SISU-105.015 F2019 blog question #4

Today in class we spent some time working out a few of the key points of Machiavelli’s argument, though a deliberately artificial set-up in which I assigned you a position for your side of the class to adopt. (I have posted photos of the board giving the points raised in the exchange on the BlackBoard site in case you want to look back at a them.) For this week's blog question I want to take off that restriction, and ask you the same question — on balance, is Machiavelli basically right? — but without the need to adopt either the pro or the con side as assigned. Now that you understand Machiavelli’s argument a bit better, do you think he’s basically right, or not? Why?


reflection after three weeks of classes

Yes. Three weeks. It doesn’t seem like it, in part because of Labor Day so we’ve only had five (and not six) class meetings, and in part because the past three class sessions involved an ongoing game — really two parallel ongoing games — of Diplomatic Risk rather than a more traditional set of bounded class activities. But tomorrow we start week four already. And before you know it we’ll be at mid-semester and it wil be time for analytical essays...

But before that we get to go through and discuss Machiavelli and Locke and a number of other authors. Hopefully this allows the class members to draw out the various theoretical principles that were implicit in the Diplomatic Risk set-up: in the goals that teams had to pursue, in the rules of the game itself, in the dynamic interactions between teams on the map and in the World Council and in the hallways (literally). The whole point of the exercise was to give people some “synthetic experiences” that we can draw on for subsequent conversations. Obviously the gaps between the game and the wider world of international affairs are just as fair game as the parallels, and I hope that over the next few weeks we’ll be able to explore both.

Plus, if I am being honest, it’s just a lot more fun to play Diplomatic Risk in class than it is for me to talk about theoretical perspectives on international affairs. I could, obviously. But that would feel largely like a waste of all of our time. My hope is that by approaching those perspectives indirectly and implicitly, through experience rather than through explicit delineation, everyone will develop a better practical sense of what they entail. I mean, I don't even have to say anything about trust under conditions of anarchy now, because everyone experienced the breakdowns that can occur when sovereign entities make deals but then one party reneges or backs out.

I also tried a little experiment this year, putting up a blog question that asked the students to think about the “Athenian thesis” in the context of the novel we read at the beginning of the semester, by presenting a brief but contextualized except from Thucydides. I think it was largely successful; several insightful posts explored the way that even using power for good turns into the pursuit of power in order to do good, and then into simply the pursuit of power almost as an end in itself. Awiti’s tragedy may be that she lost herself, but because of her immortality she cannot simply fade away but persists indefinitely. The lessons there for us are something we still have to explore, I think.


SISU-105.015 F2019 blog question #3

Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War is a classic of international studies: a detailed account of a power struggle between the Athenian city-states of Athens and Sparta, featuring military and diplomatic maneuvers, as well as contests for leadership within various polities based on their visions of how the war ought to be conducted, all conducted in the shadow of the Persian empire in the fifth century BCE (as denominated in the calendar “common” to the U.S. and to other places colonized by Europeans). We aren’t reading any Thucydides in this class because there is limited syllabus space. But Thucydides is a standard point of reference in international studies, especially Anglophone international studies, often classified as a “realist,” by some accounts the first realist, on the strength of moments in the text like this (in)famous excerpt from a debate between representatives of Athens (the Athenians) and the representatives of Melos (the Melians) in which the Athenians are trying to persuade the Melians to lay down their arms without a fight, since the Athenians have a clearly superior force, and the Melians object that simply submitting to power is not fair:

Athenians: ...you know as well as we do that, when these matters are discussed by practical people, the standard of justice depends on the equality of power to compel and that in fact the strong do what they have the power to do and the weak accept what they have to accept.

Melians: Then in our view (since you force us to leave justice out of account and to confine ourself to self-interest) — in our view it is at any rate useful that you should not destroy a principle that is to the general good of all men — namely, that in the case of all who fall into danger there should be such a thing as fair play and just dealing...

(Book Five, §89-90)

It's actually a fairly tricky point of Thucydides scholarship as to whether the author himself should be identified with what has come to be known as the “Athenian thesis” about the nature of politics, but regardless, the “Athenian thesis” is a good basic statement of political realism.

For your blog question this week I want you to think about which, if any, characters in The Truth About Awiti would agree with the “Athenian thesis” that justice is a secondary consideration and only power matters in politics, and which characters, if any, would not agree. Be textually precise; use specific textual passages from the novel to make your case. And note that I am not asking you to give your opinion on this issue; time enough for that in class when we turn to Machiavelli next week!


SISU-105.015 F2019 blog question #2

The promised "bonus blog question" despite our not having had class on Monday this week!

The novel The Truth About Awiti seems to suggest that Awiti -- who might represent the African diaspora community in general, or the descendants of U.S. slaves in particular, or perhaps something else -- will never find peace by pursuing her campaign of vengeance. But is peace the goal she ought to be pursuing, or is her campaign serving another purpose? How should Awiti be handling her pain, and does that have implications for how we might or should act in a world structured by the experiences and transnational arrangements that provoke her wrath?


class blogs for Fall 2019

Here are the six class blogs for this semester:

World Politics Think Tank
Sassy Scholars
The Erudite Iconoclasts
The Jackson Four
Blog F. Kennedy

If you are commenting on any of these blogs, remember to respect the chosen username of each poster, and refer to them that way. Happy discussing!