In 1995, in a lecture delivered at the IWM, American anthropologist Clifford Geertz predicted that, contrary to the prevailing consensus at the time, the international order born out of the end of the Cold War would be defined not by convergence and the wholesale adoption of Western models but by an obsession with identity and difference in which “a stream of obscure divisions and strange instabilities” will rise to the surface and we will be haunted by the questions: “What is a country if it is not a nation?” and “What is a culture if it is not a consensus?”
The The World in Pieces project is inspired by Geertz’s insight. It starts with the hypothesis that the ideological politics characteristic of both the Cold War and post-Cold War periods have yielded to identity politics on a global scale. While the conflict between democracy and authoritarianism will continue to have an impact on the foreign policy of states, cultural wars between states and within states will be of greater importance. Identity politics are centered on the past rather than the future. The fight is not over to which of democracy or authoritarianism the future belongs; rather, it is over the power to define oneself and one’s enemies. It is a struggle to compel others to view you and treat you in the way you wish to be viewed and treated, while preserving the right to negatively define others. Humiliation and pride, rather than interests and rights, now dominate the rhetoric of international relations. What we witness is neither the return of the Cold War, nor the return of nineteenth-century realpolitik.
Domestic polarization and fragmentation that we observe in many parts of the world mean that navigating international politics today makes it necessary to reconceptualize the complex link between domestic and foreign policy. Why does the emergence of external threats fail to bridge the divisions within societies? Why are political leaders more ready to reconcile with their external than their internal adversaries? How will the rise of the far right and far left change international relations in places like Europe and the United States?
How the triumph of identity politics over ideological politics on a global level will change the nature of international relations and of political regimes is at the heart of this program’s interest.
The “The World in Pieces” program contributes to the IWM’s partnership with the Dahrendorf Programme at the European Studies Centre, University of Oxford.