PANDEMIC REREADS: HENDRIK WILLEM VAN LOON’S LIVES

Pandemic Rereads is one of my lockdown projects. Over the next few months I have set myself the goal of going through my study bookshelves in search of books that I have not read in a while. These are books I don’t regularly use in my research or teaching, and so they cry out to be reappraised. I do not claim to be an expert on these books, so I am sure that I am missing many of the nuances in the texts that have been picked up by real experts. Hopefully, though, there is value in casting a fresh pair of eyes over a text that we think we know.

Today I post my thoughts on rereading van Loon’s Lives. The last time I read this I was 15. It was the Summer that my family moved to the Netherlands, and the book was one of many from my parent’s bookshelves that I read during those first few months in a new home in a new country.

International Relations types reading this blog might be reminded of a recent edited book, Return of the Theorists, in which IR scholars imagined conversations with scholars from the past. I did ask one of the co-editors, Ned Lebow, if they had got the idea from van Loon, but he said that they did not. Still both books do, unwittingly, share a common approach.

A quick note for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians: I once found a copy of another book by van Loon (The Home of Mankind) in an antique store in St. John’s. The book had been owned by Joey Smallwood (for those outside the province, he was the first Premier). Sadly the owner wanted way too much money for it.

Page numbers in the text refer to the 1943 London version: Hendrik Willem van Loon, Van Loon’s Lives. Being a true and faithful account of a number of highly interesting meetings with certain historical personages from Confucius and Plato to Voltaire and Thomas Jefferson, about whom we had always felt a great deal of curiosity and who came to us as our dinner guests in a bygone year (London: George G. Harrap, 1943).

The illustrations come from the book and are van Loon’s own.

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PANDEMIC REREADS: ADDA BOZEMAN’S POLITICS AND CULTURE IN INTERNATIONAL HISTORY

Pandemic Rereads is one of my lockdown projects. Over the next few months I have set myself the goal of going through my study bookshelves in search of books that I have not read in a while. These are books I don’t regularly use in my research or teaching, and so they cry out to be reappraised. I do not claim to be an expert on these books, so I am sure that I am missing many of the nuances in the texts that have been picked up by real experts. Hopefully, though, there is value in casting a fresh pair of eyes over a text that we think we know.

Today I post my thoughts on rereading Adda B. Bozeman’s Politics and Culture in International History. I first came across this book after finishing my MA, but before I started my PhD. I was disappointed with the lack of historical depth in International Relations (IR), and I was looking for books that looked at global politics through a more historical lens that took the field back before 1500. I got more than I bargained for, as Bozeman challenged not just the ahistorical nature of IR, but also its West-only bias. While lacking the critical eye of Eric R. Wolf’s later book Europe and the People Without History (another book I read at that time), it was still refreshingly global in its coverage when compared to the rest of the field. While I have occasionally gone back to Wolf’s book, Bozeman’s has remained unread amidst my other books on ancient and medieval history. The pandemic is an opportunity to reread this forgotten work.

A quick aside: when I was co-editor of the International History Review the late Nick Rengger had approached us with the idea of writing an article on Adda Bozeman. Sadly, he never did write the article.

Page numbers in the text refer to the original paperback version: Adda B. Bozeman, Politics and Culture in International History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1960)

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PANDEMIC REREADS: HAYEK’S THE ROAD TO SERFDOM

Pandemic Rereads is one of my lockdown projects. Over the next few months I have set myself the goal of going through my study bookshelves in search of books that I have not read in a while. These are books I don’t regularly use in my research or teaching, and so they cry out to be reappraised. I do not claim to be an expert on these books, so I am sure that I am missing many of the nuances in the texts that have been picked up by real experts. Hopefully, though, there is value in casting a fresh pair of eyes over a text that we think we know.

Today I post my thoughts on rereading Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. This is a book I have not read since the first year of my PhD, when the core course for my political theory minor took Hayek’s thought as its theme.

Page numbers in the text refer to the 50th anniversary reprinted edition: F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1994)

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ON TEACHING THE END OF THE WORLD REDUX: ADD COVID-19 AND STIR

This coming September I will be teaching my Global Politics of the End of the World (As We Know It) course again. This will be the third time I have taught this senior undergraduate course, although this time it will be taught in the aftermath of a real live existential crisis: the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yet, if the major threats now facing the world were turned into a computer game COVID-19 would be the tutorial level. This is not to downplay the suffering and long-lasting effects of the pandemic, but rather to play up how much bigger and more complex are the other problems on the horizon. We have been dealing with pandemics for millennia, and we have a history of finding solutions. It is also a danger that attracts our immediate attention. Beyond this tutorial level, though, there are threats that are both novel and of a type that our current institutions are not equipped to deal with. Continue reading “ON TEACHING THE END OF THE WORLD REDUX: ADD COVID-19 AND STIR”

CZECHS & GERMANS: ELIZABETH WISKEMANN & THE TWENTY YEARS’ CRISIS

If the power relations of Europe in 1938 made it inevitable that Czecho-Slovakia should lose part of its territory and eventually her independence, it was preferable … that this should come about as a result of discussions round a table in Munich…
E. H. Carr, 1939 edition of The Twenty Years’ Crisis.

In the circumstances of Europe to-day the problem of the Historic Provinces [of the Bohemian Crown] cannot be satisfactorily solved.
Elizabeth Wiskemann, Czechs and Germans, 1938.

2019 is the eightieth anniversary of E. H. Carr’s book The Twenty Years’ Crisis. What better way to celebrate the occasion than showing how a book published the year before by Elizabeth Wiskemann had already undermined Carr’s solution for the peace of Central Europe.
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THE BALANCE OF TOMORROW: ROBERT STRAUSZ-HUPÉ’S PREDICTIONS REVISITED

In a 1995 interview Robert Strausz-Hupé – the University of Pennsylvania professor, strategic studies specialist, former foreign policy advisor to Republican presidential hopefuls, and United States ambassador – stated that he took pride in the predictions he had made about the future during his long career. ‘I’ve been fairly consistently on the right side…’ he reported, ‘I can say that I’ve seen the world fairly clearly.’ (Hughes, 2006: 157) Predictions of the future were the theme of his 1945 book The Balance of Tomorrow, and in future years Strausz-Hupé was credited with foreseeing the rise of China and India that would ’tilt the balance of power towards Asia.’ (Sempa, 2015) Unfortunately, while segments of the book are capable of being quoted to give this impression, that was not actually the argument that he made.

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THE TROUBLE WITH TEXTBOOKS

This post is not meant as a criticism of textbook authors and publishers. By and large they put in long hours to make sure that they produce a quality product. They also fulfill a very real need. Textbook authors are often driven to write because they are not happy with the current offerings, and the project is usually inspired by their own teaching needs. Yet, there are problems with textbooks that occur despite the best intentions of those who write and publish them. In this blog I lay out the growing problems I have had with textbooks. The focus is on my field of International Relations (IR), although I suspect that many of these problems are common across other fields.

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INDUSTRIALISATION, IMPERIALISM, AND RAW MATERIALS.

The Russo-Japanese War now gives to all an awareness that even war and peace in Europe – its destiny – isn’t decided between the four walls of the European concert, but outside it, in the gigantic maelstrom of world and colonial politics.
– Rosa Luxemburg

Industrialisation does not get much of a look-in during introductions to International Relations (IR) courses. In fact, outside of International Political Economy, IR seems happier ignoring the nineteenth century. There are, of course, exceptions, of which Mitzen (2013) and Buzan and Lawson (2015) are good examples. In this blog I want to look more closely at one aspect of the way that industrialisation shaped the global order: how its creation of raw material needs fed into imperialism.

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PLANET POLITICS IN EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS. DERWENT WHITTLESEY’S ENVIRONMENTALIST POLITICAL GEOGRAPHY

In 2016 five scholars published a paper on planet politics that criticized International Relations (IR) for not taking the Anthropocene and environmental concerns seriously (Burke et al, 2016). Written in the form of a manifesto, their criticisms of IR were timely. Since the 1950s IR, especially in its US form, was driven by immediate Cold War concerns of security and relations between great powers. Yet this IR of the later twentieth century superseded a more materialist IR that had flourished in the first half of the century. Part of this materialist tradition can be found in works of international political economy written by the likes of Norman Angell, H. N. Brailsford, Mary Parker Follett, Paul Reinsch, Helena Swanwick, and Thomas Parker Moon. Another part is made up of the international political geographers that were inspired By Ellen Churchill Semple’s imaginative adaptation of the work of Friedrich Ratzel.

Political geography in the interwar period was one of the major sources of thinking about the international order. Premised on the importance of human interactions with space and the physical world, political geographers pondered questions of technology, raw material spread, land use, and the effects of state-building and imperialism. In this sense there was a planet politics in IR before 1950. Perhaps the best example of this comes from the work of the Harvard-base political geographer Derwent Whittlesey. Continue reading “PLANET POLITICS IN EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS. DERWENT WHITTLESEY’S ENVIRONMENTALIST POLITICAL GEOGRAPHY”