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Theories of International Politics and Zombies

Theories of International Politics and Zombies

by Daniel W. Drezner
Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2011
136 pp., illus. 4 b/w. Paper (with French Folds), $14.95; E-book, $14.95
ISBN: 978-0-691-14783-3; ISBN: 978-1-4008-3798-4.

Reviewed by Anna B.Creagh


Daniel Drezner’s latest work considers the potential responses of international governments to the unlikely event of a zombie outbreak.  Applying well-known theories of international politics to scenarios posited by famous zombie narratives, Drezner explores how different political ideologies would shape the response of their adherents to a global zombie crisis.  An extension of the author’s article Night of the Living Wonks, Drezner devotes chapters of his slim volume to pragmatism (realpolitik), liberalism, neo-conservativism, bureaucracy, and social construction theory.  He synthesizes examples from zombie literature and film with current events and government policies to answer the question, “what would different theories of international politics predict would happen if the dead began to rise from the grave and feast upon the living?” (p.1).  Drezner argues that considering such “out-of-the-box” threats as zombie outbreaks helps us to grapple with what former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield famously referred to as the “unknown unknowns” of international security. The ultimate “unknown unknown,” the zombie, provides a unique platform on which to interrogate the fundamental tenets of differing political ideologies.

A professor of international politics at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Drezner adeptly summarizes the different theories of international relations and successfully differentiates between them.  Unfortunately, Drezner’s engagement with zombie scholarship is overstated and pales in comparison to his understanding of international politics.  Though he references an impressive number of zombie texts, his over-reliance on the films of George Romero and the literature of Max Brooks will be frustrating to serious scholars of zombie history and theory.  Drezner tends to gloss the major themes of their works as the principles of the entire zombie canon, which serves his purposes as a political theorist but calls into question the rigor of his research into the zombie phenomenon.  While readers may chuckle when he suggests that liberals would want to create a WZO and demonstrate for zombie rights (p.58), or that neo-cons would likely see zombies as part of a new axis-of-evil and “invade Iraq again out of force of habit” (p.62), Drezner’s light-hearted tone and pun-filled prose sometimes overshadow the seriousness of his claims. The tongue-in-cheek illustrations similarly cast this tiny tome as somewhat of a novelty, belonging alongside other humorous volumes such as The Zombie Survival Guide and The Zen of Zombie. Still, many political scientists will find Drezner’s approach both innovative and provocative. This book will primarily appeal to those with a vested interest in international relations and a passing interest in the undead.

Drezner’s easy prose and simple explanations will make his book a favorite among college students, and academics will appreciate his consistent references and bibliography.  The simplicity of the book and the theme of zombies will likely make international politics less intimidating and more accessible to beginners.  One major flaw of the work, however, is that it feels rushed.  Many interesting points are merely introduced rather than explicated, and one wonders why “space constraints” (p.17) prevent Drezner from exploring Marxist or Feminist responses (perspectives which have arguably been the most significant for zombie theorists) in a book totaling a meager 114 pages before references.  Similarly, his suggestion that Haiti’s law prohibiting zombification somehow indicates that world governments are already preparing for a zombie catastrophe (p.5-6) is not only misguided but misleading and betrays Drezner’s lack of respect for facts about both the history of zombies and that country’s religious and political ideology.  He is clearly more concerned with his hypotheses about political ideology than with understanding the relationship between zombie narratives and fears of “unknown unknowns.”  While Drezner’s analyses of international relations theory is thorough and well researched, he cherry-picks “facts” about zombies from inconsistent sources to flesh out his pontifications.  Surface details and statistics garnered from Wikipedia substitute for deeper research, and, for all his scholarly acumen, he leaves serious academics wanting more.  Drezner’s approach to international politics is thought provoking and timely, but the zombie is a gimmick.

Theories of International Politics and Zombies raises some interesting questions about the nature of international relations and answers them in the context of a dystopian fantasy of global pandemic.  Many will enjoy this quick read for what it is—an innovative approach to international relations theory and a humorous introduction to political ideologies.  Those hoping for deeper analysis will be disappointed.

Last Updated 4 June 2011

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