Theories of International Politics....and Zombies

Posted by Paul Samael on Thursday, July 18, 2013 Under: Book reviews

I’m not usually much of an impulse buyer, but when it comes to ebooks I sometimes find it harder to resist – you get the book right away, often at a price lower than the hard copy and there’s no storage issue (so to the nagging voice in my head saying “Are really you going to like this book enough to want to have it taking up space on your already creaking shelves?” I can say “Get stuffed”).  Anyway, “Theories of International Politics…and Zombies” by Professor Daniel Drezner was one of those impulse buys.

I gather that it grew out of a half-humorous/half serious article that the author wrote on the same topic - and part of me wonders if that is how it should have stayed, because the humour/absurdity of the central premise is possibly in danger of wearing a bit thin by the end.  On the other hand, the author manages to poke fun at quite a wide range of targets along the way – so it’s not as if giving zombies an academic treatment is the sole source of humour.  Here’s one rather deadpan example from the chapter on neoconservatives which I particularly enjoyed:

American neoconservatives are very quick to spot threats and conflicts.  Over the past decade, they have articulated many such threats to the American way of life – including those emanating from Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Al Qaeda, Islam, the European Union, and the United Nations.  Provided that the morass of other existential threats did not distract them, one would expect neoconservatives to detect the zombie menace at an early stage.”

A footnote then goes on to observe: “Indeed, one concern would be that the initial neoconservative response to a zombie outbreak would be to invade Iraq again out of force of habit.”

But the book is not purely a humorous exercise – there is a serious point to it all, which is that zombies as a threat have much in common with other current threats such as terrorism.  For example, like terrorists, zombies would have the capacity to cause mass panic and disruption.  And just as nuclear weapons have been no help at all against the likes of Al Qaeda, so they wouldn’t be much good against zombies either (they are after all the living dead - nuking ‘em isn’t likely to be much help).

So zombies are really just a way of introducing the lay reader to the various theories of international relations, such as real politik, liberalism, marxism, feminism, neoconservatism and social construction.  Of these, social construction was the one I was least familiar with – it focuses on how perceived “norms” can affect behaviour e.g. social constructionists would say that one of the main reasons that nuclear weapons have not been used in conflict since World War II is that a powerful taboo has grown up around their use (and this taboo is a “norm”).

Perhaps the book’s most interesting lesson is that none of the theories it covers are comprehensive – they all have something to contribute to the problem of how to handle the zombie menace (or any other serious threat for that matter), but they all have flaws too.  So for policy-makers, the trick is knowing which theory to draw on at any one time – which is very much more an art than a science.

However, my main reason for reviewing it here is to point out a glaring omission in the book’s review of the zombie literary canon.  Being an academic treatise, it has a fairly thorough review of the relevant literature, covering most recent zombie films and books.  But shockingly, I could find no mention of “Zombie Nights” by Tom Lichtenberg – which at the time of writing this blog post was still in the top 10 most downloaded free books on Smashwords.  Had it been included, what difference would it have made to Professor Drezner's scholarly analysis?

Well, first of all, there is no collective zombie menace in “Zombie Nights” – there is just Dave, who’s clawed his way out of a shallow grave and doesn’t really seem to know what to do with himself.  Importantly, Dave does not appear to crave human flesh.  He would therefore appear to be markedly less of a threat to the established world order than the plague of flesh-eating ghouls postulated by Professor Drezner and most zombie fiction.  That said, it might not take long for neoconservatives to identify Dave as a threat to the American way of life.  Marxists, by contrast, would probably view Dave as an oppressed member of the proletariat, heroically digging his way out of the pauper’s grave to which he has been consigned by the evils of capitalism.

Social constructionists meanwhile would probably be interested in the effect of norms on Dave’s behaviour (initially, Dave cannot speak but by watching TV he manages to communicate more and understand more about the world of the living).  They would also be likely to focus on Dave’s effect on others, such as his Uncle Ray (at first, Ray finds some aspects of Dave repellent, such as the smell of his rotting flesh, but increasingly he seems to accept Dave’s return, despite the fact that he is the living dead).  Perhaps this could be the beginning of a so-called “norm cascade”, causing humanity to accept zombies rather than react with panic and fear.

Adherents of realpolitik might focus on the potential advantage to be gained by states which are net exporters of citrus fruits, given the mysterious power attributed in the story to lemon and orange peel in dealing with zombies.  But “Zombie Nights” may be most instructive as a reminder of the influence that domestic/local factors exert over events, since this is ultimately what seals Dave’s fate.

So, Professor Drezner, since “Theories of International Politics…and Zombies” has probably achieved sales unheard of for an academic book on international relations published by those zany people at Princeton University Press, I presume that we can expect a second edition - and now that I have made such a convincing case for its inclusion, I trust that steps will be taken to address the grave omission of any serious discussion of “Zombie Nights” in the first edition.

In : Book reviews 

Tags: zombies "international relations" "zombie nights" "tom lichtenberg" "daniel drezner" politics 
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About Me

Paul Samael Welcome to my blog, "Publishing Waste" which will either (a) chronicle my heroic efforts to self-publish my own fiction; or (b) demonstrate beyond a scintilla of doubt the utter futility of (a). And along the way, I will also be doing some reviews of other people's books and occasionally blogging about other stuff.
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