This is a guest post by Piki Ish-Shalom, A. Ephraim and Shirley Diamond Family Chair in International Relations and Associate Professor at the Department of International Relations, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It is part of our series on The International History of Social and Political Theory, eds. Tarak Barkawi and George Lawson. It is in response to the article that Daniel Levine describes in his post earlier this week.
On one level this article is an exemplar of Daniel Levine’s writing. Levine is probably the most voracious reader among IR scholars and his work is simply a carnival of knowledge and intellectualism offering a display of learning of unsurpassable breadth. His numerous areas of expertise cover IR theory, critical theory, Judaism, Zionism, and Middle East politics and history. And indeed this article is no exception while adding European history and historiography to Levine’s areas of expertise. The article is a trove of knowledge just like all Levine’s articles and its pages present us with such familiar and forgotten names as Zalman Rubashov (the third President of Israel), Friedrich Meinecke, Jakob Burckhardt, Jürgen Habermas, Hayden White, Theodor Herzl, Leopold von Ranke, Edward Said, Raymond Williams, Judith Butler, and Walter Benjamin. These and many others are part of the colorful mosaic which Levine assembles for his readers. And then there is the epistemological and ethical bottom-line which I could not agree with more. As Levine concludes,
one cannot properly speak of history or theory as isolates; theory is always in history and predicated upon it. If that is so, the appropriate questions are less about epistemology than ethics: what modes of critical self-reflection are necessary, and sufficient, for the student of international politics who wishes to be something other than a partisan actor within history?
A noble question, no doubt. But on another level his article exemplifies the inherent problems that such a perspective raises; it raises questions I keep struggling with when I consider these issues: how to moralize the academic endeavor of theorizing without politicizing it? Which criteria distinguish the academic from the political and the moral from the ideological?
The article left me feeling unsure that there can be adequate answers to these questions, and not only because Levine offers no answers. I surfaced from my reading bothered that he had failed profoundly in this article and had blundered into a moral (or is it political and/or ideological?) morass. I kept wondering about the aims of his comparisons and the criteria that guided his choice of whom and what to compare. Were there any moral/political/ideological intentions behind his choices, and were those choices conscious? Levine’s reference to the historian Hayden White wasn’t much help in allaying my worries: “What matters less than the factual basis of claims made by particular historians is what White (1975) has called their figurative content: their ability to artfully and compellingly summon up a world that coheres morally, ontologically, and aesthetically. Factual and procedural-methodological disagreements are of course possible; but they are also, at least partly, beside the point (104).” And here ostensibly, Levine assumes the historian’s role of locating the origins of social and political theory.