In the Long Run, Are We All Undead?

When the zombies come, the neocons will be ready.


Watching an episode of The Walking Dead inevitably leads to passing thoughts about which room of your house would be easiest to defend when zombies finally overrun the neighborhood. But unless you're an international relations theorist, you may not have given much thought to what happens to global politics once the undead are upon us. Luckily, the Tufts University political scientist Daniel W. Drezner has stepped up with a bite-sized book on the subject, Theories of International Politics and Zombies (Princeton). In addition to wargaming various zombie scenarios, Drezner's book serves as an entertaining primer on the distinctions between several theories of international politics.

Start with the theorists known as realists. In Drezner's telling, zombies won't faze them. From their ivory towers—which will, incidentally, become excellent defensive positions when the brain munching begins—realists see the interplay between nations as a power struggle in which national interests and security are the primary concerns. For the realist, the shuffling undead hordes will simply become part of the existing equation in which global actors live in a fundamental condition of anarchy with respect to one another.

So zombies will pursue their own interests—brrraaaiiinns—while states pursue theirs. To illustrate the fundamentally self-interested power dynamics that drive this theory, Drezner points to the drama within a house under attack in the 1968 film Night of the Living Dead: "Despite the common external threat posed by zombies, the individuals inside the house are barely able to cooperate."

Then again, if the portrait of zombie psychology in Land of the Dead (2005) is correct, and zombies retain some minimally human attributes, realists will see a possibility for a deal in which human-dominated states and zombie-dominated states agree to leave each other alone. Sure, the realist says, zombies are devouring human populations in the territory they occupy, but as John Quincy Adams so presciently noted, perhaps it isn't the role of the United States to go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.

The 2009 film Zombieland suggests that survival is only possible through clearly articulated rules and a credible commitment to cooperation by individuals with disparate interests. This premise parallels the foreign policy view known as liberalism, which focuses on how cultural factors influence relations between states and peoples, giving more weight to the role of commerce, international institutions, and diverse preferences within the state. Liberals tend to favor cooperative global bodies. But Drezner is skeptical that such a group—say, a World Zombie Organization—will be efficacious, and he sees only slightly greater hope in a North American Counter-Zombie Agreement.

Neoconservatism, with its default high alert setting for existential threats, will have no trouble reacting to the zombie onslaught. As Max Brooks notes in his 2006 book World War Z, it isn't clear that zombies can be either shocked or awed. Still, neocons would favor responding rapidly, unilaterally if necessary, and with as much force as possible. Winning hearts and minds will be out of the question, as neither function well in the undead, and zombies are also unlikely to accept soccer balls and infrastructure projects in lieu of yummy gray matter.

Yet the long-term outlook for the neocon approach is problematic. After an initial strike, humanity could find itself in a worldwide Iraq-style occupation scenario, stuck in an ongoing retail-level battle with a seemingly endless supply of zombie insurgents combating inadequately supplied and spiritually depleted military forces.

In a crisis, governments tend to seize new powers—war and zombies are the health of the state. And as zombies will quickly become a worldwide concern, global coordination of some kind will be central under any theory of international relations. But neither governments nor international organizations are structured to respond well to the rise of the undead. Instead, they will continue to pursue their respective missions, seizing opportunities as they emerge in a suddenly fluid political landscape.

So instead of international bodies banding together and refocusing their efforts on the zombie threat, you can expect British beef and genetically modified organisms of all kinds to be banned from the European mainland, on the grounds of possible biological contagion. Poor countries will demand aid and sacrifices from rich countries, while resisting accountability and transparency measures, as they have done at recent climate change conferences in Copenhagen and Cancun. Military contractors will swing into action, commissioning quickie studies on the efficacy of various weapon systems in anti-zombie defense. Some human rights groups will decide to include zombies in their mandates, reaping the rewards of press attention as spokesmen for a constituency unable to speak—although it can inarticulately moan—for itself.

A 2001 paper by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies tallied the number of domestic agencies potentially involved in a bioterror response. He found 44 separate entities. The number of players in an anti-zombie campaign would likely be greater, which suggests massive coordination problems. Even within agencies, the appropriate course of action may not be clear. Drezner relates an episode in Brian Keene's novel The Rising. The president has become a zombie and is eating the secretary of state: "One Secret Service agent drew his weapon on the undead Commander-in-Chief, and a second agent immediately shot the first."

In her 2009 book A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, Rebecca Solnit wrote that "the problem with bureaucrats during crises may be the only thing that disaster movies get right." That goes double for the zombie genre. Most of these movies open after civilization has already fallen apart, the massive apparatus of government having proven powerless to stop the plague of unhinged jawbones. When the zombie apocalypse comes, expect the bureaucrats to fiddle while Rome is chomped. 

Katherine Mangu-Ward is a senior editor at reason.

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    1. So much bullshit, so little time…

      1. Dark gray text on a black blackground. It’s the internet equivalent of whispering at a rock concert.

        1. Lovin’ my NoScript…

    2. David Horowitz is still alive? How about that.

    3. Horowitz has turned into a raving lunatic.

  1. I’ve got a great zombie-proof room — unless the zombies have fire.
    Do they? (Not a big fan of the genre, sorry.)

    1. It varies by source, but zombies generally fear fire, and most do not have the higher brain function to use it as a weapon. That said, almost every zombie flick ever made has a scene where a panicky survivor sets himself and or others ablaze by accident, so a fire extinguisher might be a good investment.

    2. Never set a zombie on fire. All you get is a zombie on fire. It can now both eat and burn you. It’s like giving Frankenstein’s monster a minigun.

      1. At least its a hot meal.

      2. The other day, I loudly corrected someone who used the name Frankenstein to refer to Frankenstein’s monster. It was not appreciated.

        1. dont forget me

          1. Don’t you mean Frankensteins monster’s bride?

        2. While you are correct that it was originally “Frankenstein’s monster”, word drift has now transferred the name “Frankenstein” to the monster itself. This process was essentially complete by the mid-20th century.

          Which is why Noriega and Bin Laden are often referred to the US govt’s “own Frankensteins”.

          1. Being too callow to correct popular fallacies are how religions rise to near-absolute power.

            1. what?

            2. Creature ? Human Wizard
              2 / 2
              Card Text:
              Whenever you cast a Spirit or Arcane spell, you may put a ki counter on Callow Jushi.
              At the beginning of the end step, if there are two or more ki counters on Callow Jushi, you may flip it.
              Jaraku the Interloper
              Legendary Creature ? Spirit
              Remove a ki counter from Jaraku the Interloper: Counter target spell unless its controller pays (UU).

            3. Speaking of correcting people, I believe you mean “callous” or “calloused”, not “callow”.

              And there is a difference between being calloused and recognizing that the language has changed.

              1. Now I’ll never become Jaraku!

              2. Callow is correct, in that you are inexperienced in correctly speaking. You suck.

              3. I believe the man meant “callow”.

              4. Yes, “callow.”

                The fear of correcting people is that you do not want to be corrected yourself. It becomes a silent conspiracy of dunces that allows meaning to creep into incoherence.

                Facts are not a popularity contest.

                1. That’s Frankenstien.

                2. Usage governs language.

                  1. “use”, not “usage”. learn the difference.

  2. Mrh?

  3. How will ObamaCare affect the undead? Since, by definition, the “Death Panels” won’t apply to them, how has the legislation account for the zombie externalities? Do they need a union? (Not like there is much of a difference between public sector workers and zombies.)

    1. AZ death panels absolutely do apply to zombies

    2. Crap, think of the Medicare dollars they would suck down

      1. Worse, think of the pensions that government zombies would pull down. It would just never end.

        1. The brain subsidies alone would be unsustainable.

    3. Do they need a union?

      They have one.

      It’s called SEIU

  4. Only one man has what it takes to handle the International Zombie Apocalypse:


    1. thank you. I had forgotten about that video. awesomeness

  5. I’m now officially bored with zombies.

    1. Don’t be a pill.

      1. No, no, please enjoy the zombies. I was just speaking for me, not suggesting that everyone else should adopt my position.

        1. You some kind of Libertarian wierdo? We don’t cotton to your type round here.

          1. I can tolerate talk of zombies, provided that it doesn’t move into talk about fast zombies. They’re a myth.

            1. The only thing worse than fast zombies are the superpowered zombies like in the shitpile, not slightly related to the original, remake of Day of the Dead.

              1. Don’t be fooled! The zombies aren’t the real threat at all…

                …it’s the creepers.


  6. KMW, you win reason. Best article ever.

    1. +1 Braiiiiiiiiins!

  7. Another unresolved question is the religious response to zombies. Granted, most people of any faith are able to temporarily put aside theological concerns in the face of immediate brain consumption, but what about long term issues? What is the Vatican’s position on preemptive dismemberment or immolation of the recently dead? Would a Shintoist’s worldview be shattered at the thought of battling one’s ancestors face-to-face? Can a militant Islamic cleric declare a jihad against the soulless?

    1. Those religions already have procedures in place to deal with gingers.

      1. A Mormon Holocaust!!!

  8. In CHicago the dead already vote.

    1. and in missouri they elect dead politicans

      1. There are quite a few in DC, too…

  9. Notice that the reflexive reactions of the usual suspects yield only one group with a constructive response.

    The private sector military contractors.

  10. Loved the commentary, it speaks eloquently to the current state of affairs.

  11. I know one thing for certain, the dead may rise, and government may be able to overcome them, but we’ll still have a Department of Zombie Affairs 100 years after the last corpse is decapitated.

    1. since ur one thing is over STFU

    2. I’m waiting for zombie futures on the Chicago exchange

  12. “”I’m now officially bored with zombies.

    It does seem that smart robots is much more inevitable, and there can be many more angles for this.
    From a benevolent super robot that is functionally more capable than the mythical Abrahamic God.
    To self aware AI’s that battle eachother and we are just in the middle somewhere.

  13. The zombies are coming, and US intelligence knows it.

    That’s the best explanation for this:


  14. Not all zombie flicks involve brain eating. Most of them just go after flesh, though Return of the Living Dead does play off of the brain thing.

    Anyway, I know the zombie apocalypse is coming, eventually. What would be the libertarian response? Just leave it alone? They’re people too? Survival of the fittest?
    Cooperation is the only way to ensure our survival as a species, and government really does not have to be involved.

    1. Libertarianism doesn’t have anything against self-defense last time I checked.

      The real question is whether or not zombies are a useful natural resource. Will it be legal to hunt them for whatever pocket change they still have on them? Say, you run across a rap star zombie or Jersey guido zombie, the gold chains are like hitting the lottery. Do zombies have property rights?

      1. Pretty sure libertarians would be smart enough to voluntarily cooperate for self defense. No problem here.

        Would it be legal to hunt zombies for pocket change? It all depends on their status. If they’re considered enemy combatants, then they’re subjected to international laws which say that the looting of bodies after a battle is a war crime. From a libertarian standpoint, it’s totally fine to kill the zombies for self defense. For the purpose of stealing their gold chains, probably not. But if you kill a zombie which (who?) happens to have a gold chain in self defense, I’m not sure what the rules would be.

  15. Offhand, I would say that neo-cons have nothing to fear from zombies.

    1. true dat since most neos & socons are used to having sex w zombies.

      1. I’ve been thinking. Instead of wasting your time attacking the libertarians here, which is a fruitless endeavor, why not attack your direct competition–e.g., The Truth? That’s your real enemy in this forum, after all.

        1. didnt know neos & socons were libertarian. tell me more

          1. Who are the neocons and socons here? Am I one?

            1. i responded to aresen…sherlock. try to keep up

              1. Dig deeper, Watson.

      2. Don’t worry, it’s obviously that you don’t have anything to fear either.

        1. Fucking RC’z law.

      3. You don’t? It’s great, because all they do is moan and thrash. That must mean you’re doing it right!

  16. What’s the Intrade prediction on when the Zombie Apocalypse will occur?

    1. There isn’t one; I already checked.

  17. which room of your house would be easiest to defend when zombies finally overrun the neighborhood

    The Attic! People, please consider the attic. So often underutilized in zombie scenarios…

    1. They used the attic in Return of the Living Dead. Didn’t work out so well.

    2. Word. A few five gallon buckets to store supplies and an ax in case you have to get out through the roof.

      And one bucket paired with this.

    3. I highly recommend caves. Low population density in the countryside. Lots of things for zombies to trip on, and I don’t think they’re going to crawl through crevices.

      1. “and I don’t think they’re going to crawl through crevices.”

        Keep thinking that…

  18. Zombies are definitely supporters of gun control and the Brady group. Hard to blame them given the gun-violence they are victims of.

  19. Yeah well, if the Zombie war ever comes, it’s NRA-types like me that are gonna survive while all the liberals are gonna be running scared.


    1. brb, getting my SKS and going inna woods.

  20. There is one thing that America will never ever lose its dominance over, and that is making zombie movies. This is probably because people there are allowed to own guns, a zombie movie without guns is like porn without tits.

    The only great zombie movie not made in America was “Shaun of the Dead”, funny but the cricket bat weapon can only work one time.

    1. By your reasoning Afganistan in going to be the Bollywood of zombie movies.

      1. No, in addition to guns, you really need population density to up the threat level. So, Bollywood would be the Bollywood of zombie movies.

    2. I have no idea what a Bollywood zombie movie would be like.

      But a Kung-Fu Zombie movie could come out of Hong Kong. Watch for Zombies of Fury coming soon to a theater near you.

        1. You had better moves back then baby.

          Maybe you don’t need the Viagra.

    3. Clearly you haven’t seen the masterpiece that was Dead Snow.

    4. Look up a Japanese horror flick called Wild Zero. A dumb ass greaser and his “girl” survive zombie infestation brought on by UFO’s, using the power of ROCK AND ROLL to protect them.

  21. I believe KMG is spot on in her analysis.

  22. Zombie realpolitik? Like this?

  23. Anybody ever read that comic about the group of vampires that have to protect their last remaining food source (a few dozen humans) in a zombie-infested post-apocalyptic world?

    Can’t remember the name of it…. but it was worth a read.

  24. The zombie apocalypse is an over-stated problem, easily resolved by market forces. Humans can sell surplus brain matter to the undead for profits. Zombies can use their near-indestructibility to perform otherwise dangerous tasks at a low cost.

    Everyone wins!

    1. not everyone

      1. Probrem sorrved. Everyona win!!

  25. Zombies. Why won’t people take libertarians seriously?

    1. Just thinking here, but there really isn’t much of a difference between a zombie and one of the politicians of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Eat brains (the productive).

  26. Humans can sell surplus brain matter

    I can’t decide if “surplus brain matter” is as mythical as unicorn farts (as in, who has more than they could put to good use?), or the world’s most abundant renewable resource (as in, not many people are using theirs).

  27. Great article and terrific, often hilarious comments by readers. Mangu-Ward really knows her zombie-lore; who’da thought? George Romero meets Henry Kissinger – ingenius! I’ve heard endless blowhards yelling “Randroids” in my time, but extremist Islam…those guys RULE!!

  28. You’re going about this all wrong. Didn’t the author see Shaun of the Dead? Once we get over the intial shock of flesh eating hordes rampaging across our land, we can domesticate them and develop a new force of unskilled, unintelligent labor (i.e zombies that bag groceries at supermarkets or work at the DMV). The issue then becomes one of whether or not we continue to inflate the value of such labor with a standard minimum wage.

  29. You’re going about this all wrong. Didn’t the author see Shaun of the Dead? Once we get over the intial shock of flesh eating hordes rampaging across our land, we can domesticate them and develop a new force of unskilled, unintelligent labor (i.e zombies that bag groceries at supermarkets or work at the DMV). The issue then becomes one of whether or not we continue to inflate the value of such labor with a standard minimum wage.

  30. Good article, however I’m surprised nothing was mentioned about the disparity between states/countries where citizens can lawfully own firearms, and those where firearm ownership is mostly illegal. Places like Manhattan, NY where high overall populations meet the nearly complete abscence of privately owned firarms – That is recipe for the first all-zombie city. Other areas with low population density combined with a High percentage of gun ownership will have a much easier time putting up a fight against the undead hordes.

    Implications? Europe is F’ed. American Southwest is NOT.

  31. Where would Libertarians stand on killing someone who’s been recently infected? I know we don’t believe in initiating acts of aggression, and really, the undead have rights too…

    1. Not sure on this one. It seems like they’d have to attack before you could kill them. But I have to believe that many people, knowing what awaits them after a bite, will choose suicide or ask you to kill them. In such case, fire away.

  32. And no one’s mentioned double tapping yet.

  33. Zombies movies always scares me and I know I should stay away from them but I still end up watching them. It’s not the zombies that keeps me fixated watching but the story of surviving despite the hopelessness of the situation.

  34. i wonder if the last emperor of Rome sat around, discussing bull-shit like this, or is this strictly an all-American sort of queerness?

    1. Depends on what sort of metaphors we’re looking at. They probably didn’t scribble misspelled comments on tablets and send them to their friends, but they may have thought about what the barbarian attacks would be like if they got a little worse. (“Oh, don’t worry about it. We can afford to loose Achaea.”)

  35. mics that drive this theory, Drezner points to the drama within a house under attack in the 1968 film Night of the Living

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