The Authoritarian Archipelago

This is a guest post by Daniel Bertrand Monk, who is the George R. and Myra T. Cooley Chair in Peace and Conflict Studies at Colgate University, where he is a professor of Geography and Middle East Studies.  His most recent volume is The Post-Conflict Environment (Jacob Mundy co-editor)

“I don’t want knowledge. I want certainty.”  Bowie. Law (Earthlings on Fire)

Any serious effort to make sense of America’s post-election sense-making would have to begin with the observation that our forensics reveal more about a collective experience of dislocation than much else. Whether they suggest that what “we’ve been here before” or imply the inverse  –that the situation is unprecedented because it recalls a Fascist past elsewhere– efforts to tease a truth out of the turnout in rust belt Michigan or suburban Pennsylvania tacitly assume that we must look to what has already happened in order to predict what is coming.  As a genre, the American postmortem persistently resorts to the poverty of a shabby historicism.

Ransacking the uniqueness of the American past or the comparative universality of other people’s history, Americans observers of the present unwittingly advance Amor Fati, a loving identification with their own fate. In the exceptionalist version of this historicism, past electoral precedents confirm that Americans are still arguing with one another within endoxic parameters – that is, within the extremes of electoral politics.  The present, they reassure us, is still more like Chicago in 1968 than Nuremberg in 1935.  In the comparative version of the same historicism, the inverse is true:  a much discussed “normalization” of the Trump-Bannon present is compared with the disastrous excuses made after the election of Hitler to the effect that he could be “boxed in.”  According to this version of events, the lessons of Germany’s 1935 Nuremberg Laws confer up on Americans an obligation to volunteer and register as Muslims in the same way that Danes allegedly donned yellow stars in the defense of Jews in occupied Europe. In both instances, resignation prevails, and to some extent presents itself as the inverse.  Instead of sober political assessment, the given historical comparisons occasion a kind of catharsis in subjection. We are called to “action for the sake of inaction,” as an astute of observer of political resignation once put it.

There is no easy way to explain that a routinized and practiced form of historical tautology may help kill this republic.  But, there is every indication that an impoverished imagination may rely on its knowledge of political history to disavow any knowledge of a new political geography. The more they look to their own repertoire of historical precedents, the less likely it is that Americans will be able to know if or when they’ve become part of something qualitatively new:  an archipelago of states that are formally democratic and illiberally popular at the same time.  These states are sometimes called “hybrid regimes,” “defective democracies,” or “electoral authoritarianisms.”   It matters, because when you live in the archipelago no one chooses to let you know whether you’re back in Chicago 1968 or in Nuremberg 1935. Contemporary authoritarianism thrives on uncertainty about whether it is taking place to begin with. (MTV gets this, even if David Brooks and the New York Times are still waiting for something like the Reichstag fire to let them know what’s what).  The archipelago’s denizens inhabit a political present and a geographic extent in which states are democracies by reputation, and the institutional features of liberal republics survive in them because they sometimes make no difference.  In the authoritarian archipelago, there is little certainty whether one is –or isn’t– living in a dictatorial state of exception, and for that reason a state of exception is sometimes maintained by a populace that nurtures it as a “public secret” so it can advance its own illiberal ambitions.

Those who have lived through this situation and know it well are desperately trying to explain that the kind of dislocation Americans are now experiencing is itself indicative of life under this new kind of autocracy, or soft authoritarianism. The fact that you can’t always really know if you’re living in the chain of autocracies, its refugees report, is a primary feature of life in the growing archipelago of “illiberal populist movements” that may now include the U.S.

Many American interpreters of these cautions are furiously working to misinterpret them.  In the U.S, the idea that collective experience of dislocation actually constitutes a right orientation to the present political geography will only be heard as a further invitation to plunder the past at the expense of the present.  We will continue to be instructed in electoral strategies that will secure reversals in two, four, or eight years; or worse, we’ll be reminded to practice resistance strategies that never did anyone any good even when Franco, Mussolini, or Hitler were still in power –that is, when Fascism paid one the courtesy of passing laws that painted bull’s-eyes on one’s back.  But here’s the thing: every time someone asks themselves, “Can this really be happening?” they are confronted with the authentic relation between experience and history for which those impoverished forms of historicism mistakes themselves.  And, in the difference between our gut feeling about the present and the old names others’ give to that same experience, a politics proper to this moment will either emerge or be “normalized” into resignation in its own right.  We’ll only know that a politics adequate to the present is starting to take shape when Americans start dropping the clichéd comparisons and start reading the manuals they themselves offered to pro-democracy activists already living in the authoritarian archipelago.

Adorno, Theodor W. “Resignation.” Telos 1978, no. 35 (1978): 165-168.

Diamond, L. J. “Thinking About Hybrid Regimes.” Journal of Democracy, vol. 13 no. 2, 2002, pp. 21-35. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/jod.2002.0025.

International Relations Scholarship in the Age of Trump

The electoral college victory of Donald Trump has been devastating for too many reasons to count, from the impact on the middle class, the poor, minorities, and even Texas. This man is a threat to our nation’s well-being economically, politically, and socially. Those saying everything will be alright need to wake up the dire threat he and his team of deplorables are to ethnic minorities, people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, and other diverse groups. But we also must investigate the foreign policy impact of President Trump.

The team that Trump will appoint will be full of the scrubs and discards of the Bush Administration, in fact it is often made of those too extreme to even serve in polite society.  Instead of draining the swamp we are restocking it and throwing a few non-native invasive species in for good measure.  From John “lose ten floors of the UN” Bolton, to Sarah “you can see Russia from Alaska” Palin, to his team of Russia sycophants who will likely trade Ukraine and the Baltics for Russian support on our war against the Islamic State, nothing good can come from this election from the foreign policy perspective and this has a direct impact on the work we do as IR scholars. We must deal with this issue in our research.   11chappatte-master768-v2

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Academic Freedom, or Privilege with Blinders?

Patrick Thaddeus Jackson wrote a thoughtful response to the University of Chicago’s declaration to the class of 2020 that they won’t find trigger warnings or intellectual safe spaces in Hyde Park, and promises another that specifically addresses safe spaces. I’ll leave him in charge of the cool, level-headed, intellectual arguments, and I’ll post as an angry alum. There was a lot I valued about getting an education at Chicago, but this (attention-grabbing stunt?) move really reminds me of the things that I liked least about being a Chicago Maroon.

The letter in question boasts of the University of Chicago’s long, and often controversial, commitment to academic freedom, referencing a free expression report and coordinated website. All these materials tell a story of an institution that has, for more than a hundred years, permitted and defended hosting controversial speakers, refused to censor controversial ideas, and valued deliberation. The report calls free expression “our inheritance, and our promise to the future.”

A cynic might think that this is a quick turnaround from the threat to expel a student body president who facilitated a protest for campus workers to make a living wage just a couple of months ago. But someone with a long view on the University’s history might think that the University has made a distinction between a narrowly-defined academic freedom, and freedom to/ability to speak more generally – where the former often comes at the expense of or during the suppression of the latter. In fact, one can find this distinction codified, where the University’s “protest” policy, located far away in web-clicks from its “freedom of expression policy” has a very low bar for disruptive behavior (which, ironically, some academic “free speech” might meet, using the letter of the law). The University of Chicago has been noted as one of the institutions that cracked down the strongest (most unreasonably?) on Vietnam War protestors in the 1960s and 1970s. While academic speech in a confined sort of environment (a traditional speaker giving a traditional talk with questions and answers) is highly valued at the University of Chicago, I never got the sense that free expression generally was nearly as valued, especially when it was protest speech.

This is one of the things that makes me angry about the University’s hard line on trigger warnings and safe spaces – the University of Chicago is a place for free expression, among students, in a classroom, about things “outside” the university rather than about how the university is or what the university is or how it works. In fact, on at least two occasions, the University has suppressed protest speech directly related to University practices. This means that UChicago students have a particular sort of freedom – all ideas in the classroom and at talks – but lack other freedoms, particularly participating in the shaping of their institution when the institution refuses to engage their concerns.

That is a problem, but it isn’t my biggest problem. My biggest problem is the University of Chicago touting free expression without there being scrutiny on what the University chooses to be silent about. I think that the University chooses problematic, discriminatory, white-washing silences, and that those matter both in its claims to freedom of expression generally, and the trigger warning/safe space debate specifically.

As an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Chicago, I was mailed driving directions to get to campus from the south, before in-car or on-phone GPS was a thing. I trusted the University to give directions to itself more efficiently than I could figure out on the atlas. The driving directions from the south were to drive up the Dan Ryan to Lake Shore Drive, then south on Lake Shore Drive to campus. For those of you who know Chicago, or can look at a map,  I drove almost 14 miles on four-lane-highway at rush hour from the Dan Ryan exit on 55th Street to getting off of Lake Shore Drive on 57th street – which I think is about two miles on 55th street. The University sent me a ridiculous distance out of my way – why? I can only guess to stop my new-freshman eyes from seeing Washington Park as my first exposure to Chicago? The public transit directions to go Downtown were similarly narrow – they said to take the Jeffrey Bus (at the time it was the #6) or the University bus. You could even the 55 bus to the Red Line over the Dan Ryan, though I remember warnings about that at night. The problem? Between campus and the Red Line on the 55 bus was the Green Line – another way to get downtown.

I am sure the University saw it was public relations, or as keeping students safe, rather than as censorship, or painting a partial picture of the University’s world. The University has a long and storied history of relationships with the surrounding community that try to drive out diversity, which even John Boyer explains have played out on race and class lines. I remember attending a number of events at the University of Chicago which were nominally open to our non-affiliated neighbors but were neither welcoming or accessible. ‘The neighborhood’ was a place that we as students were encouraged to help, but not necessarily encouraged to learn from – the University was a resource for the neighborhood (limitedly, in its own view), but the neighborhood wasn’t treated as a resource for the University. Academic speech was valued in its quality, quantity, and freedom, but what constituted academic speech is narrow, confined by degrees and tuition dollars and an unrepresentative part of the population. This “fits” with a place that suppresses students’ protest speech, especially when that suppressed protest speech is about treating its workers, the neighborhood, its minority students, or its war-objector students with more justice.

At the end of the day, both of these problems – the hypocrisy of the juxtaposition of this statement with the threats to punish a protesting student earlier this year, and the speech the University chooses to promote compared to the speech the University chooses to silent/be silent on – make me angry about what appears to be a self-righteous statement about trigger warnings and safe spaces. I don’t have a well-formed opinion on trigger warnings and safe spaces – I see both sides of the argument – but I worry that the self-appreciating blanket announcement that they will not exist is yet another implicit bias and exclusion in a University that claims inclusiveness but whitewashes its exclusions. The people who need/want trigger warnings are another disadvantaged population that the University of Chicago is not taking serving seriously.

Why do I say that the University of Chicago is not taking serving those people seriously? The letter linked above does not talk about why people ask for trigger warnings and safe spaces; it doesn’t talk about the horrors of war or rape culture of child abuse or child molestation or any number of things that cause serious trauma and psychological damage. It doesn’t talk about resources that the University offers (like the counseling center, or student support groups) to deal with trauma and stress and triggers; it doesn’t talk about the barriers to learning that Patrick deals with; it doesn’t talk about making sure that the University of Chicago is an accessible learning environment. I think that its letter to its 2020 freshman showcases, both implicitly and explicitly, its axes of exclusion rather than its axes of inclusion.

Safe spaces and hospitable classrooms

In my last post here I argued that the infamous University of Chicago missive about “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” rested on a rather profound mischaracterization of the issues as being about preventing student discomfort in the classroom. The position adopted in the letter from the Dean of Students seems to be that efforts to make the classroom a more comfortable place are implacably opposed to “freedom of inquiry and expression” and “the freedom to espouse and explore a wide range of ideas,” and that since safe spaces and trigger warnings are about making students comfortable, the University does not support or condone them. I actually agree that the purpose of a classroom is not to provide comfort; instead, I would claim that the purpose of a classroom is to provide opportunities for students to augment and enhance their capacities to do things. But I disagree with the notion that trigger warnings are about making students comfortable, and prefer to think about them as involving the removal of barriers to participation in class. So “trigger warnings” are an access issue.

But I don’t think that analysis suffices for “safe spaces,” the other target of the Chicago note. (I am setting aside the part of the letter about invited speakers, because in my view co-curricular activities on campus invoke a different set of concerns than those strictly limited to the classroom — and campuses without “safe spaces” strike me as a real problem, because we still have a lot of work to do in making room for a whole plethora of identities and issues on campus.) In many conceptions, a “safe space” does depends on “comfort” as a core characteristic. Continue reading

Cyber Security and the Coming Failure of the UN’s Group of Governmental Experts

Cross posting with the Niskanen Center

Brandon Valeriano and Allison Pytlak

This week the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE), as part of the United Nations, is meeting once again in what has become a regular reflection of current thought in the field of cyber security internationally.  ‘Reflection’ is the perfect word to describe what the GGE does because it’s not clear to what purpose the group is moving. It might be a useful exercise to review what we know about cyber security at this point and why the GGE will fail to engage with the most pressing problems generated in and from cyberspace.   4bff43b07e8fed5ebcaad53875b35b28

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Trigger Warnings, Barriers, and the Purpose of the Classroom

If the University of Chicago intended to provoke wide-ranging discussion and debate by sending a letter to all of its new students denouncing “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces,” it has certainly succeeded. Of course, this being the Internet, most of the ensuing chatter has been of the slash-and-burn variety, with slogans flying fast and furious: academic freedom! Inclusion! Diversity! Coddled millennials and their helicopter boomer parents! I’m not going to dignify any of the click-bait-y things posted this week in that vein by linking to them. Instead I want to claim that this is a more complex issue than either of the quick partisan responses would suggest, and offer a reframing of the issue in terms of the very point of a classroom in the first place—something that seems, as usual, to get lost amidst the elegant yelling of the dispute.

In order to actually say something intelligent about this issue, we have to get past both the caricatured “freedom of speech” position in which any limit whatsoever on anyone saying anything is taken to be a violation of some natural law, and the equally caricatured “emotional sensitivity” position in which any feeling of discomfort is automatically converted into a violation of basic human dignity. These are caricatures, held—as far as I can tell—by pundits rather than by actual thoughtful educators, because actual educators (teachers and those who support them administratively, which I phrase very carefully so as to exclude those parts of the contemporary university that aren’t concerned with supporting teaching…you know who you are) recognize that producing spaces of learning is hard work involving the ongoing exercise of practical judgment instead of any kind of cheap, ideological sloganeering. One size certainly doesn’t fit all here, and your mileage will definitely vary.

That said: If we want our students to learn things, we have to be attentive to where they start out, where we want them to go, and what we want them to encounter on the way. No actual educator would deny any of that. So where does that leave us?

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The burden of insecurity: Using theories of International Relations to make-sense of the state of post-9/11 politics

This is a guest post by Runa Das, Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science, University of Minnesota, Duluth.

The globalizing world of post-9/11 international politics unfortunately continues to be rocked by terrorist attacks impacting states and their civilians at a global level. Beginning with September 2001 (9/11) attacks on the United States, these unfortunate chains of events have (amongst many others) occurred in Europe (Madrid, 2004; London, 2005; Paris, 2015); Asia (Mumbai, 2008; Bali, 2002; Jakarta, 2005); Africa (Kenya, 2013; Tunisia, 2015); once again in the United States (Boston, 2013; San Bernardino, 2015); and, recently in Brussels (March 2016) followed by those in Pakistan (Lahore).

How do we as academics and researchers working at the theoretical intersections of the fields of International Relations and Security – who in various ways seek to engage with students, state leaders, policy practitioners, and, the broader intellectual community to bring about a world of peace and security –  make sense of (and deal with) these unfortunate incidents of terrorist occurrences that incur direct devastating consequences on states and citizens who remain victims of these occurrences? Also, at a more complex level, how does one make sense of the inter-connected issues of religion, culture, and identity of certain individuals, groups, and communities who may unfortunately become subject to implicit or explicit forms of profiling or stereo-typing as a result of these repeated terrorist occurrences? In sum, how do we as members of the academia deal with this “burden” of terrorism-prone insecurity pervading post-9/11 international affairs?

Indeed, it is common-sense that for every globally concerned citizen these terror crises are real threat issues with concrete and long-lasting physical-psychological impact on their direct victims; on these victims’ friends and families; and to any responsible and concerned member of the global community – irrespective of their gender, race, class, ethnicity, religion, and geographical location – constitute a highly disconcerting state of human insecurity.

As such, the post-9/11 aftermath has justifiably witnessed an array of responses from state leaders all over the world to fight this terror through political, military, and counter-terrorism strategies; alliance-building amongst democratic/responsible states; as well as inter-state diplomacy and dialogue to secure a post-9/11 world of peace and security. These collective efforts are evidenced in the passing of the US Patriot Act by the US after 9/11; the creation of the United States Department of Homeland Security 2002; the passing of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime, and Security Act 2001 in UK; the European Union Framework Decision on Terrorism, 2002; Prevention of Terrorism Act in India, 2002; and so forth. In addition, there followed speeches by political leaders “assuring” security to their citizens residing at home/abroad; shoring up subway, airport, and other transportation and special law-enforcement security systems; and, last but not the least, an escalation of states’ military-nuclear defensive measures (also resulting in their rising military-defense budgetary expenses).

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Professors of, not professors in…

So the LSE has appointed — appointed, not hired, which is important — Angelina Jolie Pitt (AJP) as a “Visiting Professor in Practice.” The importance of the hire/appoint distinction: there is a part of me that is somewhat perturbed that an institution that has not once but twice passed on the opportunity to have me join its ranks has made a space for someone whose scholarly CV is, shall we say, somewhat spotty, but the kind of position AJP has been awarded is a very different animal from anything I might have applied for — and presumably she did not have to give a job talk, secure letters of recommendation from senior colleagues, and have her latest book dissected by a faculty search committee, so I think it’s safe to say that there is a different game being played here.

angelina-jolie-hands

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Embracing our Failures

Guest post by Sara Mitchell, University of Iowa

My daughter recently played in the regional high school team tennis competition, she played singles in addition to the number one player on her team (#1 at regionals). On the drive home, my daughter noted that the coach had spent one-on-one time with the #1 player all week. She asked, “why does our coach spend the most time on the player who needs the least amount of help?”  In answering those questions, a lot of things about my experiences as an academic were useful. I told her that while my career has been very successful, I have been defined most by experiences where I failed. Interviewing for multiple senior jobs in the past few years and netting zero job offers was personally painful, but it also pushed me to think more about what I want for my career and how I can be successful on the job market in the future.   tennis_fail

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Turning Over the Table: Failing or Succeeding in the Tenure Process

Navel gazing at the tenure process continues and anxiety can be crippling. The same unfortunate lessons keep coming up, the University will outlive us all.  We can be discarded at any time or for just about any reason, regardless of tenure. The problem is that many tenure post-mortem cases do not seem to accept this reality, we need to go further and speak some honest truths about the process and the institutions we work for.  2015-10-06-1444167615-5163152-20140824fallingshort

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