Jan
14

Beginning with Heidegger

Millerman draws our attention to Heidegger as a source of key philosophical and political contributions that have shaped thought since his contributions in Beginning with Heidegger (2020). I came across Millerman via Dugin, some of whose books he has translated into English. This book is a slightly modified version of Michael Millerman's 2018 PhD thesis with the University of Toronto (available freely on the university's website). A few notes:

"One of Heidegger's main ideas is that the major concepts from the Western philosophical tradition are historically constituted, rather than universal or timelessly true. Today this appears trivial. But that is in part influence of Heidegger influence. Previously, concepts like "truth" and "right" were regarded as stable, universal, or eternal, and they served to an extent as foundational concepts used to justify social and political orders." (p. xi)

""The mere 'criticizing' from any arbitrary standpoint, the counting up of errors...on the 'basis' of a philosophy that is 'free of standpoint,'" he continues, "is not so much wrong as it is simply childish." Thus, neither the criticisms of an arbitrary standpoint, nor the mere identification and enumeration of errors are required. Rather, the need is for an "essential correspondence" as "confrontation," that is, to test, or to be tested by "the claim of an essence of truth" that a given thinker and we ourselves might stand under, thus to "gain clarity about ourselves" (p. xxix)

"Heidegger never elaborated a "political theory" out of the grounds of inceptual thinking. Despite a few remarks on Germany, Russia, and America, he never constructed a comprehensive "theory of international relations." And although he relates the questioning of being to the question of "who" a people are, his writings are without extended thematic construction of something like an "existential theory of society." By contrast, Dugin extends Heidegger in precisely these directions. Importantly, he extends his criticisms of Nazi "metaphysics," too. The proponents of a political philosophy that leaps into another beginning criticize Nazism as incompatible with inceptual thinking, following Heidegger's own muted theoretical criticisms of Nazism." (p. xliii)

"Heidegger's importance for political theory is immense. but the access to Heidegger required for political theory is not easily obtained. It requires a destruction, or deconstruction, of both post-Heideggerianism, which lies mainly on the political left, and anti-Heideggerianism, which characterizes the political liberal right known for invoking natural right against history. Except for complete indifference to philosophy, perhaps the greatest obstacle blocking access to Heidegger is the view that his philosophy is Nazism or at the very least abets it. While thralldom to certain themes in Heidegger can lend itself to uncritical sympathies for various elements of a Nazistic worldview, non-Nazi political zealotry concerning Heidegger can also lead to philosophical blindness or even to war against philosophical inquiry. Both risks must be avoided, and both the philosophical and political must receive their due. When they do, political theory can become more than an academic discipline and can serve as an invitation to conversations and configurations, transformations and constitutions, turning and events." (p. 214) 

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Dec
17

The Silk Roads

In a random bookshop in Kathmandu I came across "The Silk Roads: A New History of the World" (2015) by Peter Frankopan. Having taught Global Political Economy in the past and gone through a number of textbooks (which are largely centered on the Euro-West and its perspectives on global matters) I was hoping this book might be a new look at history. For several chapters, the book takes a thematic approach (flow of theological ideas, flow of commodities) and others are issue based (revolution, war, colonization). While there might be relatively more focus on Central Asia and Asia compared to other renderings of world history, it is not immediately clear what is new per se. The Americas and Africa largely remain without a history, unless in the context of conquest or colonization, following the tradition of Hobbes. This is a mass market book (Bloomsbury), but includes 100 pages of notes (book is 636 pages). For a specialist of a region or issue or commodity, the book contains some errors or over simplifications and could be frustrating; for a generalist interested in an introduction to world history, this could be a useful book. A few notes:

"The willingness to adopt new ideas and practices was an important factor in enabling the Persians to build an administrative system that allowed the smooth running of an empire which incorporated many different peoples. A highly educated bureaucracy oversaw the efficient administration of the day-to-day life of the empire, recording everything from payments made to workers serving the royal household, to validating the quality and quantity of goods bought and sold in market places; they also took charge of the maintenance and repair of a road system criss-crossing the empire..." (p. 1-2)

"The Islamic conquests created a new world order, an economic giant, bolstered by self-confidence, broad-mindedness and a passionate zeal for progress. Immensely wealthy and with few natural political or even religious rivals, it was a place where order prevailed, where merchants could become rich, where intellectuals were respected and where disparate views could be discussed and debated." (p. 101)

"By the early fourteenth century, Timbuktu in particular was not just an important commercial centre but a hub for scholars, musicians, artists and students who gathered around the Sankoré, Djinguereber and Sīdī Yahyā mosques, beacons of intellectual discourse and home to countless manuscripts collected from all over Africa. Not surprisingly, the region attracted attention from thousands of miles away. There had been gasps in Cairo when Mansa Musa - or Musa, King of Kings of the Malian Empire - 'a devout and just man' whose like had not been seen before, passed through the city in the fourteenth century on his way to Mecca on pilgrimage, accompanied by an enormous retinue and carrying huge amounts of gold to give as presents. So much was spent in the markets during his visit to the city that a mini-depression is supposed to have been triggered across the Mediterranean basin and in the Middle East as the price of bullion apparently plummeted under the pressure of the huge inflow of new capital." (p. 203-204)

"The native populations in the Caribbean and the Americas were devastated. Within a few short decades of Columbus' first voyage, the numbers of the indigenous Taíno people fell from half a million to little more than 2,000. This was in part due to ferocious treatment at the hands of those who began to style themselves as 'conquistadors' - or conquerors - such as Hernán Cortés, whose bloodthirsty expedition to explore and secure Central America resulted in the death of the Aztec ruler, Moctezuma, and the collapse of the Aztec Empire. Cortés stopped at nothing to enrich himself. 'I and my companions', he told the Aztecs, 'suffer from a disease of the heart that can be cured only with gold.'" (p. 213)

"The underlying secret to Dutch success in the seventeenth century was common sense and hard work. The Dutch reckoned that the way to work was not to follow the example of England, where the chartered companies used sharp practices to limit beneficiaries to a small circle of intimates, all looking after each other's interests and using monopoly positions to protect their positions. Instead, capital was pooled and risks shared among as wide a body of investors as possible. In due course, the conclusion was reached that despite competing ambitions and rivalries between provinces, cities and indeed individual merchants, the most efficient and powerful way to build up trade was by combining resources." (p. 255)

"Aware that their hold over the Gulf region was tenuous, the British made overtures to leading figures in the Arab world, including Husayn, Sharīf of Mecca, who was offered a tempting deal: if Husayn 'and the Arabs in general' were to provide support against the Turks, then Britain 'will guarantee the independence, rights and privileges of the Sharifate against all external foreign aggression, in particular that of the Ottomans'. That was not all, for another, even juicier incentive was offered up too. Perhaps the time had come when 'an Arab of true race will assume the Caliphate at Mecca or Medina'. Husayn, guardian of the holy city of Mecca and a member of the Quraysh, and descendant of Hāshim, the great-grandfather of the Prophet Muammad himself, was being offered an empire in return for his support. The British did not really mean this, and nor could they really deliver it. However, from the start of 1915, as things took a turn for the worse, they were prepared to string Husayn along..." (p. 335)

"Three possible triggers were envisaged - all of which could justify military action. Perhaps Saddam "moves against the Kurds in [the] north?', wondered Donald Rumsfeld in November 2001 ; maybe a "connection to Sept 11 attack or to anthrax attacks" (following mailings to several media outlets and to two US senators in September 2001); or what if there were a "dispute over WMD inspections?" This seemed a promising line – as revealed by the comment that follows: "Start now thinking about inspection demands." ... Particular emphasis was given to building up the case that Iraq was not just determined to make weapons of mass destruction but was doing so covertly and obstructing inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at the same time. In some cases, this created problems with the monitors themselves, who found their positions overstated, compromised or even at risk altogether. In the spring of 2002, for example, Jose Bustani, the Brazilian director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, was ousted following a special closed session - this was the first time the head of a major international organization had been forced from their position. Information gathered from one-off and often unreliable sources was given primnance, and speculation was presented as fact, the result of a single-minded determination to make the case against Iraq and Saddam appear watertight. 'Every statement I make today', Colin Powell told the UN on 5 February 2003, 'is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.'" (p. 502) 

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Feb
10

Decolonizing Politics


Robbie Shilliam wrote "Decolonizing Politics: An Introduction" in 2021, and it is thankfully affordable for an academic book ($18). The book takes a different road to the conversation that ones I had read, and in that regard it was interest and a great place for new insights. The level of text is well suited to undergraduate students, which is a welcome addition as many of authors writing in this area are really suitable for graduate level and not accessible beyond a niche. Recommended for consideration in your classes.

Note: For some reason the text of the book was not searchable (even via Google Books), which I usually use to double check the quotes. If you notice any errors, appreciate if you can let me know.

"There is an easy option to decolonizing the study of politics. You can simply search for the most exotic forms of politics around the world and revel in their alien-ness. But in doing so, you'd keep the 'familiar' familiar and the 'unfamiliar' unfamiliar. There would be no intimate engagement between 'them' and 'us'. No question raised as to what counts as 'exotic' to whom and why. No stakes at play. Put another way, if you moved your focus to a study of the "margins" only, then that would leave the "Center" intact. Your movement would thereby avoid difficult but compelling questions such as: Who made their lives central and other people's lives marginal? And, by what logic are the margins divided from the center?" (p. 2)

"In what follows, I recontextualize, reconceptualize, and reimagined four popular subfields of political science: political theory, political behavior, development in comparative politics, and war and peace in international relations." (p. 18)

"In his anthropological writings, Kant maps out a particular geography of race which betrays a fundamental logic of difference: the white race can fulfill human potential; the other races cannot. I will suggest that the universal rights of which Kant boasts are only universal to those racially counted as properly human, that is white European men, when it comes to the rest of humanity, Kant provides a practical guide for their colonization." (p. 27)

"While Darwin, Spencer, and Galton differed on the mechanisms and consequences of inheritance and evolution, all of them eventually asserted that mental fitness differed between human groups. What's more all of them proposed that the human struggle envisioned by Malthus took place between races. The science of heredity was avowedly a race science. Empire and colonial rule were fundamentally implicated in the rare logics of this science via concerns for the integrity of the anglo-saxon race as it emigrated to the four corners of the earth as urbanisation in the imperial centre mixed populations within a dysgenic industrial landscape." (p. 61) 

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Jul
11

Agroecology - Science & Politics

If you are looking for an introduction to agroecology and/or a textbook for a course on sustainable agriculture, "Agroecology: Science and Politics" (2017) by Rosset and Altieri is it. This book is written by leading experts, activists, and advocates (which motivates the book), for students this might be read in combination with a parallel book offering a different perspective for comparative purposes. As a stand alone book it is also excellent, concise (for a topic that could be complicated), and readable at 146 pages. Chapters cover the principles, history, current directions, evidence, examples of scaling, and politics. Examples given are concrete, with references for follow up and deeper engagement. A key point that the authors make throughout is that agroecology is political. Very useful introductory book. One of the authors has put the book online here.

A few notes:

"Agroecology combines indigenous knowledge systems about soils, plants and so on with disciplines from modern ecological and agricultural science. By promoting a dialogue of wisdoms and integrating elements of modern science and ethno-science, a series of principles emerge, which when applied in a particular region take different technological forms depending on the socio-economic, cultural and environmental context." (p. 9)


"Most analysts today agree that increasing food production will be a necessary but not a sufficient condition to prevent future hunger around the world. Hunger results from underlying inequities in the dominant capitalist system that deprive poor people of economic opportunity, access to food and land and other resources vital for a secure livelihood (Lappé, Collins and Rosset 1998). Focusing narrowly on increasing food production cannot alleviate hunger because it fails to alter the tightly concentrated distribution of economic power that determines who can buy food or have access to seeds, water and land to produce it." (p. 68)

"While most agroecology research to date has emphasized natural science, these results point to the need to prioritize social science approaches and self-study by rural movements, to draw systematic lessons from their successful experiences. This can produce the information and principles needed to design new collective processes." (p. 114) 

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