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International Politics and Zombies

Posted by Josh Rothman  February 8, 2011 12:54 PM

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Political science isn't really a science at all - it's more like a collection of disparate and even contradictory world-views. Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at Tufts' Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, has hit upon the perfect way to weigh those world-views against one another: in his new book, he asks how each would predict the international response to a plague of the undead.

The book is Theory of International Politics and Zombies (you can read the first chapter here, and the original Foreign Policy article as well), and in it Drezner asks: "What would different theories of international politics predict would happen if the dead began to rise from the grave and feast upon the living? How valid - or how rotten - are these predictions?" After a brief survey of the zombie literature, Drezner walks us through the different schools of political-scientific thought, explaining how a post-zombie world would take shape according to realism, liberalism, neoconservatism, and constructivism, as well as through the lenses of domestic politics, organization theory, and psychology.

Foreign-policy realists, for instance, argue that all that really matters in international affairs is power. From their point, of view the world wouldn't really change at all if zombies attacked: strong countries would survive, and weak ones "suffer devouring by reanimated, ravenous corpses." The realist point-of-view turns out to be strangely suited for thinking about the zombie apocalypse. But the same goes for foreign policy liberalism, which puts its faith in international institutions. Liberals, Drezner writes, would almost certainly see the zombie hordes as "a classic negative externality problem of economic globalization.... A coordinating body, perhaps even a World Zombie Organization (WZO), would need to be formed in order to handle all of the overlapping health, trade, and security issues." (Neoconservatives, for their part, would claim that "the zombies hate us for our freedoms - specifically, our freedom to abstain from eating human flesh.")

Ultimately, none of the foreign policy frameworks do a particularly good job of responding to the zombie attack: they're all, Drezner points out, "state-centric," whereas a zombie horde is a "non-state actor," much like the other twenty-first century problems that our international order is now straining to confront (think climate change, financial panics, and terrorism). At the same time, the detail with which Drezner can apply international political theory to the zombie apocalypse is striking. The frameworks are so flexible that they can explain and accommodate any problem, no matter how outlandish or novel it is. That seems to be the point: today's foreign policy frameworks, outmoded as they may be, can still appear useful. They're the real walking dead.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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