Traveling Back: Toward a Global Political Theory
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We live in a global age, an age of vast scale and speed, an age of great technological and economic and environmental change, in conditions our ancestors could hardly have imagined. What does this compression of geographical and temporal scale mean for our political thinking? Do we need new modes of political thought or a new kind of political imagination? How might we begin to develop a truly global political theory?
Against the common belief that we need a wholly new political theory for our global age, Susan McWilliams argues that the best foundation is already behind us and can be found by traveling back. In doing this -- revisiting the history of political thought with a mind to the questions accompanying globalization -- it becomes clear that the greatest tool for understanding our "new world" lies in one of the oldest themes in Western political theory: travel. Since the beginnings of Western political thought -- the ancient Greeks referred to travel as theoria -- political theorists have used images of travel to illuminate the central questions of globalization; where travel stories appear, we find serious reflection about how to live in cross-cultural and interconnected political conditions. Here we find attention to the contingency of political identity, to hybridity, and to the threats of colonialism and imperialism. We even find self-critical questioning about the dangers that face political theorists who want to think globally.
In Traveling Back, McWilliams uncovers the rich travel-story tradition of political theorizing that speaks directly to the problems of our age. She explores why this travel-story tradition has been so long neglected, especially in this time when we need its wisdom, and she calls for its rediscovery. In order to move forward toward a global political theory, as McWilliams eloquently demonstrates, we must first learn to travel back.
the northwest winds of summer cause the Nile floods by preventing the river from flowing to sea; (2) that the Nile effects the floods itself because it flows from Ocean, the water that flows around the whole world; and (3) that the Nile floods come from melting snow at the river’s source. Herodotus quickly dispenses with the first two theories, which he says are “not . . . worthy of commenting on, save for simply indicating the position they advance.” The first theory can’t be true because the
assessment of its later incarnation through an understanding of its earlier existence. Second, and more broadly, this double travel reflection allows Du Bois to muse about temporality in the modern world, especially as it pertains to human and political development.161 By talking about travel to the same place at two different points in time, Du Bois draws attention to the political dimensions of time itself: to various ideas about progress, to the importance of political memory, and to the
He is thus interested in using the knowledge he already has rather than gaining knowledge by learning from others, or advancing knowledge through interplay and interpersonal exchange. When he first encounters Merlin, for example, he dismisses that old wizard instantly, certain that all his magic is only so much hocus-pocus—a reaction that his modern-day readers are likely to share. Throughout the book, Morgan does nothing but compete with Merlin. But at the end of Connecticut Yankee, Twain
as Monique Deveaux has argued, contemporary political theorists have tended to think carelessly about marginality, and as a result have made little traction toward thinking about justice in the context of cultural pluralism, grappling with the other within 130 t r aveling back encourages us to see marginality and pluralism as perpetual political issues and thus to theorize them more fully.19 Moreover, seeing the other within ostensibly homogenous groups helps us to resist the lure of
English translation, see Plato, The Dialogues of Plato, trans. Benjamin Jowett (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911), vol., 4, 156 [625b]. The idea that hodon (hodos) may be a description of both spatial and temporal distance comes down to us from Plotinus. See Michael F. Wagner, The Enigmatic Reality of Time: Aristotle, Plotinus, and Today (Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2008), 349. The word hodos has further overtones that may be of interest; Herodotus uses the word when he