On March-ing

The end of February turned out to be rather busy. With half term and the end of the month at around the same time, there was sadly little time for writing. Over the course of the past few weeks, I have been slowly reading a re-reading a few things that I would like to share with you.

The first work that I have been focussing my attention on is re-reading Jean Jacques Rousseau’s ‘The Social Contract’. I wish I could say that what brought me to this re-reading was an epiphany of necessity that in order to grasp the populism of the contemporary era some sort of recourse to understanding the notion of the ‘volonte generale’ [general will] that Rousseau etches out in his seminal work. Sadly, this would add little to the work already achieved by such magnanimous thinkers who predicted the populist phenomenon we experience today well before the writing was on the wall, such as Bernard Crick or Margaret Canovan.[1] I was answering a series of questions posed by one of my students about the concept of ‘popular democracy’ and, inevitably, Rousseau popped up. I realised I had not dipped my toe into a work of Rousseau’s in some time and, subsequently, some hours later I was starting Book II.

Aside from this sojourn into familiar territory, I recently finished a publication by the journalist and scholar Graeme Wood entitled ‘The Way of The Strangers: Encounters With The Islamic State’. Quite frankly, in all the years that my academic interest in the thought of revolutionary non-state actors has taken an increasingly primary role in my own thoughts, this is one of the best long-form discussions of the Islamic State group (IS/ISIS/ISIL/DAESH, etc.). Wood’s work lucidly permits the reader to follow him on his journey meeting and engaging in discourse with Jihadists across the globe. From Texas to Cairo and beyond, Wood’s curiosity to unearth the motivations behind Jihadist sympathisers and apologists of Islamic State is contagious. With most academics work on the topic, the few that there are at least, their contents typically exhibit analysis dipped in a coat of personal experience. Wood’s work is the reverse – a much welcomed variation. If you want to understand the lives and personalities of Jihadists – look no further.

This month I have a few literary ‘events’ to look forward to. Today I received a copy of one of my favourite ‘English School’ thinkers’ works ‘World Politics: Progress and Its Limits’ by James Mayall. I look forward to cracking this open. Nonetheless, the event of the month will perhaps be the political theory moment of my year. Next Thursday I should receive my copy of the newly published English translation of Michel Foucault’s ‘History of Sexuality: Volume IV – Confessions of The Flesh’. I have to admit, I am pretty excited about this one. Although Foucault and I have a rocky relationship in terms of theoretical approach and normative foundations, I cannot wait to read the final instalment of such a famous series that has had such an effect on political theory broadly as a discipline. This is like finding out that Tolkien had written a fourth Lord of The Rings that had been kept secret for all these years – now able to be read for the first time. In order to mark this publication, I will be blogging my notes chapter by chapter. So, if this interests you – watch this space!

[1] Bernard Crick (2005) ‘Populism, Politics and Democracy’, Democratization, 12(5), pp. 625-632; Margaret Canovan (1999) ‘Trust the people! Populism and The Two Faces of Democracy’, Political Studies, 47(1), pp. 2–16; (1981) Populism, London: Junction Books; (1984) ‘’People’, Politicians and Populism’, Government and Opposition, 19(3), pp. 312-327.