Welcome to my blog! Every week, I will post at least one article on something involving wicked problems either in peacebuilding or comparative politics. I define those fields very broadly, so you’ll probably be surprised by some of the topics I end up covering.
Subscribe for my newsletter to learn about new posts, and other things that cross my desk. Topic suggestions are also welcome; I invite you to submit ideas through our contact form.
Peace Education One day last week, I was sitting in undergraduate classes at George Mason University in preparation for writing my peace and conflict studies textbook with the class’s instructor, Doug Irvin-Erickson. The next day, I attended my seven year old grandson’s first grade play which was a musical based on Lynne Cherry's book, The Great Kapok Tree. Both events drove home the importance of peace education, a topic that has not been on my radar screen enough in recent years. It should have been and will be as we write the book and then in how we focus our work afterward. The members of both classes had spent some time discussing how and where their own personal views had evolved and not surprisingly ended up talking about their families, teachers, and others. As often happens in peace and conflict studies classes, the discussion also touched on careers. This time, however, I missed an obvious professional path—K-12 teaching. The importance of teaching got driven home the next morning when I watched Kiril and is classmates retell Cherry's tale about a group of animals who convince a logger not to cut down a kapok tree in the Amazon rain forest because their lives depend on the entire ecosystem. Apparently, the book has been dramatized many times, and our grandson’s school has been presenting its version of it for at least the last five years. Here is a version by a group of children who would now be in the sixth [...]
A Republic, If We Can Keep It Last week, I was lucky to be invited to a conference, A Republic If We Can Keep It organized by Cornell University’s Center for the Study of Inequality and the New America Foundation. There were only about fifty people in the room at any one time, so we had plenty of time to discuss many of the tough issues that some think are putting American democracy in danger. And, we had quite a crew, including some top academics, journalists, and some anti-Trump republicans. The organizers hoped that adding insights from comparative politics experts could help Americanists understand our turbulent times, which is why I was invited. But, as we dug into the issues, we spent just as much time discussing what peacebuilders bring to the table. Not surprisingly given the focus of both sponsoring organizations, we spent a lot of time exploring the ways the mounting inequalities contributed to both Trump’s victory and the rise of far right movements and leaders in Europe. Similarly, given the fact that the scholars and activists in the room work on most aspects of American political life, we saw how the various reasons for the rise of the populist right intertwine. But perhaps because there were more than traditional Americanists in the room, we got to three points that have rarely come up in discussions on these topics that I’ve been involved in: We comparativists focused not just on the Trump presidency but on questions [...]
Excellence and Peacebuilding I had planned to write a series of blog posts about teaching/learning about peacebuilding now that I’m writing the core of an introductory textbook on the subject. Before I heard Tom Peters being interviewed on the NPR program, 1A, I had not expected the first of those posts that I would deal with excellence in the first one I would be writing. Peters is, after all, one of the preeminent business management gurus of the last thirty years rather than a peacebuilder. However, as he talked about the themes in his new book, The Excellence Dividend and its associated website, Excellence Now. I realized that a number of his points directly carried over into what I should include in the book and what I wanted students to get out of it. All of that was driven home when I sat in on my friend Doug Irvin-Erickson’s undergraduate classes at George Mason University, which I will be doing for the rest of this semester and next. Excellence itself. We all think we demand excellence of ourselves. I’m not sure we always do. However, as I sat in Doug’s classes, I realized that he demands excellence of himself and—to a surprising extent—his students rise to the challenge. Above and beyond his own significant skills, I realized that students take classes like his (and the ones for which my book is being written) because they are truly interested in the subject matter, which is not always the case [...]
Evangelical Peacebuilders About fifteen years ago, I was part of a team at Search for Common that was trying to build consensus around some issues in President George W. Bush’s faith based initiative. Because he knew I had colleagues there, my boss asked me to pay a visit to Wheaton College in Illinois which is often referred to as the Harvard of the Christian colleges and universities. While there, a student gave me an article by Miroslav Volf which, she told me, we could discuss over breakfast. She opened an entire new world to me—evangelical peacebuilding. Learning about that world also has opened the door to the possibility of creating coalitions that could ease the tensions and polarization that define so much of political life in the United States today. Like my colleagues, I worked with plenty of faith-based peacebuilders, including some Mennonites who are sometimes included in the evangelical world. Some of us had also worked with evangelical organizations like World Vision. However, most of us knew nothing about the larger groups of evangelical peacebuilders whose work is explicitly anchored in their faith. That student then came and spent the summer with us at Search and sent me on a deep dive into evangelical peacebuilding. I sent her (and my credit card) to Christian bookstores (which I didn’t know even existed at the time) and I started reading the work of people like Ken Sande, then of Peacemaker Ministries and now of Relational Wisdom. Since then, we [...]
America and its Guns On Saturday, my wife and I went to the March for Our Lives in Washington. I haven’t worked much on gun issues over the years. But, like most of the people I know, it’s clear to me that we’ve reached a turning point at which a) we have to do something and b) the political tides have begun to shift enough for things to begin to change. Emphasis on begin. The fact that I’ve never fired a gun should probably suggest where my preferences lie. However, I also know that there is no simple “gun control” answer that could be passed into law, let alone solve the multi-faceted problem of gun violence that goes way beyond the school shooting that drew so many of us out this weekend. My views are tempered, too, by the fact that I study comparative politics, and my wife and I were living the UK at the time of the 1996 Dunblane school massacre—as the British themselves called it. So, I have professionally spent a bit of time looking at other countries’ policies and have seen the UK come as close as any country ever does to turning on a clichéd dime. Within a matter of months, the government of Conservative Prime Minister John Major ushered legislation through Parliament that made it all but impossible for individual citizens to own handguns and reinforced strict safety regulations on those that still owned hunting and sporting rifles. The British model [...]
Russia's Election and its Political Life I’ve been thinking a lot about Russia these days and not just because Russian meddling and its elections are all over the news . The facts about last weekend's election are widely known, and there is a growing consensus about its interference in American and other elections if not its collaboration with the Trump and various European campaigns. If you want to see my take on all that, visit my update site that accompanies my textbook, Comparative Politics. If I have anything useful to add to the broader discussion of things Russian, it comes from my reflections on my first experiences in dealing with the then Soviet Union as a teacher, scholar, and activist in the 1980s. Although I spoke some Russian and had done some Soviet studies work in college and graduate school, Colby College hired me to teach Western European politics. When the cold war heated back up again in the early 1980s and we didn’t have a Soviet specialist on the faculty, I began teaching courses on Soviet politics. I also took a group of students to visit the Soviet Union shortly after Mikhail Gorbachev became Secretary General of the Communist Party. At about the same time, I became an activist again and spent most of the decade working with the Beyond War movement that—among other things—did a fair amount of Track II work with the Soviets. While we had our greatest impact elsewhere, it seems like a good [...]