Ideas as the motivation for International Action
Paper presented at IAIS 2011 conference
This paper discusses the role of ideas in political theory and practice. Politics has often been delineated by the research perspective taken, realist, liberal, constructivist, rational choice, etc. While each of these tries to differentiate itself from the other by examining specific aspects and influences on the political milieu, they are united by the sharing and acceptance of ideas.
While technology today discusses the “cloud” as a means of accessing and sharing data through the internet, history and current events have demonstrated that the sharing and accessing of ideas which reside in a “cloud” is not new. In fact, politics, regardless of the perspective, have been based on actions that matured in the “cloud”. The ideas which are shared in the cloud are not relegated to a specific civilization, culture or identity. Nor are they only attached to the systemic, state, or man levels of research. Sharing these ideas is not dependent upon the distribution of material power on any level.
The ebb and flow of history does not revolve around the material power of states. Nor is it solely the purview of institutions. And it is not based entirely on identity and anarchy. Instead it is about ideas and how those ideas are translated into actions. From the rise and fall of empires and the crusades through the Renaissance and Reformation, the American and French Revolutions, Socialism, Communism, Fascism, Democracy, the Cold War, Fundamentalism and many of the revolutions we are experiencing today, ideas have been the motivation for interstate, state and substate groups’ formations and interactions.
This cloud of ideas is even more relevant today as technology and education have given the masses greater access and participation in the creation and assertion of the place for ideas in world politics.
This paper argues, admittedly from a neo-classical realist perspective, the existence of the “cloud” as a separate influence on political relations. It suggests that the cloud, rather than being a separate level to research, is part and parcel to all levels and streams of political interaction and thought. It is, essentially, the cloud that allows individual, state and systemic actors to share ideas, gain support for those ideas and garner influence so as to see ideas translate into action.
Understanding the role of ideas in politics allows us to better analyze the ramifications of systemic, subsystemic, national and local change. It is possible, by examining the ideas that motivate change, to identify primary conflict lines; the leaders and followers within a conflict; and how these conflicts have led some to protect the status-quo while others seek to revise it at all levels. As the influence of the cloud and the role of ideas in politics is better understood it may have significant impact on strategic planning as well as future research.