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Friday, October 26, 2012

The Geopolitics of Emotion

Dominique Moïsi proposes a new theory of international relations in his book The Geopolitics of Emotion  - How Cultures of Fear, Humiliation, and Hope are Reshaping the World. Ok, it's not really a developed new theory and I also did not find it convincing overall nor even as a coherent argument, but that it is a theory is the idea behind it.

Moïsi starts out from a commonplace perspective that I - but not Realists - very much agree with: "This book is formed on a [...] conviction [...] one cannot fully understand the world in which we live without trying to integrate and understand its emotions." From there he essentially argues that three broad strains of emotions govern whole world regions (hope: Asia; humiliation: the Arab world; and fear: the West).

The simplicity of the argument is almost stunning. It first of all is almost necessarily inductive, broad political developments are retrospectively grouped under one fitting emotion while contrary changes or motivating emotions are being ignored. It second of all groups a variety of countries together that is confounding. Sure, both Dubai and Yemen are Arabic countries, but are both 'humiliated'? Thirdly, complex human reasoning is broken down to one determining emotional factor. To ignore that al-Qaeda has a deep ideological foundation and even had an explicit strategic plan to draw the United States into battle in a Muslim country is incredibly reductive, yet it is what Moïsi does when ascribing the attacks of 9/11 to Arabs' humiliation on the hands of the West.

Let me end with one citation, which showcases well why I find it extremely difficult to take the whole argument serious:
It can be argued that the first Asian economic miracle in the 1980s was at least in part a triumphant response to national feelings of humiliation. Countries such as South Korea and even Taiwan wanted to prove to Japan, their former occupying power, that they too could perform well on the global economic stage. An initial feeling of defiance has also been one of the motors of the current Chinese renaissance. Thus the humiliation inflicted by the Japanese on the rest of Asia has constituted and energizing drug for the entire region.

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