The Duck of Minerva

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The Comedy of Great Power Politics

February 24, 2007

Next Wednesday in Chicago — that’s February 28, at 8:30 am — at the Annual Meeting of the International Studies Association, I’ll be presenting a paper called “The Comedy of Great Power Politics in the 21st Century.” Warning: that’s a pdf, which I posted on my rarely used University homepage.

On the same panel, my friend Nayef Samhat is presenting “The ‘Comedic Turn’ and Critical International Relations Theory.”

If those titles sound strange to you, read my paper (and Nayef’s once it is available) and pass along your comments. Better yet, come to the panel.

If you are an IR theorist, you probably already guessed a little bit of what we are up to — or at least what ideas we are challenging. After all, neorealist John Mearsheimer called his last book The Tragedy of Great Power Politics.

Realist theorists of international relations are pessimists and embrace tragic narratives. Classically, the main character of a tragedy was a noble, the story was set in the “great hall” or on the battlefield, and the plot featured the downfall of the protagonist — often his death.

Realist theory is primarily about great powers, their story is set in the competitive “high politics” arena of the international system, and the plots are typically gloomy (featuring war, imperial overstretch, etc.)

My paper argues that contemporary great power politics, by realist standards, seems more like a farce than a tragedy — no balancing behavior, no great power war for decades, the US and China are major trading partners, NATO is thriving, weak and failed states are viewed as the major threats, etc.

Nayef’s paper puts our joint project in a broader context and part of my paper does that as well.

Again, the panel is scheduled for 8:30 am on the first day of the convention, turnout might be low. One person on this panel had to withdraw, so we’ll have plenty of time to talk about comedy.

Come and see.

Sorry for the shameless self promotion

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Rodger A. Payne is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Louisville. He serves on the University’s Sustainability Council and was a co-founder of the Peace, Conflict, and Social Justice program. He is the author of dozens of journal articles and book chapters and coauthor, with Nayef Samhat, of Democratizing Global Politics: Discourse Norms, International Regimes, and Political Community (SUNY, 2004). He is currently working on two major projects, one exploring the role of narratives in international politics and the other examining the implications of America First foreign policy.