Alexander Wallis on International Relations

The Political Other in International Relations and at Home

In the experience of my thoughts and actions, and in the actions of those around me, I have primarily affected or seen “othering” in the context of political beliefs. Such behavior has, at least in American society, become more and more commonplace over the course of the past 10 years. People from all political stripes are responsible for this, and, when coupled with technologies allowing for the instant mass dissemination of opinion, has become all the more caustic.


Of course, people may be viewed as individuals, rather than some nebulous “other”, irrespective of political affiliation. But when political flashpoints occur, and when parlance becomes totalistic and uncompromising, stratification has become nigh inevitable. Mentalities become tribal, and anyone outside of a belief system is considered not just foolish, but downright pernicious. This phenomenon appears throughout all strata of society – it may be state against state, town against town, or, family member against family member. I, and tens of millions of other Americans have engaged in such categorization. When discourse involves such momentous issues as climate change, nuclear war, racial and national identity, totalitarianism, poverty, human rights, mass migration, etc. it is easy to consider any ideological difference to one’s own beliefs to be completely beyond the pale. The espousers of any views different than what one determines to be acceptable are routinely dehumanized (or, othered), consciously or otherwise.


Such behavior has immense implications for the international system. Domestic politics, at least in America, can, and has, decided the course of many a policy position, be it TPP or the Vietnam War. Most relevant right now for American purposes is arguably the war in Ukraine. One the one hand, some people exclaim opposition to aid for Ukraine to be the product of people who are hopelessly backward, uneducated, brainwashed by Russian propaganda, and, playing a role akin to figures such as Neville Chamberlain: essentially allowing for terrible Hitler-like figures to rise to power and to devour ever more countries. On the other hand, some people allege the leading proponents of aid to Ukraine – and their constituent supporters – to be dishonest globalist lackeys, who ignore increasingly taxing domestic issues, who arrogantly wade into hopelessly unwinnable conflicts, potentially risking nuclear escalation, all while belittling and attempting to discredit objecting narratives as being entirely controlled and perpetuated by the Kremlin.


Such narratives are not only likely misleading and parochial, but serve to make republican decision making less effective. If the political spectrum begins to conceive of the Ukraine conflict as an all-or-nothing choice, then political leadership will likely begin to reflect that binary. Such a suite of possible decisions is likely to be inimical to American interests abroad – international affairs is perhaps the most complex activity humanity engages in, as it consists of the sum of all other human interactions. To have limited maneuverability in light of political stratification could therefore be disastrous. Foreign affairs are anything but simplistic.


The same impulse to other can also be detrimental in terms of how we conceive of the international other. By merely being pejorative in our description of other countries / peoples, we run the risk of not just ruining potential detente and relationships further down the line, but of creating conflicts of totalistic and existential proportions. To quote Carl Schmitt (speaking about the categorical imperatives which tend to define human rights regimes):


“To confiscate the word humanity, to invoke and monopolize such a term probably has certain incalculable effects, such as denying the enemy the quality of being human and declaring him to be an outlaw of humanity; and a war can thereby be driven to the most extreme inhumanity.”


To conclude, I believe that the propensity to other in a political sense runs the risk of clogging the arteries of both internal political systems and the international system by limiting both the ability to act and  the conceptions which ultimately underpin all decision making.

2 Responses to “The Political Other in International Relations and at Home”

  1.   Asal Fakhridinova Says:

    Thank you for posting such an intriguing blog- I enjoyed reading it, as you have made many interesting points about the implications of “other” in our international system. Something that stood out to me was when you stated: “By merely being pejorative in our description of other countries / peoples, we run the risk of not just ruining potential detente and relationships further down the line, but of creating conflicts of totalistic and existential proportions.” Not only has the concept of “other” led to conflicts between people, but you also raise a strong point about how it has the potential to ruin future political relationships. In our international world, political affiliations is a key determinant in how your country will be positioned in the world, and this concept of other can either pose as an opportunity and/or threat. I am interested to hear about your personal stories of “other”- have you ever experienced being an “other” and what did that feel like?

  2.   wallisa Says:

    Hey Fakhridinova,

    It is not often that I am actually conscious of being othered, though I am certain it occurs quite frequently. However, when I was in Nepal, I felt quite othered at times. Though my home stay family and the connections I made were wonderful, many people – especially in highly urban areas – seemed to see me as merely an object by which they could make money, not just by haggling but through duplicity. This is, of course, understandable. They have to make a living. But it was alienating.

Leave a Reply