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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Reading List: Theories of International Politics and Zombies

Drezner, Daniel W. Theories of International Politics and Zombies. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-691-14783-3.
“A specter is haunting world politics….” (p. 109) Contemporary international politics and institutions are based upon the centuries-old system of sovereign nation-states, each acting in its own self interest in a largely anarchic environment. This system has seen divine right monarchies supplanted by various forms of consensual government, dictatorships, theocracies, and other forms of governance, and has survived industrial and technological revolutions, cataclysmic wars, and reorganisation of economic systems and world trade largely intact. But how will this system come to terms with a new force on the world stage: one which transcends national borders, acts upon its own priorities regardless of the impact upon nation-states, inexorably recruits adherents wherever its presence becomes established, admits of no defections from its ranks, is immune to rational arguments, presents an asymmetrical threat against which conventional military force is largely ineffective and tempts free societies to sacrifice liberty in the interest of security, and is bent on supplanting the nation-state system with a worldwide regime free of the internal conflicts which seem endemic in the present international system?

I am speaking, of course, about the Zombie Menace. The present book is a much-expanded version of the author's frequently-cited article on his Web log at Foreign Policy magazine. In it, he explores how an outbreak of flesh-eating ghouls would be responded to based on the policy prescriptions of a variety of theories of international relations, including structural realism, liberal institutionalism, neoconservatism, and postmodern social constructivism. In addition, he describes how the zombie threat would affect domestic politics in Western liberal democracies, and how bureaucratic institutions, domestic and international, would react to the emerging crisis (bottom line: turf battles).

The author makes no claim to survey the policy prescriptions of all theories: “To be blunt, this project is explicitly prohuman, whereas Marxists and feminists would likely sympathize more with the zombies.” (p. 17, footnote) The social implications of a burgeoning zombie population are also probed, including the inevitable emergence of zombie rights groups and non-governmental organisations on the international stage. How long can it be until zombie suffrage marchers take (or shuffle) to the streets, waving banners proclaiming “Zombies are (or at least were) people too!”?

This is a delightful and thoughtful exploration of a hypothetical situation in international politics which, if looked at with the right kind of (ideally, non-decaying) eyes, has a great deal to say about events in the present-day world. There are extensive source citations, both to academic international relations and zombie literature, and you're certain to come away with a list of films you'll want to see. Anne Karetnikov's illustrations are wonderful.

The author is professor of international politics at Tufts University and a member of the Zombie Research Society. I must say I'm dismayed that Princeton University Press condones the use of the pejorative and hurtful term “zombie”. How hard would it be to employ the non-judgemental “person of reanimation” instead?

Posted at April 9, 2011 21:14