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Left and Right in Global Politics

2021-10-20 13:57:13


Jean-Philippe Thérien (PhD, Paris) is Director of the Center for Studies on Peace and International Security at the Universities of Montreal and McGill (CEPSI). His field of specialization revolves around international institutions, North-South relations and inter-American relations. His research focuses on foreign aid policies, the role of international organizations in development, and recent developments in inter-American cooperation. He was Scientific Director of CÉRIUM and received the "CÉRIUM Researcher of the Year" award for the international influence of his research.


Everyone has an idea about the left and the right. This is why these notions are so engaging and so fascinating. Their universal relevance, however, also makes the two terms difficult to grasp in a systematic manner. As with every concept that seems meaningful and clear to all, “the left” and “the right” encompass a wide range of values and perceptions. In trying to make sense of these different standpoints, we were helped by a number of people, who discussed the issues at stake, made suggestions, and were always willing to share their views, usually firmly held, about the significance of left and right in global politics. First thoughts and early drafts were presented at conferences or meetings in Canada, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Que´bec, Switzerland, and the United States. The book benefited very much from this exposure to views from different parts and cultures of the world. We are grateful to the organizers and participants of these different gatherings for the occasion they gave us to exchange ideas with them and for their comments. In the academic year 2004–05, both of us were visiting scholars in France, the country where the contemporary notions of left and right were born, a fitting environment to give a first impulse to this project. Alain was a guest of the Politiques publiques, Action politique, Territoires research centre (PACTE), at the Institut d’e´tudes politiques de Grenoble, a superb location for research and writing. Philippe Warin and Bruno Jobert, in particular, provided support and opportunities. Jean-Philippe spent the first half of the year at the Centre d’e´tudes et de recherches internationales (CERI) in Paris. Later that year, he was invited by the Centro de estudios internacionales (CEI) of the Colegio de Me´xico, which offered a nicely complementary setting in a country of the global South. He is grateful to Christophe Jaffrelot and Marie-Claude Smouts in Paris, and to JeanFranc¸ois Prud’homme and Maria del Carmen Pardo in Mexico City for their hospitality and encouragement.


Over the past thirty years, the study of international political economy underwent a remarkable resurgence. Virtually nonexistent before 1970 as a field of study, international political economy is now a popular area of specialization for both undergraduates and graduate students, as well as the source of much innovative and influential scholarship. The revival of international political economy after nearly forty years of dormancy enriched both social science and public debate, and promises to continue to do both. International political economy is the study of the interplay of economics and politics in the world arena. In the most general sense, the economy can be defined as the system of producing, distributing, and using wealth; politics is the set of institutions and rules by which social and economic interactions are governed. Political economy has a variety of meanings. For some, it refers primarily to the study of the political basis of economic actions, the ways in which government policies affect market operations. For others, the principal preoccupation is the economic basis of political action, the ways in which economic forces mold government policies. The two focuses are, in a sense, complementary, for politics and markets are in a constant state of mutual interaction. Most markets are governed by certain fundamental laws that operate more or less independently of the will of firms and individuals. Any shopkeeper knows that an attempt to raise the price of a readily available and standardized product—a pencil, for example—above that charged by nearby and competing shopkeepers will rapidly cause customers to stop buying pencils at the higher price. Unless the shopkeeper wants to be left with piles of unsold pencils, he or she will have to bring the price back into line with “what the market will bear.” The shopkeeper will have learned a microcosmic lesson in what economists call market-clearing equilibrium, the price at which the number of goods supplied equals the number demanded—the point at which supply and demand curves intersect

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