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Political Theory

Many interpretations of international conflict share common assumptions regarding the default oppositional nature of states or cultures.  According to Realism, the predominant theory of International Relations, conflict arises inevitably, and is a natural outcome of a highly competitive international environment.  It is also a reflection, and extension, of the competitive, selfish and power driven nature of man. In a larger sense, “man” can refer both to individuals and to larger communities (or tribes, in ancient times) that one belongs to and toward which one feels protective – by virtue of sharing an in-group identity. For some thinkers, including some Realists, the origin of this perpetual conflictual mode can be traced to irreconcilable cultural differences. Samuel Huntington’s well-known “clash of civilizations” …

We are facing, not a simple trade-off between liberty and public health, but a more complex challenge to maintain liberty as non-domination, despite the erosion of liberty as non-interference.   The coronavirus pandemic has led to the severe curtailment of civil liberties and the lockdown of billions of people worldwide. Some states’ reaction to the pandemic has been seen as more effective than others. In particular, authoritarian governments, such as China, boast about their efficient management of the crisis and are now providing support and advice to European and other nations. Consequently, many citizens are questioning the purported advantages of democratic governance. As both democratic and authoritarian states have imposed exceptional measures restricting political and civil liberties, there is a nagging …
Man walking along in fog against backdrop of a cityscape.

In 2013, as two Fellows at New York University, we embarked on an “eruv tour” of Manhattan. Created through almost invisible strings attached to poles that envelope part of the city, this imaginary enclosure serves to delineate a religious space in which it is permissible to carry out the Jewish Sabbath. Today, we contemplate this almost invisible boundary running down Sixth Avenue with new appreciation of the insights it may yet bring to our current predicament as a pandemic of unprecedented proportions forces us to reinvent our common space, the boundaries which define it and the ways we can and should interact within it. The eruv was introduced in Roman Palestine around 50AD for a Jewish community where many of …
Supporters holding signs that read "Bernie or BUST".

The #BernieOrBust slogan was widely adopted in the 2016 Presidential Elections by ardent supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders. These devotees insisted that they would not vote for any candidate (namely Hillary Clinton, the eventual Democratic Party nominee) in the eventual general election showdown with Trump. Four years later, the slogan has resurfaced as a credible threat directed toward what many perceive to be a recalcitrant Democratic Party establishment. In what follows, I do not claim that “#BernieOrBusters” are morally justified (all things considered), but merely offer a possible defence for why some #BernieOrBust advocates are behaving in a rationally justified manner.  I grant two premises amenable to most critics of #BernieOrBusters: first, Trump is a highly problematic candidate in his actions and dispositions; second, whilst not …

In many of the standard narratives that political theory tells about its history and origins, Plato’s Republic stands out as a kind of foundation text of the discipline itself. As Plato’s most celebrated work of political theory, it is usually the first text taught in introductory surveys of the history of political thought. It is safe to say almost all political theorists – if not most political scientists – have had to study it over the course of their education and training. Yet despite its canonical status and familiarity, the Republic is not always a straightforward text. Plato was, on top of being a philosopher, a master prose stylist who paid great attention to the literary construction of his dialogues. Nowhere in the Republic is this …

When political theorists debate the nature of the ‘political’, it strikes the ear as strange. Conventionally, we understand politics in a general sense to mean the practice of power relations, or the relationships between people and governing institutions, or the discursive distribution of power and resources, and although there are often disagreements about the precise definition, there is sufficient overlap that academics understand one another when they talk about politics as a subject of inquiry. However, when talking about ‘the political’, as it is so abstractly articulated in certain areas of the literature, there seems to be far more debate, with supposedly more at stake. ‘The political’ appears to denote some sort of primordial state of things, or an ingredient …

Since the 2013 Snowden revelations, public concern over privacy issues has reached a shrill register, regularly amplified by periodic new scandals. Anxious computer owners, following the lead of Mark Zuckerberg, have taken to covering their cameras with bits of tape. Messaging services tout their end-to-end encryption. Researchers from Harvard Business School have started investigating the effectiveness of those creepy online ads that seem to know a little too much about your preferences. And behind all of these trends sits an uneasy public: according to a 2014 Pew Research Center Poll, fully 91% of Americans believe they have lost control over their personal information. Ian Bogost in The Atlantic names the enemy behind the assault on our privacy: It’s “a hazy …

Cosmological assumptions and breakthroughs have had their fair share in influencing conceptions of human life and politics. Over the years, many scientists have argued for a more harmoniously ordered state of affairs based on observations of the natural world. For instance, Albert Einstein commented on the idea of a world government: “Mankind’s desire for peace can be realized only by the creation of a world government. With all my heart, I believe that the world’s present system of sovereign nations can only lead to barbarism, war, and inhumanity.”[1] Recently,Glen T. Martinhas argued in favour of a world government by drawing on parallels to the evolution in our understanding of the universe.[2] Martin attempts to prove the plausibility of establishing a …

A performance featured during the summer at the Manchester International Festival attempted to tackle the following timeless question: if women ruled the world, would they confront pressing social and political issues – such as climate change, military escalation and mass migration – in qualitatively different ways? The notion that the world would look different under female leadership assumes a “differentialist” approach to gender issues. This article, on the one hand, questions the underlying assumptions of that widespread belief, and, on the other hand, sketches out an alternative approach to progressive change in general and, more specifically, for women. Why we should be sceptical about differentialism in debates on gender A first and still very common version of differentialism is the …