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Quite Meta and Very Meta

1. Tangential Background

Years ago, the University of Illinois had a 5-year joint liberal arts/engineering undergraduate program. I was curious. Eventually (some time during my freshman year), and in spite of the Engineering Dean’s pronouncement that “that program is meant for civil engineers who want to build bridges in South America,” I enrolled.

What degrees to choose? The engineering degree had been a known ever since my father introduced me to the word astronautics in a Scrabble game years before: Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering. What remained was to choose was the liberal arts degree.

In the event and for (poor) reasons that I won’t go into here, I chose Political Science.

2. Quite Meta

Without exception, the best class that I took in the Political Science department was International Relations. Dr. Weinstien was a marathon runner (something I could not conceive of back then). And he had very high expectations.

We were expected to pepper our comments during class with specific examples drawn from history, which intimidated me from the beginning. We were only allowed three punctuation errors (!) in our semester précis. (Yes: He called it a précis, although there was nothing abbreviated about it.) We did a very close reading of Hans Morgenthau’s Politics Among Nations.

Morgenthau’s notion of a bipolar international order was a dominant thread in late twentieth century. It provided a framework for studying foreign relations. And what we did that semester was analyze his framework (analyze his analysis).

Sorta meta, and undoubtedly (in retrospect) why I loved the class so much.

3. Very Meta

Summer 2020 is coming to an end, and I am in a sprint to finish at least one of the books I recently started.

“What are you reading?” Ben asked.

“I’m trying to finally read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine. Only 200 pages left. I’m going to make it.”

“I thought you had read that several times!” he chuckled.

Sadly, this is the plight of many gems on that shelf. Boo! Happily, Nasim Taleb tells us that an anti-library such as this is the best. Yay!

Klein’s book is a masterpiece. It presents principles (and importantly, principals) to explain twentieth century foreign affairs (including the Cold War tensions that were the favorite of Morgenthau’s realists) in a way that explains equally well foreign affairs in our time. It’s the same people doing the same things time after time in place after place.

Klien’s is a framework that looks at things not just from a power/politics perspective but also from a power/economics one. Least among the appeals of her approach is the lie it puts to the notion of Political Science and Economics as distinct academic disciplines — a bifurcation that would be mended by return to Political Economy.

If I were a political science (or economics) professor today, I would have a class on international relations (or international economics) that used Klein as the text. Much as we used Morgenthau’s text those many years ago, we would read Klein very closely. And we would analyze her framework (analyze her analysis).

Very meta. (And undoubtedly why I like the book so much)