduct as you will (since humans are organisms of action and reaction).

For many years, I have favoured the habit of reading newspapers from all over the world in order to better my understanding of world events from different perspectives. In this sense, truth is rarely found in its pure form, but rather we are exposed to its different facets (like the diamond analogy). As Kant mentions, humans are unique in their ability to synthesize a priori cognitions with empirical fact, so that we are the true connoisseurs of what is valid/invalid, logical/illogical, true/false, fact/bullshit.

Here is a list of the newspapers I follow, as ones that I find intellectually or informatively stimulating. Feel free to suggest others.

*The Globe and Mail
National Post
National Newswatch
*BBC News
Financial Times UK
The Guardian
The Daily Telegraph
*The New York Times
The Washington Post
*The Economist
The Wall Street Journal
Foreign Policy
Foreign Affairs
People’s Daily
South China Morning Post
The Times of India
*Le Monde
El Pais
Al Jazeera
Russia Today

The Manichean Struggle

I am in politics because of the conflict between good and evil, and I believe that in the end good will triumph. – Margaret Thatcher

As much as I idolize Margaret Thatcher, it would seem that I no longer hold this view of the world. In Thatcher’s sense, she’s still living in the world of the Cold War (and the aftermath of WWII), where the employment of this rhetoric was extremely powerful. Since 1989, is it really right to draw the world in such terms (i.e. America versus jihadists)? This is not to condone acts of terror, but there is a considerable gray area and lack of effort to understand why such acts of reactionary violence are committed. It is the idea of seeing people as chess pawns, rather than as ultimately Dr. Jekylls and Mr. Hydes with less of that stark contract between the two characters.

Is politics really a struggle between good and evil? In many ways, it’s easier to simplify it as such due to the religious overtones that can be interpreted in its structure (i.e. voters – faithful, ideology – dogma, canvassers – missionaries). As Derrida says, democracy is always “to come”, that is, never fully achieved, always striving for perfection, like the Church Militant.

It also begs the question then: Why am I in politics? As discussed before, I do have certain ideals, but the ability to be pragmatic about them is of the utmost importance. The fear is to become a bureaucrat with no principles,  but one is still able to manipulate all the ideology, rhetoric, and individuals beliefs of others in the interests of the self or one’s country. But to be able to manipulate ideology seems to imply a lack of genuineness and authenticity to involvement in politics. Politics is a social construction anyway and often viewed as a kind of game, when it is real people at stake. Even Plato precludes that “noble lies” are part and parcel of the politician’s job.

I’m in politics because I’m passionate about the philosophy and praxis (not so much the science), even if it is defending (boring but steady) fiscal policy in the economy, a certain brand of social progress, and practicing a sort of apologetics when the practice by individual leaders fails to live up to principle. Like Weber, I believe in passionate particularization in a modern world that aims to control everything (even the production of truth) through the scientific mechanism.