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.

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Post-Western World?

What does a post-Western world order mean? Oliver Stuenkel’s Post Western World argues it means more continuity than change, and more cooperation than conflict. He argues, alarmism over the “rise of the rest”, and China in particular, is over stated, because the world order as it exists, is not a purely Western construct, although it has been Western-led and enforced. Rising powers, he claims, will behave no differently than their Western counter-parts, and, while projecting their power, will nevertheless support, more or less, the institutional framework of the international order.

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This book is accessibly written, makes an important corrective for problematically Western-centric readings of world order trends, and is worth reading by students and thinkers on international affairs and world order in general. I, and others, broadly agree there is less cause for alarmism than is sometimes thought in the prospect of a multipolar and non-Western led world order. I do not wish to engage in a minute academic review here, but want to raise two connected points. First, Stuenkel’s analysis unduly leans on “realist” assumptions. His analysis, for instance, privileges state power, and argues state powers generate their own soft power, which undercuts the sources from which states gather the Continue reading “Post-Western World?”

*Reflections on John Gray on Living Together in this World

If the folly of this world is interminable, so too is the search for a better world. A portion of a lecture by English philosopher John Gray recently emerged on the internet. In it, the former LSE professor speaks on the question ‘can we live together in the world’, a question this blog has touched on before. Gray suggests the answer, yes.

Continue reading “*Reflections on John Gray on Living Together in this World”

Event: The Defeat of Hillary’s Globalist Vision

The defeat of Hillary Clinton brings down many things and people. Amongst them is the neoliberal vision of a global society. Nationalist, racist, and prejudicial politics will square off against alternative and new visions of global solidarity, but the last and greatest defender of the globalist neoliberal brand of cosmopolitanism, HR Clinton, has been defeated.

Trade will continue, on new terms perhaps, but the neoliberal vision of a global village of entrepreneurial individuals has been denied power. The liberal social imaginary of ‘atomistic’ global individuals was always gendered and racialized, but the revival of xenophobic politics has triumphed over the liberal vision of a global society.

With roots reaching to the 19th Century’s Richard Cobden, the vision will likely be reformulated and resuscitated again, sometime in future, but the present force of its neoliberal form is spent. What we are approaching is a post-liberal era of global disorder, a moment perhaps, but a post-liberal shift in world politics overall, where neoliberal internationalism has been knocked-out.

By post-liberal, I mean both an era in world politics where many liberal principles are challenged, overturned, and rejected, as well as an era marked by the trace of the former ascendance of those principles. Liberalism, in a broad sense, has a kind of way of life to be defended in Western democracies, but the US-centric world order hallmarks of democracy, human rights, global trade, and so on are hollowed-out, their neoliberal content is sapped. What will fill them is the contest between the revived illiberal vision of a racially, religiously, nationally divided humankind, and alternative, as yet unclear, unannounced, post-liberal cosmopolitanisms.