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Understanding Tragedy and Understanding International Relations

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Tragedy and International Relations

Part of the book series: Palgrave Studies in International Relations ((PSIR))

Abstract

Tragedy is one of the oldest conceptual lenses of Western culture. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that tragedy is constitutive of Western culture itself. Writing more than two millennia ago, Thucydides thought that tragedy was an appropriate lens through which to view international relations.1 We interrogate this assumption. Does tragedy offer a plausible framework for examining international relations? If so, in what ways can the concept of tragedy revealed in ancient Greek, Shakespearean, and later dramas inform and enrich our understanding of international relations today? And, perhaps most importantly, if the lens of tragedy does illuminate aspects of international relations for us, can this knowledge enhance our chances of avoiding or reducing tragic outcomes in the future? The contributors to this volume by no means agree on the answers to these questions. We do, however, agree that these are crucial points of enquiry.

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Notes

  1. S. L. Feagin (1998) ‘Tragedy’, in E. Craig (ed.) Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (London: Routledge), vol. 9, pp. 447–52;

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  3. J. Drakakis and N. Conn Liebler (1998) ‘Introduction’, in J. Drakakis and N. Conn Liebler (eds) Tragedy ( London: Longman ), pp. 1–20;

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  4. and J. Wallace (2007) The Cambridge Introduction to Tragedy ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

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  5. For an introduction to this genre and its constitutive concepts in the specific context of international relations, see R. N. Lebow (2003) The Tragic Vision of Politics: Ethics, Interests and Orders ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

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  6. S. Booth (1983) King Lear, Macbeth, Indefinition and Tragedy ( New Haven: Yale University Press ), p. 81.

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  14. F. Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, trans. by Douglas Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press (2000)), p. vii. Benjamin Schupmann and Tracy Strong offer valuable analyses of Nietzsche’s account of tragedy in Chapters 10 (pp. 129–143) and 11 (pp. 144–157) of this volume, respectively.

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  20. B. Woodward (2004) Plan of Attack (New York: Simon and Schuster);

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  21. M. R. Gordon and B. E. Trainor (2006) Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq ( New York: Pantheon);

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  23. T. E. Ricks (2006) Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (New York: Penguin). Also, see the contributions to this volume by James Mayall, Richard Beardsworth, and Tracy Strong, in Chapters 3 (pp. 44–52), 8 (pp. 97–111) and 11 (pp. 144–157) respectively.

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  24. See B. Orend (2006) The Morality of War (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press), pp. 154–7. ‘Normative IR theory’, ‘international political theory’, and ‘international ethics’ are broadly interchangeable labels for a field of study within IR that variously draws on moral philosophy and political theory to explore moral expectations, decisions and dilemmas in world politics. For an introduction to this field, see T. Erskine (2010) ‘Normative IR Theory’, in Dunne, Kurki, and Smith (eds) International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity, 2nd edn, pp. 37–57.

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  25. M. Walzer ([1977] 2006) Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations, 4th edn (New York: Basic Books), pp. 251–68. Note that Walzer does not present this as a ‘moral tragedy’; this is Orend’s unique contribution. Walzer, Orend would maintain, overlooks the tragic dimension of this situation. Nevertheless, as we note below, Walzer’s rationale for the division between jus in bello and jus ad bellum considerations–for which his “supreme emergency” argument is a controversial exception–is an excellent illustration of one of the insights that we have taken from tragedy.

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© 2012 Toni Erskine and Richard Ned Lebow

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Erskine, T., Lebow, R.N. (2012). Understanding Tragedy and Understanding International Relations. In: Erskine, T., Lebow, R.N. (eds) Tragedy and International Relations. Palgrave Studies in International Relations. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230390331_1

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