Political Ontology and International Political Thought

Vassilios Paipais’s Political Ontology and International Political Thought: Voiding a Pluralist World is dense and ultimately unsatisfying, but conveys the spirit of an agreeable pluralist outlook. This book is heavy going theological metaphysics and pscychoanalytic philosophy. It revels in paradoxes and is loaded with excessively technical terminology. To over simplify, this book is about reconciling a tension between the plurality of worlds and pluralism in the world. It is about finding an ethics and political theory in a “post-foundational” context, where rival pluralisms attempt to resolve the question of plurality. This is an interesting question in a context with multiple responses to the pluralities of a globalizing world.61z+pdhtE7L._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_

In Part I, Paipais makes a scholarly analysis of the pluralisms debated in political theory and international political theory. Paipais argues liberal pluralism is unsuccessful in establishing neutral principles, and that critical strains of pluralism and agonistic pluralism unduly depoliticize plurality, in various ways.

Part II attempts to overcome the limitations found in Part I. Paipais engages psychoanalytical literatures, Zizek, Badiou, etc., and moves into Christian inspired ethics, as a potential route to resolving the tensions of plurality and pluralism. The argument settles on a ‘participatory understanding of St. Paul’s messianic meontology and incarnational Chistology’… The esoteric language in which this is expressed is impenetrable, unfortunately. If I have read it correctly, Paipais explains that it,

‘authorises a kind of critique that eludes both the reification of oppressive and unjust structures of power as well as that of phenomenally radical forms of critique that idolize fluidity, contingency and mobility without necessarily uncoupling their own complicity in the perpetuation of those structures.’ (p.24).

This conclusion is ultimately unsatisfactory, in its Christian idiosyncrasy, which limits the practical possibility of its widespread use in practice. The audience of the book is perhaps overly scholarly, too caught up in the academic debate. A tell is that the argument lacks any concrete analysis of its implications for practice, even though the literatures its surveys offer variety of world order proposals. The attitude, however, the spirit, of avoiding both being a prop to the powers that be, whilst also avoiding overly radical pluralist politics, seems to get the balance of the pluralism question about right.


The Ordinary Virtues

Michael Ignatieff’s The Ordinary Virtues: Moral Order in a Divided World identifies a moral truth of general relevance, especially in globalizing times. This book argues basic habits of human decency -the ordinary virtues-, are what people use to navigate moral questions in globalized contexts of divided communities, with mixing strangers, different cultural practices, and unpredictable insecurities.

The story of the book is about the discovery of the importance of such ordinary virtues at the limits of universal human rights discourse. It is Ignatieff’s realization that the human rights revolution has only established a language for self-assertion, not real solidarities. It suggests world order needs the support of ordinary virtues to grapple with nationalism and inhumane governance in current affairs.

By ordinary moral virtues, Ignatieff means, ‘commonplace and everyday as opposed to heroic and exceptional’, a mix of, ‘trust, tolerance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and resilience’ (p. 26-27). They are contextual, pragmatic, local, taken-for-granted, gut-feeling ethics, I think 4176dm+tVOL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_best expressed as basic human decencies. As a part of the Carnegie Centennial Project, Ignatieff discovered these virtues in a multi-glocal tour of moral life in globalizing times, from Hispanic neighborhoods in L.A., immigrant communities in Queens, Rio favelas, illegal settlements in Pretoria, and poor villages in Mandalay, Bosnia, and elsewhere, in an exploration how people make sense of their moral lives in complicated globalizing times.

Basic human decencies, Ignatieff observes, are in high demand today, and he is right to explore and defend them. Basic decency to strangers is an ancient moral norm, but in globalizing times it is needed in the normal everyday more than in exceptional circumstance. In the Odyssey, what made the Cyclops a “savage” was more to do with his inhospitality than his monstrous features. When Odysseus and is comrades, starving wayward sailors, found themselves in the homeland of the Cyclops, their host ate them. The Cyclops is a figure of moral vices, greed and cruelty. In Homer’s tale, Penelope, at home in Greece, is the figure of ordinary moral virtues, perhaps even to a fault, nearly allowing her guests to eat her out of house and home. In a globalizing world, these virtues and vices are in contest on a daily basis, and defending the ordinary virtues can contribute to alleviating suffering and misery at an everyday level but also on a global scale.

Part of the importance of The Ordinary Virtues, is its critique of the practical limits of human right universalism, the acknowledgement of their inadequacy, perhaps an admission of their decline. But, Ignatieff also suggests liberal societies are more conducive to ordinary virtues than authoritarian societies. What gestures towards world order this book makes will inevitably be politically contested, but its defence of basic human decencies is always worthwhile, in any context. Surely, any world order built on moral vices, greed, domination, etc., will eventually collapse in war or revolution.

There may or may not be larger forms of belonging beyond the horizons of the liberal world order, but basic human decencies are nonetheless always and increasingly important in the times of globalizing disorder.

The Emergence of Globalism

How did the ‘globe’ become political? The idea of a globular world order has shaped international political thought for up to a century. Or Rosenboim’s The Emergence of Globalism: Visions of World Order in Britain and the United States, 1939-1950 tells the story of the early debates over how to reimagine world order in a ‘global’ world. It provides a wealth of learning about the writings of such major thinkers in these debates as Raymond Aron and David Mitrany, E.H. Carr, F.A. Hayek and H.G. Well’s. Rosenboim distinguishes political globalism, as a political space, from trans-nationalism and cosmopolitanism and suggests, ‘The main normative claim of the discourse of “globalism” was that the existing political system should be revised and reorganized with reference to the world as a whole, and not only to national, regional, or imperial interests’ (p.278). This is a timely book in a moment when political globalism seems more and more out of reach and out of touch, but the world seems more and more globalized.


A merit of this book is that it leaves the reader wanting more. It suggests the question, for instance, of global thought beyond the Anglo-American world. What of the “global” south? It also suggests the question, are similar debates being held today around the emergence of “planetary” politics? The globe, as a spherical geography, can be distinguished from the planet, as the total system of earth systems and orbital space. How is world order being reconciled with the emergence of planetary politics? Lastly, it this book also raises the question of the preconditions of global thought. For instance, modern conceptions of time as linear and space as empty have shaped the way the globe could be imagined.

This book will reward reading by early and advanced students interested in ‘global’ politics.

Facing the Planetary?

William E. Connolly’s Facing the Planetary: Entangled Humanism and the Politics of Swarming gathers important insights into the contemporary ecological politics of belonging, although their implications are not fully assessed.

This book builds on Connolly’s large body of previous works. In it, Connolly assesses the Continue reading “Facing the Planetary?”

A Common World? On Critique of Black Reason

Achille Mbembe’s Critique of Black Reason leaves larger questions unanswered, but points 978-1-77614-050-3-critique_1200the way. It examines the changing use of ‘blackness’ as a category in an increasingly post-Western world order, and it raises the concept of ‘black reason’ as the thinking around the category that shapes its use. The book provides a history of the category in practice, its origins in the needs of capital, Atlantic then global diffusion, and moments of its change in practice: abolition, decolonization, and Apartheid. This drives the analysis to the crux of today, where the relation of West and the world is being reworked, enabling both new racism and a search for a ‘common world’ beyond black reason. Mbembe suggests ‘Europe’s twilight has arrived, and the Euro-American world has not yet figured out what it wants to know about, or to do with, the Black Man’ (p.7).

Continue reading “A Common World? On Critique of Black Reason”

Retrotopia, Othering, and Belonging

Zygmunt Bauman finishes his final book, Retrotopia, with a chapter, ‘Looking Forward, For a Change’. He gestures towards a cosmopolitan change, but does not fill in the picture. He leaves us with the question of departure, to where?

Continue reading “Retrotopia, Othering, and Belonging”

Can Mr. Zuckerberg’s Global Community Be Built?

 ‘If you build it, they will come’, is a phrase I remember from pop culture, Wayne’s World, not its original Field of Dreams. Like all sayings, it is not wholly true, even false, but contains the scent of truth.

Yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg posted on Facebook, what is being called a “manifesto” titled, ‘Building Global Community’. In it, he outlines his vision of Facebook reformed for a new era of turmoil, as the social media scaffolding of a global community. Asking the question, ‘are we building the world we want?’, his answer, Continue reading “Can Mr. Zuckerberg’s Global Community Be Built?”