The CSS Blog Network

Iran’s Elections: What You Need to Know

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This article was originally published by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) on 12 May 2017.

On May 19, the Islamic Republic of Iran holds presidential elections, the first following the landmark 2015 nuclear agreement. Incumbent President Hassan Rouhani is running against five other candidates, approved by Iran’s Guardian Council to compete in the election. The race has centred heavily on economic policies for tackling high unemployment and growing inequality, together with how to reintegrate the country into global financial platforms following the rollback of sanctions in the aftermath of the nuclear deal.

Policy decisions in Iran are largely devised through consensus among the various leadership figures represented in the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC).  The SNSC is headed by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who is the final arbiter on matters of national security, but the presidential role has proven capable of steering decisions towards moderate or radical positions. For European governments and businesses that have long dealt with the Islamic Republic, there is a clear distinction between the administrations of former presidents Mohammad Khatami, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Rouhani.

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Finis Europae? Historical Cycles and the Rise of Right Wing Populism

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This article was originally published by openDemocracy on 26 April 2017.

Why has Europe failed to inspire its citizens in a similar way to other ideas such as the nation, socialism or human rights? Here are some answers and some solutions.

In 2002, Jurgen Habermas and Ulrich Beck celebrated the great successes of the European Union: the re-unification of Germany, the expansion to the East, the successful introduction of the Euro. Old enmities had been left behind and former enemies collaborated in peaceful competition creating the most successful economic region in the world. Europe was becoming the model for the future of humanity.

The reality is different today. Europe is a dysfunctional entity that has betrayed its foundational values. Politicians, commentators and mainstream academics were aghast at the victories of Brexit and Trump. ‘Politics has gone mad’ said many. ‘The world is crumbling before our eyes’ intoned the French Ambassador to America.

Yet the rise of right wing populism and euroscepticism was not unpredictable. The economic, political and cultural trends leading to Brexit, Trump and the rise of the xenophobic and nationalist right-wing are similar and well-known. They did not seem to worry the European elites until recently.

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Discourse, Power, and Subjectivity in Global Politics

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This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 18 November 2016.

How are some discourses more powerful than others? Why do some kinds of discourses resonate more widely than others? One need only look around at recent politics in the US and the UK, for example, to see the crucial importance of these questions. With the British public recently voting for “Brexit,” and considerable numbers of Americans reacting favorably to Donald Trump, it is imperative that International Relations (IR) scholars develop frameworks that are able to grapple with the complex politics of language, affect/emotion, and subjectivity. As the public debate surrounding “Brexit” often revolved around contestations over British national identity, and Trump’s heated rhetoric taps into strands of American nationalism, these and other contemporary debates often hinge on the processes through which collective subjects – the collective “us” – are produced through eliciting particular kinds of emotional responses. People become affectively attached and invested in the images of the national “we” that are presented to them.

Who we are – our identities as subjects – is intimately bound to the power of language. Although the study of identity and discourse has been a part of IR for some time (Campbell 1998; Hansen 2006), their relationship to emotional factors such as desire has largely been downplayed. This is key because desire is the basic dynamic driving the social construction process in general and the social construction of subjectivity in particular. In my book, The Politics of Subjectivity in American Foreign Policy Discourses, I develop a framework that analyzes how these factors interweave to produce political subjects – the collective us. Consequently, these factors underpin the power and effectiveness of political language. In doing so, the framework takes a useful step forward in IR theory because it helps to analytically pinpoint why certain kinds of narratives are more likely sources of emotional investment – and therefore more likely to be politically efficacious – than others. Consequently, the framework unpacks the key elements that sustain political notions that are taken to be “common sense.” That is, the framework highlights the emotional investments of desire in the constructs of identity that narratives of political “common sense” often offer.

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Post-Sistani Iraq, Iran, and the Future of Shia Islam

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This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 8 September 2016.

During a recent trip to my hometown of Najaf in southern Iraq, I stumbled across a book titled My Leader Khamenei in the personal library of a cleric studying in the Islamic seminary known as the Hawza. He had picked it up at a bookstore near the shrine of Imam Ali, where the first Shia Imam is buried. It is a popular destination for Muslim pilgrims – especially Shia Muslims – from across the world.

Najaf, which lies 100 miles south of Baghdad, is the heartland of Shia Islam. Home to a seminary established in the early 11th century and the seat of the Marja’iyya – the influential religious establishment led by Ayatollahs.

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The Natural Selection of Ideas: Prerequisites and Implications for Politics, Philosophy and History

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This article was originally published by Global Policy on 4 May 2016.

Why do certain ideas and political paradigms endure while others become obsolete or are rejected?

This question has preoccupied political and philosophical scholarship for millennia. This article puts forward four conditions for the survivability of ideas. It argues that modern tools for understanding human nature, such as those offered by neuroscience, provide us with unprecedented insights about human predilections and needs. Based on these findings, we can better conceptualize why some ideas thrive while others do not and their possible implications to international relations. The human need for dignity is central to this explanation: no ideas can thrive if they do not guarantee and safeguard human dignity.

In 1859, Darwin introduced the concept of natural selection in On the Origin of Species, and J.S. Mill explored the flourishing of ideas in On Liberty. In Darwinian natural selection, features that do not contribute to the function of the individual vanish over the course of generations, as bearers of such traits lack the reproductive fitness to pass those features on to their offspring. Mill applied a similar argument to ideas: good ideas would survive the rigors of critical debate, but there were no means of discovering which ideas would endure apart from testing them. In my attempt to continue this debate, I turn to neuroscience. Advances in neuroscience and brain-imaging inform us about underlying predilections in our nature, which indicate that we will be more likely to choose and validate certain ideas over others. My task here is to unpack this premise and to do so by looking at four prerequisites for the selection of ideas.

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