March, a month when we talk about women and women’s issues more often, is coming to an end. I want to finish it with another – and certainly not the last – episode of my #girlpower series.
I have just joined WIIS Poland – Women In International Security Poland, a new networking platform of female specialists in international relations.
On this occasion, I wanted to share proof why such initiatives matter. Women need to, women want to be more visible when political science and security studies are concerned.
When I was a student I bought Roger Scruton’s „A Dictionary of Political Thought”. I have been using this dictionary for years. It helped me during my university studies, it remains helpful in the times of my professional career.
But when you search for female political scientists in this dictionary, you find only… 6 women. Below, I am sharing their bios with you so that at least these 6 names are more commonly known.
Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) – a German-born American philosopher, political theorist and historian. One of the most influential and important thinkers of the 20th century. She devoted her career and research to power, politics, authority and totalitarianism. In “The Origins of Totalitarianism” Arendt tried to tackle the catastrophe and the intellectual background of this terrible and frightening system as one of the first philosophers. In “The Human Condition”, her most famous book, Arendt examines how vita activa (active life) and vita contemplative (contemplative life) have been contrasted forever. She acknowledges especially the first one and distinguishes three categories of vita activa – labour, work and action. Arendt reaches even further with this theory in her “On Revolution” and “Between Past and Future”. Arendt also delivered a reporting of the Adolf Eichmann’s trial for “The New Yorker”. This piece evolved into a book titled “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil” and made the headlines across the world. Arendt writes about the process where evil become routine, ordinary and banal – just as it was during World War II, Nazi occupation of vast territories of Europe and the Holocaust. The easiness of making the evil banal is the most terrifying lesson that one can learn from World War II. The Heinrich Böll Foundation and the government of Bremen annually award thinkers with the Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thought.
Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) – a French novelist, essayist and philosopher. Her “The Second Sex” is a classic feminist/philosophical manifesto. It laid the foundations for the contemporary feminism with a famous phrase “One is not born but becomes a woman”. In this book, de Beauvoir argues that the world is dominated by men and therefore, as women are defined in relation to males, forces women to feel and act like Others. A woman becomes a subject, whereas a man is a privileged object, benefitting from freedom and autonomy – and a higher position in the hierarchy in society. Throughout the history, women have been considered abnormal and outsiders. Women need to emancipate so that they gain freedom and free themselves from the abnormality status. With this freedom, however, women will have to accept also new obligations and they need to be both ready for and eager to do that. De Beauvoir is convinced that no reasonable woman would decline this freedom and responsibility. Interestingly, de Beauvoir called herself a feminist only in an interview in 1972 (she declined the label for decades).
Rosa Luxembourg (1870-1919) – a Polish socialist and a revolutionary Marxism activist. She was one of the first people to notice the growing despotism in the Bolshevik party and warned the members against it. Luxembourg aimed at bringing together the Marxist theory with “the will of the people”. In her most famous book “The Accumulation of Capital” Luxemburg argued that capitalism was not able to create conditions for its survival due to the fact that the accumulation of capital grows faster than demand in the capitalist economy. The lack of purchasing power breaks the capitalist power and forces it to expand into non-capitalist fields (capitalist appetite grows endlessly with eating). Capitalism is imperialist and aims at dominating all the weak economies what ends in the destruction of both – capitalist and non-capitalist worlds. That made Luxemburg constantly campaigning against militarism and aggression and for the class consciousness. Together with Karel Liebknecht for a period of time, Luxemburg was very influential among the communist intelligentsia. She was killed in an assassination in 1919.
Beatrice Webb (1857-1943) – presented in the dictionary together with her husband Sidney Webb, a Labour Party politician and minister (1858-1947). They were British socialists and social critics. They also were among the founders of The Fabian Society, “New Statesman” magazine, and the London School of Economics. Beatrice Webb contributed to the development of the theory of the co-operative movement. In her book “The Cooperative Movement in Great Britain” she delivered a distinction between the co-operative federalism and co-operative individualism and advocated for the consumer co-operative societies. Beatrice Webb also coined the term: collective bargaining”. The Webb couple travelled to the Soviet Union and, as it is often said, praised Stalin’s domestic economic policies.
Simone Weil (1909-1943) – a French essayist, mystic and philosopher, both leftists and religious author who constantly learned about other religions. In her “The Need for Roots” she sympathised with the victims of European politics of the 20th century and reflected on the human condition of her time. Weil argued that déracinement (uprooting) was the biggest civilizational evil. In her theory the enracinement (taking roots) that played a big role in saving societies in the past and could do so also in the future. A sense of continuity between the past, the present and the future, as Weil argued, was key for the engagement of people into their communities. She argued in favour of patriotism and declined nationalism. Weil also appealed for the improvement of labour conditions and delivered utopian projects in this field, stemming from roots and bonds with other people as well as from highly moral perspectives. She was highly influenced by the works of Immanuel Kant. Shortly before her death, she was involved in the French Resistance in London. She was named by Albert Camus “the only great spirit of our times”. All of Weil’s books were published posthumously.
Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) – an English thinker and writer, devoted to the ideals of liberty and equality. In her “Vindication of the Rights of Men” she argued, contrary to Edmund Burke’s conservative critique of the French Revolution, that the civic and religious freedoms, as long as they do not harm other people, are natural rights of every individual and in saying so, she defended the revolutionaries against the monarchy, the emerging middle class against aristocratic rituals. In her book, Wollstonecraft argued in favour of mind, impartiality and equality – and against superstitions, privileges and hierarchy. She wanted a political and economic system that responded to the needs of the people and declined systems focused on the accumulation of power. In her “Vindication of the Rights of Woman” Wollstonecraft aimed at convincing women to overcome their perception of subjects controlled by stronger males. She blamed poor education for the weakness and dependence of women in the society and dreamed of a social order based on reason. Mary Wollstonecraft is perceived as a founder of the first feminist stances. Interestingly, Wollstonecraft died 11 days after giving birth to her second daughter, known to the world as Mary Shelley, the author of “Frankenstein”.
Plus: Thatcherism. Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013) was rather a practitioner than a thinker. She led the Conservative Party in 1975-1990 and the British cabinet 1979-1990. Her vision and the political philosophy have been very influential. Following Roger Scruton’s list, the crucial characteristics of Thatcherism include: (1) policy of beliefs (2) economic monetarism (3) privatisation of state enterprises (4) the reduction of power of large organisations, i.e. trade unions (5) objections towards monopolies and restrictive practices (6) more market mechanisms in the fields of education and healthcare (7) national sovereignty key in relations with other actors of international relations (8) lar and order key for domestic policies; defence key for foreign policy (9) less state power in domestic affairs, more state power in foreign affairs (10) lower taxes and public expenditure.
Hopefully, newer editions of Roger Scruton’s dictionary (will) include more female names, like Anne-Marie Slaughter or Theda Skocpol or late Elinor Ostrom. We have so many bright minds in political science that need to be broadly discovered!
Articles of the #girlpower series also include:
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily mean that I share political views of the people I write about.