Cicero on Justice, Empire, and the Exceptional Republic

Cicero played no significant commanding role in the civil wars that marked the end of the Roman Republic. Nor could he boast of a distinguished military or diplomatic carreer prior to that chaotic period. Cicero had risen from an obscure family to the height of consular power in Rome, through his forensic and rhetorical ability and by forging a link between Rome’s old aristocracy and the equestrian class. Cicero could claim neither conquest of Gaul, nor subjugation of a foreign enemy like Carthage as grounds for posterity considering him an authority on grand strategy. Despite this, we find in Cicero’s moral and philosophic works a powerful theoretical framework for understanding (and justifying) the strategy and policy of an imperial republic such as Rome. Within this framework are serious thoughts about the relationship between power, interest, and the values of a republican polity. Not only are these thoughts profound and worthy of consideration in their own right, but they proved deeply influential to later thinkers. Importantly, these ideas would ultimately inform the ideological self-image of the Roman Empire.

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Cicero on Justice, Empire, and the Exceptional Republic

Cicero played no significant commanding role in the civil wars that marked the end of the Roman Republic. Nor could he boast of a distinguished military or diplomatic carreer prior to that chaotic period. Cicero had risen from an obscure family to the height of consular power in Rome, through his forensic and rhetorical ability and by forging a link between Rome’s old aristocracy and the equestrian class. Cicero could claim neither conquest of Gaul, nor subjugation of a foreign enemy like Carthage as grounds for posterity considering him an authority on grand strategy. Despite this, we find in Cicero’s moral and philosophic works a powerful theoretical framework for understanding (and justifying) the strategy and policy of an imperial republic such as Rome. Within this framework are serious thoughts about the relationship between power, interest, and the values of a republican polity. Not only are these thoughts profound and worthy of consideration in their own right, but they proved deeply influential to later thinkers. Importantly, these ideas would ultimately inform the ideological self-image of the Roman Empire.

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Commentary on Books and Other Works Useful in the Study of International Relations

International relations is an arena where politics is exercised by nations and other entities to accomplish goals and secure interests. The study of politics in that arena is a study of history: what has happened, how it came to happen with its consequences and therefore a guide to what can happen. The twentieth century so recently passed, provides vivid illustrations and experience of the exercise of politics whose consequences were monumental and painful and sometimes so decisive as to seem irreversible, or nearly so. Yet the great clashes of will that characterized the twentieth century did not originate the day before the century began but years and centuries before. What happened yesterday, is happening now and is about to happen can be better understood through the study of history.

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Commentary on Books and Other Works Useful in the Study of International Relations

International relations is an arena where politics is exercised by nations and other entities to accomplish goals and secure interests. The study of politics in that arena is a study of history: what has happened, how it came to happen with its consequences and therefore a guide to what can happen. The twentieth century so recently passed, provides vivid illustrations and experience of the exercise of politics whose consequences were monumental and painful and sometimes so decisive as to seem irreversible, or nearly so. Yet the great clashes of will that characterized the twentieth century did not originate the day before the century began but years and centuries before. What happened yesterday, is happening now and is about to happen can be better understood through the study of history.

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Ulysses S. Grant’s Civil War Memoir and Strategy

It might be said that Ulysses S. Grant’s memoir killed him. The Civil War General and former President of the United States had no intention of writing a memoir. In a life so full of personal and professional crises, one final personal crisis compelled

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Ulysses S. Grant’s Civil War Memoir and Strategy

It might be said that Ulysses S. Grant’s memoir killed him. The Civil War General and former President of the United States had no intention of writing a memoir. In a life so full of personal and professional crises, one final personal crisis compelled

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Learning International Relations from Harold W. Rood

Dr. Rood’s special interest, within the rubrics of history and military history, was the growth of empires. He had intimate knowledge of the wars of German unification, and the two world wars, and Berlin’s parts in them. The expansion of Russia, succeeded by the expansion of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the Warsaw Pact and its overseas alliances, absorbed him emotionally and intellectually. 

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Learning International Relations from Harold W. Rood

Dr. Rood’s special interest, within the rubrics of history and military history, was the growth of empires. He had intimate knowledge of the wars of German unification, and the two world wars, and Berlin’s parts in them. The expansion of Russia, succeeded by the expansion of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the Warsaw Pact and its overseas alliances, absorbed him emotionally and intellectually. 

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Paul Rahe on Spartan Grand Strategy

The grand strategy the Spartans embraced had serious consequences for Lacedaemon’s posture in the international sphere as well. Their perch was precarious.  The Lacedaemonians understood from early on what history would eventually confirm: that it took but a single major defeat in warfare on land to endanger the city’s very survival. Even when their population was at its height, as it was in the late archaic period, there were never more than ten thousand Spartiates, if that; and the territory they ruled was comparatively vast. The underlings they exploited were numerous and apt to be rebellious. In Messenia, if not also in Laconia, the helots saw themselves as a people in bondage, and geography did not favor the haughty men who kept them in that condition.

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Paul Rahe on Spartan Grand Strategy

The grand strategy the Spartans embraced had serious consequences for Lacedaemon’s posture in the international sphere as well. Their perch was precarious.  The Lacedaemonians understood from early on what history would eventually confirm: that it took but a single major defeat in warfare on land to endanger the city’s very survival. Even when their population was at its height, as it was in the late archaic period, there were never more than ten thousand Spartiates, if that; and the territory they ruled was comparatively vast. The underlings they exploited were numerous and apt to be rebellious. In Messenia, if not also in Laconia, the helots saw themselves as a people in bondage, and geography did not favor the haughty men who kept them in that condition.

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Henry Kissinger, A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace, 1812-1822 (1957)

A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problem of Peace, 1812-1822, Kissinger's first book, was written in the early 1950s while Kissinger was a young doctoral student at Harvard. The book was initially not as famous or as influential as his later books. Its focus on diplomatic negotiations following the fall of Napoleon was seen by his peers as esoteric and out of tune with the times. In a world featuring nuclear weapons, why dissect the diplomatic wrangling of the 19th century? This view may have characterized the dissertation turned book at the time of its writing, but today Restored is widely regarded as essential reading for the student of strategy and diplomacy.

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Henry Kissinger, A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace, 1812-1822 (1957)

A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problem of Peace, 1812-1822, Kissinger's first book, was written in the early 1950s while Kissinger was a young doctoral student at Harvard. The book was initially not as famous or as influential as his later books. Its focus on diplomatic negotiations following the fall of Napoleon was seen by his peers as esoteric and out of tune with the times. In a world featuring nuclear weapons, why dissect the diplomatic wrangling of the 19th century? This view may have characterized the dissertation turned book at the time of its writing, but today Restored is widely regarded as essential reading for the student of strategy and diplomacy.

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Bhagavad Gita (3rd Century BC- 3rd Century AD)

Great works of literature, including religious literature, often have a major influence on the strategic culture and outlook of civilizations and nations. The Bible and Homer are certainly prime exhibits.  Yet such literature does not always generate a single strand of thought about war and peace, but often competing strands, or ideas that metamorphose under different circumstances. In a New York Review of Books essay, Wendy Doniger asks: How did Indian tradition transform the Bhagavad Gita (the “Song of God”) into a bible for pacifism, when it began life, sometime between the third century BC and the third century CE, as an epic argument persuading a warrior to engage in a battle, indeed, a particularly brutal, lawless, internecine war?

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Bhagavad Gita (3rd Century BC- 3rd Century AD)

Great works of literature, including religious literature, often have a major influence on the strategic culture and outlook of civilizations and nations. The Bible and Homer are certainly prime exhibits.  Yet such literature does not always generate a single strand of thought about war and peace, but often competing strands, or ideas that metamorphose under different circumstances. In a New York Review of Books essay, Wendy Doniger asks: How did Indian tradition transform the Bhagavad Gita (the “Song of God”) into a bible for pacifism, when it began life, sometime between the third century BC and the third century CE, as an epic argument persuading a warrior to engage in a battle, indeed, a particularly brutal, lawless, internecine war?

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Churchill: Literature in the Service of Grand Strategy

Churchill develops a continuity of principle from the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights (Glorious Revolution) through the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution, a continuity that extended to joint cooperation in the fight against Hitler and in the Cold War.  One might object that, as a matter of fact, the Declaration formally divided the two great branches of the English-speaking peoples.  But Churchill was getting at something deeper than mere history.  This was literature in the service of the Grandest Strategy.

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Churchill: Literature in the Service of Grand Strategy

Churchill develops a continuity of principle from the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights (Glorious Revolution) through the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution, a continuity that extended to joint cooperation in the fight against Hitler and in the Cold War.  One might object that, as a matter of fact, the Declaration formally divided the two great branches of the English-speaking peoples.  But Churchill was getting at something deeper than mere history.  This was literature in the service of the Grandest Strategy.

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The Thucydides Trap: Does it Exist?

In 2012, Harvard’s Graham Allison posed this question: Can China and the US escape Thucydides’s trap?  According to Allison: “The historian’s metaphor reminds us of the dangers two parties face when a rising power rivals a ruling power – as Athens did in 5th century BC and Germany did at the end of the 19th century. Most such challenges have ended in war. Peaceful cases required huge adjustments in the attitudes and actions of the governments and the societies of both countries involved.”  Athens’ dramatic rise in the Greek work shocked the then-leading power, Sparta.  Fear compelled its leaders to respond. Threat and counter-threat produced competition, then confrontation and finally conflict. At the end of 30 years of war, both states had been destroyed. Thucydides wrote of these events: “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in Sparta that made war inevitable.”

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The Thucydides Trap: Does it Exist?

In 2012, Harvard’s Graham Allison posed this question: Can China and the US escape Thucydides’s trap?  According to Allison: “The historian’s metaphor reminds us of the dangers two parties face when a rising power rivals a ruling power – as Athens did in 5th century BC and Germany did at the end of the 19th century. Most such challenges have ended in war. Peaceful cases required huge adjustments in the attitudes and actions of the governments and the societies of both countries involved.”  Athens’ dramatic rise in the Greek work shocked the then-leading power, Sparta.  Fear compelled its leaders to respond. Threat and counter-threat produced competition, then confrontation and finally conflict. At the end of 30 years of war, both states had been destroyed. Thucydides wrote of these events: “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in Sparta that made war inevitable.”

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Young Churchill on the North-West Frontier: The More Things Change

Francis P. Sempa discusses young Winston Churchill’s time in India as a military officer and journalist. The two occupations famously combined when Churchill accompanied a military expedition to deal with tribal upheaval on the North-West frontier (present day Pakistan-Afghanistan).  As a result, Churchill was mentioned in dispatches – and wrote a series of newspaper articles that were published as his first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1898).

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Young Churchill on the North-West Frontier: The More Things Change

Francis P. Sempa discusses young Winston Churchill’s time in India as a military officer and journalist. The two occupations famously combined when Churchill accompanied a military expedition to deal with tribal upheaval on the North-West frontier (present day Pakistan-Afghanistan).  As a result, Churchill was mentioned in dispatches – and wrote a series of newspaper articles that were published as his first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1898).

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