2010 Lepgold Winner: The Clash of Ideas in World Politics by John Owens

A podcast of the lecture is available here.

On November 29, 2011, the Georgetown University Book Prize Committee, the Department of Government, and the Mortara Center for International Studies hosted Lepgold Prize Winner John Owen for a lecture on his award winning book The Clash of Ideas in World Politics (Princeton University Press, 2010). The Georgetown Book Prize Committee chose Dr. Owen's book as the best work on international relations published in 2010.

The Georgetown University Lepgold Book Prize honors Joseph S. Lepgold, a Georgetown University Government and School of Foreign Service professor who died in a tragic hotel fire in Paris in December 2001. The prize honors exceptional contributions to the study of international relations. Past winners of the prize include: Patrick J. McDonald (The Invisible Hand of Peace), Alexander Downes (Targeting Civilians in War), Nina Tannenwald (The Nuclear Taboo), Robert Kagan (Dangerous Nation), Jack Snyder and Edward Mansfield (Electing to Fight), James Goldgeier and Michael McFaul (Power and Purpose: US Policy Towards Russia After the Cold War), Samantha Power (A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide), and John Mearsheimer (The Tragedy of Great Power Politics).

Some blame the violence and unrest in the Muslim world on Islam itself, arguing that the religion and its history is inherently bloody. Others blame the United States, arguing that American attempts to spread democracy by force have destabilized the region, and that these efforts are somehow radical or unique. Challenging these views, The Clash of Ideas in World Politics reveals how the Muslim world is in the throes of an ideological struggle that extends far beyond the Middle East, and how struggles like it have been a recurring feature of international relations since the dawn of the modern European state.

In his prize winning book, John Owen examines more than two hundred cases of forcible regime promotion over the past five centuries, offering the first systematic study of this common state practice. He looks at conflicts between Catholicism and Protestantism between 1520 and the 1680s; republicanism and monarchy between 1770 and 1850; and communism, fascism, and liberal democracy from 1917 until the late 1980s. He shows how regime promotion can follow regime unrest in the eventual target state or a war involving a great power, and how this can provoke elites across states to polarize according to ideology. Owen traces how conflicts arise and ultimately fade as one ideology wins favor with more elites in more countries, and he demonstrates how the struggle between secularism and Islamism in Muslim countries today reflects broader transnational trends in world history.

John Owen

John Owen, A.B. (Duke), M.P.A. (Princeton), A.M., Ph.D. (Harvard), is a political scientist specializing in the study of international relations. He teaches in the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics at the University of Virginia, and is a Faculty Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture (IASC). He also is Editor-in-Chief of Security Studies, which is housed at the Miller Center of Public Affairs; and he is on the editorial board of International Security.

Owen's research concerns how ideological and cultural similarities and differences affect, and are affected by, international relations. He is particularly interested in how transnational networks perpetuate and challenge regime types; resistance and alternatives to predominant regime types (e.g., Islamism; authoritarian capitalism) and how these can cause civil unrest, foreign intervention, and war; the endogenous relationship between hegemony and ideological attractiveness; and the life cycles of regime types across regions (e.g., how did liberal democracy come to be dominant in so many places? how long will this dominance last? how might it end?) . Recently he has published two new books. The Clash of Ideas in World Politics: Transnational Networks, States, and Regime Change 1510-2010 (Princeton University Press, 2010), advances an explanation for forcible foreign regime promotion, a practice that has waxed and waned across the past five centuries. Clash of Ideas is the winner of the Joseph Lepgold Prize for Best Book on International Relations for 2010, awarded by the Mortara Center at Georgetown University. Religion, the Enlightenment, and the New Global Order (Columbia University Press, 2011), co-edited with J. Judd Owen of Emory University and produced under the auspices of the IASC, considers whether the solutions to religious conflict proposed by the Western Enlightenment are feasible within or appropriate to non-Western religions.

His first book, Liberal Peace, Liberal War: American Politics and International Security (Cornell University Press, 1997), and several of his articles and book chapters, advance an explanation for why liberal democracies seldom fight wars against one another. Owen also has published work on the Western canon and IR theory; the sources of American hegemony; the rationalist-constructivist divide in IR research; forcible domestic regime (e.g., democracy) promotion; and the ongoing Iraq war. His work has appeared in International Organization, International Security, International Studies Quarterly, International Politics, Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft, International Relations, Perspectives on Politics, as well as Foreign Affairs, National Interest, and a number of edited volumes, most recently History and Neorealism, ed. Ernest May, Richard Rosecrance, and Zara Steiner (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

Owen is currently writing a book intended for a more general audience, provisionally titled What Western History Can Teach Us about Political Islam. From transnational ideological movements in the history of the West, this new book draws lessons concerning the dynamics of ideological conflict in the Muslim world today and what the outside world ought, and ought not, to do. Owen also has plans for two new projects. One concerns why during some periods authoritarian states have fared better than democracies, while in other periods democracies have seemed to enjoy an advantage; the answers could help us better project the future of liberal democracy, and American soft power, in world politics. Another project is on the history and importance of so-called Fifth Columns in the origins and durations of wars.