Thinking the present

This book offers the first authoritative guide to assumptions about time in theories of contemporary world politics. It demonstrates how predominant theories of the international or global ‘present’ are affected by temporal assumptions, grounded in western political thought, which fundamentally shape what we can and cannot know about world politics today. In so doing, the book puts into question the ways in which social scientists and normative theorists diagnose ‘our’ post-Cold War times. The first part of the book traces the philosophical roots of assumptions about time in contemporary political and international theory. The second part examines contemporary theories of world politics, including liberal and realist International Relations theories and the work of Habermas, Hardt and Negri, Virilio and Agamben. In each case, it is argued, assumptions about political time ensure the identification of the particular temporality of western experience with the political temporality of the world as such and put the theorist in the unsustainable position of holding the key to the direction of world history. In the final chapter, the book draws on postcolonial and feminist thinking, and the philosophical accounts of political time in the work of Derrida and Deleuze, to develop a new ‘untimely’ way of thinking about time in world politics.

Kimberly Hutchings

This chapter introduces the main arguments of the book and offers some preliminary arguments for why conceptions of time matter in theories of world politics. The first section examines the concept of time, and differentiates two aspects of temporal categorisation: chromos and kairos. It then goes on to offer a brief account of how both of these aspects have played a part in three familiar ways of conceptualising political time, in terms of narratives of repetition, progress and decline. The second section addresses the category of ‘world politics’, and traces the ways in which these familiar narratives of political time have figured in theories of international relations, globalisation and postmodernity. The third section outlines the argument of the rest of the book.

in Time and world politics
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Kimberly Hutchings

This chapter examines Virilio's and Agamben's accounts of world politics. Virilio and Agamben, like Arendt and Benjamin, reject historicism and social science, taking them to be two, equally regrettable, sides of the coin of modern hubris. In Virilio's case, the re-thinking of chromos as globalised, infinitely accelerating time provides the key to the interpretation of contemporary world politics, which is a story of decline and potential apocalypse. For Agamben, the present is also identified with a potentially terrible end of history, as the ‘state of exception’ becomes the normal condition for the conduct of global politics. For both thinkers, redressing this parlous situation requires the re-assertion of political time, which Virilio understands in Arendtian terms as the spatial control of chromos, and Agamben in terms of Benjamin's messianic time.

in Time and world politics
Kimberly Hutchings

This chapter offers a critical comparison of the different accounts of political time. It argues that all of them rest on assumptions about the time of world politics being constructed through the interplay of two distinct temporal orders, in which chronotic time is controlled and managed through the other-worldly power of kairos. And that, however different these accounts may be, firstly they all render world politics a unitary object for analysis and judgement by privileging a eurocentric interpretation of the western trajectory of world-political time. Secondly, all of these accounts require that politics be understood as a heroic project, in which political actors tap into extra-chronotic powers in order to control and shape the future. The chapter argues that postcolonial and feminist theories have provided good reasons to doubt both the unitary nature of world-political time and the degree to which the time of world politics can be controlled.

in Time and world politics
Kimberly Hutchings

This chapter takes a closer look at the accounts of political temporality that have surfaced as narratives of repetition, progress and decline. All of them took shape in response to the specific intellectual and political circumstances of late medieval and early modern Europe. Of all of them, this chapter argues, it is the progressive narrative that has had the most significant influence on the development of understandings of world politics since the seventeenth century. This chapter assesses the grounds and implications of progressive accounts of political time in more detail in the philosophies of history of Kant, Hegel and Marx. It also suggests that the kind of historicism that came to dominate the study of world history and politics in the nineteenth century followed from a ‘closed’ reading of the philosophy of history that reflected the influence of Darwin's evolutionary theory.

in Time and world politics
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Kimberly Hutchings

This chapter examines accounts of political temporality that explicitly take issue with progressive historicism and its claims to knowledge and control of both natural and social worlds. These accounts offer an understanding of the intersection of chromos and kairos within political time that challenges the ways in which they are configured in closed systemic readings of Kant, Hegel and Marx. After a brief discussion of Nietzsche's and Bergson's critiques of historicism and linear, scientific time, the chapter examines the arguments of Arendt and Benjamin. Then, it looks at recent anti-historicist accounts of political time of Derrida and Deleuze.

in Time and world politics
Kimberly Hutchings

This chapter focuses on the contrast between theories of post-Cold War world politics that rested on a revival of historicist theorising, and those that claimed scientific status. It begins with Popper's critique of historicism and how this set up an unsustainable, distinction between scientific and historicist conceptions of political time. Then, it looks at the way that the end of the Cold War prompted a revival of historicism in efforts to grasp the novelty of the new times of the 1990s, most notably in the theories of Fukuyama and Huntington. Liberal and realist responses to the new times of world politics post-1989 continue to be haunted by the relation between chromos and kairos. The chapter points to the way in which some of the social scientific responses to thinking the post-1989 present of world politics begin to put the unity and predictability of world-political time into question.

in Time and world politics
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Kimberly Hutchings

This chapter focuses on two alternative diagnoses of the time of contemporary world politics: firstly, arguments that suggest the end of the Cold War marks a stage on the way to the transformation of international political community towards a cosmopolitan world order; secondly, Hardt's and Negri's post-Marxist thesis of empire and counter-empire. It examines Habermas's reinterpretation of Kant's idea of perpetual peace, and a range of arguments about post-Westphalian world politics as a time in which some version of cosmopolitanism may become possible globally at elite or grassroots levels. It explores an account of the de-centring of political authority away from its locus in the state in the globalisation of bio-power, and the resistance that this creates in the process. It also evaluates the resources offered by these theories for analysing and judging the present, and the ways in which those resources depend on temporal assumptions.

in Time and world politics