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Egypt, Afghanistan, Iraq...Zombies?

Daniel Drezner's Theories of International Politics and Zombies is a primer on global crises...and a parody of the "experts" who study them.

| Mon Feb. 7, 2011 7:00 AM EST

In true academic form, Drezner surveys the existing zombie/poli sci literature—including Thucydides' history of the aforementioned Peloponnesian conflict, and Cheney's "1 percent" doctrine ("If a policy analyst applies this logic to the undead, then preventive measures are clearly necessary"). Drezner defines his zombie terms; he identifies the possible scholarly objections to his zombie endeavor; and he launches into the zombie approaches different theorists—realists, liberals, neoconservatives, and social constructivists—might take. Along the way, he hits the scholarly signposts: "parsimony," "free-rider problems," "prospect theory," "confirmation bias," and "cascading norms". Most of these illuminate some point or other on the brain-eating oeuvre of George Romero or Danny Boyle. "Quelling the rise of the undead," he tells us, "would require significant interagency cooperation."

One wonders, though, if some opportunities for timely critical thoughts are lost to Drezner's impulse for quick dry punch lines (he might call it "satirical parsimony"). For instance, he asserts early on in an absurd flowchart that "SPEED DOES NOT CAUSALLY AFFECT THE SPREAD OF ZOMBIES." Slow zombie incubation produces a slower government response; but while faster incubation will bring a more rapid official reaction, the speed of the nightwalkers' spread will cancel it out. The result in both cases, he says, is "globalization of ghouldom." I'm not so convinced: Even a small, slow outbreak of flesh-eating undead within a single state's borders seems likely to provoke massive international revulsion and a rapid multi-government response. Or perhaps not; if zombies are taken as a metaphor for popular uprisings (an admittedly pro-statist point of view), then the recent Iran, Tunisia, Egypt, and tea party revolts do indeed suggest that governments are slow to respond until a certain critical mass is met.

Either way, you can see that this zombie thing has hard-core practical applications.

Besides Drezner's weakness for the cheap joke, he's also prone to give short shrift to IR theories he clearly disagrees with, and to softpedal on those with which he sympathizes just a bit. He's pretty unfair to social constructivism, for example; rather than explaining how the theory challenges traditional assumptions of national identity and international anarchy, he argues that constructivists might be open to adopting worldwide zombie norms; in a jab at leading thinker Alexander Wendt's most famous constructivist maxim, Drezner cheekily writes that "zombies are what humans make of them."

Likewise, Drezner misses a golden opportunity to flame on the poverty—the stupidity, really—of the neocons' reasoning, opting instead for a lighthearted roast. Sure, sure: Neocon hawks will launch a preventive strike against latent zombie threats, and they'll probably use it as an excuse to reinvade Iraq. But did it never occur to Drezner that the Manichean, all-or-nothing, bomb-it-yesterday neocons are themselves the zombies? Isn't it possible that they—and the Islamophobic, messianic, war-happy Palinocrats that have kept neoconservatism on the pantry shelf long past its spoilage date—are the real undead automatons who march forth with no understanding of their actions?

Nevertheless, TIPZ is one hell of an important tome. If you've hung out in academic circles or foreign-policy salons, you'll get the real joke here. And if you don't, not to worry: Drezner's given you a paint-by-numbers template for your term papers or theses. If you attend U Chicago, anyway.

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