Snarky Behavior

It’s Time for a 21st Century Theory of International Relations

December 18, 2007 · 5 Comments

Last Monday’s lecture in my Conceptual Foundations of International Politics class was taught by Professor Jeffry Sachs.  He is a cheerleader and an optimist and certainly has some ideas worth listening to.

One of the things Sachs spoke to that I really had been waiting to hear all semester is that “it’s time for a 21st Century Theory of International Relations.”  It’s so true.

When historians are evaluating the Bush legacy, and America’s history at the turn of the century, they will be harsh not for any specific policy decisions undertaken, but the principles under which those decisions were made.  And the principle that will be criticized most harshly will not be the naive presupposition that democracy can be exported by force.  It will be the more dangerous assumption that our global society can be managed unilaterally.

Think of it this way:  when you see advertisements today like the following:


You are somewhat appalled (or ironically amused) by the quaint anachronism implied by the advertisement.  This is because we’ve redefined cultural norms of a woman’s role in society.  We’ve read the Feminine Mystique, we’ve experienced a cultural “movement” to the extent that such previously established cultural norms now seem dangerously retrograde and unsophisticated.

Now consider the following:  In a 2004 article for the New York Times Magazine, Ron Suskind interviewed an aide to the Bush White House:

The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

It’s only been 3 years(!) and this quote ALREADY seems out of touch (with the reality they’ve created!)   The only thing that remains true from this quote is that solutions have, and will always emerge from the judicious study of discernible reality.  Empires create problems that empires cannot solve.  And problems exist outside of the control of empire, which is why empires inevitably dissolve, either by overreach, or overreaction.

We need a 21st century of international relations that teaches those Americans in power that a unilateral American empire is an unsustainable reality.

We need a theory that is based on the discernible realities of the problems we face in the 21st century, that are far different from the problems of the 17th, 18th, 19th and even the 20th century.

We need a theory that recognizes that a liberalized, open, global economy is the new reality for all of the world, and states must adapt accordingly or suffer the consequences of adhering to “quaint anachronisms.”

We need a theory that recognizes that the world is adding 90 million people per year, that we might already be at carrying capacity, that we are on the possible brink of a Malthusian catastrophe.

We need a theory that recognizes what  Jared Diamond teaches: that societies which destroy their own resources destroy themselves, and that today we are a de facto global society sharing global resources.

We need a theory that  stops relying on a theories of balance of power between states, and one that looks at non-state actors.  One that studies asymmetric gaps in capacities, instead of evaluating the capabilities of a single country.  One that redefines the idea of sovereignty, that universalizes the principles of human rights, that establishes and regulates the norms of global capitalism.

In the 21st century, it makes more sense to look at the galactic federations of science fiction than it does to look backward at the Holy Roman Empire.  And we have the capacities of reason, of predictive forecasting, of logic, and of history to guide us.  What we lack is the political leadership, and a progressive , normative, academic consensus.  So get on it people.

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5 responses so far ↓

  • Rohit // December 18, 2007 at 6:40 pm | Reply

    I nominate you to devise such theory. Not only would this solve your own existential crisis by forever immortalizing the “Hostian” perspective on international relations, but it would also validate all that debt you are taking on. Unfortunately, most credit in your field comes only posthumously, and it might be that you are derided as a quack all your life, only to have our grandchildren’s generation realize what a genius you actually were. C’est la vie. At least you can have the last laugh—from the grave.

  • Xdm // December 20, 2007 at 1:39 am | Reply

    >>Would your husband marry you again?
    Um, yeah! :-)

  • Xdm // December 20, 2007 at 1:40 am | Reply

    Oh man. I had no idea that smiley face would manifest itself like that. As god as my witness I shall never emoticon again.

  • Jon // December 20, 2007 at 5:30 am | Reply

    Yeah I noticed when I cut and pasted some of my citations that the paranthetical/ semi colon combo ended up as a wink. F that!

    Rohit, you vastly overestimate both my intelligence and ambition.

  • Politics » It’s Time for a 21st Century Theory of International Relations // January 16, 2008 at 8:26 am | Reply

    [...] Jon wrote an interesting post today on Itâs Time for a 21st Century Theory of International RelationsHere’s a quick excerptLast Monday’s lecture in my Conceptual Foundations of International Politics class was taught by Professor Jeffry Sachs. He is a cheerleader and an optimist and certainly has some ideas worth listening to. One of the things Sachs spoke … [...]

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