The Collective, The Unitary and The Many Conflicts

I had a interesting thought today as I was reading the newspaper – what is it that connects the many different groups in a society. What is so strong that people who, for all intents and purposes, are complete opposites are still somehow connected…what is this thing called nationality? What is culture? What is civilization? Are these concepts so strong that despite bitter ideological disagreement people are still willing to be associated with each other?

And it seems like they are. Take Israel for example. It is a country deeply divided. Religious – Secular, Hawks – Doves, Capitalist – Socialist, Zionist – Anti-Zionist, Jewish – Other Religions (and the full spectrum that exists in any of these dynamic conflicts). And yet all Israeli, even if they are Israeli “hyphenated” as in Israeli-Arab, Israeli-Ethiopian, Israeli-Russian, Israeli-Bedouin, Israeli-French, Israeli-Anglo…etc. And only those who are second generation or greater may try to claim the title of Sabra – Israeli-Israeli born and bred. But in the end they are all Israeli…what a unique concept. And this allows people despite their political, social, religious, racial, gender, ethnic, cultural, and economic differences to have certain similar expectations – both from each other and the collective unit they are associated with.

And it is truly interesting to think the same is true for almost every other identifiable unit. They have rules that people are expected to follow. There are norms that result from the collective – either through experience, tradition, debate, or thought. And when someone, or something, acts in a way that is different, abnormal, illegal, disrespectful or shows disregard for the collective’s mutual contract/understanding  the collective decides or permits specific units or representatives to decide the consequences – if any…

This collective, then, is extremely important. It is something that the independent units share and are willing to actively subscribe to and participate in, even if they abhor it. It is for this reason that states are unitary actors in the international system. It is why institutions are unitary actors within states. It allows states to act in coordination and to cooperate. It gives people the ability to influence government in ANY political system.

So when next someone says – I’m “choose your nationality” I think maybe I am going to ask – “Oh, and what are you doing about that?” Because we are not just what we say we are, we are either what we do or let others do in our name. And to suggest that this is not accurate for people in any collective is inherently false – even if they have been inculcated with the most outrageous or absurd concepts (N. Korea) – because this collective maintains the status-quo despite free will. Why? Because that free will is denied by unitary actors within the state, who are compelled to do so because of the collective wisdom associated with state and the consequences for failing to adhere to that collectively accepted norm…

So is it the norm, the collective, the unitary actor or all of them (and then some) which participate in this process? Well, it seems like all of them. But only if we are willing to see the world socially as the collective norms. What about interests that contradict the norms of the collective but are pursued by the unitary actors none-the-less? Are these any different than the norms and expectations of the collective? Does the collective even matter at these points in time?

It often seems like they do not. The collective does not appear to be the motivation for, nor the basis of, action by the unitary actor. Instead there is a hierarchy of ideas in which hegemonic ideas are actualized as long as they are not threatened. These ideas compete and seek to spread until they are brought to fruition. At which point they may spread more or seek to maintain the new status-quo.

What is interesting is this happens at all levels of unitary interaction – in which single units recognize and interact with each other.

More to come.

The Influence of the Cloud

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 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.

Draft of paper available here: David Leitner. ideas as motivation for international actions. 2011 lecture

“Followership” in Response to Post-Cold War WMD Proliferation

PhD Abstract

This dissertation examines whether “the West” acted as a cohesive unit in response to weapons of mass destruction proliferation (WMD) from 1989 – 2005. Adapting organizational psychology’s followership framework I examine if Britain, Australia and Israel accepted the Western leadership antiproliferation goals and if they responded with similar action to WMD proliferation. This analysis helps to determine if the Western alignment acted to attain mutual goals using mutually accepted means in their antiproliferation efforts.

While the examination of each state’s policies can stand as an independent case study in antiproliferation, we further our understanding of alignment cohesion through the followership comparative framework. This framework uses a neo-classical realist systemic structure to analyze constructivist identity within the alignment to determine alignment cohesion. Conclusions regarding antiproliferation efforts, identity and “followership” rely on qualitative analysis based on events data and content analysis.

The central question of this research is: how and why did Western alignment cohesion change in response to proliferation in the post-Cold War? This analysis shows that the unity of purpose between the three “follower” states –Australia, Britain, and Israel – was high at the outset of the post-Cold war period. The evidence and analytic framework indicate that this was because the states accepted the leader’s vision for countering proliferation and maintaining the status quo. The “follower identities” of these states changed significantly throughout the 1989 -2001 period as Britain, Australia, and Israel each sought to redefine the goals and actions of the Western alignment in response to WMD proliferation. The three “follower identities” rose, however, as a result of policy changes by both the leader and the three “followers” after September 11, 2001 – and the subsequent attempts at proliferation by states like Iraq, Iran and North Korea, as well as non-state actors like al-Qaeda. As each of the states became a higher-level follower, the level of “followership” rose within the alignment subsystem signifying cohesion within the subsystem.

This demonstrates the value of the followership paradigm in examining the issue of cohesion in response to proliferation in the post-Cold War. This approach also resolves the tension between realist and constructivist analytic frameworks in the examination of alignments.


Here is an article that was based on some of my research from this time: Followership in the post Cold War

Free Use

The ideas I share are free to be used. In the academic world one gives credit through sourcing. You will do as you see fit.