H-Diplo | ISSF Roundtable 14-7 on Barder, Global Race War: International Politics and Racial Hierarchy.

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H-Diplo | ISSF Roundtable 14-7


Alexander D. Barder. Global Race War: International Politics and Racial Hierarchy. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2021. ISBN: 9780197535622

19 December 2022 | https://issforum.org/to/ir14-7  
Editor: Diane Labrosse | Commissioning Editor: Andrew Szarejko | Production Editor: Christopher Ball


Introduction by Robert Vitalis, University of Pennsylvania. 2

Review by Krista Johnson, Howard University. 5

Review by Audie Klotz, Syracuse University. 9

Review by Stephen Pampinella, State University of New York at New Paltz. 11

Response by Alexander D. Barder, Florida International University. 16





“Theory” makes the world of the professors go ‘round. It is the gold ring on the dissertation-award, post-doc, tenure ladder, lead article, monograph, promotion, citation count endowed chair carousel. In political science in the United States the dominant view of theory among a self-identified ‘mainstream’ roughly corresponds to that of their colleagues in the natural sciences: A structured explanation and prediction based on the testing of hypotheses, using established protocols, about the causal variables underlying some phenomenon of interest. Leading political scientists in fact once dreamed of discovering behavioral laws that operated across time and space, like the law of gravity. By and large, they no longer do so—or no longer profess to—and instead judge their peers on the elegance of their formal models, the rigor of their statistical and experimental methods, and the significance and novelty of their findings.  

That mainstream establishes itself as such against its margin or ‘other,’ the one or two or at best six specialists in 35-65 person departments that self-identify as ‘political theorists’ and whose understanding of the nature and role of theory differs fundamentally from their model-building and experiment-running colleagues. For them, theory, as a set of principles and tools for interpreting texts, is what makes the practice of social criticism possible. A department’s theorists exist, where they still do, to teach the Western canon and train a next generation of specialists in ‘political thought,’ from the ancient Greeks, the giants of the Enlightenment, and the founding fathers of the US Republic, to the most trenchant critics of liberal democracy’s many blind spots. Theory is also the corner of the department and of the discipline where these same canons are called into question, upended, undone, and remade by inclusion of feminist, postcolonial, African American, queer, and non-Western (‘comparative theory’) thinkers and traditions.

Alex Barder is one of a small number of Johns Hopkins-trained Ph.D.s who bring political theory’s methods and sensibilities to the study of international relations or ‘IR.’ Together with the rest of the Hopkins School (so to speak) and like-minded professors outside the United States whom he identifies in his acknowledgments as a “tribe of critical political theory and international relations scholars,” he rejects both the mainstream’s idealized view of IR as a value-neutral field of knowledge and the primary objective of advancing more rigorous or more reliable causal inferences about war and peace, international trade, and the like.[1] Barder instead sees the field as a highly ideological enterprise whose blind spots are to be exposed as part of the effort to reimagine a “global political world” that properly “belongs to a plurality of different peoples.” (20)

I read the three responses to Global Race War in terms of the authors’ relative distance from and or comfort with Barder’s corner of the discipline, wherein reside those who resemble essayists, social and literary and style and music critics (in a word, ‘humanists’) more than economists or experimental psychologists or those who imagine themselves to be mandarins on the state’s behalf. Stephen Pampinella is a newly-tenured associate professor at SUNY New Paltz whose 2013 dissertation tested the effectiveness of competing strategies of coercion and persuasion in over forty counterinsurgency campaigns since 1945. His work since then, however, positions him closer to Barder’s tribe both in terms of subject matter—the role of racism in the construction of US hegemony—and approach—historical-sociological rather than quantitative.[2] Pampinella situates Global Race War in terms of the past two decades’ work on racism and world politics by “postcolonial IR scholars.” He provides deft summaries of each of the book’s nine chapters. He would push Barder to attend more closely to variation in the construction of racialized others by US officials, differences that come to the fore in his own research, because they matter to political outcomes at distinct times and places.

Krista Johnson, who teaches African Studies and directs the African Studies Center at Howard University is a Northwestern-trained political scientist in comparative politics who for two decades has worked mainly on Southern Africa.[3] She has contributed important studies on the politics of women, public health, and HIV/AIDS. For the past half-dozen years, however, she has added appreciably to her research interests and repertoire by turning to study some of her predecessors in political science, philosophy, sociology, and history at Howard who, among other contributions, explicated the relationship of racism to imperialism in the world system a half century or more ago, analyses that stand the test of time.[4] She argues that Barder might have done more to integrate these pioneering critical studies of racism and IR in Global Race War.

Audie Klotz is the most senior of the four political scientists in this roundtable. She published an award-winning first book in 1995 on the politics of the global antiapartheid movement.[5] In the past few years Klotz has received two different career ‘distinguished scholar’ awards by the big tent International Studies Association for her work on migration and on international organizations. She is perhaps best known for her part in the rise in the 1990s and early 2000s of a social ‘constructivist’ alternative to IR’s dominant schools or approaches or theoretical frameworks of ‘realism’ and ‘liberal internationalism.’ In brief, constructivists reject the strong determinist biases in these more entrenched ways of thinking about world politics and instead emphasize the role that collective actors’ identities and beliefs play in giving form to the seemingly timeless truths about power politics. Klotz is also a co-author and co-editor of two books on constructivist research strategy and on qualitative research methods, part of an effort to convince a mainstream that her tribe was every bit as rigorous about causal inference as those who employed formal models or multivariate statistics.[6] This was the moment when, for instance, political scientists began to insist that, in comparison to their colleagues in history departments, they produced more reliable, systematized descriptions of change across time through the method they called ‘process tracing.’

This background helps contextualize her response to Global Race War. Klotz wishes that Alex attended more closely to assuring readers about the reliability of his main causal claims. She thinks that he has missed an opportunity to advance our understanding via a serious engagement with books and articles that, as she puts it, “have already established the main critique.” Some of those contributions predate the rise of postcolonial theory inside the ISA, a label that has since become the catch-all for disparate works, my own included, although I hardly identify as a theorist or with postcolonial studies.[7]

What follows are three extremely thoughtful reviews of the broad-ranging Global Race War. Alex Barder takes all of them seriously and engages them productively. Readers are in for a treat.



Alexander D. Barder is Associate Professor of International Relations at Florida International University. He is author of Empire Within: International Hierarchy and its Imperial Laboratories of Governance (New York: Routledge, 2015) and co-author (with François Debrix) of Beyond Biopolitics: Theory, Violence, and Horror in World Politics (New York: Routledge, 2013). His work has appeared in Millennium, Journal of International Political Theory, International Political Sociology, and Philosophy and Social Criticism.

Robert Vitalis is a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, where he teaches US foreign policy, Middle East politics, and the history of the militant right in US national security studies.

Krista Johnson is an Associate Professor and Director of Center for African Studies at Howard University. She is also co-convenor of the HU Women and Gender Studies Collective and the WGSS Minor. She received her Ph.D. in Political Science from Northwestern University and has published on a wide range of topics, including health policy, gender and HIV prevention, global health governance in Africa, and race and racism in International Relations. Her most recent award is a Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship for 2021 in partnership with the Institute of Pan-African Thought and Conversation at the University of Johannesburg. 

Audie Klotz is a Professor of Political Science in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. Her award-winning work spans theories of international relations, qualitative methods, transnational activism, global migration, and identity politics, with an overarching emphasis on race. She builds upon a specialization in the Southern African region and more broadly the former British Empire.

Stephen Pampinella is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at SUNY New Paltz. He studies international hierarchy, small state diplomacy, and racism in US foreign policy. His current research examines the historical dynamics of racial hierarchy during US military occupations and at the founding of the US-led international order. His scholarship appears in International Studies Quarterly, Journal of Global Security Studies, and Civil Wars.



In a world such as ours some such creed of inequality is both inevitable and indispensable. For it furnishes a rational justification for our coveted doctrines of blind nationalism, imperialism and cruel exploitation of millions of our fellow-man…The theory of race, endowed with a false dignity by pseudo-scientific treatment, thus serves to justify economic policies, to bolster up political ambitions, to foment class prejudices and many other types of social antagonism among both groups and nations.[8]

Alexander Barder’s new book, Global Race War: International Politics and Racial Hierarchy, is a must-read for International Relations (IR) scholars and IR theorists who have successfully ignored the pernicious history of race and racism in the discipline and in the international system. A central goal of his book is to problematize IRs preoccupation with the State and the anarchic nature of the international system. In its place, he centers race as an organizing principle in the constitution of global order, and racial hierarchy as its very nature and a central driver of war. He writes,

by foregrounding the concept of race, what I wish to show is that global politics was not just imagined throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as the realism of autonomous nation-states under conditions of anarchy. Rather, a global racial imaginary construed the world as profoundly hierarchical; it posited that races were intrinsically incommensurable and that they were subject to an inevitable and enduring struggle (50).

In a forceful and deeply sobering book that is part intellectual history, part political history, Barder maps out a process of racialization that spread throughout the world and constituted, indeed constitutes, a material and ideological reality in which racial difference and hierarchy came to be understood as fundamental to the world order. Equally sobering, Barder reconstructs the ontology of violence in the international system, and claims that racial hierarchy, white supremacy, and the maintenance of a world order that is premised on these concepts, has been at the root of violence and war in modern times.

Proceeding chronologically, from the Haitian revolution to contemporary times, Barder’s narrative anchors the process of worldmaking in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to the global dissemination of what he terms a “global racial imaginary” (50). He argues that it was during the events of the Haitian Revolution that the skeleton of this global racial imaginary was constituted. Black autonomy and self-realization conjured an alternative modernity that was wholly incompatible with white supremacy. The prospect and fear of black violence provoked, and justified, unrestrained violence of a genocidal nature. For Barder, the nineteenth century, with the rise to prominence of social Darwinism and scientific racism, usurps the hallowed place typically reserved to the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia in shaping an all-encompassing international system and global racial order. Facilitated by imperialism and settler-colonialism, Barder shows how American and European thinking on world order drew from domestic contexts of race relations and attempts to address the ‘native question’ and ‘the negro question,’ giving voice to white fear and anxiety about racial difference and the prospects of race wars.

Barder then turns to examine genocidal violence in the twentieth century, focusing on the Armenian genocide and Nazi Germany and the Holocaust to show how such language of race war was translated into novel forms of state violence. Examining the public and intellectual discourse of the ‘yellow peril’ that reached an apex beginning with the attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent decades following World War II, Barder depicts a contemporary world that is now firmly defined on the basis of racial difference and conflict. Indeed, such a worldview of global racial dynamics is now imbricated in imperial states priorities and justifications for deploying violence and war-making. In his final chapters, Barder engages with Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations[9] in the context of the war on terror and contemporary debates around immigration to highlight the persistence of the global racial imaginary through a process of racialization of cultural and civilizational difference.

Global Race War makes several important corrections and contributions to the field of IR. Barder offers a detailed analysis of race and race wars, seeing them not as structurally inevitable, but rather as produced through historical agency by engaging with the thinking and theorizing of a cast of intellectual elites, including navalist Alfred Thayer Mahan, historian Lothrop Stoddard, and novelist Arthur Gobineau, whose work is generally unexplored in the field of IR. Similar to Robert Vitalis in White World Order Black Power Politics[10], he identifies the clear continuities in form and content in the discourses and ideas on race across historical periods. In a dialectical reading of structure and agency, these historical actors shaped and were shaped by Barder’s global racial imaginary, which continues to structure political identities and projects that then get acted out, often in very violent ways, both within and beyond the state. In Barder’s account, the drivers and even initiators of the projects of colonialism, imperialism, and genocide were not simply states or tied to the rise of the modern nation-state or capitalist economies. Importantly, his focus on political elites and the intellectual classes avoids the pitfall of blaming racial violence on individual perpetrators, and instead focuses on the political climate engendered by an assortment of societal leaders who played the race card. Yet, because a primary aim of this work is to de-center the state in IR, it does not contain enough about how changing forms of white power inform the shifting elements of state power, particularly within modern democracies.  Barder offers readers a compelling revisionist history of (white) world order over the past century, but offers few prescriptions for our current situation, which, according to him, continues to be shaped by the threat of race wars and a waning white world order.

Another notable insight gleaned from Barder’s work concerns the notion of who or what constitutes the political community. Challenging the disciplines parochialism, here again Barder’s book makes an important contribution by inserting a number of African and diasporan thinkers into IR, including Achille Mbembe, Cedric Robinson, Robbie Shilliam, Frank Wilderson and Charles Mills. These ‘race scholars’ adopt an expansive definition of race beyond black and white, to recognized it is also a marker of class, status and political power. Their positionality as black scholars affords them the unenviable benefit of what W.E.B. Du Bois referred to as double consciousness[11]. Charles Mills’s work[12] in particular stands as a powerful corrective to some of the founding fathers of IR theory, including Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and more recently John Rawls. Building on Mill’s racial contract,’ Barder rejects the idealized image of the state as a product of a social contract governed by covenants of equality and tolerance in the domestic sphere, and diplomacy based on legal equals in international society. The racial contract, which is premised on the notion that non-whites are excluded from the political, constitutes the domestic and international spheres on the basis of racial difference and hierarchy, with violence, not tolerance, being a constitutive feature of this world order. Barder uses key historical moments to show that “Race and racial hierarchy then became the material and ideational scaffold of a global imaginary that took for granted the idea that certain peoples were to be considered naturally inferior and hence exploitable for a wide range of purposes” (2).

What is puzzling to me, and a crucial missing piece of Barder’s analysis, is the lack of serious engagement with the ideas of the anti-colonial, diasporan thinkers who comprise the Howard School. Alain Locke[13], E. Franklin Frazier, Rayford Logan[14], and Eric Williams[15] are well known scholars in African American Studies but have been erased from debates in International Relations These trailblazers were engaged in systematically theorizing the role of racism in sustaining international hierarchy at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. Like their contemporaries, the Howard scholars offer original theoretical insights, not simply an anti-racist critique, on what is Barder’s core subject of study. I prefaced this review with a quote from Ralph Bunche’s A World View of Race, which was published in 1936, as an example of the early theorizing of hierarchy in the international system. The thinking of Bunche and his colleagues could help flesh out any number of the arguments Barder puts forward, from the co-constitution of domestic politics and international relations and the materialization of race being just two.

In particular, the book’s cursory treatment of Howard scholar Merze Tate[16] strikes me as such a missed opportunity. Barder’s narrative offers a novel approach to the ontology of violence in the international system. But if the book is to be successful in centering race, hierarchy and empire in IR analysis, especially in security studies which lies at its core, it requires more empirical analysis, not only of the nature of order and security, but on the empirical relationship between race, militarism and security relations. Perhaps no other scholar devoted more time and writing to this topic than Tate.  

Importantly, Tate examined and wrote in the 1930s on Alfred Mahan and his role in the peace conferences at the beginning of the twentieth century for her M.Phil at Oxford. She compiled an essay on his life and work as a navalist, a military strategist, and public intellectual. In her first book Tate offered a dense analysis of the challenges of disarmament and collective security, and can be read as a realist framing of security relations and the causes of war. However, writing in 1939 for an African American audience, Tate strikes a more sarcastic tone, exposing what she believes are the true roots of the security dilemma.  

As the distant thunder of the war threat grows nearer, the great white hope, the League of Nations, like Snow White, sleeps on, waiting for a Prince Charming. The Manchurian Prince was too yellow. The Ethiopian Prince was too black. The Spanish Prince was too red. The Czechoslovakian Prince was too mixed. Is she sleeping the sleep of death? Will she awake? Or are democracy and liberalism doomed?[17]

Tate’s work in the 1950s on Hawaiian annexation[18] pinpoints the roots of the Anglo-American rapprochement not to the era of the two world wars but to that of imperial expansion in the mid-1800s. The ‘racial alliance’ was forged not out of common national interests, but out of a common ‘racial bond’ and worldview. Her extensive use of newspaper editorials, congressional hearings, and colonial archives for her five published and two unpublished manuscripts provides a rich blueprint for understanding the discursive routes and connections across geopolitical spaces, and the nature of collusion between various powers of the global north.  A careful critical appraisal of Tate’s work is essential if we aim to bring Empire back in as a way of theorizing not only the cultural and political economic dimensions of world politics, but also its security and military ones as well.

Beyond their original contributions to the theoretical arguments being put forward by Barder, giving more prominent space to the ideas of the Howard School is important for how we teach race in IR, and address the silences around race in the discipline. Decolonizing the discipline requires more than greater epistemic diversity and perspectives. It requires that we no longer deny the role and the work of the black scholars who first exposed the racialized ontologies of knowledge about the international system. We all need to think more seriously about how we secure a place for these black Atlantic thinkers in future IR studies and classrooms.

In conclusion, Global Race War is an important achievement but also leaves notable unanswered questions, showing us how much we still have to learn about the topics of race, empire, and violence in the maintenance of world order. One hopes that Global Race War will be read by mainstream scholars rather than being lumped into the pariah category of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and ignored.



The year 2015 appears to have been an inflection point in the field of International Relations (IR), as momentum built in a long-needed reckoning with race.[19] While reading recent interventions on this theme, I am reminded of the commonplace Canadian phrase, ‘two solitudes,’ a reference to the profound inability of Anglophones and Francophones to comprehend their alternative nationalisms. The gap between traditional IR theories and demands for their decolonization often seems similarly insuperable. Adding a new keyword or two and sprinkling a few quotes by W.E.B. Du Bois about the global color line does not suffice. Yet what would?

In Global Race War, Alexander Barder offers another installment in this reckoning process. The acknowledgements locate the impetus for the book in the ferment surrounding the election of Donald Trump. Not surprisingly, the last chapter looks at white supremacist violence in recent years. Overall, Barder surveys conflicts spanning the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, starting with the Haitian revolution and ending with the so-called war on terror. Some chapters concentrate on specific conflicts (notably the Armenian genocide, the Second World War, and Vietnam) while others examine themes (such as scientific racism and anti-Asian prejudice). The focal point is mostly the US, albeit sometimes tangentially and other times parochially.

Clearly the book has an ambitious agenda. Its avowed goals, proclaimed in the first paragraph of the introduction, are fourfold: to demonstrate that “racial violence and hierarchy” underpin global order; to examine the proliferation of violence in defense of racial order; to show the reconfiguration of racial order over time; and to connect domestic and global dimensions of these racial orders (1). Because this agenda requires much more than what any one project can accomplish, I am not convinced that the book succeeds.

Collectively, however, we need to keep trying. To that end, I spotlight intertwined “solitudes” surrounding the “conventional versus critical” theoretical divide over terminology and methodology.

Since I approached this book already convinced of racial hierarchies, I read it with more specific questions in mind, foremost: Whose imaginaries? Barder routinely refers to what “we” as IR scholars ought to understand better, without addressing positionality. Who is “we”? Apparently the presumed readership does not include people (like me) who have, indeed, given plenty of attention to race and racism. Therefore, I infer a few characteristics about the intended audience: those who use conventional theoretical frameworks to look at traditional security studies topics and who likely live in the United States. Coincidentally, the demographics of our field also predict that such scholars will be mostly white men.

These presumptions play out in how Global Race War engages with literatures, both those omitted that seem crucially relevant and those that get undue attention. Why, for instance, provide a quotation from Jean Paul Sartre’s preface to Wretched of the Earth (ix) rather than from Frantz Fanon himself[20]? Most chapters commence with extensive coverage of conventional arguments that the author aims to debunk or to improve. The effect, unfortunately, is to sideline contributions that may have already established the basic critique. A deeper disconnection manifests in the book’s routine prose. Why, for instance, would one refer throughout the book to the ‘West,’ while later critiquing the use of civilizational discourses (ch.8)?  

Overall, Global Race War employs similar theoretical language of global imaginaries to that of Vineet Thakur and Peter Vale in South Africa, Race and the Making of International Relations, but Barder adopts the inverse research design.[21] Thakur and Vale delve into narrowly delineated archives to draw wider inferences, whereas Barder’s book makes sweeping claims by skimming an enormous amount of history. Each technique has strengths. Perhaps Thakur and Vale give too much attention to Lionel Curtis (an extraordinarily influential advocate for a British imperial federation, among other career highlights), but what gets lost in Global Race War is their attention to the personal and professional networks that propagate global imaginaries. As a result, the text often uses passive voice when describing a discourse, without enough evidence to support a proclamation of its predominance. Bridging these approaches, historians Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds provide an exemplar of breadth combined with depth in Drawing the Global Colour Line, a widely cited book that belongs on any reading list about race and IR.[22]

Issues of methodology and research design raise a second fundamental question: Which wars? The introductory chapter of Global Race War provides a catalogue of cases (21-22) without a clear rationale for their selection. What would be the universe of possible cases? What is the scope of “global” in geographical or temporal terms? Even if we agree to narrow the focal point to imaginaries among U.S. policymakers, I wonder why the book prioritizes Armenia over Settler Colonialism prior to the Haitian revolution. I could ask similar questions about each chapter. In contrast, Richard Maass, in The Picky Eagle, offers a tighter set of cases that directly address Barder’s fourth goal, to illuminate (perhaps counter-intuitive) interconnections between domestic and global racism.[23] I also expected extensive engagement with The Anglosphere, Srdjan Vucetic’s path-breaking work at the intersection of race and security studies, rather than a passing reference.[24]

I do not mean to imply that centering race in IR is a simple task, if only people would follow methodological strictures. Just the opposite; this professional terrain can be treacherous, even for privileged white scholars. Global Race War has much to offer for those who are starting their own journeys down this road. I hold out hope that multiple pathways to recognition of racism will intersect, instead of reinforcing current theoretical and methodological solitudes.  

Review by Stephen Pampinella, State University of New York at New Paltz

After many years on the margins of International Relations, the study of race and racism has moved center stage. The original works of postcolonial IR scholars have generated a growing body of literature that allows us to evaluate the racialized organization of world politics.[25] And not a moment too soon. Overt white supremacism has gone mainstream across North America and Europe. Elected officials such as former US president Donald Trump have legitimated violence against racial egalitarian social movements while denying equal rights to people of color, immigrants, and refugees. Far-right white supremacy is also transnational: reactionaries have built their own network of like-minded supporters by appealing to a “Western” civilizational identity that is threatened by non-white peoples from the East and Global South. Scholars of race and racism can help us make sense of these developments. Rather than assume that racism is a novel threat to modern liberal institutions, they can demonstrate that racism has historically informed Western international thought and has perpetuated white domination up to the present day.

Alexander Barder takes up this challenge with his new book. Barder is uniquely suited to investigate the dynamics of violence and hierarchy. His previous work examined how repertoires of violence that were developed by empires to facilitate the governing of their peripheries were often deployed at home against internal “enemies.”[26] In Global Race War, Barder demonstrates that racial hierarchies structure the modern international order and constitute mass violence to preserve and extend it. He builds upon W.E.B. Du Bois’s arguments regarding the global color line to demonstrate how white intellectuals and policymakers have historically constructed international order as a hierarchy of races. What emerges is the “global racial imaginary,” or the ideological mapping of dominant and subordinate relationships linking peoples together based on the racialization of perceived differences (12-13). Barder illustrates how the global racial imaginary generates an alternative ontology for international relations. The international system is organized not by states in anarchy but instead as an anti-Black hierarchy that privileges “white” Europeans as agents of civilized progress capable of reason and political autonomy. Peoples of color are assumed to be incapable of self-organization, and this apparent deficiency renders them subject to European warfare for the preservation of “humanity.”

Global Race War complements the existing literature focusing on the history of racism in international thought. Recent scholarship has shown how Eurocentric discourses have persistently structured generally accepted ideas about race among Western intellectuals and academics.[27] Brian C. Schmidt’s work offers an excellent introduction to this aspect of disciplinary history.[28] Barder builds upon this research by focusing specifically on how scientific racism, or the specious belief that peoples of different races are essentially different on the basis of biology and environmental adaptation, creates the ideological foundation for both social exclusion and mass violence in the service of racial purity.

Barder argues that race war became operative when subordinate peoples engaged in violent resistance to racial hierarchy or were perceived as impeding progress. As whites naturalized racial hierarchies, subaltern demands for equality were interpreted as a destabilizing political force that posed an existential threat to their identity and racial stratification. Europeans responded to such resistance with attempts at racial extermination in overseas wars or on settler colonial frontiers. By illustrating how race war is constitutive of modern governance arrangements, he incorporates Frank Wilderson’s Afropessimism and Achille Mbembe’s Necropolitics into our contemporary discussions about international order.[29] War is not simply a product of the structure of the international system (per structural realists) or a rational instrument of state policy (per the theories of Carl von Clausewitz) but sustains and constitutes white supremacy itself. In this way, Barder updates Michel Foucault’s discussion of racism and race war to account for much more than the biopolitical organization of life within the state.[30] Instead, he shows how race and racism are global phenomena that enable Western modernity through unrestrained mass violence against racialized Others.

The book extends these critical analyses of race into IR across nine chapters. Its historical analysis begins with the European racialization of West Africans to justify the Atlantic slave trade and delegitimation of the Haitian Revolution. Once enslaved Haitians revolted against French slavery and claim Black sovereignty, they undermined the very foundation of the white supremacist order. Haitians’ violent insistence upon equality was interpreted by French officials as a threat to European civilization and outside the conventions of war, and in turn, they responded with a genocidal campaign to reassert the global racial imaginary (36). The European memory of the Haitian Revolution thereby served as the foundation for future invocations of race war to preserve global dominance. Early twentieth-century historian Lothrop Stoddard invoked Haiti as evidence of the inevitability of conflict between races (68).[31] Barder illustrates how Stoddard’s arguments (along with those of US naval theorist Alfred Thayer Mahan and US President Theodore Roosevelt) were developed in the context of Anglo-American anxieties about the entrance of Asian and African peoples into international society and the threat they posed to the Eurocentric international order.

Barder further demonstrates how both US and German observers interpreted the 1915 Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Empire in racialized terms. Their reliance on Orientialist discourses that racialized Turkish identity allowed them to understand the genocide as an inevitable product of racial tensions (101-102). The same imaginary informed German grand strategy in World War II and Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Operation Barbarossa was not just the Nazi response to the distribution of power in the international system. Instead, it was a racial war against the perceived internal and external enemies of Judaism and Bolshevism, which functioned as biological and environmental threats to the German race rather than simply to German sovereignty. By connecting the origins of the Nazi Germany’s genocidal violence to racial stratification, Barder deepens Aimé Césaire’s initial analysis of fascism’s colonial origins.[32]

A significant contribution involves Barder’s analysis of US foreign policy history. By analyzing US settler colonialism through the lens of the global racial imaginary, Barder demonstrates how the construction of a nation-state outside of Europe was predicated upon the extermination of supposedly ‘savage’ indigenous groups with whom no coexistence was possible. Once the racialized dimension of US state formation was established, Barder demonstrates how overseas US expansion was a mere extension of the same white supremacist vision of the world. Hence, the United States relied on the same racial assumptions to justify the violent suppression of Filipino insurgents during its post-1898 occupation of the Philippines (91).

This context informs Barder’s criticism of mainstream narratives of US hegemony and the creation of a “rules-based” international order.[33] His examination of the mid-twentieth century establishment of US hegemony in East Asia illustrates how these same racist assumptions also constituted US interventions in Korea and Vietnam. In both cases, Asian peoples were classified as uncivilized or semi-human, incapable of modern rational thought and thus susceptible to Communism (171-175). In the case of Korea, these assumptions built upon Japanese ideas about local inferiorities, indicating that World War II merely replaced one empire with another rather than establish truly horizontal governance arrangements that limited US coercive power. Although appraisals and critiques of the US hegemonic order are nowadays commonplace,[34] Barder provides a richer historical perspective by situating his discussion within the long history of US domination over peoples outside of Europe.

The book’s final two chapters on the War on Terror and the white racial backlash to multiculturalism demonstrates the value of Barder’s historical analysis. He draws out the intellectual foundations of the racialization of Muslims as well as the genocidal fantasies of far-right fictional texts such as The Turner Diaries. Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations, which posited that peoples of different civilizational identities were doomed to existential conflict, can thus be contextualized by the reactionary literature of this period.[35] This discourse suggests the need for both militarized vigilance against Islam abroad as well as opposition to miscegenation and the dilution of the United States’ Anglo-Saxon culture. Again, Barder’s historical analysis offers a distinct payoff here. It allows him to link Huntington’s argument to Lothrop Stoddard’s of almost a hundred years earlier (196). Most importantly, it demonstrates how the white supremacist nationalism of the contemporary far-right has an extensive ideological heritage that manifests as a program of violent annihilation when white domination is called into question

Global Race War is undoubtedly a bleak text, one that points to the enduring strength of racial hierarchy. Indeed, the notion that white supremacy and anti-Black violence cannot be undone is a core theme of Wilderson’s Afropessimism that is often subject to criticism. However, Barder offers a more complicated argument. He argues that tracing the intellectual development of the global racial imaginary is necessary for the development of an alternative vision of both US society and world politics that is conducive to pluralism, hybridity, and equality (20). Barder’s discussion of Black radical critiques of both US domestic racism and the Vietnam War illustrates this point (175-182). By framing the Civil Rights and antiwar movements as the same struggle against Western imperialism and colonization, Black activists of the 1960s indicated how only emancipatory anti-imperial values practiced at home and abroad can enable an egalitarian relationship between the United States and the world. The suggestion is that white US citizens can support the dismantling of white supremacy, but they cannot fall back on the moral innocence implied by US exceptionalism or teleological faith in liberal progress. Instead, supporting radical Black resistance against racism, empire, and colonialism is the only path toward redeeming “America’s own spiritual fate” (181).

Another aspect of Barder’s book warrants further elaboration. As John Hobson indicates in The Eurocentric Conception in World Politics,[36] the discursive pro-imperial complement of scientific racism is Eurocentric paternalism, or the notion that Western societies possess a civilizing mission to raise up non-Western peoples to modern standards. Paternalism is certainly relevant to Barder’s examination of the global racial imaginary. For example, the US intervention in Vietnam was inspired by the domino theory of Communist expansion as well as modernization theory. Not only was the United States waging a brutal counterinsurgency and conventional war during the conflict, but it also sought to build a South Vietnamese state and foster socioeconomic development on the model of the West. Both the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan shared the same paternalist impulse—they aimed to realize Fukuyama’s “end of history” by transplanting liberalism in West and Central Asia as a means of changing those regions’ political and cultural dynamics.

These racialized discourses—paternalism and scientific racism—correspond to different visions of international order. One suggests a universal but Eurocentric set of governance arrangements, while the other imagines a world of multiple international orders governed by  distinct civilizational groupings, each struggling for dominance over each other. Barder’s work demonstrates that when Western nations fear the loss of their dominant position within a universal order, they abandon paternalism for scientific racism. But the ways in which both discourses co-exist within specific politico-military conflicts deserves greater scholarly attention. This kind of analysis can help us understand how (for example) racialization unfolded during the US occupation of Japan after the race war of World War II formally ended. A detailed analysis of the dynamics of racialization can help us investigate how US policymakers perpetuated racial hierarchies despite their supposed anti-imperial remaking of international order.

Overall, Barder’s Global Race War is an important contribution to IR’s understanding of global racial hierarchy. It will be an important text for both graduate and undergraduate syllabi. For the latter, instructors might pair it with Spencer Ackerman’s Reign of Terror,[37] a journalistic account of how the militarized US response to 9/11 was profoundly shaped by its white supremacist identity and effectively paved the way for the white grievances of Donald Trump and the contemporary Republican Party. Together, these texts can illustrate how contemporary US warfare and racialized identities are mutually reinforcing.


Above all, I want to thank Andrew Szarejko for organizing this roundtable on my book. I am very grateful to the participants, Krista Johnson, Audie Klotz, and Steven Pampinella for taking the time to engage with my work, and to Robert Vitalis for writing the introduction.

In reading the three reviews, I am reminded of an essay by Robert Keohane entitled “Big Questions in the Study of World Politics.”[38] As Keohane writes at the very beginning,

We do not study international relations for aesthetic reasons, since world politics is not beautiful. If we sought scientific rigor, we would have pursued careers in experimental disciplines. Instead, we are motivated by questions, often asked urgently in the wake of disasters, from the Sicilian Expedition (416 BCE) chronicled by Thucydides to the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq (2003 CE).[39]

My work as a scholar of international relations has certainly been motivated by “normative considerations” including the war in Iraq. As Pampinella notes in his review, my work in Empire Within: International Hierarchy and its Laboratories of Governance examined imperial history and the reverberating impacts that (neo)imperial forms of domination on metropolitan institutions historically and today.[40] My concern was that the Global War on Terror and the occupation of Iraq would warp the American domestic space in ways that would continue to challenge domestic liberty.

Global Race War also reflects a normative concern. Events ranging from the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis to various acts of white supremacist terrorism across Western states and populist or neo-fascist identarian electoral movements offer evidence of a racial retrenchment that is poisoning American politics. In my opinion, this racialized violence has to be situated within a frame of reference beyond that the nation-state and its pathologies. The book represent my attempt at situating this racial violence in a larger history about the formation of the modern global order from the nineteenth century to the present.

Both Johnson and Pampinella do an extraordinary job of summarizing the main claims and arguments of the book. I am immensely grateful for their generosity and their good faith in engaging the text. Pampinella is correct in drawing connections between Global Race War and with Frank Wilderson’s work on Afro-pessimism.[41] As I discuss in the introduction, my work is indebted to this Afro-pessimist turn in Black Studies. Saidiya Hartman’s Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth Century America, for example, is a text that I regularly assign in my graduate seminars because Hartman brilliantly problematizes facile understandings of emancipatory liberalism.[42] Nonetheless, as Pampinella rightly detects, I do have a certain ambivalence about some aspects of Afro-pessimism’s totalizing and unyielding ontological claim of an ahistorical anti-Black racism. Even if I end the book with Calvin Warren’s excellent Ontological Terror: Blackness, Nihilism, and Emancipation, I do hold out hope that alternative forms of an emancipatory praxis from, for example, ‘Black radical critiques’ from the 1960s, can help us loosen the grip of white supremacy and white grievance that continues to feed the global racial imaginary.[43]

Pampinella importantly raises the issue I should have developed more carefully: how paternalistic versus scientific racist approaches to global order reflect instances of relative power. As he correctly notes, they reflect “different visions of global order.” As I show, the waning of paternalistic interventionism among certain writers such as Charles Henry Pearson in the late nineteenth century to the infamous American racist Lothrop Stoddard in the 1920s recreated racialized impermeable boundaries. In a way, this fantasy of a sort of racial autarky remains with us to the present and sustains the populist politics of racial retrenchment that proliferates across the West. It is also marked by a larger critique of globalization, hybridity and the potential devolution of the ‘nation’ which sustains white supremacist violence in Norway, New Zealand, and the United States.

Johnson begins her view by stating that Global Race War “is a must-read for International Relations (IR) scholars and IR theorists who have successfully ignored the pernicious history of race and racism in the discipline and in the international system.” As she adds at the end of the review, her hope is that my book will not be “lumped into the pariah category of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and ignored.” While there have been crucial advances in the study of race and international relations in the last decade or so, I’m not at all confident that the ‘mainstream’ of international relations theory will necessarily recognize it as a salient theoretical and historical topic. Certainly this is rooted in the pernicious obfuscation and reproduction of racial difference and hierarchy throughout IR’s canon and history as a discipline. Furthermore, the current war on CRT by various state legislatures is intensifying and trying to make it increasingly difficult to discuss structural racism in the classroom, as it is the case in my home state of Florida. My hope, however, is that the demands of our increasingly diverse student body will compel a shift in the way we in the discipline teach international relations and to be more self-reflexive about role and place of race and racism.

Nonetheless, Johnson is “puzzled” by my lack of serious engagement with the Howard School and my “cursory treatment” of an important member such as Merze Tate. Johnson rightly points out that Howard School scholars have provided not only anti-racist critiques but a much more significant theoretical intervention about international hierarchy. Johnson is absolutely correct in arguing that there needs to be a much substantive engagement in IR with the theoretical interventions by the Howard School. I do think that such an intervention is a project in its own right as it would involve a much more careful discussion how Howard School theorists such as Alain Locke, E. Franklin Frazier, Rayford Logan, Eric Williams, and especially Merze Tate challenge IR’s epistemological and ontological core. To be sure, Johnsons is correct that a deeper engagement with Howard School theorists could have “fleshed out” the core arguments in the book. The book would certainly have benefited from a chapter on the Howard School and their history and theory of the racial imaginary. I chose instead, particularly in Chapter Seven, to focus on even less well-known, but for me equally important Black writers of the 1960s such as Harold Cruse and Robert S. Brown, who understood how domestic racism was intimately tied to American imperialism and intervention abroad.

In contrast to the reviews of Johnson and Pampinella, however, Klotz’s discussion focuses on questions of methodology. Contending that there is a longstanding discussion of racial hierarchy in International Relations, Klotz argues that since I use “we” to refer to our collective discipline of International Relations that I am implicitly only addressing other “privileged” white male colleagues in security studies. As such, I appear to neglect the members of the discipline who are already sensitive (and apparently well aware) of the role of racial hierarchy in global politics. This interpretation is then held to be of “reinforcing theoretical and methodological solitudes.”

I do not believe this response is supported by a deep reading or engagement with the text or its argumentative strategy. For instance, the book explicitly puts racial hierarchy in conversation with so-called canonical texts and ideas in writing about war and International Relations in order to show the role of powerful, but distinct, ideas of racial conflict in the international system. The goal is to illustrate that this relationship is not merely obscured by a predominantly white male intellectual cohort (although that is also true), but also to point to the deep involvement of classical international theories in propagating imaginaries of racial conflict. The identity of the scholars in question is thus only part of the issue, one that over time plays only a partial role in the reproduction of racial hierarchy when compared to much, more persistent imaginaries. "IR" has not only omitted racial hierarchy, but its core theoretical moves perpetuate it including some of its worst offenses. If this is not a viable or valuable strategy for contesting what has historically been claimed as an (assuredly self-proclaimed “canon of IR,”) I am not sure what approach can be recommended instead or what damage this argument causes.

This missed opportunity for substantive engagement ends up reducing the value of the response and results in polemics. While I certainly cite Sartre’s canonical essay in Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of Earth in my acknowledgements, it is not reasonable to suggest that this reveals a lack of engagement with non-Western writers in the entire book.[44] Even if I refer in the book to the “West” as a shorthand in explicating the history of racial imaginaries, I do not see how that could be understood to have undermined the importance of the historical analysis the book offers.

Klotz asks why I’ve chosen some wars over others. As I write in my introduction, Global Race Wars re-examines “salient historical moments that have all too long been neglected in international relations” (21). Indeed, I reiterate in the introduction that the narrative is broadly chorological and reflects my attempt at grappling with two centuries of racialization and racial violence. If I have emphasized American history and American actions, it is because the role of the United States in shaping the global racial imaginary over the past two centuries is incontestable.

Of course, another scholar would undoubtedly have emphasized different events or different thinkers. We cannot, as Keohane reminds us above, aspire to “scientific rigor” in our methodological and research design choices on these complex historical questions. As such, I make no claims towards a definitive theory or historical account of race war. Nonetheless, concern with these methodological issues should not distract from the importance of contending with race in global politics.


[1] Those who overlapped with Barder at Johns Hopkins and who straddle the IR/Theory subfields (hence the Hopkins School) include Cara New Daggett at Virginia Tech, Stefanie Fishel at the University of Sunshine Coast, Jairus Victor Grove and Nichole Sunday Grove at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, Daniel Levine at the University of Alabama, and Ben Meiches at the University of Washington, Tacoma.

[2] Stephen Pampinella, “‘The Way of Progress and Civilization’: Racial Hierarchy and US State Building in Haiti and the Dominican Republic (1915-1922),” Journal of Global Security Studies 6:3 (September 2021): 1-17, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/jogss/ogaa050.

[4] Including Krista Johnson, “Framing AIDS Mobilization and Human Rights in Post-apartheid South Africa,” Perspectives on Politics, 4, 4 (December 2006): 663-670; Sean Jacobs and Krista Johnson, “Media, Social Movements, and the State: Competing Images of HIV/AIDS in South Africa,” African Studies Quarterly, 9, 4 (Fall 2007): 127-152; and Krista Johnson, “African Women and HIV,” in Olajumoke Yacob-Haliso and Toyin Falola, eds., The Palgrave Handbook of African Women's Studies, 3 Volumes (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021), 2: 2323-2338.

[5] Audie Klotz, Norms in International Relations: The Struggle against Apartheid (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995).

[6] Audie Klotz and Cecilia Lynch, Strategies for Research in Constructivist International Relations (New York: ME Sharpe, 2007); Audie Klotz and Deepa Prakash, eds., Qualitative Methods in International Relations (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

[7] See Robbie Shilliam, “Race and Racism in International Relations: Retrieving a Scholarly Inheritance,” International Politics Review 8 (2020): 152-195.

[8] Ralph Bunche, A World View of Race: Bronze Booklet Number 4. (The Associates in Negro Folk Education: Washington, D.C., 1936) https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015022203569&view=1up&seq=5

[9] Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1996)

[10] Robert Vitalis, White World Order, Black Power Politics: The Birth of American International Relations (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2016)

[11] W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk; Essays and Sketches (Chicago: A.G. McClurg. New York: Johnson Reprint Corp. 1968) [1903].

[12] Charles Mills, The Racial Contract. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997)

[13] Alain Locke, Race Contacts and Interracial Relations: Lectures of the Theory and Practice of Race (Washington DC: Howard University Press, 1992 [1915])

[14] Rayford Logan, The Operation of the Mandate System in Africa, 1919-1927 (Foundation Publishers 1942); Rayford Logan, The Diplomatic Relations of the United States with Haiti, 1776-1891. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2011 [1941])

[15] Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2021[1944])

[16] Merze Tate, The Disarmament Illusion: The Movement for a Limitation of Armaments to 1907 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1942); Tate, The United States and Armaments (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1948); Tate, The United States and the Hawaiian Kingdom: A Political History (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1965); Tate, Hawaii: Reciprocity or Annexation (Lansing, MI: Michigan State University, 1968)

[17] Tate, “The Present Day International Situation”, (National Educational Outlook, February 1939) Merze Tate Papers, Box 219-12, Folder 13. Moorland Spingarn Research Center (MSRC) Howard University.

[18] Tate, The United States and the Hawaiian Kingdom.

[19] A few recent interventions that have deservedly garnered substantial attention include: Robert Vitalis, White World Order, Black Power Politics: The Birth of American International Relations (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015); Vineet Thakur and Peter Vale, South Africa, Race and the Making of International Relations (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2020); Kelebogile Zvobgo and Meredith Loken, “Why Race Matters in International Relations,” Foreign Policy, June 2020.

[20] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, translated from the French by Constance Farrington, preface by b Jean-Paul Sartre (New York: Grove Press, 1963).

[21] Thakur and Vale, South Africa, Race and the Making of International Relations.

[22] Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds, Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men’s Countries and the International Challenge of Racial Equality (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

[23] Richard Maass, The Picky Eagle: How Democracy and Xenophobia Limited U.S. Territorial Expansion (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2020).

[24] Srdjan Vucetic, The Anglosphere: A Genealogy of a Racialized Identity in International Relations (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011).

[25] For example, see Alexander Anievas, Nivi Manchanda, and Robbie Shilliam, Race and Racism in International Relations: Confronting the Global Colour Line (Routledge, 2014). On the broader postcolonial tradition, see Olivia U. Rutazibwa and Robbie Shilliam, Routledge Handbook of Postcolonial Politics (Routledge, 2018). For an undergraduate introduction to questions about race as well as gender in IR, see Randolph Persaud and Alina Sajed, Race, Gender, and Culture in International Relations: Postcolonial Perspectives (Routledge, 2018). This work builds on a two-decade body of scholarship originating in postcolonial IR theory. See Sankaran Krishna, “Race, Amnesia, and the Education of International Relations,” Alternatives 26:4 (October 1, 2001): 401–24. Chowdhry Geeta and Sheila Nair, Power, Postcolonialism and International Relations: Reading Race, Gender and Class (Routledge, 2003); Siba N’Zatioula Grovogui, Sovereigns, Quasi Sovereigns, and Africans: Race and Self-Determination in International Law (U of Minnesota Press, 1996).

[26] Alexander D. Barder, Empire Within: International Hierarchy and Its Imperial Laboratories of Governance (Routledge, 2015).

[27]John M. Hobson, The Eurocentric Conception of World Politics: Western International Theory, 1760-2010 (Cambridge University Press, 2012); Robert Vitalis, White World Order, Black Power Politics: The Birth of American International Relations (Cornell University Press, 2015); Jessica Blatt, Race and the Making of American Political Science (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018).

[28] Brian C. Schmidt, The Political Discourse of Anarchy: A Disciplinary History of International Relations (SUNY Press, 1996). See also David Long and Brian C. Schmidt, Imperialism and Internationalism in the Discipline of International Relations (SUNY Press, 2006).

[29] Frank Wilderson, Afropessimism (Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2020); Achille Mbembe, Necropolitics (Duke University Press, 2019).

[30] Michel Foucault and François Ewald, “Society Must Be Defended”: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976 (Macmillan, 2003).

[31] Lothrop Stoddard, The French Revolution in San Domingo (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1914). See also Lothrop Stoddard, The Rising Tide of Color against White Supremacy (New York: Scribner, 1920).

[32] Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism (NYU Press, 2001).

[33] For example, see G. John Ikenberry, Liberal Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis, and Transformation of the American World Order (Princeton University Press, 2011).

[34] For example, see Ikenberry, “The End of Liberal International Order?” International Affairs, 94: 1, (2018): 7-23, Inderjeet Parmar, “The US-Led Liberal Order: Imperialism by Another Name?” International Affairs, 94:1 (2018): 151-172.

[35] Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (Simon and Schuster, 1996). For a brief yet equally critical analysis of Huntington, see Paul Musgrave, “The Grim Fantasia of a Civilizational War,” Cato Unbound, February 8, 2017, https://www.cato-unbound.org/2017/02/08/paul-musgrave/grim-fantasia-civilizational-war.

[36] Hobson, The Eurocentric Conception of World Politics.

[37] Spencer Ackerman, Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump (Penguin, 2021).

[38] Robert O. Keohane, “Big Questions in the Study of World Politics,” in Robert E. Goodin, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Political Science (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

[39] Keohane, “Big Questions,” 769.

[40] Alexander D. Barder, Empire Within: International Hierarchy and Its Imperial Laboratories of Governance (Abingdon: Routledge, 2015).

[41] Frank B. Wilderson III, Afropessimism (New York: Liveright, 2020).

[42] Saidiya Hartman, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth Century America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).

[43] Calvin Warren, Ontological Terror: Blackness, Nihilism, and Emancipation (Raleigh-Durham: Duke University Press, 2018).

[44] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, 2021).