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Understanding Tragedy and Understanding International Relations

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Part of the Palgrave Studies in International Relations book series (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.

Keywords

  • International Relation
  • Greek Tragedy
  • International Relation Theory
  • Supreme Emergency
  • Tragic Hero

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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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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  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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  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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