The Endangered West

In November 2016 John Higley, Professor Emeritus of Government and Sociology, published his latest book, The Endangered West: Myopic Elites and Fragile Social Orders in a Threatening World.

Does liberal democracy have a future? That is a question John Higley has grappled with most of his career, and The Endangered West is his latest take on some of the basic challenges threatening liberal democratic societies across western civilization.

How will the world deal with the inherent insecurity of bureaucratic and service work distinguishing postindustrial societies? Can large-scale organizations survive in a world where individuals routinely undertake defensive actions to protect their precarious positions in the social order? Will liberal societies be capable of managing those growing segments of the population effectively living outside the social order, and will they be capable of managing the demagogic politics characterizing contemporary postindustrial societies, politics that deliberately mobilize populations against each other?

So, can the West survive?

The Comparative Agendas Project

Spend any amount of time around an academic department at a research university, and you might find graduate students at the heart of it all. In this episode, we talk to two of those students, Rebecca Eissler and Annelise Russell, who help lead the Comparative Agendas Project, an international effort to systematically measure, compare, and research public policy across the globe. We talk about how they made it to Austin, what they and the project do, their own research, and even discuss a little politics.

World Politics with Chapman and Wolford, Part 4

In 2003 the United States initiated a long-term commitment of ground troops in the Middle East. Was this necessary? Was it a good decision? Were there alternatives? What were they? Might the world look different today given different decisions back then?

Concluding our discussion with Terry Chapman and Scott Wolford we analyze the 2003 war against Iraq. We begin by talking about what might have happened without a U.S. intervention. On that count, history suggests a strong possibility of a nuclear arms race between Iraq and Iran, and no matter how bad things have gone in the Middle East, it would be hard to find someone who thinks such an arms race would be beneficial for international security.

Despite knowledge of the failed intelligence leading up to the war, we can only speculate if ultimately deterrence would have kept Iraq from acquiring nuclear weapons. And, if we were to say that deterrence ultimately would have failed, we cannot easily say that going to war in Iraq was the wrong decision, despite any consequences that have followed. But opponents of the war maintain that the United States could have continued deterring Iraq without resorting to military force.

World Politics with Chapman and Wolford, Part 3

Is the west faltering? Are the institutions that have supported the international order since the end of World War II collapsing? Has America’s preeminence in international affairs seen its best days? Is the west protecting itself from terrorism in any significant way? Does America have a strategy in Syria, and if so, what is it?

Continuing our discussion with Terry Chapman and Scott Wolford, our guests suggest that claims of the west’s demise are premature and overstated. While countries challenge the current international order, these are limited challenges, made strategically to annoy just a little bit, but not enough to justify harsh retribution. In this sense, current international institutions are strong and persisting.

As the discussion persists, what becomes clear is the utter complexity of international politics, and the frustration of having to choose between bad choices. The Syrian civil war provides a case in point. To both serious and casual observers, it might appear the United States has no strategy to address the civil war in Syria. But the truth might be that merely trying to contain the war is the best option available, no matter how ugly or dissatisfying that might be.

Before concluding, our guests discuss how wars end, why countries might fight wars in the first place, and how what we know does not give us clear guidelines on how to approach complex questions of foreign policy and international intervention.

World Politics with Chapman and Wolford, Part 2

What are the broader implications of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union? Does the Brexit vote suggest a major transformation of the current international order? Will a country such as Russia recalibrate its analysis of the global security architecture? What is the relationship between international economics and international security?

In this episode Terry Chapman and Scott Wolford take us into a further discussion of the post-Brexit world. Scott ponders how Russia might interpret the vote, and, moving to international economics, Terry draws comparisons between Brexit voters in the UK and Trump supporters in the United States, drawing historical comparisons between current events and the inter-war period leading up to the outbreak of World War II.

World Politics with Chapman and Wolford, Part 1

What is the role of the academic? Should university researchers be focused on engaging policymakers, or citizens? Are scholars succeeding in doing either? And does math have anything to do with any of this?

Today we introduce the first of four episodes discussing international relations with Terry Chapman and Scott Wolford. Recorded soon after the British public voted to leave the European Union, these episodes look broadly at the international political and economic order in 2016, and discuss some ways that international relations scholars seek to analyze, assess, and explain world politics.

Polling: The Art and the Science (Episode 2 of 2)

It is the art of polling, not the science, which poses the biggest challenge. How should questions be worded? In what order should questions be asked? It turns out that the answers to questions such as these can create variation in polling results. We also discuss elections, with specific comments about the 2016 election cycle. Recorded in March, in the run-up to Super Tuesday, we explore what the polls might have been telling us about November 2016.

Constitute, Part III

Do constitutions have a heritage? A lineage you can trace back in time, not unlike a family tree?

In this third of three episodes exploring the Constitute project with Zach Elkins and Robert Shaffer we turn to a discussion of data. Zach talks about creating machine-readable data, Google knowledge graphs, and being a political science data pioneer. Then we look to the future, and explore how collaborative technology is working to improve the process and quality of group writing. Robert and Zach talk about the rewards that come with the outreach component of their work, and we close with a look at the Spanish version of Constitute.

Constitute: Part II

In this episode we continue our discussion with Zach Elkins and Robert Shaffer about Constitute’s work in the TACC visualization lab, and the role of visualizations in generating research. Can simply arranging data points in a certain way – on a wheel, or a map, or a timeline – tease out research questions we wouldn’t otherwise notice? Is there an optimal way to arrange data points that sparks public imagination and learning, rather than boredom or confusion?

Constitute: Part One

This episode is the first of three exploring the ideas and people behind Constitute.

Constitutions last about 19 years on average. That means somewhere in the world, a constitution was born with you, and by the time you started college, that constitution was getting shooed out of its home, too. So, how does a nation go about creating a new constitution?