Tuesday, August 11, 2009

August 11

This is the diary of Jonathan Vining, Ph.D. Actually, I don’t have my Ph.D. yet. In fact, I’ll just be starting my first year as a grad student next month. But I will definitely receive my doctorate one day, and then this really will be the diary of Jonathan Vining, Ph.D.

I have decided to keep this as a record of my intellectual development for all those who will be analyzing my ideas or writing my biography in the not too distant future. For I intend to author what will become the definitive theory of international relations which all other scholars will have to take account of after its publication for decades to come. In other words, I intend to write a great book—a very great book. There is no point in being modest about my intentions. Those who write such books never are, I am sure.

I intend to make entries in this diary once each week—preferably on late Friday afternoons. There is no reason to burden my biographers with the excessive minutiae which would inevitably result from daily entries. On the other hand, I don’t wish them to miss any critical nuances in the development of my thinking which would result from less frequent entries.

From time to time, of course, I may record observations of a personal nature here which I might not want other scholars to see. Unlike my future books and articles, which anyone will be free to read and cite, access to this diary will only be permitted to those who first sign an agreement allowing me to approve any quotation from it. Once it starts getting quoted, though, overwhelming scholarly demand may arise for me to publish the entire diary. In this case, I will undoubtedly have to delete certain passages from the published version. I can even mark those passages I know will be too sensitive for publication when I am writing them. Finding and deleting these with my computer will thus be a simple matter. I won’t delete this paragraph here, though: I want my future biographers to understand the delicacy of intention which might impel me to make any deletions.

But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me first provide the most basic biographical information which a biographer or intellectual historian would need about me. I am about to begin work on a Ph.D. in political science at Charles University, which (as everyone knows) is located at Central Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts—between Harvard University just to the west and M.I.T. just to the east. Charles is one of the oldest and (to deny it would be false modesty) most prestigious universities in America and the world. It is well known for being founded in the late 17th century, under the patronage of King Charles II. But while its history and prestige may be the most important factors that account for the roughly one hundred applicants Charles University receives for every student it accepts, they were of no concern to me. The one and only reason why I applied to Charles is because the great Professor Barrington Briggs happens to be in its political science department.

Briggs, as anyone likely to read this already knows, is the father of the neo-radical school of international relations theory. His book, International Relations: A Neo-Radical Interpretation, has remained the standard work in the field since its publication so many years ago in response to the triumphalist neo-liberalism (which I regard neo-conservatism as a trivial derivative of) that emerged after the collapse of communism.

And just what is neo-radicalism? Just as neo-realism sought to correct the weaknesses in classic realism and neo-liberalism sought to correct the weaknesses in classic liberalism, neo-radicalism seeks to correct the weaknesses in classic radicalism—which the collapse of communism made especially evident. But while both neo-realism and neo-liberalism fail (albeit in different ways) to adequately explain post-Cold War international relations, neo-radicalism succeeds in doing so because…

Well, there’s no need for me to explain this here. One could write a whole book on this theme. In fact, Barrington Briggs already has. I will write one too (though, of course, it will be completely different than the one Briggs wrote). And since the only people I will allow to see this diary are likely to be those already thoroughly familiar with all the various schools of international relations theory, there is no need for me to spell out the basics of neo-radicalism here.

Before going any further, I wish to acknowledge that I was first exposed to Briggs’s book while an undergraduate political science major at Cal State Barstow (where I graduated summa cum laude this past June). Specifically, it was in Professor Brendan Cohen’s “International Relations Theory” class where I first studied Briggs. Cohen had us read the classic texts of all the most important schools in international relations theory: realism and neo-realism, liberalism and neo-liberalism, and, of course, radicalism and neo-radicalism. Cohen is a self-confessed disciple of Briggs, and his lectures on the master were nothing short of inspirational.

Cohen himself was an inspirational professor. It was he who awakened in me the desire to become a professor. It was also he who encouraged and guided me last fall through the process of applying for admission to Ph.D. programs in political science. I needed no encouragement from Cohen, though, to accept the offer from Charles University when it arrived last spring, turning down all others including one from Gates University in Bellevue, Washington, which offered an even more generous financial aid package than Charles.

Money, though, is not my primary concern. If I had decided to do international relations theory at Gates, it would have meant working under the direction of the neo-liberal guru, Arch Faircloth. And as Cohen and I discussed, he would have been completely hostile to my efforts to write in the neo-radical vain. Nor would I ever compromise myself intellectually by writing in the neo-liberal vain just to get a Ph.D. from him. Working with Briggs at Charles University was what I really wanted to do, and so I carped the diem, as Cohen used to put it.

I do not, however, wish to give the impression that Charles University has been ungenerous toward me. Far from it! According to the financial aid offer which followed my letter of acceptance, the package being offered to me is the standard one for the few of us who are accepted into the political science Ph.D. program: full tuition and a monthly stipend for the first four semesters of course work necessary before taking the comprehensive exams. During the first semester, this assistance is given in the form of a fellowship. During the second and third semesters, though, it is earned through a teaching assistantship. During the fourth semester, it reverts to a fellowship as students prepare to take the department’s comprehensive exams. Once these are passed, the student (who is now a Ph.D. candidate) no longer takes classes but begins work on a dissertation—and tuition is, mercifully, only charged at ten percent of the normal rate.

One more thing I should note: the aid package is not guaranteed for all of the first four semesters; its continuation is subject to faculty evaluation of the student’s progress at the end of each semester. Knowing my strengths and abilities as well as I do, however, I do not anticipate that this will be a problem.

Nor do I wish to give the impression that I am totally a Briggs disciple either. Indeed, I find much to criticize in his work—and I did criticize it in my senior honors thesis (the only one yet to be written in the—admittedly brief—history of Cal State Barstow) that I wrote for Professor Cohen this past spring. It is this critique of Briggs that will form the starting point for the book that I intend to write extending and expanding the scope of neo-radical theory.

I am still undecided, though, about whether or not I should show my thesis to Briggs. On the one hand, I am eager for him to see it as a way of beginning the extended intellectual dialogue that I intend to have with him. On the other hand, Cohen cautioned me not to show it to him until we have become well acquainted. According to Cohen--who, at the political science department reception following the Cal State Barstow’s graduation ceremony insisted I call by his first name, Brendan (I was deeply touched)—famous professors do not always welcome critiques, especially from their students. I will simply have to reserve judgment until after meeting Briggs at the beginning of September during the political science department’s orientation session for new graduate students.

1 comment:

  1. I'll be honest this is a little self indulgent don't you think? Your at a university that is sandwiched between two better universities, doing a course that is about as useful to the population of the USA and more importantly the world as a sports science major. I think a reality check is in order? I sit here writing an essay on Macro Economic consumption, and Intertemporal choice, Ok, sure I know its not exactly the most interesting subject...but then again I'm not shouting from the rooftops how great my course, my subject, my future book (really!?), my future Ph D (again: really!? are.....so as said above, maybe reduce the arrogance a little as currently your book/Ph D is so unobtainable as its orbiting around your own EGO!!


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