Sunday, February 26, 2012

Conflict Scholars Should Learn Political Economy If They Want to Talk About Political Economy

. Sunday, February 26, 2012

First off, apologies for the light posting. A confluence of events have prohibited more activity here. I hope to get going more regularly.

I want to call brief attention to this post from LFC at Howl of Pluto, an excellent and under-appreciated IR/FP blog. Here's the meat:

Maybe Phil [Arena] could consider taking an occasional break from criticizing Reiter and Stam's enthusiasm about democracy and focus on the particular forces that drive bad, suboptimal policy in the particular democracy known as the United States. There are, after all, varieties of democracy, just as there varieties of capitalism. The problem isn't so much democracy per se as the particular form it is taking in the U.S. today.
You don't have to agree with the conclusion to see a problem with the logic. I've consistently followed Phil's postings, and a regular theme is that he is skeptical of claims in the academic literature that "democracy" does this or "democracy" does that. Part of Phil's whole point, as I read him (and I hope/expect that he'll comment on his own at some point) is precisely that "there are varieties of democracy". Moreover, that democracy does not always lead to peaceful, warm, open, transparent outcomes that track to some utilitarian ideal. So when he picks on Reiter and Stam he's doing it from that perspective: a general skepticism of the way that much IR literature talks about democracy, attributes unidirectional causal properties to it, and generally over-idealizes a regime category that -- as LFC notes -- retains plenty of space for all sorts of varying outcomes.

In other words, I imagine Phil would be fine with the bureaucratic-politics-plus-interest-groups story that LFC puts forward, and nothing he wrote contradicts it. (Unlike me, Phil's pretty good about remaining agnostic about things he doesn't possess extensive knowledge about.) The problem is that quite a lot of the IR conflict literature wouldn't be okay with a story where narrow interest groups within a democratic society skew policy in a suboptimal way. Including Reiter and Stam, at least if you give them a literal reading.

Of course, because I'm self-interested, it's easy for me to sum all this up and conclude that the problem is that conflict scholars don't understand political economy.


J Wells said...

I'm not sure about PE, but it's clear conflict scholars don't get democracy, as you and Dr. Arena make pretty clear. Dr. Arena and I have had that discussion before (see the comments):

LFC said...

I take your point that Phil's criticism of R&S is, in a sense and in part, premised on an appreciation that there are varieties of democracy or at least that we shouldn't have an undifferentiated view of democracy's effects on FP behavior.

My post was prompted by P.A.'s somewhat sardonic reference to R&S's belief in the salutary properties of a democratic marketplace of ideas to arrive at, if not 'the truth,' then presumably reasonably good policies. And the point I was trying to get at was that there are other forces besides a defective marketplace of ideas that produce bad policies. So I probably should have stopped there and not wandered off into the 'varieties of democracy' pt which, I agree, doesn't really follow.

Conflict Scholars Should Learn Political Economy If They Want to Talk About Political Economy
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