No one knows yet whether Gerard Toal (O’Tuathail)’s new book will beat Robert Kaplan’s The Coming Anarchy but, irrespective of what happens, it will be a major book in 2024. That is when Oxford University Press will come out with it if not towards the end of the year.
The reference to Kaplan’s newspaper report which later became a book is not because it was actually a great book. In fact, Kaplan was securitising and spectacularising Africa as a threat to international security arising from population overflow, poverty and breakdown of central authority. He used West Africa to illustrate his argument, relying on interviews with operatives of ethnic armies in the anarchy in Sierra Leone in the immediate post-Cold War. It was a reporting done on the basis of what Edward Said calls ‘imaginative geographies’.
The point, however, is that Kaplan’s report sold out. It was the kind of stuff Westerners loved to read about Africa – the geopolitics of fear. It was not just ordinary Westerners. Kaplan’s report was also massively read at the highest level of power in the West. That’s the sense in which it is mentioned here.
Prof Gerard Toal is a crack scholar of geopolitics, the author of the canonical text, Critical Geopolitics: The Politics of Writing the Global Space, published in 1996. Not only is he the author, he is among the pioneers – John Agnew, David Harvey (who though remains a Marxist geographer) Simon Dalby, Richard Ashley, R B Walker, Michael Shapiro, James Der Derian and David Campbell, and a few others who christened the field and set it up against the older and discredited classical geopolitics which structured Empire thinking and imperial statecraft.
But now, Prof Toal is not defining the field of critical geopolitics. He has moved on to climate change. One reason people in the policy mill will rush for the book is Toal is comparing climate change to the nuclear scare of the 1980s, implying that the world has a challenge of the same scale in climate change.
A second reason is the denialists of climate change will read Toal. He is the kind of guy they will love to read. He marshals his arguments in such a simple, convincing manner that make readers not to argue back.
One more reason is he will be giving ‘Third World’ climate change negotiators irresistible, fresh punchlines. Who would not need that?
No one can go wrong in reading Prof Toal or almost every of the scholars of that field.