International Order – Stability and Transformation (Graduate)

Over the last four years, the fate of the “liberal international order” has emerged as a key concern in Washington, Brussels, Moscow, and Beijing. Some critics contend, however, that international politics is neither terribly liberal or all that ordered. In this class, we take a deep dive into the subject of international order. We focus on four questions: What do we mean by “international order”? How do international orders differ across time and space? How do international orders persist? And what explains major transformations in international order?

We develop answers to this questions by looking at some “big” historical controversies, such as why did sovereign-territorial, national-state political systems become dominant in Europe, and how does that relate to the simultaneous rise of European colonial empires? What are empires, and can we identify general patterns that account for their rise and fall? Why did formal empires disappear over the course of the post-war period? What explains the emergence of the early international organizations (scholars traditionally identify the first as the 1815 Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine) and their accelerating growth of as an instrument of global governance, such that today there are more than 300 in existence? Was there a Chinese tributary system, if so when, and how did “it” work? As we accumulate cases we should also develop a sense of the variety of different ways that relations among political communities can, and have been, organized. We end by bringing this knowledge to bear on debates about contemporary transformations in international order.

Interstellar Relations (Undergraduate)

Authors writing in the Science Fiction/Speculative Fiction (SF) genre have long explored political themes—such as the rise and decline of empires, the impact of technological change on individual liberty, the nature of revolutionary struggles, the workings of totalitarianism, and the impact of socio-political collapse on humankind.

This seminar approaches SF as social-scientific, political-theoretic, and social-theoretic text. Subjects include the politics of contact, alterity, identity, and warfare. Readings include SF novels, as well as scholarly texts on politics and social science. Students are also expected to watch and discuss films and videos. (2019 Syllabus, version 1.0)

Grand Strategy and International Order (Undergraduate)

During his successful presidential campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly argued that the existing international order weakens the United States. Previous American presidents and diplomats, he claimed, struck terrible international bargains on trade, arms control, and alliances. Since assuming office, Trump’s foreign-policy preferences have been, at best, partially translated into concrete policy outcomes. But his routine disparagement of the basic orientations and commitments of American hegemony and liberal order has produced significant doubts about American leadership.

These doubts coincide with major developments outside of the United States. The People’s Republic of China is now, by some measures, the world’s largest economy. Under President Xi Jinping, China has grown more assertive in its efforts to shape regional and global international relations. Many observers consider the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, (AIIB) as parts of a broader attempt to reorder international relations along Beijing’s preferred lines. Russia, meanwhile, has emerged as a more direct challenger to the current texture of international order; Moscow uses a variety of instruments to disrupt and undermine American hegemony and liberal order. Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) still suffers the aftershocks of the 2008 Great Recession, now further complicated by the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” referendum and its subsequent triggering of the Article 50 withdrawal process. Some see events in the EU as part of a wider populist backlash against liberal international order.

This class aims to provide students with some of the background necessary to understand current debates about grand strategy. Although some of our focus is on the United States—the country that remains the world’s dominant power—we look at broader history, and explore theoretical propositions that, in principle, extend beyond the American experience (2020 Syllabus, version 1.5).

International Hierarchy (Graduate)

Scholars and observers have long characterized international politics as “anarchical.” Indeed, the “fact” of “international anarchy” undergirds the constitution of international relations as a distinct area of study. At the same time, a variety of alternative traditions put forth alternative understandings of international order. Different understandings of the “hierarchical” character of world politics thread not only through these traditions, but even in those that stress the significance of international anarchy. We explore a variety of different ways of thinking about international hierarchy, especially in the context of political change and power politics. (2019 Syllabus, version 2.0)

State Formation (Graduate)

This course explores the linked topics of state formation and international change. As such, it covers literature in the fields of international relations, comparative politics, sociology, and history. It aims to raise—and perhaps even provide answers to—a number of important questions: what forces drive major political changes in the nature of the state and the international system? What different forms does the state take, and how do those different forms influence political life? How do we study political change? These questions are not only central to the very emergence of modern social science, but take on new urgency in the face of contemporary transformations in the texture of domestic and international politics. (2020 Syllabus, version 1.2)