Mar 24, 2020 in Book Review

book Book Review Theories of International Politics and Zombies

Threat perception is often used to analyze international relations theories, especially the ones that examine wars, defense and containment strategies, alliances, and resolution of conflicts. Therefore, it is not surprising that such a popular concept as the possibility of zombie invasion was used as an example of a possible menace threatening the existence of humanity. The paper will discuss an attempt of Daniel Drezner to analyze different theories on international politics using zombies as a threat to humanity in his book Theories of International Politics and Zombies. It will analyze the ways an extraneous, non-state, undead menace can or cannot effectively demonstrate how some or all or none of international relations theories provide good explanations. The main purpose of the paper is to make critical argument about the book, analyze the author’s main points and evidence supporting them, as well as investigate how Drezner’s book relates to other writings on the topic.

The book Theories of International Relations and Zombies argues that a hypothetical attack of the living dead can have a teachable moment, and it is important to analyze each international relations theory to understand which of them would be the most effective in the case of such an occurrence. The author emphasizes that zombies as a concept in the universe of the supernatural constitute a transgressive threat which is tough to define and contain. This is so not because they can be killed only by destructing their brains, the fact that their only element of diet is human flesh or that they are not interested in eating each other. The assumption that if an individual is bitten by a zombie they will turn into one right away is not the most threatening as well. Drezner examines different books and movies about zombies to make the most accurate prediction about whether international relations theories would be successful or unsuccessful in dealing with the menace of the living dead. He aimed to make his readers realize that to comprehend complex and difficult theories of international relations, people must take a “thinking outside the box” approach and invent a bizarre and outrageously improbable threat to make humanity search for the most suitable way out.


The realism theory of international relations argues that, in the event of an imminent threat, all world government will attempt to increase their own powers, because each of them will be primarily interested in self-preservation and protection of itself. Morality will be dismissed as irrelevant, while military force will become immeasurably powerful. A perfect example of realism in the world of politics was the relationship between the Soviet Union and the USA in the period of the Cold War, or George W. Bush’s decision to wage war in Iraq as a response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The likeliest scenario if one were to apply the realism theory during the attack of the living dead is described by Drezner in much the same way. The author states that the rules of international politics will not be changed significantly after a zombie outbreak: all states will concentrate on power maximization. Some countries will have higher chances and possibilities to defend themselves against the threat of the living dead, while the weaker ones will succumb to this menace. The creation of one world government would be impossible since all states will be primarily interested in self-help.

The liberalism theory of international relations states that military power has a lesser significance than the economic and social ones. Various governments have different national interests, but international organizations are believed to be helpful bodies that will ensure the establishment of rules and cooperation between states. A perfect example of liberalism from the world politics today is the approach the UN takes to create consensus and ensure future peace in Syria. Drezner discusses the possibility of this theory’s application in the event of a zombie attack. The author argues that World Zombie Organization would become a tool for the regulation and restriction of the walking dead. If humanity decides to apply this theory, zombie expansion will likely continue and even accelerate. The only chance of survival humanity has is collectivism tactics.

The constructivism theory of international relations cherishes social structures more than economic and military power. Drezner’s description of this theory’s application to the invasion of the walking dead is rather amusing. He states that zombies will be identified as members of the same category as cannibals, ferocious sharks, and voracious bears, since they are interested in the human flesh in the same way. The author even dares to say that zombies are eco-friendly in a way, since their only method of transportation is by foot and organic food is their primary diet component. Drezner states that it is indeed possible to socialize zombies and that it is important to preserve their identity, since they are a unique type of species.

The neoconservatism theory of international relations can be viewed as a mixture of realism and liberalism. As a school of thought, it primarily serves American interests. Drezner states that if human beings take this approach towards fighting the walking dead, they must recognize zombies as a threat to human life in their essence. Neoconservative approach supporters would brand the threat of walking dead as the Axis of Sinister Zombies and use it as an excuse to invade a country of their interest. Per their point of view, ghouls are inherently evil, as they abhor humans for their liberties and cannot be corrected in any way.

It must be admitted that no single approach mentioned by Drezner in his book takes into consideration all possible factors and consequences on world politics. Neither of them is perfect since each has its advantages and disadvantages. It must be admitted though that, by applying a popular culture concept to explain political issues, Drezner introduced and explained each international relations theory in a comprehensible and clearly understandable manner. Simultaneous absurdity and plausibility of a zombie attack as the threat to the existing world order amuses but also points out the distinct strengths and weaknesses of each approach towards cooperation or defense that humanity will undertake.

Even though Drezner optimistically believes that humanity will be able to survive the attack of the living dead by close cooperation of all states, the possibility of such an outcome seems to be rather far-fetched. A zombie attack may become a sort of a stress test not every country or union will be able to endure. If the deceased indeed rose from the graves, an attack by them would lead to a complete annihilation of civilization, unless they were dealt with in a fast and ruthlessly aggressive manner. A real zombie invasion would not be a scary fairytale come true and it would most certainly outmaneuver and destroy all the existing international relations theories.

All mathematically modeled predictions of a possible zombie apocalypse outcome point to the fact that all realists, liberals, constructivists, conservators, and even Marxists would do everything possible to eradicate the living dead. If their attempts were futile, human beings would hide in bunkers to protect themselves and lead a low-quality life until being killed by zombies eventually. It has been scientifically estimated that only repeated high frequency counter attacks would be helpful in the destruction of these fictional creatures. Hence, zombies will indeed change the rules of international politics and make them completely useless in the circumstances of survival. Even though some enthusiasts still believe that it would be possible to befriend or cooperate with the living dead, or even use them as a weapon against countries-enemies, such expectations are very far from reality and will most probably not come true.

Even though the zombie threat idea seems ridiculous, it may serve as a metaphor for other real and serious problems the world faces or may encounter in the future. Among the most pressing issues are terrorism, cyber security, pandemics, and climate change. Cyber terrorism and terrorism in general may serve as other examples of threats posed to humanity which need to be resolved or eliminated, even though they are not as imminent as zombies. Kremer & Muller state that currently everything points to the fact that neoconservatism is applied in cases of cyber-terrorism. It presupposes a buildup of defense and mistrust of other governments. The problem lies in the fact that sometimes it is difficult to determine who is an enemy and who one should trust. False clues are often misguiding governments as to the identities of real perpetrators. Therefore, Kremer & Muller discuss the neoliberalism theory as an option, since it presupposes transparent international cooperation, which is exactly what is needed in the face of the cyber terrorism threat.

In conclusion, in his book Theories of International Politics and Zombies, Drezner describes four scenarios of humanity’s behavior in the case of a zombie threat. They are based on the realism, liberalism, constructivism, and neoconservatism theories of international relations. The author finishes his book by pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of each theory in relation to the zombie apocalypse. According to Drezner, a zombie menace can effectively demonstrate how a combination of four international relations theories can provide a good explanation of the correct behavior of humanity in a case of a deadly threat posed by zombies.


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