Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Gerry Kearns' "Geopolitics and Empire"

Gerry Kearns is currently Professor of Government and International Affairs and Director of the School of Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, USA. He previously lectured in Geography at the universities of Cambridge, Wisconsin-Madison, and Liverpool.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Geopolitics and Empire: The Legacy of Halford Mackinder, and reported the following:
Geopolitics and Empire is about the life, work, ideas and legacy of Halford Mackinder, the founder of Geopolitics. Geopolitics approaches international relations by describing the spatial relations and environmental determinations of the foreign policy of states. Halford Mackinder was a geographer at the University of Oxford from the late nineteenth century. Geopolitics, then, was the geographical lessons that Mackinder wanted to teach British politicians as they responded to the challenge of preserving British global supremacy and the British Empire in the face of competition from newly industrializing rivals such as Germany, Japan, and the United States.

On page 99, I describe Mackinder’s speech to the Royal Geographical Society when he announced the triumph of becoming the first European up Mount Kenya, the second highest peak in East Africa. Mackinder presented this as a scientific, patriotic, and manly achievement. In sum, this feat illustrated the chauvinist masculinity of the patriotism that fueled inter-imperial rivalries. Science and force could, it seemed, secure the permanent global superiority of the British.

Today, as some within the United States seek to prolong the uncontested global hegemony that the country inherited with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mackinder’s ideas are back in vogue. With a few alterations they might now serve US rather than British imperialism. In Geopolitics and Empire I describe why and how Mackinder’s ideas have found this new audience. I also look at contemporaries who challenged Mackinder’s belief in force, masculinity, race, and colonialism and who urged instead a global order based on cooperation, justice, national self-determination, and fair trade. I end by sketching this alternative Progressive Geopolitics and point to the modern trends and institutions which show it to be a realistic alternative.
Learn more about Gerry Kearns' scholarship at his faculty webpage, and read more about Geopolitics and Empire at the Oxford University Press website. Listen to Kearns' interview with the BBC.

--Marshal Zeringue