Without proper application of critical theory, learning political science in the United States can be an utter submission to the American propaganda machine. Their imperialist agenda trickles down into the major’s required core classes, revealing immense American exceptionalist rhetoric and skewed accounts of history. In a volatile political climate, students of political science must refrain from thinking the classroom is the only context in which learning is possible. It is imperative that we always apply the theories learned in class to the continuously fluctuating political arena around us not only to understand their real life application, but also to more accurately and constructively apply a critical assessment. Political Science in the American college classroom often adheres to a monolithic account of philosophy and history, focusing on philosophers and theorists who are overwhelmingly white, straight and male. Paying close attention to which theories are predominantly taught and which are seldom discussed, we can observe an addiction to Western philosophy and an erasure of all those who fail to assimilate.The consequences of learning Political Science through a strict Western lens without accompanying critical theory leaves students doomed to repeat the maladies of the past; carrying out the imperialist project of the United States, demonizing those in positions of limited social capital, and validating the military industrial complex as just. Considering the absolute disaster that is American politics, it’s worth a shot unpacking the various biases and prejudices within ourselves and our classrooms in order to prevent another generation of Bushes, Kavanaughs and Tr*mps.
I am writing this article out of a deep concern and anxiety about the future. I am told in my political science classes I am sitting next to our future leaders: lawyers, legislators, politicians, academics and political scientists. However, rarely in these contexts am I met with students who express genuine criticism of the American political machine including the military industrial complex and any objection to political leaders who belong to their own parties. In an attempt to prevent my peers from perpetuating the US imperialist regime through their careers, I urge students of history, politics, and philosophy to question everything. Critical theory is an urgently essential skill anyone who wishes to enter the political sector should acquire, yet it is one that is often not encouraged or taught within the field.
One of the benchmark theories introduced to almost all students of political science in their required classes is Game Theory. The theory insists that actors, both political and economic, make decisions with their best interest in mind. The Prisoner’s Dilemma is often used to tangibly explain the theory, portraying two individuals that are incentivized to make a choice that will benefit them and create a less beneficial situation for the opposing party. It assumes both parties have equal agency in this decision and will always choose that which benefits them. This becomes inherently problematic when Game Theory is applied to the United State’s military projects abroad and the overall global impact of US imperialism. Assuming that all parties are acting with equal agency and in their own best interests is a false pretense, as the US’s aggression towards oil rich and politically weak middle eastern nations has led to immense civilian casualties and utter destruction of infrastructure, with the blood on America’s hands. To properly understand the flaws with both Game Theory and lacking an application of critical theory, I find it valuable to put them into the real world by looking more closely at the US military’s recent projects.
The State Department defines terrorism as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.” The importance of this definition and providing it here, is to see the utter hypocrisy in the US Military to assert itself on the side against terrorism. It is particularly crucial to analyze the post 9/11 epoch and the tactics used by the US military in the Middle East taking special considertation to the drone strikes and bombings of civilians, schools and hospitals and how this fulfills the US’s own definition of terrorism. In 2011, Brown University began the Cost of War Project, where a team of 35 scholars including legal experts and human rights practitioners attempted to empirically study the true toll of war the American war machine has wreaked upon the middle east. Their project estimates that of the roughly 480,000 people who lost their lives due to violence from US wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, over half were civilians. These numbers do not take into account U.S conflicts in other countries, like Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Syria. Critically analysing a game theory perspective of the US’s plethora of conflicts in the Middle East, specifically in Iran, it is clear that the two sides rarely have equal agency or freedom to act. However, Game Theory would tell us that both the American soldiers brutally murdering civilians and the residents of the nations being bombed who were busy fighting both terrorists from the United States, and terrorists seizing state control during power vacuums are acting with the same levels of free will. Cases like these illustrate the clear deficiencies of game theory and the imperative on being critical.
Barack Obama launched over 550 strikes during his presidency, most of which used drones targeting Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and Syria killing between 384 and 807 civilians. Their intent was to silence and destroy “terrorism”, however the immense range of civilian casualities show us how little the administration understood of the consequences to its militant war projects. While we critique the content and angle of history, we must also employ immense critical thinking when discussing regimes and leaders. Students of politics do it everyday: they conflate politicians with pop stars. Self identified “liberals”, “progressives” or “democrats” are quick to speak of their longing for better times, one where Obama was in the white house. However, rare is it to see these self identified Democrats constructively critique the Obama administration’s record breaking deportations or war crimes in the Middle East as quick as they are to attack right wing regime’s comparable foreign policy. Obviously I would rather have Obama than Tr*mp in the white house, but more than that I would like to see people critique and hold accountable all regimes and leaders, regardless of their party affiliation. To unpack and engage in discourse that both acknowledges the successes of the Obama administration, while condemning their war-hawk style foreign policy, will only further our democracy by holding leaders accountable. The college classroom should be an excellent place to have these debates, however too often students of political science rest on party affiliation and avoid any and all critical thinking.
Game Theory and a lack of encouraged critical theory are not the only ways in which American imperialism is upheld and validated through the academy. The persistence of political science adhering strictly to white, male, Western philosophers and political theorists presents these ideologies as the only ones with meritt. The only opportunity to read theories from non-hegemonic groups, is to take an elective course like Women in Politics. While the course is a fantastic opportunity to learn about trailblazers like Shirley Chisholm and Jeannette Rankin, if I hadn’t taken this course I would’ve completed my degree in political science without ever hearing their names in a classroom. Their deviation from the norm and isolation into their own category invalidates their work from the mainstream political science canon. Not only is the account of history centered around straight, white, male identities, but philosophy and political theory as well. Theories stemming from philosophers like Aristotle, Hegel and Locke are hailed as the basis of democracy and government. However, these philosophers naturalize slavery as an essential element to society, citing how some individuals are naturally leaders and others naturally slaves, all while encouraging the subordination of women. I point out Hegel and Aristotle specifically because of the immense time and space they take up in intro political science courses. While centuries apart, both philosophers stress the naturalization of slavery and the integral roll slaves have to societies. Aristotle claims in Politics that some individuals are just born to be slaves while others members of the bourgeoisie society. Hegel stresses the importance of the slave/master dichotomy which indicates both parties rely heavily upon each other for survival. If slaves merely gained consciousness, they wouldn’t be slaves, claims Hegel. Criticism for both of these texts is often met with difference contexts of time and history, however that being said if we continue to instill these thinkers as foundational are we not doomed to perpetuate their theories? Put more bluntly, the academy has the power to promote any number of theorists and thinkers as “foundational”, but chooses to insinuate only white men can be. With this in mind, there is certainly an agenda throughout american colleges being perpetuated, one that can only be intercepted through intense critical theory.
The strict adherence to a singular voice effectively erases all other identities from political discourse and this complex has real life consequences. It creates a hierarchy of importance, an “us” versus “them” phenomenon that enforces the superiority of the white, wetstern man in the realm of political science.. If we continue to study political science in the United States as business as usual, vigorously copying down Aristotle and John Locke quotes without putting our critical thinking hats on, we as a nation will never dig ourselves out of the immense hell hole we currently reside. We can not continue to raise future war mongers or global imperialists. There is a reason why our schools are crumbling, our police are untrained, and our medical institutions are inadequate. In order for the United States to catch up to the rest of the world we absolutely must start with being critical of ourselves and our political institutions. The longer we go without critiquing the military industrial complex, the more black and brown civilians will be brutally murdered at the hands of the United States and the deeper debt out nation will drown in. If we continue to assume people act within their best interests, as displayed in the prisoner’s dilemma and game theory, we validate the terrorism the US military inflicts on the middle east every day by assuming both parties have equitable agency and act within their own best interests. It is imperative to decenter the United States in Political Science as to cease the perpetuation of its imperialist project.
Students of political science in the United States must confront the immense biases through which they are often taught. By implementing critical theory, questioning the social positions of speakers, writers, and philosophers, and demanding more inclusive texts, we can attempt to stop the endless cycle of white superiority in political academia. While this is much easier said than done considering the limited autonomy of students within the academic system, simply consuming the material without second thought will lead to the perpetuation of American superiority and imperialism. I urge my peers to be critical of everything. If your professor continues to adhere to a white, straight, male centered telling of American politics, consider disrupting them in search of the true history on your own. With Tr*mp as our president and our nation trillions of dollars in debt, the need for a change in the way we understand political systems is desperately needed.