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International Relations: Beyond the Prism of ‘Isms’


This pitch dwells on the salient glimpses of discursive disciplinary symptoms in International Relations wherein ideologies are emanating from diverse ‘isms’. Multiple ‘isms’ are replete with their framework of ideas to underpin principles chosen in praxis. An evolution, growth and development in IR rely on trendsetting discourse and rhetoric revelation.

Volumes of literature – classical, medieval, and modern – covering times of war and peace in narratives and counter-narratives are non-fictional historiography of International Relations (IR) based on perception, experience, imagination, and articulation of litterateurs. Meanwhile, its concomitant diplomacy is undertaken to maximize national interests persevering to ensure, maintain and promote regional/continental/international order in international power politics. International relations is becoming a vogue to expand mindscape to exercise and contemplate in a vast global landscape laden on current waves of politicking. Hence a real or imaginative chronicle about a voyage into worldly affairs revolves around particularism and universalism defining our identity; how we think, who we are, and where we are heading in a way of revealing the local and global conditions or situations.

A cursory peep into insights of international relations shows the world through the lens of theoretical adventures of liberalism, realism, and Marxism and its succeeding variants of ‘isms’. International relations theory derives either from Plato’s deductive method or Aristotle’s inductive reasoning. Subjective/objective, behavioralism/post-behavioralism, and positivism/post-positivism determine methodology, ontology, and epistemology. Qualitative and quantitative approaches are based on it to discern the enigma of multi-verse and pluri-verse of unfolding international relations. In the real world of the policy ecosystem, the business of politics is to attend tasks to reform and transform polity – domestic and international. Political exercises in the diplomatic approach and strategic measures are bounded by the rationality of terms and conditions of the constituency of political society. Leave alone electoral consent or a borderline of sovereignty, which is vested in the people. Sacrosanct supreme decision-making in international relations has to contain its trespassing or violating. Leadership in this arena champions national and international interests.

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Moreover, an axiom of classics in international relations whether myth or reality still sounds truer. Maxims of inter-state relations resonate when unveiling the instinct and intrinsic trait of statesmen and leaders at the helm of foreign affairs. For example, globalization or deglobalization or a protectionist spirit in the temperament of the foreign policy is a case in point. Discourse is shaped by great powers’ interests that are projected to be international or universal aspirations. The colossal power propagates to set an example of its edges in modern norms and values of liberal democracy in the form of liberal international order.

Great powers’ interests are projected as international aspirations, whereas small powers are confined to the needs and necessities of survival or a co-existence with such powerful giants in their proximity. Additionally, the size of a nation does not determine its ideals. It is a breadth of embracing humane values and norms, and the scope of securing a sanguine future. International relations is becoming a vogue to expand mindscape to exercise and contemplate it in a vast global landscape if it pays a rich dividend to personal and (inter)national satisfaction. 

In the constant flow of time and space, political transition is inside/out and outside/in, discomposure of both the imperatives of internal affairs and emerging vagaries of world affairs. In a rudimentary phase of colonialism, the world’s countries had encounters with voyagers and explorers who went into the expedition and discovery. With guns, ships, and pens in the invention, the narratives were written and counter-narratives argued in the sense of its contrary. Along with theological testament and bayonets, foreigners breached independence, freedom, and peace of an untouched, unspoiled, and untainted territorial space. The world from long ages in human settlements moved within continents commencing warfare conquering over wealth, wisdom, fine arts, and human spaces. Knowledge indeed became a potency to challenge the status quo or to maintain it or a crusade to restore the status quo ante of virgin lands.

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In these pillages and plunders, human progress was liable to err and a cycle of history bespoke the rise and fall of great powers. War and peace never settled. Therefore, the abnormality is witnessed in the state of affairs due to unsettling and inquietude human nature and a proto-contract principle between the powerful and the powerless. Political and economic thought advanced so does the need to undertake diplomatic studies in different versions and visions of the world around us. A modern study in international relations commenced in the 20th century in an unprecedented manner in the aftermath of the First “Great” War of 1914-1918.

A conflagration of World Wars had seen the involvement of the nook and corners of the empires, great powers, the colonial systems and impacted those on the fringes of proto-sovereign independent and autonomous political spaces. It became the sole purpose of idealists and liberal internationalists to promote international understanding, diplomacy, and peace among nations. Witnessing the linear march of time, a rupture in a journey of human history traversing towards the 21st century has experienced two features. First, similar to Hellenic metics (strangers or migrants in contemporary parlance) or those at margins were forbidden to partake in the carnival of politics in the past, and second, others were awakening in the world politics in the advent of advancement in material senses that were pacing momentum in development and research of science and technology.

Everyday affairs are preoccupied with political designs, and political actors were and are finding spaces in the contemporary public discourse. Economic issues are always central to the model of a polity as well as to better human conditions. Thus, status and privileges are widely aspiring even today. But equality and equity are contested when polity has emerged. Income and prosperity are disproportionate and so do the limits and potentials of society and its intrinsic economic structures. In these manifestations of disparity, depravity, and impoverishment, international relations have resembled the international rural development. This is a reality when the radical international political economy (RIPE) criticizes the center of power and wealth and its capacity to absorb the least disadvantaged resource-rich regions to optimize lucratively utmost approaches; those in semi-periphery and periphery of underdevelopment theater are resisting against displacement and exploitation when it is being situated at the bottom status of global affluence.

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There are eternal optimists and liberals alike avowing the change is good; and human society would progress further to ensure human dignity, well-being, and happiness. Politics is becoming a core part to go the extra mile to achieve human development despite bickering and quarrel within a political society – either a dormant or a proactive inbuilt democratic mediation of conflict. According to experts, peace would prevail although transitional difficulties make the state of affairs need ordering and reordering when disorder had set in. In human history, constancy is changed but with the cordial understanding of self-respect, self-esteem, and self-recognition.

There are certain aspects of society where aesthetics of cooperation over conflict, peace over war, and understanding over misunderstanding always guide towards enlightenment. There are criticisms and mundane talking but a relentless endeavour to better humane governance is the lofty pursuit to mitigate vices or the leftover of injustice and prejudice. Democratic aesthetics can be a pleasure even if the people are devoid of material prosperity. Therapeutic healing in communicative practices can relieve burdens, chaos, and complexity of the politicized world and everything is getting revolved around political news in such a magnitude and expansiveness of the undergird gross national and global happiness that seems to asphyxiate.

People fed by information and knowledge are sharpening analysis as they did in the past. Linguistic twists and turns are the favourite pastimes of many. A sense of humour and laughter can make fun out of grave issues and some are reactionary about poking fun out of such a reservoir of mess or desiderata of the proper functioning system. Similarly, satirical comedy in art provocateur for example in cartoons on political affairs, political frustration, and the age of anger are common. These attributes are within domestic society. Those who would like to transcend from a particular territorial polity, indulge in issues – international or global in nature. Even in academia, some enter into such a vocation that may sound interesting, extraordinary, and uncommon intellectual prowess. It would ignite a passion for something new or innovative albeit it is inherently (un)expressed in forerunners or predecessors.

Intellectual stunts bear a resemblance to heroic or sheroic (gender or feminist) legions entering the battlefield of theory-praxis so that one targets to achieve excellence in wining arguments, epistemic avant-garde, or verbal fights. Linguistic gymnastics fosters discourse of the political world. In such a history or herstory in usual mainstream discussion in power politics generally understands the binaries of such particular narratives or counter-narratives in the discourse of (inter)nationals. Either an origin or a concept of state, nation-state or state-nation; or without statism, or its degeneration; or its underdevelopment or development, the Westphalian Treaty seems like the ultimate arbiter of modern civilization and its innate discontents. Political paradoxes are abounding as we navigate in an age of globalizing, capitalizing, and financialized interconnectedness of world affairs.

The essence of human life in national and international affairs is to sail not to sink but to struggle and survive or to make a difference humanely. Otherwise, citizenship and global value would not make us who we are. So in these discursive practices, we have to leave the world where the heavenly feeling is real and it is not an unreal emotive condition or sensation. That does not mean to put in confines of ‘isms’ that may be practical or impractical. Pragmatism or personal responsibility is important in comparison to aspirations of power or perks one enjoys.

Principles are different from an ideology that is a study of ideas. While certain principles emanate from threads of ideas. Some who propound similar principles may not come under an umbrella of ideology. Others may differ in pursuing similar ideas in their principles. Freedom with responsibility brings in additional fodder to pursue happiness and contentment. With a presence of contradictions and existential relevance of body politics in the immediate political-economic habitat, IR is undergoing a trajectory that witnesses the pitfalls and promises of the past in the present and charting a destiny in the existing global state of nature and the global compact. Consequently, in the prism of ‘isms’, homo politicus and homo economicus in the quest for a good society possess a simple erudition in the castle of proto-principles based on their practices. Homo academicus, on the other hand, are busy interpreting and analyzing the art and science of international relations in theories/praxis, its discourse or rhetorical narratives, and counter-narratives. At least an uncommon sense to go beyond ‘isms’ is to indulge in a vocation of IR first as a global citizen at individual level irrespective of country of origin.

To pursue Veritas or serve Truth to prevail ultimately, liberty and justice are to be upheld. When liberal democracy is finding tensions and anxiety from forces and elements hostile to it or those subversive groups perceive a dystopian understanding of utopian thinking in praxis. The dangerous symptoms percolating in political and economic habitat are the illiberal and authoritarian streak in approaches and predatory measures that do not salvage humans from the fallacies and disasters of the 20th century in 2022. Civic education can bring or restore liberalism of humane nature from a captive of radicalism or criticism that is rife and ordinary. Otherwise why contemplate on political romanticism, ethics of liberal realism, and aesthetics of human bonding in a spirituelle ordinaire (ordinary spiritualism) when time is exacting on impinging the archaeology of académie. It is futile to confine global citizenship to nuisance or a bad demeanor in public and international affairs. Focusing on troubleshooting and extirpating vices in such a domain, we can moot humane exercises in human affairs. A civic demeanor is sorely missing as capitalism is speedily taking a prime protagonist role in quotidian affairs. The follies of (inter)national politics compel us to see beyond the prism of ‘isms’ to save every generation in the quest for sanity and humanity.

Reference Notes

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About the author

Mr. Kunwar is a politics and international relations analyst based in Kathmandu.


Rajeev Kunwar

Mr. Kunwar is a politics and international relations analyst based in Kathmandu.

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