The Human Place in World Politics: Leadership, Psychology, and the ‘First Image’

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Kim Jong-Un, Donald Trump, Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin--for better or worse, world politics today seems as much driven by personality as by institutions. Are these leaders mere products of historical structure, bound by larger forces, or do they shape and create the world we live in? Can we as ‘ordinary’ people also play a role? This course will investigate these questions by examining the human place in world politics, with a special but not exclusive focus on leadership. Our turn toward the ‘first image’ runs against the grain of most contemporary social science and international relations scholarship, which has focussed on the structural determinants of world politics. Here, we will reposition our gaze to take a ‘first-image’ or ‘ordinary’ view of politics--of the decisions, crises, interactions made by flesh-and-blood humans every day--without forgetting the structure that hangs in the background. We begin by examining two influential but starkly different ‘mirror of princes’ works, Xenophon’s Anabasis of Cyrus and Machiavelli’s The Prince. After turning to contemporary social science’s examinations of individual, we will focus specifically on international relations’ recent psychological turn, and its inquiries into the role of cognitive biases and affect in producing international outcomes.