The overarching question imparting urgency to this exploration is: Can U.S.-Russian contention in cyberspace cause the two nuclear superpowers to stumble into war? In considering this question we were constantly reminded of recent comments by a prominent U.S. arms control expert: At least as dangerous as the risk of an actual cyberattack, he observed, is cyber operations’ “blurring of the line between peace and war.” Or, as Nye wrote, “in the cyber realm, the difference between a weapon and a non-weapon may come down to a single line of code, or simply the intent of a computer program’s user.”
A seminar with Lisa Wedeen, Mary R. Morton Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, on her new book Authoritarian Apprehensions: Ideology, Judgment, and Mourning in Syria from the University of Chicago Press. The seminar will be followed by a book signing at the Harvard Coop Bookstore.
About the book
If the Arab uprisings initially heralded the end of tyrannies and a move toward liberal democratic governments, their defeat not only marked a reversal but was of a piece with emerging forms of authoritarianism worldwide. In Authoritarian Apprehensions, Lisa Wedeen draws on her decades-long engagement with Syria to offer an erudite and compassionate analysis of this extraordinary rush of events—the revolutionary exhilaration of the initial days of unrest and then the devastating violence that shattered hopes of any quick undoing of dictatorship. Developing a fresh, insightful, and theoretically imaginative approach to both authoritarianism and conflict, Wedeen asks, What led a sizable part of the citizenry to stick by the regime through one atrocity after another? What happens to political judgment in a context of pervasive misinformation? And what might the Syrian example suggest about how authoritarian leaders exploit digital media to create uncertainty, political impasses, and fractures among their citizens?
Drawing on extensive fieldwork and a variety of Syrian artistic practices, Wedeen lays bare the ideological investments that sustain ambivalent attachments to established organizations of power and contribute to the ongoing challenge of pursuing political change. This masterful book is a testament to Wedeen’s deep engagement with some of the most troubling concerns of our political present and future.
Praise for Authoritarian Apprehensions: Ideology, Judgment, and Mourning in Syria
"Wedeen provide[s] a welcome shift in perspective. Instead of exclusively focusing on sectarian conflict, or attributing conflict to class warfare, [she] offers an analysis that closely considers how citizens have encountered the state in Syria, and how emotion and memory have played important roles in these experiences that are often neglected by political scientists."
“Through close reading of an astonishingly broad array of cultural materials, Authoritarian Apprehensions captures the transition from Syria’s neoliberal autocracy to civil war authoritarianism while eloquently conveying both the grief and resilience of her ethnographic subjects. This wonderfully written book complicates the conventional political science account of authoritarian resilience and provides a compelling contribution to the growing literature theorizing authoritarianism.”
Asli Bâli, University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law